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By Denise Renner, Catholic Exchange, July 10, 2017
Our culture tends to take one of two opposing views on marriage. One is that “happily ever after” is yours so long as you find the right person. The other is that once you say the words “I do” your freedom is gone forever and your life is over (at least until a judge determines otherwise).
But the sacrament of marriage, rightly understood, is a ministry, a service, the lifelong advancement of two souls striving to sanctify themselves, one another, and the children that may come of their union. With the ceremony comes a vocation in mission, as well as a cross.
Jesus’ ministry began similarly: it was at the wedding feast that he performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. And so his earthly ministry began, as did his path to the Cross.
Marriage is hard, but the sacred institution is meant for our good and the good of our children, the Church, and society.
There is a saying, “blood is thicker than water,” and yet the closest, most intimate relationship on earth is that between a man and a woman who share not an ounce of the same blood, but are sacramentally united. And from this union God brings forth new life, with all the joys and responsibilities and burdens that come with raising children.
It is the sacred duty of parents to provide not only for their children’s physical needs, but their spiritual and emotional growth as well. And children are very willing to be tiny disciples, looking to their parents with trust and love, asking endless questions, and studying their every word and deed, what is “caught” and what is taught.
As adopted sons and daughters of God, we are told to be like children in the faith, trusting that our Father knows what we need (Matt. 6:8). We are to rely on God and place our trust in Him. The Gospel of Luke asks us: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-13). Like a good earthly father, our Heavenly Father always desires our good and acts accordingly.
Yet how many children and adults have had that faith, trust, and reliance in their earthly father and mother shattered through divorce?
It was the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage that brought my husband to the Catholic faith. And it was his conviction that ultimately brought me to the Church years later. It’s a common draw for children of divorce: the Church as Mother, God as Father, the emphasis on the priest as “Father” and the Blessed Virgin Mary as mother to us all. For me, this was an unexpected gift received with conversion: the restoration of family and the importance of family.
There is so much confusion and heartbreak in our culture today that divorce seems an almost quaint problem. But that is not so for the children of divorce, no matter how much time has passed. Time does not heal all wounds; many of them change and morph over time. This brokenness becomes more apparent with time as parents age, remarry, re-divorce, and grandchildren enter the picture.
There is no easy ministry, no simple mission, and no vocation that comes without crosses. There is no shortcut to that 50th wedding anniversary. Tolstoy began Anna Karenina with the line, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
But reading the book Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak by Leila Miller, provides ample evidence that despite the circumstances, the effects of divorce on children are remarkably similar. The seventy anonymous authors write of a common and shared pain. As Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted wrote: “Primal Loss records for us the actual pain of those most wounded by divorce—children. This makes it countercultural in the best of ways. Some suffering today is not allowed to be called suffering. It is not politically correct to say that children suffer greatly from the divorce of their parents.”
While the breakdown of the family, and its effects, become more apparent with each passing day, the faithful search for answers. And an intact marriage, with a loving mother and father, is a deep desire of both children and adults—which makes sense, because this union mirrors the love of Christ for the Church. There is great hope in those spouses who have embraced the ministry of marriage and remain committed to raising their children together for the glory of God our Father and Holy Mother Church—despite the crosses that inevitably come their way.
There is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage.
—Cardinal Raymond Burke
Denise is a wife, mother, and Catholic convert who writes at The Motherlands. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children. Denise was raised Lutheran, earned a masters in theology from Southern Baptists, and, finally, was lead to the Catholic faith by her husband.