“The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” To paraphrase, “If a man can’t get rid of his wife even for a very good reason, he’s better off not getting married.”
So, the difficult teaching comes directly from Jesus; it is not just a discipline of the Church.
The Church has recognized that in some or even many cases the vows of the spouses do not enact a true sacramental marriage because one party or the other was not fully competent to commit marriage. That’s why the Church can examine a situation and issue a declaration of nullity — a statement that there was no true sacramental marriage from the very beginning. Given the non-preaching and non-teaching of the reality as well as the “companionate marriage” propaganda of a sexually saturated culture, it is possible that today a great many “marriages” are invalid. And perhaps there are certain aspects of the nullity process that can be improved. But I am certain that the Holy Spirit is not going to allow the Church to teach that any marriage that breaks up was automatically null and void from its inception.
The truly pastoral approach needs to seek ways to ensure that couples who want to marry are properly prepared to commit marriage. The teaching of St. Paul in Romans 10:14-17 is particularly apropos. “But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?”
Certainly that applies first and foremost to saving faith in the Lord Jesus, but it also applies to everything else including marriage — children, the demands of love, and permanence. From the beginning couples have had a natural right to marry as Jesus makes clear. The Canon Law of the Catholic Church makes it clear that Catholics have a right to have a Catholic priest or deacon witness their marriage. Such a requirement does not, however, eliminate the need for couples to undergo a reasonable amount of preparation for the sacrament. In fact, out of real love for the future spouses and their children, it is simply imperative for the Church to require and provide, well prior to marriage, adequate instruction about the demands of Christian love and commitment.
Remote preparation starts in the family, Sunday homilies, and proper catechesis. It can be aided by something like my Seven Day Bible Rosary that has a decade devoted to the teaching of Jesus about the permanence of marriage. Hearing or seeing these words on a weekly basis might help to engrave that reality into a person’s very being. And certainly the right kind of natural baby spacing program can help the couple to realize the demands of self-giving love. We have seen engaged or about-to-be-engaged couples break off the engagement when they realized that they were incompatible on this issue. I remember one case where the young woman was back the next year with another fiancé, and they went on to have a happy marriage.
The bottom line is this: Our cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons need to realize that Romans 10:14-17 applies to preparation for marriage and act accordingly. Conversion, not concession, is the answer.