Lent: Repentance, Divorce and Your Children


Lent begins this Wednesday.

It’s difficult in our over-scheduled world to reflect. On anything. It is doubly difficult to reflect on something as unpleasant as our own sins.

However, unless the statistics and the evening news are entirely bogus, we have a lot to repent of this Lent, a lot to change.

Most of us, me included, tend to focus on the entirely personal nature of our sins that pertains only to us. We don’t often consider how our personal sins affect others. We almost never think about  how our personal behavior either contributes to the common good or diminishes it.

We’ve had quite a few discussions on Public Catholic about marriage and family. A lot of this discussing has focused on the question of whether or not our society should change the legal definition of marriage. The question is, should we redefine marriage  to something that does not focus on marriage’s institutional purpose of creating, nurturing and equipping future generations of people to become stable and productive adults?

I think the primary reason we have come to the point where we can seriously consider such a thing is that we have become a divorce culture. Divorce and our easy acceptance of it as a solution for almost any spousal grivance has destroyed marriage as a nest for many millions of our young people. So, destroying it absolutely through a redefinition of the law just seems like the next step for many people. We’ve abused marriage so much that we’ve forgotten what marriage is.

One of the questions I’d like all of us to ponder during this Lent is how we treat our own families. In this post, I’m going to focus on divorced parents.

Divorce does not end your obligation as a parent. It complicates it and makes it more difficult to live out, but it certainly does not end it. Your children are still your children.

I see a lot of finger-pointing between divorced spouses. He claims that she won’t let him see the kids. She tells stories of fathers who make dates to see the children who wait eagerly by the door for hours for their Daddy who never shows up. Some divorced spouses move hundreds of miles away from their children and then only see them once or twice a year.

This is going to make a lot of people angry, but I’m going to say it. If you are only seeing your kids once or twice a year, you are not functioning as a parent in their lives. You are functioning, at best, as a kindly uncle or aunt.

Parents are there. Parents put their children first, ahead of their anger and resentment toward their former spouses, and yes, their careers and their new spouses.

I know all the stories about jobs and second marriages and all the other “necessary” reasons people move far away from their children. But, to be honest, I don’t buy it. Your children should come first. I once knew a divorced dad from England who had followed his divorced wife to Oklahoma so he could be near his kids. That’s a father.

The mother who moved her children so far away from their father on the other hand … not so much. I don’t think divorced dads should move away from their kids. I also don’t think divorced moms should move the kids away from their father.

I can hear the anger now over that statement. After all, isn’t divorce about starting over?

In truth, I don’t know what divorce is. I do know what being a parent is. Among other things, being a parent means you put your kids’ needs ahead of your own. So, no, divorce is not about “starting over” and having a “new life.” You are a parent first, foremost and for life. There are no excuses for forgetting that.

If you have kids, you need to put them ahead of yourself. You need to do what it takes to be their mother or father. Your career, your desire to remarry, your “needs” are all second to that.

Too often, divorced parents use the children to punish their former spouses. Also too often, they remarry and put their new spouses and their new children ahead of their “old” kids. After all, babies are always cuter, cuddlier and simpler than your older children with their knobby knees, braces on their teeth and the emotional damage you’ve done to them with your custody fights, attacks on their mother or father and indifference to their needs.

It must seem to children of divorce like their parents stop loving them. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, this is not entirely an illusion.

Divorce is a wrecking ball we take to our lives. It is a ripping apart of that “one flesh” that marriage is. It violates the trust of family, destroys the peace and safety of home.

Divorce hurts people to the core. It inflicts wounds on them that will not heal.

Whatever harm divorce does to the adults who commit it can be raised by powers of ten for their children. Divorce wounds adults. It maims children.

I know there are many experts who will tell you that this is not true. But look at the generations of young people we are producing. They appear to be increasingly unable to form families and nurture their own young. That is a profound, civilization-destroying failure of child-rearng and family that rests on the heads of their parents.

It speaks directly to our excesses and abuses of our marriages and children. Unfortunately, we are not getting the message. Instead of repenting of our societal excesses that have led to this destruction of our homes and families, we are attempting to complete the process by redefining marriage as a social contract in which fidelity, children and stability play no part.

We want to base our understanding of marriage on things like job benefits and inheritance laws (all of which can be changed without touching marriage) rather than its essential function as a cradle for creating and raising our children. It is as if we have fallen in love with our own cultural/societal suicide.

Lent begins Wednesday. Lent is a time when we are supposed to examine our lives, repent of our sins and do penance for those sins. I’m going to suggest that you take a look at how you treat your family. For this post, I am going to focus specifically on divorced parents.

