Why does the Church insist on defending the indissolubility of marriage, and why is marriage between a man and a woman considered to be so essential to society?
To find out, the Register spoke with Father Jose Granados, vice president of the Pontifical Institute of John Paul II for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome and visiting professor of patrology and systematic theology.
Father Granados, a priest of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, was chosen earlier this year to be an expert consulter to the upcoming synod on the family. He has written a new book on this subject called One Body in One Spirit (Una Sola Carne en un Solo Espiritu).
In this interview, the Spanish professor explains how the inherent goodness of marriage can be brought back to society, possible ways of integrating remarried divorcees into the Church community and why he believes a theology of the body should never be separated from a “theology of love,” a novelty that was discussed at a recent closed-door meeting of Swiss, French and German bishops at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Please could you tell us more about your new book? Who is it aimed at, and what do you hope it will achieve?
The book intends to offer a whole view of the theology of marriage. I started to work on this book as part of my teaching and research activity at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute — the book owes much to the “Pope of the Family” — long before Pope Francis decided to convoke the synod. I hope it can help illumine the synod’s discussions. Only if we start from the great gift the Lord has granted the Church in the sacrament of marriage is it possible to bring hope, healing and greatness of life to the families in the many situations in which they live today.
One of the key insights of the book is that marriage is the sacrament that roots all of the Church’s sacraments in the concrete, everyday life of the faithful. Through marriage and the family, established by the Creator at the beginning of the world, all of creation and nature, of culture and of the common good of society, are included in the concern of the Church.
The book insists also that, in marriage, Christ allows the spouses to love each other as he has loved the Church.
This means that the encounter with Christ and the gift of his Spirit takes place for the spouses in their concrete relationship, in work and family life, in the generation and education of their children, in their indissoluble love and in their forgiveness. ... In this way, we understand what is at stake for the Church when it comes to marriage and the family.
By her confession that marriage is a sacrament, the Church confesses Christianity as an encounter with Christ that touches body and soul, that generates new ways of loving, that enriches society and creates culture. Without the Gospel of the family, Christianity becomes an abstract religion, a beautiful ideal, irrelevant for the concrete life in the flesh.
Why does the Church see the indissolubility of marriage as so essential for the well-being of society?
Marriage is a special sacrament precisely because it is rooted in creation. Thus the Church’s teachings on the family are not only for Christians: She proposes them as good news for every man and woman, in every place and time. This is why, in the way she lives out marriage, the Church contributes to the common good.
This applies specially to the indissolubility of marriage. People today suffer because they are unable to find unity in their lives: They live only in the fragmented time of the instant, of sentiments that come and go. The indissolubility of marriage is a gift that enriches the way we live our journey in time, helping us give unity — the unity of love — to our history.
Indeed, to believe that marriage is indissoluble means to believe that the promise — forever — that love contains is possible. It means also to believe that, no matter our fragility, it is always possible to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. We see that the indissolubility of marriage is at the foundations of our common life: No society can stand together if it stops to trust in the words of others and to hope in forgiveness and reconciliation.
We see clearly this goodness of indissolubility to society if we think of the education of children. They learn to make promises when they see that the love of their parents, who gave them life, is stable and that they can trust in a stable future. By teaching and living out the indissolubility of marriage, the Church makes a great act of mercy towards society.
Why has the benefit to society of matrimony been forgotten and the concept of marriage abused?
I think this has to do with two tokens of the modern vision of the family. First, the modern view of the family has implied its privatization. The family is conceived as a private enterprise that has to do only with the affections and desires of the individual. Thus, it does not matter for public life: The economy, work, public discussions are done by individuals, and the family does not seem to be necessary. This is why it seems natural to accept as many models of family as there are individual desires.
Second, the family has been secularized; it is a human thing that can be fully understood from the viewpoint of human science. It has nothing to do with an openness to transcendence, to the great questions of life, to the Creator.
Now, when marriage is isolated from the rest of society and from God, it becomes very fragile. Think of indissolubility. It is not a task for man alone, nor for woman alone, not for both of them isolated from society and God. The individual can only assure to be faithful in the instant. Only when there is a community that sustains us, from generation to generation; only when we understand that we are not the source of love, but that we first receive love from another, ultimately from God — then we can say, “I love you forever,” and we can forgive “no matter what,” recovering trust in the promise we once received and made.
Paraphrasing Genesis we could say: “It is not good for the family to be alone.” This is why the witness of the whole Church is required to defend and foster the family.
How can the good of marriage be restored in the minds of the faithful and non-Catholics?
There are many things that can be done, but the most important, I think, is the witnessing of the goodness, joy and greatness of marriage. We are called to show that the Christian gospel of the family is not just an ideal, but a concrete possibility that has happened, that happens every time that Christ enters our life, touches and transforms it.
This witness takes place, first of all, in the families who live out their vocation — acknowledging with realism their fragility, but acknowledging also with realism God’s strength and action in their lives.
This witness takes place also in the life of the whole Church as a great family. The Church is called to witness that she is built up from families, that the families are real agents of her life and mission. In this way, she can tell society: The family generates the common good.
