Are spouses reunited in the afterlife?
On November 28 each year, Ralph and I celebrate the longevity of our marriage. On our wedding day back in 1975, we altered the vows from “till death do us part” to “from this day forward”. We intended to be spouses forever.
But Jesus says there are no marriages in heaven. How will this affect my relationship with Ralph after one or both of us have passed from earthly life?
The Catholic Catechism (paragraph 1638) explains: “From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive….” Perpetual means “from this day forward”. Eternally. So then, what did Jesus mean when he said that people in heaven do not marry? I’m sure he wasn’t implying that only if we leave earth married can we have spouses in heaven. He was teaching about something far deeper and more profound.
To understand it, let’s look at what the Catechism means by “a valid marriage”. Paragraph 1639 says: “The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself” (as Jesus says in Mark 10:9, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate“). Note: a valid marriage is one in which both spouses freely and fully give themselves to each other. Many marriages are not valid because one or both gave lip service, not their hearts, to this vow; they did not or (due to mental disability) could not give themselves whole-heartedly to their spouse.
When the bride and groom truly submit to one another by giving their whole selves to the other (as the famous Ephesians 5:21-33 verses about marriage describe: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ….”) they commit themselves to a divine covenant. As the Catechism states, “The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: ‘Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.’…” Sealed by God himself! Paragraph 1640: “Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved.”
So what happens to the relationship in the after-life? It becomes much more profound.
Think about what love is like in heaven. Right now, I love Ralph more than I do almost everyone else. In heaven, I will love everyone to the full. While Ralph and I will forever have a special history together, the purified advancement of our marriage bond in heaven will be the authentic, fully self-giving love that we’ll have for everyone. Everyone!
Think about what the body is like in heaven. On earth, couples have a physical attraction toward each other that often leads to unity of the bodies (sexual relations). The desire for sexual activity is basic to every creature in order to continue the species. Unlike the animals, though, we have been given the ability to control our instincts and are called to celibacy if we are not in a valid marriage. Humans are higher than animals in the hierarchy of God’s creations. To choose celibacy, as priests, religious, and non-married couples are called to do, is to embrace this superiority.
This is why Jesus said that some “live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). It might be hard to imagine, but love — full and complete and intimate and deeply profound — surpasses the animal nature in us. This is what love is like in heaven. It surpasses the animal nature’s physical desires. We will be “like angels” (Luke 20:36); we will not be like animals.
In short, there is no need for marriage in heaven. But we will love the one who had been our earthly spouse more than we can right now.
And those who have ex-spouses who reach heaven will have a wonderfully full love for the one they had divorced. If you have suffered a divorce, no matter how much anger and pain you feel, if you and your ex both love Jesus and want to spend eternity with him, and the sins against the sacredness of marriage have been absolved by the Sacrament of Confession or the purification of Purgatory, you will love each other more than currently seems possible. (See also how annulments fit into this.)
If you have a spouse who has passed from earth to at least purgatory where sin no longer exists, that one is loving you more right now than you ever knew before. He or she is praying for you with perfect love — your personal patron saint.
The kingdom of God on earth is an incomplete version of heaven. From it we can get clues of what life will be like. I can imagine Ralph and me, after we have both passed on into eternity, continuing to pray together for our children and others like we do now but much more effectively. I can imagine us having great fun together in the same-but-better holy ways that we do now. And in the fullness of love that is God’s holy presence permeating everything and everyone, we’ll celebrate the anniversary of our earthly bonding throughout eternity, but not by going away alone together for a romantic getaway. We’ll be partying with all the saints and angels.
© 2019 by Terry A. Modica