A necessary third party in a Catholic marriage

We humans are like snowflakes – created beautiful and yet fleeting in our existence. But more amazing than that, no two are ever created alike. That’s what science tells us.

This may not surprise us at all since all of us – even identical twins growing up in the same home with the same genes – grow up into very different individuals. Bring in gender to the mix, and differences grow even more apparent. Here is the irony of it all: just as natural as it is that no two humans are alike, so too is it natural that two humans – a man and a woman – are meant to marry and live together as one body.

As those who are married know well enough, nature has a funny way of drawing man and woman together, enticing each other with common interests, only for us to discover later, all the peculiar and hitherto undiscovered traits our partners have which lay so quietly dormant… until after the marriage vows are exchanged! If this is nature’s way of getting humans hitched for procreation, then it appears to be one big cosmic joke… and that joke is on us.

From an anthropological standpoint, we human beings are naturally inclined to form a single monogamous union made up of two very different individuals. It is this very definition of a marriage that has challenged the human condition (and that has thus far prevailed) up and down the ages. Think of the many colorful characters in the Old Testament, or one as recent as Henry VIII with his six wives, or the current French president François Hollande who believes not in a first lady, but rather a first ‘life partner’.

Indeed, it’s only in past half a century that we began to hear strident and even belligerent calls to accept alternative models of ‘marital unions’ such as same-sex unions and unmarried cohabitation. Many who call for these alternative unions, typically cite the difficulty, and even claim the impossibility, to live up to the high ideals of traditional marriage. The call is for an acceptance of any and all forms of marital union, the claim is for individual freedom, but the cost is the depravation of the human being.


The case against traditional marriage

As in any intelligent engagement of opposing views, we should take the dialectic approach, and not just go on the offensive with a war of words, as we see practised so often these days. In taking this approach, one cannot help but realize that the opposing side seems to hold a valid argument in claiming the decadence of traditional marriage – that more and more married couples today are ending their marriages in divorce.

Indeed the statistics do not lie. What are we to make of this stark reality? What other recourse do we have other than divorce? This column cannot possibly address all the aspects in its complexity, but we can attempt to shed some light on the modern day reality of the married.

The primary cause for divorces today is infidelity. It’s a known fact that both sexes are equally responsible for any infidelity that occurs in a marriage. The blame for a broken marriage is not the fault of one gender or the other, and trying to apportion blame with such broad strokes keeps us further from the truth. Of course, it does seem as though men have historically been the more adulterous creature. Although this is not a rule, we do see more instances of men cheating on their wives purely for the physical act of sex.


A new challenge

In the latter half of the 20th century, however, have seen gender roles change. This was a direct result of concerted campaigns to liberate women from stereotypes and practices which have held them down. Women began to enter the workplace and contributed tremendously not only to the family but also to the nation. Women could truly hold their own in virtually all areas of the workplace. This great shift exposed women not only to the good but also the untoward vagaries of the workplace.

While men have their Achilles’ heel in the physical, women have theirs in the emotional. While men used to fall for the allure in the other woman, women now typically fall for the affectionate and listening ear in the other man. Encountering the opposite sex at work simply exposes one to all these realities, whether one likes it or not. Are we then resigned to constantly worrying that our spouses will stray? The answer is a resolute no. As married people, we chose by our free will to be united with our spouses through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of our lives.


Three to get married

Yes, it is a very, very tall order indeed, as many will attest to especially in today’s modern world. As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his 1951 book of the same title, it takes “three to get married” – the third party must always be God. This higher order assistance is what the marriages of today need to recover ever more so than in the past. Left to our own human devices and logic, a faithful marriage, as the world puts it, is indeed just a fairy tale.

As humans, we often fail to hold up the simplest of promises, let alone marital vows. Many among the married have been deeply hurt and betrayed by their spouses. It takes nothing short of super-human effort to overcome any infidelity in a marriage. Some marriages do indeed survive, but do all wounds of hurt truly ever heal? Many who have been through such betrayal share that some hurt and guilt does remain. “You can forgive, but you can never forget” is how the adage goes. It is in such times of great despair when God is all that remains, but if only we would avail ourselves to Him. It is exactly in these times where we cannot do without the third party in God.

Therefore it is with great faith that, we who have hurt the other, and who have been hurt, are called to rise beyond ourselves and place ourselves before the Lord – in that very same way when we first placed ourselves before the Lord in holy matrimony – by our own free will.

As Pope John Paul II himself had exhorted repeatedly “Be not afraid!” For our Lord Himself knows how it felt to be betrayed by the very one whom he so loved, and to forgive the very ones who willed Him great harm and injury. The married among us who have hurt and been hurt can find a truly great instrument of healing in the endearing love in the cross of Christ. The following presents an invitation to the Cross: To one who has hurt: See Christ crucified within your spouse whom you have hurt and find forgiveness. To one who was hurt: Extend the forgiveness in the same way that Christ forgave those who betrayed His love. To both who are one flesh: Just as Christ submitted Himself in obedience to the Father and thereby resurrected, submit yourselves in mutual forgiveness to Christ and be set anew.

May all married couples of the world live their true married vocation in and within Christ, and together walk the greater path to holiness until they rest with the Lord.


By Dennis Wee
Source: PortaFidei Magazine (Dec 2012), Published with permission.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family