This witness takes place in the Church’s liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, in which she confesses the love of Christ, the Son who gave himself up for her Bride. From here, she can propose to the world the gospel of the family, not as an ideal, but as a concrete encounter with Christ in the flesh.
True mercy from God is said to heal wounds and help people move on in their lives. How would allowing some remarried divorcees receive holy Communion after a period of penitence be such an act of mercy? What are the dangers of this proposal?
You are right when you say that mercy means healing wounds and helping people. This is the greatness of God’s mercy: He makes us capable of following Jesus’ own footsteps; he makes us capable of loving with his own love. In this way, we don’t need to be ashamed to receive mercy, because through mercy we become not only receivers of love, but sources of love.
This is the great hope the Church is called to give to the divorced Catholics who live in a new civil union and want to live their faith but acknowledge they live in contradiction with the words of Jesus. The Church is called to announce to them: “It is possible for you to live according to Jesus’ love, to live according to the ‘forever’ of marriage; mercy calls you to walk towards this goal; and the Church can accompany you along this path, because you are a member of the Church. You are not excluded from her.”
In this sense, I think an “itinerary of reconciliation” could be very helpful to help these baptized walk towards receiving the fullness of God’s mercy. This is different from a “period of penitence.” The itinerary does not imply a fixed time, but proposes a path, accompanied by the community, until the person can live according to the words of Jesus regarding marriage and, only then, receive confession and Communion.
In order to enter into such an itinerary, which could also have concrete liturgical rites and take on a public dimension, these divorced persons would need to acknowledge that there is a contradiction in their lives with the words of Jesus and that they have the desire that God changes their hearts, so that they can live according to Jesus’ love. What seems impossible at the beginning of the itinerary (abandoning the new union or living in continence in it if there are grave reasons) will be seen in a different light as the person gets closer to the Lord in prayer, in acts of mercy, accompanied by the community.
A “period of penance,” on the contrary, implies a time that is fixed from without, without taking into account the action of God in their hearts. After this period, these divorced would be allowed to receive holy Communion even if they are still living in a stable way in opposition to the words of Jesus regarding marriage. But this means to give up on God’s mercy, on God’s capacity to change the heart of a person.
A possible compromise for remarried divorcees could be to allow them to take some active role in the Church, such as letting them be godparents, lectors or even teach. Could such recognition be a possible way forward, or would it subtly be a threat to the indissolubility of marriage?
In deference to the admission to Communion, which the Church cannot grant without contradicting the Lord’s words, we are dealing here with a law established by the Church that she herself could change. Of course, this discipline makes sense theologically and pastorally: There are certain public roles that represent the Church and therefore require a public coherence of life with the Gospel, also in order to avoid scandal.
Could we think of some circumstances in which these baptized could be admitted to these roles? I would say that, if they have started and made progress in the itinerary of reconciliation I have talked about, an itinerary that has effects also in the external forum, this means that they acknowledge that their lives are in contradiction to Jesus’ teaching on marriage and they ask to be accompanied so that they can arrive to live in harmony with the Gospel. In this case, I think that some of the difficulties that prevent them from taking up some of these roles disappear. In any event, one would need to ask: Is this assumption of a certain public role helping them get closer towards a life in harmony with the Gospel regarding the sacrament of marriage? Is it helpful so that they keep walking towards this goal? Will it help the community in witnessing the gospel of the family? These are the real questions that come from the heart of the shepherd, who, like Jesus, wants to lead the sheep toward true life in abundance.
Some synod participants appear to support a new “theology of love,” as opposed to a theology of the body. What are the dangers of this?
It is true that Christianity is the religion of love. But if we ask why this love is so great, we need to answer: because it has taken bodily form, because the Son of God has become one of us; he has given up his body for us as the greatest sign of his love.
This being so, it is clear that a theology of love is always inseparable, for a Christian, from a theology of the body. Pope Francis repeats, with insistence, the need of “touching the flesh of our brothers and sisters.”
The proposal of separating the two comes, I think, from a “worldly” vision of love, as Pope Francis would say. Our culture thinks that the body limits our freedom and, therefore, our capacity to love. Many prefer what some call “liquid relationships”: relationships without a fixed form, which we adapt to the recipient of our own desires, as if our love were a liquid. We want to love our way, according to our own conditions. But the body — male and female, with meanings we have not created, with an opening to fruitfulness and life — prevents us from designing love according to our own measure.
What we need to ask is: Is this self-referential love, a love without body, a real love? If we reject the body, are we not in the end trapped in our own subjectivity, without the possibility of a real encounter with the other?
In fact, love is inseparable from the body, for only through the body we open up to the other, only in the body we understand that we have not given our existence to ourselves, but received it from others; only in the body do man and woman realize that they can be one flesh, so that a new life can come out of their union — because love is always greater.
It is striking how this “proposal” contradicts a sentence by Pope Benedict XVI (in a speech on May 13, 2011):
“The family: This is the place where the theology of the body and the theology of love are interwoven.”
Isn’t to separate the theology of the body and the theology of love precisely to destroy the place where they are interwoven, the family?
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.