Are you doing your best to be a good parent to your children? How high are your children on your list of priorities? Do they rank somewhere below your job, your dating life, your grief/bitterness/rage over the divorce and your desire to “put it behind me” and get on with a new life?

Do you even care about what your behavior does to them? Are you concerned about the fact that you are shaping people? Have you forgotten that they are your own flesh and blood?

For today, I want to ask divorced parents to consider examining their own lives and how they can do a better job of overcoming the many deficits divorce inflicts on their ability to properly nurture, guide and shelter their children. Think of ways you can be an effective father or mother to the children you have brought into this world. Consider them, and not you.

They are, after all, your children. Nothing else you do in life matters if you don’t take care of them.

 

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Do Easy Annulments Degrade the Value of Marriage? The Pope Says Yes.

Some people call it the “Catholic Divorce.”
It is often treated as a pro forma ritual that divorced people go through to “normalize” their relationship with the Church.

It requires a lot of paperwork, but it doesn’t cost much money. In fact, the Church will waive any fees if they would prevent people seeking it.

The “it” I’m talking about is annulment. Annulment is the somewhat lengthy process Catholics go through when they want the Church to “invalidate” their marriage.

As I understand it, the whole process is predicated on the fact that marriage is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. This is the same Jesus who did away with divorce with the statement “What God has put together, let not man put asunder.”

Marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. It involves, among other things, a willingness to create life through the bodily union of these two people. Marriage is the nest, so to speak, in which young human beings are nurtured and shaped into responsible and productive adults who can then repeat the cycle with their own marriages and children.

As such, marriage is of premier importance, not just to the two people who marry, but to the whole of society. Without responsible, productive adults who can marry and raise their own children to be productive and responsible adults, our society and indeed, all of civilization will founder.

Marriage is not only essential to the good of society, it is also holy.

This holiness is where annulments come in. Since marriage is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord, it is not possible for people — including priests, bishops and popes — to undo it or, to phrase it as Jesus did, “put it asunder.” Our Lord told us we can not do this. Not, notice that we may not, we can not, for the simple reason that marriage is created by God.

What God creates in this deep sacramental fashion, no one can uncreate.

However, there can be instances in which no marriage actually took place. For instance, the infamous “shot gun weddings” in which one partner or the other was forced into the marriage would not be a sacramental marriage because at least one of the parties involved did not consent to it.

There can be many ways in which consent or understanding or an intention to be married in the full sacramental sense was not present at the time of the marriage vows. I am not a canon lawyer, so I would not and could not begin to discuss them in depth. This is the purview of the marriage tribunals of the Church who, on the request of the couple, review the marriage in question to determine if it is a sacramental marriage, or, as they put it, if it is “valid.”

The process is called an “annulment.” It has become something of a scandal in the Church because of the easy way these annulments are granted.

This is complicated by the many converts who come into the Church with matrimonial baggage. There are other people who should be granted an annulment but can’t get through the paperwork for some reason. If the former spouse and the marriage witnesses are violent, dangerous, out of pocket or simply uncooperative, they can exercise what amounts to veto power on the annulment process.

This happened to a friend of mine who was a refugee from a violent and troubled past before attempting to convert to the Catholic Church.

The whole process appears, at least on the outside, to be fraught with troubles. One of the many problems is that it can seem that these same tribunals who sometimes refuse a just annulment over an inability to fill out the paperwork also sometimes grant annulments almost like slot machines for those who can wend their way through the process successfully.

I don’t think for a minute that there is any deliberate desire to harm people or to cheapen marriage by any of this. I believe that the priests who do this work want to help people. I believe they grant annulments more easily out of compassion for the people involved. On the other hand, the intransigence over paper work in situations that are life-threatening confuses me. I honestly don’t understand it.

Pope Benedict has weighed in on all this, echoing the thoughts of Pope John Paul II on the same subject. They both came down on the side of greater discretion in granting annulments. One of the reasons Pope Benedict  gave was that the practice of granting annulments too easily created pessimism in the public mind about our ability to “engage in lifelong commitments to love another person.”

I agree with the Holy Father about this. I think our divorce culture has damaged us in deep and difficult to heal ways, including teaching many of our young people that marriage is a futile and hopeless enterprise.

As a woman who has been married to her only husband for 30 years, I can tell you that this is untrue. I can also say that marriage is a wonderful, sustaining and nurturing lifestyle that enhances your life in ways that you cannot imagine until you partake of them.

Unfortunately, we have damaged many of our young people so badly with our serial marriages and serial monogamies that they don’t value stable relationships, and don’t know how to form them even if they want to.

