It is always tragic to see someone commit spiritual suicide right before your eyes. Apostasy can be a gradual slip into disbelief. Some slide away over time under the riptide of doubt, but sometimes people make a definitive and willful break and renounce their faith publicly.
I witnessed this recently with an acquaintance on Facebook who seemed to be struggling with reconciling belief in a loving God with his fear of Hell and eternal damnation. Like Martin Luther, it seemed to stem from a fear of “losing” salvation by way of mortal sin and feeling extreme mental duress when one is in such a state of sin. Martin Luther’s obsessive and obstinate need to be assured of his salvation resulted in the development of his theological concept of sola fide (“Faith Alone”) as the means of salvation. The evangelical spin-off is that one must be “born again,” to be saved, as referenced in John 3:3-4.
In the final stage of this acquaintance’s very public descent into apostasy, he celebrated throwing off the shackles of the Catholic Church and proclaimed casually that all one needs is to be “born again.” It was the nail in the coffin of his faith. Prior to that, I suggested he consider that, outside the Barque of Peter, he was sailing in dangerous waters, that Jesus named Peter “Rock” for a reason, and that his newfound celebration of a so-called doctrinal “freedom” would be short-lived. But his mind seemed to be made up. He could no longer believe in what the Catholic Church taught. He wanted off the ark. I prayed and continue to pray for him.
Apostasy and Marriage
What does apostasy have to do with marriage? A good bit, I think. The imagery of Christ as Bridegroom appears in Ephesians 5:22-23 and John 3:29. Who is his Bride? The ekklesia, or Church, of course. The Song of Songs also uses this marriage and consummation imagery to describe God’s love for his people.
When I became a Catholic at age eighteen, I remember walking down the aisle for my Confirmation, after confessing my sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and anticipating receiving Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. (I had been baptized in the Episcopal Church as an infant). Though relatively young and not quite into adulthood, I knew that despite all my fads and interests, this event was to bind me for life to the Bridegroom, and it had the feeling of a wedding ceremony. It was a commitment for life. Just as sacraments such as Baptism leave an indelible mark on the soul that can never be erased, sacramental marriage creates an indissoluble bond binding two lives inseparably.
In coming into the Church, one professes the Creed and renounces Satan and all his empty promises. In marriage, a man and woman exchange vows, which bind them for life despite all circumstances and obstacles. If those vows were not meant to be permanent, they would be devoid of meaning. Because marriage is difficult–almost beyond our strength sometimes–God gives us grace by way of the Sacrament of Matrimony to strengthen us and preserve us from what would try to tear asunder what He Himself has joined. Because life and one’s circumstances change over time, God gives us the rope of vows to tie ourselves to the mast when we are sorely tempted to jump ship or run aground under the temptation of siren songs.
Fidelity is Hard
People leave the Catholic Church for a myriad of reasons. Some do not feel as though they were “fed” and believe that a “personal relationship with Jesus” in evangelical churches (a large majority of which are composed of ex-Catholics) fulfils that desire for spiritual intimacy outside of the Church. Some are just lazy and apathetic, never thinking of the afterlife or their eternal destiny. Many of these slide away thinking it unimportant. Some defect for other religions–perhaps the rigor of Islam attracts the more stoic, and Eastern religions the more esoteric. Some get lured away by the world and its seductions. And some, due to their susceptibility to diabolic influences, join the enemies’ ranks in witchcraft or Satanism.
When people want “out” of the Faith, they simply (and erroneously) walk away. God in His supreme respect for human freedom forces no one to love Him. He waits for His wayward children, always scanning the horizon for their return, and also seeks out the lost as a shepherd seeks out his sheep. In the case of public apostasy, it is tragic because when people reject the Church, they also cut themselves off from many graces that can only be had in union with the Church. The “freedom” they experience from the shackles of religion is akin to a juvenile being told by negligent parents they no longer have to attend school. Living on the streets and eating out of garbage cans, however, is a short-lived joy.
Remaining Faithful to the End
In my limited experience, those who want “out” of a marriage will find a reason or justification for getting out. I once heard a marriage counselor say that many people who come for counseling are already resigned to divorce; in those instances it is very difficult to save the marriage. Some do want to work on their marriage and retain the sacred union; sometimes the other partner is willing, but often not. Some seek to remarry someone more to their liking, forgetting the words of our Lord that “anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).
We should rather die than deny Christ, and Christ cannot be conceived of apart from his Bride, the Church. We should always pray for the grace of final perseverance; that, despite our doubts, despite periods of aridity, despite not always understanding the Church’s teaching, we will remain securely in the Barque of Peter, the Church. Satan will darken the intellect and provide all the justifications (lies) we need to leave the Church because if he lures us away from the sheep pen, he can devour us in the field.
Marriage takes faith. Things change, and marriage claims constancy in spite of it. People change, and marriage requires that we stay true to our vows through and despite many changes. We have vows to bind us in marriage and the grace of the sacrament to sustain us. We must also see our faith as that which is worth fighting to the death to preserve, for the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).