Marriage is the foundation stone of society. Through the social contract, couples come together and bring forth future generations within the bounds of society. Strong family units produce strong individuals in the society who can benefit society with their unique talents.
God elevated this union beyond the natural order to a supernatural contract and oath to each other. He sanctified it in the Garden of Eden and elevated it through the words of Christ that the union can never be broken unless fear of adultery. Scripture proclaims, a man shall leave his mother and take on another and both will become one and in the epistles, Paul teaches that the love between husband and wife is like that of Christ and the Church.
With such strong words from Christ, scripture, and Paul, the foundations for Christian marriage were laid. Within Catholic and Orthodox circles, it was a sacrament, while in Protestant circles it was in the very least a sacred obligation. Society has attempted to weaken this natural and supernatural building rock of society. Divorce, same sex marriage, and polygamy all look to weaken the institution and society itself. The attempt to separate the supernatural element instilled by God to a merely natural contract is on display.
With the readiness of divorce, infidelity plays no small penalty for the secular mind. Divorce rips apart family units and leaves many children left without strong guidance to help create a better society. The attack on the family has already begun and continues to rage.
In the midst of such chaos, the Christian Counselor is left with many divorced Christians and individuals seeking solace and wholeness. Not only do these individuals suffer from the initial loss of a spouse, but they also suffer from a variety of secondary losses, including children, pets, possessions, income and new integration into new life styles.
Divorce sometimes is a reality to the Christian, albeit an unwanted one. Many Christians may feel marked and ashamed with such titles within their own community and family structure. They may feel as if they failed in some way. Other Christians may remarry and feel as if black sheep for taking upon another spouse. In Catholic and Orthodox churches, remarriage without annulment is forbidden. This leads to a whole new type of ministry. Hence, the divorced and those who decide to remarry within Christianity represent a large group of the displaced within the faith. While in Protestantism, remarriage is permissible for due reason of adultery, it still creates issues with blended homes and still the over all loss of the original marriage.
Within Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the words of Christ echo strongly that no-one may ever remarry. The exception clause within Matthew is not regarded as a license to remarry. Only in Matthew is it mentioned and it never again is mentioned in the Epistles. Many biblical scholars look at the interpretation, translation and the fact it was targeted to only the Jewish community to mean something different. This leaves the Catholic and Orthodox church with many remarried couples that can become a pastoral concern.
Christian Counselors need to understand their plight. Pope Francis recently wrote at length the pastoral concerns of these “black sheep”. While many may marry as if they are dating, there are some who have unjustly been dealt. Pope Francis pointed this out in his encyclical on the “Joy of Love” where he looks at the emergency pastoral issue within the Catholic Church. He asked some very critical questions regarding the fate of these couples. While remaining faithful to Christ’s words, he still pondered about those who remarry due to abuse, or those who were left with nothing after a spouse totally rejected them. He also looked at the annulments that were not properly administered due to finance or local corruption within the tribunal.
Francis pointed out that many couples who remarried have moved on to a second relationship and now have grandchildren from this union. They have remained faithful, albeit, outside the grace of the sacrament. Pastorally, how does one deal with such families? Each situation requires careful and deliberate reflection between confessor and couple with the highest regards for the Eucharist.
It is important to note for those not familiar with Catholic doctrine that an annulment is based on theology that centers around a vow. A vow is a free choice with knowledge and understanding of the commitment. When a vow is exchanged between a man and woman it is seen as binding when conditions certain conditions are met. If certain conditions or secrets or distress are later discovered, then a marriage can be seen as never existing. One example includes being forced to marry someone and not possessing complete autonomy in the decision. Another example is a secret regarding the individual. Maybe the individual was cheating before the vow and had no intention of remaining faithful. Maybe the person lied about being baptized. Maybe the person hid a past life of murder, abuse and other criminal activity. Maybe the person lied about ability to have children or desire to have children. The primary point is the issue is an “a priori” problem that was unknown before the vow. Fortunately, many more annulments are issued more than once before within the Church. Investigations can discover these things.
However, after the fact offenses or failures of a spouse do not fall under the guise of an annulment. Infidelity that is not planned or a simple mistake does not invalidate a vow. This does not mean one cannot civilly divorce, but within the interpretation of the Gospels, one cannot remarry afterwards, or they would as Christ points out, find themselves in adultery. Many divorce for simpler reasons such as family or finance. The generation of divorce is a replacement generation not a fix it generation.
Within Protestant theology, one may remarry over grave reasons, but this has even led to individuals thinking if they commit a grave offense, then they can become freed from a contract. Many Protestant circles even with their exception clause have become more liberal in permitting divorce within their congregations.
These issues have led to more divorce within Christianity and has created a large pastoral issue for both Catholic and Protestant circles. While the world mirrors a secular version of marriage, it is up to Christian communities to commit to the values of Christ regarding marriage. It is up to Christian communities to promote the permanence of the Christian vow.
Prior to marriage, Christian Counselors, pastors and family can help young couples discover the importance of marriage and the serious nature of the vow. Pre-Cana is also an excellent way to learn about family issues from other couples, as well as teach young couples the unglamorous aspects of marriage. Learning to prayer together and attend liturgy and service together is an important step in engagement. The young couple needs to investigate and learn about each other. They need to realize that marriage is also a spiritual vocation that is not about just this world, but helping each other to reach the next world. It is a joint vocational marriage to hold each accountable to Christ.
Prayer and God must remain in the family for it to succeed. The modern war on the family has attempted to strip Christ from marriage. It important then that Christians re-introduce Christ to marriage and share the beauty of Christian marriage to the world.
Please also review AIHCP’s Christian Counseling Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Christian Counseling.