We have a lot of things to answer for from our excesses and self-indulgences, and this destruction of the ability to marry for life and raise children who will become stable, productive adults in our young people is one of the most serious.

A CNS article describing Pope Benedict’s recent statement about too-easy annulment says in part:

Pope cautions tribunals against granting annulments too easily

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Granting marriage annulments too easily and without real cause plays into a modern form of pessimism that basically says human beings are not able to make lifelong commitments to loving another person, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“We run the risk of falling into an anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural situation, considers it almost impossible to marry,” the pope said in a speech Jan. 29 to members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

The tribunal mainly deals with appeals filed in marriage annulment cases.

Pope Benedict said there is still a need to deal with a problem Pope John Paul II pointed out in a 1987 speech to the Roman Rota, that of saving the church community from “the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity.”(Read more here.)

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Is the Male/Female Sexual Difference Key to Understanding Marriage?

Is the male/female sexual difference key to understanding marriage?

Not so long ago, that question would have been greeted with confusion. After all, it was questioning the obvious; kind of like asking if gravity is key to keeping us from flying off into space. But times have changed, and today the question is more likely to be greeted with cries of “bigot” and claims about “homophobia.”

Perhaps the real question should be, are we deluding ourselves?

Is the claim that two men together or two women together is the same as the bonding between a man and woman flat-out delusional? Are we using social bullying and name-calling to force people to accede to a lie?

The question is not whether homosexuals are human beings (they are) or whether or not they should be subjected to unjust discrimination (they should not) but whether or not same sex bonding should be treated identically under the law as the bonds that form between a man and woman. The corresponding questions are (1) What would this change in the law do to society, and (2) Is the whole push for “marriage equality” based on a delusion?

Are two men or two women the same as a man and a woman? Do their unions rise to the level of a basic unit for building a society and do they require the same level of legal protection in order to maintain a stable society?

More to the point, is it an elaborate delusion, a hoax, to claim that two men or two women together are the same as a man and woman?

Do the sexual differences between men and women amount to anything real and foundational in human existence, or are they just fashionable social constructs with no basis in the human psyche or biological reality?

A team of professors from Princeton University has taken the position that sexual differences do matter in the marriage debate, that they are essential to understanding marriage. They have written a book, What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense that I plan to order and read.

A CNA article describing their work and ideas says in part:

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2013 / 02:13 am (CNA).- Defending the sexual complementarity between men and women in marriage is an essential first step in building up a healthy “culture of marriage” as a whole, say the authors of a new book.

“I really do believe that this is a reasonable debate among reasonable people of good will,” said
Prof. Robert George of Princeton University.

George spoke Dec. 19 at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Joining him at the promotional event for their book, “What is Marriage,” were co-authors Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson.

The speakers explained that while attempts to redefine marriage are based on an understanding of the union as primarily emotional, this is neither the historical nor contemporary definition of the marital union.

Girgis, who is both a second-year Ph.D. student at Princeton and a first-year law student at Yale, observed that marriage, historically and philosophically understood, is a conjugal, comprehensive union on multiple levels.

In marriage, there is a “union of heart and mind but also of the body,” he said, explaining that the physical realities of husband and wife are integral to the conjugal nature of marriage.

It is this bodily union that makes procreation possible and distinguishes marriage from friendships and other human relationships, Girgis explained.

Changing marriage from this definition would be harmful to society, and should therefore be avoided, warned Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

He stressed that “being for marriage does not mean anti-gay” and said that marriage defenders “should be at the forefront” of efforts to oppose bullying and discrimination against those who are same-sex attracted.

However, he continued, supporters of marriage should not allow their position to be called “bigotry,” and they must explain that their position is not unjustly discriminatory.

Instead, he maintained, supporters of traditional marriage should affirm that there is “(n)othing more important for the future of the nation” than a “healthy marriage culture,” particularly for the benefit of children. (Read more here.)

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Why Does Marriage Matter?

Getting married was one of the four best things I’ve ever done. The other three are my two children and turning my life over to Jesus.

Despite all the huge mistakes I’ve made (and some of my mistakes have been both public and grievous) these four things outweigh them all in my eyes. I look at my life so far, and I can honestly say that I feel it’s been good. It’s been very good.

The reasons I point to are my husband and children and that the Lord God of the universe has accepted me.

In this day and age of cheap cynicism from privileged people, it’s easy to disparage the best of life and thumb our noses to it. As the old Randy Newman lyrics say, money won’t buy me love, but it will buy a pound of cocaine, a 16-year-old girl and the back of limousine, which, the song implies is probably better.

That song, which was titled, fittingly enough, “It’s Money That I Love” was meant as satire. Unfortunately, a lot of people live their lives as if they take it literally.

