Wednesday, July 21, 2010

20 Years Revisited

VIDEO: Tammy Wynette performing a song which needs no introduction. Date unknown.

Sunday's piece entitled “20 Years After: Divorce and the Culture of Death” is getting quite a response, with nearly two hundred and fifty visits on the day following that of its issue, and about half that number yesterday. For this blog, that's pretty good any time of year, but it's phenomenal for the summer. One comment was particularly moving. "Angel" writes:

I was abandoned by my adulterous husband. I had 4 children under the age of 8 when he left. I had been out for the workforce for about 8 years and would stay out another 7 to raise our children alone ...

Now, I know what you're all thinking. “Hey, Mister Black Hat Guy, this guy is a jerk. He’ll never be played by Julia Roberts in a major motion picture.” (See previous reference.) I rest my case.

Last December, I wrote “Christmas 1990” about my first holiday season alone in Georgetown. It included advice for people in the same situation. (If you are currently in that situation, stop what you're doing and read it. Now.) Unfortunately, people left to raise children don't have the luxury of falling into depression, and can't live the "crazy time" experience associated with the aftermath. They have to be the rock of stability for the little ones, who often don't have a grasp of what's going on. In my case, I was able to tap into a network of activity, mostly among the folk music and dance crowd. (See “My Gypsy Moment” from April 2008.) I was lucky in that way. Even today, my involvement in Scouting is somewhat impeded because I'm not a "family man" in the usual sense. (It also doesn't help that Scouting in areas like this one is dominated by Mormons, but that's another story, no offense to any Mormons.)

I should also clarify something. My wife left in 1990. The divorce itself didn't happen until two years after that. Virginia requires one year of legal separation before filing if there are children involved, six months if there are not, making it one of the more conservative states where family law is concerned. (That, and the tendency to believe anything the woman says, to the extent of perjury.) I did not participate in the proceedings, as my presence was not ordered by the court. To tell the truth, the legal action was rather anticlimactic. In fact, I didn't find out about it until about two months after the papers were ready for me to sign, and that was only because the cake-eater she hired as her attorney finally wanted to know why I wasn't making the checks out in her maiden name. For the price of keeping two lawyers busy, she finally spit it out. What a goober!

Okay, okay, enough out of Peyton Place; we need to focus here. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks with severity on the issue:

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. ...(#2384)

Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society ...(#2385)

Fortunately, it does not stop there.

It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law.

There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage. (#2386)

What is also important to remember here, are the three conditions necessary for mortal sin. As summarized in the Baltimore Catechism, they are “grave matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent.” This is to say, especially in light of the second and third conditions, that the person is fully aware of the gravity of the action, and fully intends to commit a moral offense. As we learned in the earlier piece with respect to sufficient reasons for divorce, one does not necessarily desire to end a marriage when initiating a divorce. Thus it is a civil exercise that may be tolerated by the Church, in order to properly dispose of legal and property matters, and to ensure the care of children involved. These are good things in and of themselves, the state of the marriage notwithstanding. Further, it is not a commentary on the validity of the bond, which is another matter entirely.

Any questions?


11 On My Own said...

The very first thing a priest said to me in confession was, "Pray that he comes back, and don't leave the house until he does." Words of wisdom, there! Like Angel, I also had four (no five) kids under eight, but I also had older ones, too, who set me straight after I went through the initial mourning period that you described in "Christmas 1990."

David L Alexander said...


When a marriage first breaks down, any good priest, not knowing the particulars (and the confessional has never been the ideal setting for full-blown spiritual direction), is likely to submit the possibility of reconciliation. Sometimes it happens. I don't see this as a poor reflection on him, simply an instance where someone may not have had all the facts.

Older offspring are often in a position to weather these things. It's not good when one or two of them become the "adults" of the family, but it can force them to grow up fast, and see adults as never losing their human failings. This appears to have worked to your advantage.