Marital Love and Fidelity

Purity of heart is essential for a relationship with God, especially since the pure union of a man and woman in a lifelong marriage reflects God’s image and likeness as a Trinity of persons. All sinful lust distorts marriage and thus distorts God’s image and likeness; and we cannot see God through a distorted image.

The Holy Trinity is an infinite, eternal, all-loving, and merciful God. Marriage reflects this through a lifelong, unconditional, mutual, and faithful gift of self between one man and one woman that is open to new life. Take away any of those qualities and God’s image and likeness become distorted. For this reason, our Lord goes on to explain in the Sermon on the Mount:

It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:31-32).

Divorce destroys the lifelong character of marriage —“until death do us part”—whereas God’s love is eternal-life-long. Thus divorce distorts how marriage reflects God’s love. That is why “I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16), “Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Malachi 2:14). So Jesus says: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

Suppose I give you a gift of a thousand dollars in gratitude for your friendship. Two weeks later I come to you and say: “I want my thousand dollars back.” You reply: “But wait a minute, I thought it was a gift.” I tell you: “Sure it was a gift, but now I want it back, it is mine.” “But I spent it,” you say, and I come back with: “I don’t care what you did with it, I want it back, it is mine.”

What kind of gift was that thousand dollars? It wasn’t a gift at all and I put you in a compromised position. What a scoundrel!

If we consider a man and woman who give to each other the gift of their lives in marriage, and then one or both say they want to take that gift back, then what kind of gift was that? Not one at all. Additionally, each has put the other in a compromised position of having their own gift tarnished, compromising the children they may have conceived as well. So, in divorce one is taking back a gift that should have been given to another for life, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

“Fidelity expresses constancy in keeping one’s given word. God is faithful. The Sacrament of Matrimony enables man and woman to enter into Christ’s fidelity for his Church. Through conjugal chastity, they bear witness to this mystery before the world…” (CCC 2365).

God knows that marriage is not easy. To love another imperfect human being means sacrifice. For this reason, St. Paul warns us that “those who marry will have worldly troubles… the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided… the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:28,33-34). So it shouldn’t surprise us that marriage is difficult. Yet with the crosses found in marriage, we find Christ and the pathway to holiness.

When is separation permitted? When there is no hope of reconciliation, civil divorce may be allowed as a means of protecting oneself legally and of caring for the children. However, one is not free to remarry (CCC 2383).

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.