Jesus asked us, “Which of you, if your children asked for bread, would give them a stone?”

The answer, in our serial-marrying, marriage-skipping, baby-daddy, baby-mama world is, sadly, us. We would give them a stone. We do give them things and stuff when what they need is love and home. 

Children need a home with their own parents. They need the stability of marriage, the love of marriage and the future that marriage gives.

Divorce hurts everyone. But it scars children to the core.

Living in the hell of an abusive marriage does the same.

No marriage. Bad marriage. Which is worse?

Why should any child have to settle for either? What is wrong with us that we can’t manage to bond, have children and make a home for them? What sort of suicidal society is that?

I’m going to throw this open for your discussion. Do you think marriage matters? If you do, why do you think it matters? To whom does it matter? Why is it important?

I will limit the discussion to marriage between a man and woman for now. We’ll talk about the whole question of same-sex marriage in another post. For this discussion, let’s confine ourselves to the mess that heterosexuals have made of marriage and why we think this matters.

Please comment. I would like to have a discussion that enlightens all of us.

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The Popular View of Marriage. Agree? Disagree?

This is the popular view of marriage.

Do you agree with it?


Or do you disagree?

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Today is my 30th anniversary of my marriage to my only husband.

Today is my 30th anniversary of my marriage to my only husband.

I read a lot of advice on how to stay married, how to be happily married, how to make marriage work.

Most of this advice comes from some “expert” solemnly intoning that if you want your marriage to survive, you have to “work” at it. They usually go on with advice about “date nights” and prenuptial agreements and how to make his and hers careers work and whether or not it’s a good thing to have children. By the time they get through, they make marriage sound like a death march of “work” and rules. Marriage in the marriage experts’ words, sounds like less of life, not more.

Nobody ever asks these how-to-make-marriage-work questions of those of us who’ve managed to muddle through the decades with our one and only life-long loves, raising families, building lives and providing the stability that keeps this nation from falling over from its self-inflicted wounds. I think the reason that no one asks us (aside from the fact that, since we don’t have a degree from an institution of higher learning certifying that we are competent to have opinions about marriage) is that what we have to say is too short, too simple and too flat-out effective to make good copy.

My experience is that when you’ve been up all night with a croupy baby and the family’s tiny bit of spare cash just went to the plumber, date nights become nonessentials. Prenuptial agreements seem a tad silly to people who live from one paycheck to the next. And once you have children, they come first, not your trendy his and hers careers.

What you need to give staying-power to your marriage is … trumpet fanfare and drumroll … love.

You’ve got to love one another. If making your husband or wife happy makes you happy, and if you both feel that way about each other, then you’ve got the makings of a long, happy marriage. If, on the other hand, all you really care about is what makes you happy and you view your relationship with your spouse as some sort of extended sibling rivalry where you compete for who gets what, then you have nothing to offer, because there’s nothing you are willing to give.

My advice, if you want a happy life, is don’t be this kind of person and don’t marry them, either.

Far from making less of life, marriage puts you squarely in the center of it. You can spend decades as a single person, consuming and pleasing only yourself all day, every day, and never really come in contact with life as the organic reality it is. Life lived that way is a form of stasis. It is fun. But it’s meant to be grown out of. There comes a point in every life worth living when it has to be about more than you and what you can get. Life, to be lived, must ultimately be about what you can give.

Marriage changes you in ways that I never considered before I was married myself, ways that I didn’t understand while they were happening to me. The simplest and most important way that marriage re-aligns you and your life is that you are not one anymore. You are two. That means you are not alone, in both the good and bad of not being alone.

Marriage is a blessing. God blessed us with marriage because He saw that it was “not good” for us “to be alone.” Alone has its place in life. Solitude can be a creative, meditative and fruitful experience. But solitude turned sour is loneliness and loneliness that goes on too long becomes despair or bitterness. Shallow, come-and-go relationships cannot break this cycle. We were made for deeper commitments than that. By our very natures, by the incredible male-female complementarity of humanity, men and women were made to complete one another.

But for marriage to be the blessing God intended, both people have to love the other. The husband has to love his wife. The wife has to love her husband. You basically have to be willing to stick your hands in fire for the man or woman who is your life’s partner, your best and sometimes only friend, the one human being you can always count on to be there, to care, and take your side. God gave you parents to get you grown. He gave you a mate for life to get you the rest of the way home.

I went through the usual mid-life thing during which I counted up my regrets and took a wishful look at what I wished I’d done differently. At the end of the day, I realized that everything I’d done, even the things I regretted, had been on the path that brought me to my husband and children. The one thing in my life that I would never change is them. That, on balance, made the rest of it, if not ok, at least something that I could accept.

