God remains faithful to the sacramental bond even when that bond has been rejected by man
21 April 2015
The letter below was sent by a supporter of Voice of the Family to Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in December 2013. [Archbishop Müller was elevated to the College of Cardinals in February 2014]. She wrote to express her thanks for his defense of the Church’s teaching in Testimony to the Power of Grace: On the Indissolubility of Marriage and the Debate Concerning the Civilly Remarried and the Sacraments.
Voice of the Family has received permission from the author to publish the letter, with personal details removed.
December 1, 2013
Dear Archbishop Müller,
I am writing to you today to thank you for your recent Instruction on Holy Communion for those who remarry. I hope that the faithful and the bishops, priests and religious who guide them will heed it.
The Instruction in focusing on the Eucharist draws us to the source of deepest happiness, the only lasting happiness. It teaches us to appreciate once more the Church’s fidelity to the teaching on marriage and the Eucharist. Moreover it holds up a light to people already entangled in difficult situations. This light is not offered by society only by the Church. Even more importantly, the light also offers direction to those who have not yet become entangled showing them how to avoid the problems and heartbreak of entering non sacramental unions that have become so common as to necessitate this instruction.
In some small way to confirm the Instruction, I would in humility like to share my story and what I have learned in my own broken but blessed married life.
I married at the age of 21. I had until that time been raised in a large Catholic family. My parents had a deep commitment to their marriage, to us and to the Church. My assumption was that once sacramentally married my husband would have that same commitment.
After three years of marriage, my husband left for the first time for about 3 months returning shortly before the birth of our second child. Shortly after the birth of our third child who is profoundly disabled, my husband left for a few years. This son now in his thirties still lives with me. Following his return we enjoyed a long period of stability until my husband again left when our youngest child was 2 years old. He has been gone since.
Though at each desertion there were those who would see an end to the marriage and a new man in my life as the obvious solution, I trusted the Church’s teaching on marriage and knew that my vow was for life and doggedly insisted that a new relationship was not possible because “I was married”.
Looking back, I am amazed at the strength of this conviction which must have been a grace because at the time of those early separations I was frightened, ill, impoverished, heartbroken and lonely. I am particularly thankful for my “Penny Catechism” training which had provided me with simple formulas about matrimony, sin, sacrament and “avoiding the near occasion of sin” as these were lifelines in these times of crisis when deep reflection was impossible.
What became clear to me as each emotional storm passed is that I was not alone. I began to appreciate that the Holy Spirit was there, ever present, ever faithful to the marriage. That He, as well as my husband and I, had entered a covenant on the day of our sacramental marriage. That God will remain in the sacrament until my death or my husband’s death and that even if one spouse deserts, even if both desert, the marriage, Jesus would remain, waiting, watching for our return like He does in the tabernacle of a locked church. As this became clear to me, fidelity to the marriage became easy. What man, what security could ever be worth walking away from God.
What have I discovered since?
God is not to be outdone. He provides abundantly. How I don’t know but there is always enough….things always work out.
I also discovered that the “duties” of married life still apply. I still have children to raise and educate. I have the task of getting them, my husband and myself to heaven, which can only be done in a prayer of trust and in offering both the particular difficulties of separated married life as well as the daily routines. Because of my husband’s absence, I am celibate, even so my marriage remains open to life. In 2005, my sister died and her children joined my own.
I discovered that celibacy can be lived in joy and that I can deal with my husband in charity. And that the example of faithfulness and courtesy has buffered my children from many of the worst effects of marriage breakdown. I discovered Mary, my Mother and St Joseph who truly became the foster father of my household.
In our family life there are so many stories of Graces, not deserved but gratefully accepted, that I could tell, but for this note I will just say I have been “happily” married for over four decades now. I wish husbands and wives in my position would give themselves the time and space to realise that the choice is not between a life alone or with a new partner, but life with Jesus with all the blessings that entails. I would love for them to be blessed as I have been despite my glaring inadequacies.
I am so grateful for the decision to be faithful (which could so easily have been different) because God has graced my life and that of my family out of all proportion to my feeble “yes”. In all of this, I have come to an appreciation of the beauty and strength of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It has increasingly dawned on me that I might never have known this had my marriage been stable. It has been a privilege I do not deserve to experience the Fidelity of God to the sacramental bond even when that bond has been broken. So wonderful is the Divine Fidelity that this is a truth I would love to see communicated to all sacramentally married people regardless of their situation.
I am surrounded by friends who have made the other decision, the decision to try to heal their broken hearts through replacement relationships. I am not in their hearts nor can I see their souls but observing from the outside, listening to them and watching as the years pass, it seems that the problems they sought to solve became compounded and the future they sought to secure has fallen short and in many cases has led to more heart ache.
The sad thing about the push to allow people who are divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion is that Jesus, waiting within their sacramental marriage, is forgotten. If they would return to Jesus, He would welcome them and they could truly receive Him. In effect people want to receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist but not in the Sacrament of Matrimony and so an impossible contradiction arises. In fairness to most of these unfortunate people they do not know, such has been the inadequacy of catechesis especially in marriage preparation. Communicating the “real presence” of God in Marriage seems to me to be the heart of the question that the bishops must address in the synods on the Family 2014 and 2015 in relation to your Instruction.
When people in a non sacramental remarriage feel the call of Christ to come to Him they do not understand that His call is coming from His dwelling in their sacramental marriage where He keeps faithful watch no matter how long ago the marriage has been abandoned. I would hope and pray that the bishops would help the people of our time to understand this beautiful truth.
I understand the difficulties that can arise from separating from a non sacramental partner especially when children are involved but the Grace of the sacrament of matrimony is infinitely able to heal and help beyond anything we can imagine. In these situations God will not forget His children.
I recently celebrated my wedding anniversary. For me it is a day of thanksgiving for my marriage, tattered and broken as it is, because it is where the good Lord has worked so lovingly in my life to bring happiness. And if God can bring such happiness to my life He can and will bring it to anyone who lets him.
Thank you again for your great work.