Question: Jesus says if you divorce your wife and marry another, you commit adultery. But we see many seemingly happy people in their second marriage. What is your perspective on this?
— Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado
Answer: The implied premise of your question is that happiness and joy are determining criteria for what is right and wrong. Such a premise is flawed. Doing what is right does not always bring immediate happiness. Sometimes what is right is challenging and irksome, and we must trust in the ultimate happiness of doing what is right, not simply the passing happiness that may come from doing what is wrong. Jesus summons us to take up our cross and follow him, not our pillow. He further warns, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Lk 6:25).
A second problematic premise of your observation is a rather personalized understanding of happiness. People in second marriages may manifest happiness, but it is often not such a happy reality in the eyes of their children or other family members, who may have very mixed feelings, including sorrow. Many children of divorced families carry hurts and scars from the experience. They had to process the tragic reality that Mom and Dad don’t love each other anymore and, apparently, I am not a good enough reason for them to stay together. This may harm their trust in people and their own moral, spiritual and emotional formation. They may have to spend time at different homes and navigate confusing relationships if their parents go on to date and marry others. Even as they become adults, these complexities and ambiguities remain. When the parents put down the cross of working at their marriage, it is usually the children who must pick it up. Thus, when it comes to happiness, more must be considered than the couple.
All that said, noting that some people go on to great fulfillment in second marriages and even come into the Church or grow in holiness, cannot be wholly disregarded. There may be indications that God is offering blessings in what is objectively problematic. For this pastoral reason and others, the Church is willing to look into the questions of prior marriages and see if there are causes for the nullity of that first marriage. A declaration of nullity is a judgment of the Church that some essential aspect of marriage was lacking in the prior marriage and that it was not “what God has joined together.” There is not space here to fully explain nullity. However, it should be added that the mere happiness of spouses in a current marriage is not a consideration in granting annulments for a prior marriage. Only data regarding the prior marriage are considered.
Question: Were Adam and Eve real people? If so, how can the human race have descended from a couple whose only children were boys?
— Robert Friday, via email
Answer: Yes, it is the firm consensus of the Church that they were real people from whom we all descend (see Humani Generis, No. 37). That only Cain and Abel are mentioned in the opening chapters of Genesis does not mean that there were no other children. Genesis 5:4 says, “After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” As for incest, it is a norm that God imposed for later years rooted in necessary social and possibly genetic reasons.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.