If you want your marriage to work, love your spouse. Love them so much that when they are happy, that alone makes you happy. Cherish them. Take care of them. Stand by them. And enjoy them.

Your husband or your wife is God’s gift to you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, heart of your heart. Together you make family and home. These things are the best and the fullness of life in this world.

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Marriage is a Mess and Homosexuals Didn’t Do It

I support traditional marriage. I have a public track record and the scars to prove it.

I voted to put an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution on the ballot that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. I also authored and passed a resolution memorializing Congress to begin hearings on an amendment to the United States Constitution doing the same thing. That is as much as I can do to support traditional marriage from my elected position.

It’s not a complicated issue to me, and it has almost nothing to do with what marriage is not. It’s about what marriage is. What marriage is begins with the law. Marriage under the law is and should continue to be a union freely entered into by one man and one woman. But legal definitions are just the scaffolding we use to support the social structures of how we order our lives. The actual edifice, the reality of marriage as it is lived, is something much more complex and important than that legal definition can impart.

We focus our national attention on the definition of marriage under the law. We wear out our keyboards writing about it and revile one another over our positions on it. But despite the accusations and counter-accusations that season our debate, we ignore the home truths of marriage in this country today. The truth is, marriage has been a mess for quite some time. And homosexuals weren’t the ones who messed it up.

Homosexuals didn’t set off the epidemic of divorce in this country. Homosexuals didn’t create the millions of feral children who spend most of their time alone, raising themselves on video games, drugs and interactions with their peers. Homosexuals don’t cheat on our spouses. Homosexuals don’t break into our homes and yell and curse at our families. They aren’t the cause of the rising number of unwed births and the global pandemic of abortion. We did these things. Marriage is a mess and it was heterosexuals who messed it up.

We insist that the legal definition of marriage should be a union between one man and one woman. But we behave as if it says that marriage is a union between one man and one woman at a time.

I know that is tender for many people. I know that divorce cuts people in half and leaves them with broken hearts and shattered lives. I know that some marriages are so bitter, destructive and even violent that they have to end. I know that even if you want to hold the marriage together, sometimes your spouse won’t. I know all this, and it gives me pause writing about these things. I don’t want to pick at half-healed wounds and start them bleeding again.

But the truth is that serial monogamy is NOT monogamy. Serial marriage is not marriage between one man and one woman. And heterosexuals, especially Christian heterosexuals, have a responsibility before God to care for and raise their children, cherish their spouses and build enduring stable homes which can nurture a true family. Heterosexuals who have failed to do this are the root cause of most of the social problems we face today. They, not homosexuals, are the ones who have brought marriage to the sorry state it is in now.

I have a public track record of supporting traditional marriage. I’ve got the scars to prove it. But I think that supporting traditional marriage, especially traditional marriage in the Christian sense, means more than being against same-sex marriage. I think that as Christians we are required to look past what we’re against and find what we are for. It isn’t enough for Christians to be against same-sex marriage. It certainly isn’t enough to do as some have done and whip people up into a rage and then cash in on that rage to advance your political career. That is just cheap demagoguery.

Leadership, especially true Christian leadership, mandates that we don’t just get people worked up against something. We have to lead them forward to something. In the case of marriage, we should be for true Christian marriage and we should live that kind of marriage in our own lives. Christians must be FOR marriage as a loving, giving, living institution that cocoons young children in a world of stability, positive discipline and love so that they can grow up and create loving homes of their own.

The bond between husband and wife, as the Bible says, makes them “one flesh.” This doesn’t refer just, or even primarily, to the physical union of marriage. Sex, apart from this bond of love, is a physical act. But true marriage is a spiritual bond. The deep, life bond of trust and mutual dependence that is marriage nurtures everyone within its reach. Marriage creates not just family, but home. I  do not mean a building where you sleep. Christian marriage creates home that is a refuge from the coldness of modern life.

This isn’t a hypothetical for me. My home and my husband are the living sanctuaries of my life. I could not endure the pressures of being a Public Catholic and all the controversy and criticism that engenders if I wasn’t able to go to my house, shut the door, and be Home.

Marriage is the progenitor of life, family, emotional safety and abiding peace in this life. It is a sacrament, given by Our Lord, to enable us to walk through life together and not alone.

If we are going to “save marriage” in this country, we certainly do need to resist efforts to alter its legal definition. But we also need to begin living the sacramental love and fidelity of marriage with our spouses and within our homes. We need to do this because it is what God intended for us. Marriage is His blessing on our lives and through it we can become blessings to our whole society.

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