August 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — By the rubrics of the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer, the man is instructed to say to the woman as he places the ring upon her finger: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship [i.e., reverence], and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The spouses give of themselves because they belong to each other. Their mutual homage and lifelong union is a ratification of the covenant written that day upon their hearts by the fiery finger of the Holy Spirit, written with the word of the entire person and the absolute weight of past, present, and future as a testimony to the immortality of the human soul and the divine origin of its love. If vows like this are not possible, human beings are not rational animals or children of God.
The nuptial vow is an imitation of the Virgin Mary’s faith: “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38). This one timeless utterance — said by Eve to Adam, Sarah to Abraham, Rebecca to Isaac, Rachel to Jacob, Mary to Joseph, Christ to His Father, the Church to Christ — is the solemn attestation of undying love, the triumph of love over death. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” (Song 6:3).
This is why, for the Christian, divorce is not merely cruel and wrong, but impossible and inconceivable. To make oneself, one’s life and destiny, into a yes, and then to say no, is to erase the genuine freedom of the will and annihilate one’s own identity as a bearer of promises. Freedom can survive only in a climate of love, and love in a climate of exceptionless commitment, not a storm of chance or a desert of uncertainty. In marriage vows seriously intended, the man becomes the woman’s, and the woman becomes the man’s — in St. Paul’s words, “you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). Like father and child, husband and wife are correlative. If the father had never existed, the child, too, would vanish. Divorce of what is intrinsically united is no more possible than separating rationality from humanity. In this sense, the rejection of plighted love (divorce) is like the rejection of plighted religion (apostasy), which is itself an image of the rejection of reason (nihilism).
Think of the devotion of the Virgin Mary to her Son. He asked everything of her, and she was not found wanting. When a man or woman plights faith with God, it is done in promise of a future beatitude we do not presently enjoy. The grandeur of faith consists in this free and unconditional surrender to a lover whom we do not see, but whose solemn word we trust.
Imagine the wife of a young man gone off to war. She knows she may never see him again, she knows that nothing can give her certainty of his faithfulness overseas. But if she loves him, she will keep faith with him in expectation of reunion. Scripture says of Jacob that he “served seven years for Rachel: and they seemed but a few days, because of the greatness of his love” (Gen. 30:20). Although in human love, betrayal or death may intervene, the will to love is stronger than either because it springs up from the deepest spiritual core of man’s heart.
In the case of our divine Lover, He longs to make Himself known to us: He has not left us orphans. Why the Incarnation? Why the parables and Passion of Jesus Christ? Why miracles? Why saints and scholars? Are these not the bouquets, the love letters, the passionate outpourings of God to man? Furthermore, if God creates the universe in a fecunditive overflow of His perfect goodness, will He make it impossible for us to find Him, and when He is found, impossible for us to keep Him?
Unlike the ephemeral dreams and tragic fractures of human love, which by its very nature remains subject to change, the love of God remains everlastingly: He is faithful; He will not betray His children. They are His, and He would have them return to Him, as the father wants the prodigal son back in his arms, under his roof. We begin our mortal life in a state of alienation from God; our entire life is a pilgrimage to find our way back to Him. The Father waits for us with a feast, and for our sake, He has allowed the killing, not of a fatted calf, but of His very own Son, that we might return to Him with confidence and rest our weary head on His bosom, like the poor beggar Lazarus reposing in the bosom of Abraham.
Here on Earth, we can but search and follow the star: we must follow whatever light is visible to us with the unwavering faith of the Magi. Thomas Valpy French, Monsignor Ronald Knox’s grandfather, wrote these words about his religious struggles: “I own I have been much perplexed … I can but come to this, that when full light is not given, one must accept the best light one has, and move slowly forward with some hesitancy but still more trust.” That is what it looks like to abide in hope, and be faithful to one’s promises, waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ.