Friday, July 18, 2014

Intermediate States--Catholic, Living with Divorce and Staying Married

   I have always kept at the back of my mind something I read ages ago to the effect that even those people living in mortal sin, whose souls are dead, can be the recipients of grace--a grace which allows repentance.  Being more than a little  pharasaical according to my good Catholic friends, I have gone through stages of my life where I looked down upon most of the people around me as being indeed mired in original sin and beyond the hope of redemption. (C'mon, don't tell me you've never done this yourself...) As Jesus Christ well knew, and often pointed out, it is a habit of mind particularly characteristic of religious people.  The flip side is, of course, a ravening self-condemnation so severe and impervious to reason that it led me, on one memorable retreat, to go to confession three times in two days; my worst fear was that I was boring the priest to tears, but I could not help it--it was a compulsion, as scrupulosity is.

        Being divorced against your will is a great temptation to one's pride-- you immediately (if you are smart) become morally superior to your spouse.  While during the marriage there was at least the supposition that each of you was equally liable and that a fight would necessitate mutual apologies and mutual forgiveness, a divorce changes all of that. The relationship is immediately cast in a destructive light--the assumption being that the marriage failed, is over, was a terrible mistake, and that there is no hope of reconciliation. Your happy memories are suddenly and irrevocably tainted, because they are memories of something that the state has declared to be a failure (as have your spouse, in-laws, and most of your friends, and possibly your children). Even a horrible marriage right out of Edward Albee or Aeschylus has, while it is still a marriage, the ghost of a hope. A ghost of a hope may not sound like very much, but I am a big believer in the Mustard Seed theory of life, and a ghost of  a hope was enough to keep many couples trying, even in ghastly situations. And sometimes it worked. What a divorce does is to make a bad marriage worse, a hard marriage impossible, a troubled marriage doomed. But it never ends a marriage, as divorced people will tell you, if they are being honest. The relationship is still there, even if it has been reduced to simmering hatred. God makes marriage, and people can't end it. It does not end. It's like an atheist who doesn't believe in an afterlife--at some point, hopefully before he dies, he will come to a sudden and terrifying realization that whatever state he is in, it is forever...there is no merciful oblivion. Just eternal wakefulness. Marriage is like that.

     Which brings me to my own. When I told a rather astonished parish priest that I was not looking for an annulment (in my opinion, after 31 years and 4 adult kids, an annulment is science fiction) he got up and hugged me said "You're a good woman!" to my embarassment. And I asked him what I was supposed to do next. Be faithful, he said. Which I have done. There are a thousand scenarios available to an "abandoned spouse", from the purely fantastical Disney version of repentant reconciliation, through the horrifying and regrettable but convenient death of one's ex, to the reality of living in limbo and praying for and being charitable to someone who has done to you what is, in your opinion, the worst thing anyone has ever done to you; and whom, in all honesty, you miss like hell every morning when you wake up; you can't live without him  even though you have to.

     What is it? This is Christianity. This is picking up your cross daily. Or not. Every day you wake up with that choice, and if you turn it down at dawn, you can always accept it later on in the afternoon.  You can take the easy way out, and replace your spouse with a newer model, a tempting alternative. But then, who is going to pray for him? Right now I am the only one in the whole world who prays for that specific person, fervently, and daily. True, there are days when I pray for God to smite him-- but mostly not. When you pray for someone you are given the opportunity to get a glimpse of the way Christ looks at him.

     C S Lewis said that most people will attain their salvation by means of their marriage. He was right. It is the hardest thing you will ever do. And I do not doubt that an "intact" marriage can be just as difficult as living as a divorced spouse. Maybe harder. I don't have to pretend my life is fabulous anymore, and although that may be embarrassing at times, it is also a light burden, an easy yoke.  But it does make one focus on that intermediate state between mortal sin and salvation--the place we don't want to be, the place we are impatient to leave, the place John Calvin could not even imagine, which gives some Protestants nightmares. The place of free will, human action, repentance, grace, and uncertainty. The place of now.




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