Why is it a sin for a Catholic who is divorced but then remarries without an annulment from the Catholic Church? What should that person do if they find themselves in that situation now?
Thank you for having the courage to ask such a sincere question.
Jesus answered a similar question by saying, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So, they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” [Mt 19:4-6]
When a man and woman choose to marry each other, their union is inseparable because it has become an image of God’s own bond of love with us. This is what it means to be “joined together” by God: A couple’s love becomes like that of the Trinity. God’s love is infinite — he lifts that cross for us; and eternal — he continuously offers all of us the Holy Spirit to make his love present in our hearts. A husband and wife are invited into God’s kind of love: full and permanent, fruitful and faithful.
Why is it a sin to get remarried without an annulment? “Whoever divorces his wife,” Jesus tells us, “and marries another, commits adultery.” [Mt 19:9] The sin is not in the divorce, but the choice to marry another person while that original marriage still exists. The Catholic Church takes Our Lord’s words incredibly seriously. An annulment is not a declaration that two spouses are no longer married — Jesus tells us that no one can do that — but that for some reason a true marriage never actually came about. The church spends much time and prayer seeking this truth, looking to see if there was some misunderstanding or a lack of freedom that would have kept a marriage from happening in the first place.
Jesus only asks us for God-like love because he knows that we were originally made for nothing less than that. If marriage were to be considered temporary or separable, that kind of love would be lost. We would be left with merely fleeting affection, not the lasting, divine kind of love which is the only kind that really fulfils us. You rightly ask, as did those in Jesus’ time, how is this possible? Many times, our lives are imperfect, our relationships broken, our society not there for us. With Christ, God-like-love is not out of reach! When the church considers the validity of a marriage, this is the grace it asks for: Lord, help us to see this situation as you see it so that these your sons and daughters can live in the fullness of your grace. When you courageously ask: “What should a person do now?” that is the grace you seek: “Jesus give me the patience, the light, the fidelity, to live out in my life the fullness of your love.”
Continue to beg Jesus for that grace, and each day try to take one small step toward his love. Be not afraid! How today can you save the full bodily gift of yourself for your true spouse? If things are complicated, and you find yourself unable to see a way forward, keep praying: “Lord, help me!” Pour your heart out to Jesus, perhaps through your priest. Is there reason to believe that what looked like marriage was lacking somehow, and, with the church’s declaration of nullity, you would be free to marry? Our Lord knows us, and our situation, better than anyone. His love is worth it. He is with you.
Father Dominic Rankin is parochial Father Dominic Rankin is parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and has a license in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute in Rome.