Is a Hopeful Day Dawning for Some Divorced Catholics?

That’s the question I am asking over at the Guardian, today. Recalling the long ago wedding of friends who chose Mark 10:2-9 for the Gospel reading of their Nuptial Mass, I write:

Even in Jesus’ day, divorce was a theological challenge.

For the bride and groom the reading was a pledge of determination; one of them was still reeling from the recent divorce of parents married for over 20 years, and the subsequent remarriage of the mother.

The divorce created anxiety before the wedding: would the mother present herself for communion? We brilliant twentysomethings mused on it over wine and cheese, noting that from a purely legalistic view, the mother had ex-communicated herself by remarrying outside the church, and before attaining an annulment. Finally, in vino veritas, one pertinent fact came to the fore: “She never loved my father,” said our friend. “Her family wanted the marriage, and she was obedient, but she never loved him.”

Oh. That does matter in the grand scheme of things. Where sin and sacraments are concerned, intentions matter.

When promises made before God have been coerced, and are false, the couple could not have bestowed the sacrament upon each other. Therefore, “to the church, the marriage is invalid,” said a blithe know-it-all (that would have been me) “she should be able to get an annulment, easily.”

Or, perhaps not. A bitter divorce — after a marriage the woman had been unwilling to enter into, and doubly unwilling to relive — made the annulment process seem less like the healing, cleansing discipline it is meant to be, and more like an intrusive and prolonged trial, dredging up matters and feelings that could only cause turmoil to two families begging mercy.

But look at the fallout from these circumstances:

Prior to the divorce, this had been a family of practicing Catholics. Three decades later, the mother is fulfilled in her healthy, loving, second marriage but still removed from the church, as are all of her children and grandchildren. If you ask them, they will tell you they’re Catholic, but only nominally; everyone has been baptized and confirmed, but no one attends Mass or observes Holy Days – not even Christmas. Whether the grandchildren will feel compelled to baptize their own children is unknowable, but we can hazard a guess.

Within four generations, a previously-faithful family has experienced a categorical move away from Catholicism, trending toward 21st century “None-ism” (a belief in not much of anything) and that trajectory can be traced to a civil divorce that was met by inadequate outreach and, likely, inadequate catechesis.

This family’s withdrawal is made all the sadder because there was no angry storming off; no declaration that anyone was “done” with Rome and her rules. It was simply a steady dwindling of connection with a church that has seemed too pastorally distant from its people, and whose requirements have seemed, too often, to border on the labyrinthine. If the church is still calling “hello, hello” through the noise, the phone has been left dangling off the receiver, and no one is around to hear it. The family’s love of the church has not been replaced with hatred, which can be addressed and healed, but with indifference, which is deadly to the soul.

It is precisely because of stories like this one that Pope Francis has called for an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. This month, in anticipation of it, the pope will meet with his eight-cardinal board of advisors to discuss the pastoral care of the modern family, which has been wracked by divorce, re-defined by secular interests and the sexual revolution and is in dire need of spiritual direction and large slices of Truth, served up with generous dollops of Mercy.

Please read the rest here, and consider that we’ve been heading toward some sort of more pastoral resolution for a while, now. I think these are hopeful days for many families.

Divorce/Remarriage: Francis may walk us through a door B16 cracked open
Annulment Reform: Amnesty or Necessary Mercy?

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  • TerryC

    Because if remarried Catholics have a valid annulment then there is nothing to prevent their reception to the Sacrament. The problem here is that many Catholics are unnecessarily being excluded from the Sacrament because they have failed to get recognition of an invalid marriage through the annulment process. This is because they have never attempted the process because they believe its is overly difficult, intrusive or unfair or because they are ignorant of the need. Many people assume that divorce itself will prevent them from receiving Eucharist.
    The Church has always assumed civil marriages are valid, because a civil marriage always meant the same thing a Catholic marriage did. A man and a woman promising to stay together until “death do us part” and including the raising of children. If civil marriage no longer means that, and in many places it does not, should the Church treat civil marriage as if they are to be assumed to be valid?

  • TerryC

    That is certainly true. However it should be remembered that in many cases divorce was not a common choice decided upon by both of the people involved. In our “no-fault” divorce nation one partner can just ditch the other. Often for just the cost of a little child support they can shed themselves entirely of the responsibility of the children of the union. This leaves the spouse and children in a position where they had no choice in the matter of the divorce.
    So we’re not talking about a couple “sucking it up” for the case of the children and eternal salvation. We’re talking about a person abandoned by someone who like as not never intended to participate in a valid marriage to begin with. If they did not the marriage was invalid and the abandoned person should not have to forgo a valid marriage because of the bad actions of another. There choice is little different that that of someone with children from outside marriage, or a widow or widower who wishes to marry. Blended families will always have special problems. They need the Church and the Lords blessing more than most.

  • Momofthree

    This man speaks the truth!

  • Manny

    But then isn’t the incentive to not have a sacramental marriage in the first place? Isn’t the problem still the same for those who actually had a legit church wedding and then still got divorced? Isn’t the problem that people drift apart and no longer find happiness in the marriage and then get a divorce? What happens to those marriages that do not meet an annulment criteria? Or is meeting an annulment criteria so easy that it’s basically no fault divorce under a facade? I find the whole annulment process distasteful. I personally don’t see a way out of this, other than to find a means of declaring the re-marriage a sin, but having a way to move on in the new marriage.

  • Theresa

    Sucking it up continues to have the focus directed wrongly; on the long suffering me. Offering it up has the focus where it belongs-on our good God who uses our sufferings for the salvation of our souls and others’ souls. Also, I know it can be very difficult to be thoroughly honest with and die to oneself, but our Lord’s grace is sufficient and abundant. We are so used to making excuses for ourselves so that we can live the way we want instead of seeking God’s precious will no matter the cost. There exist precedents for this in the lives of our awesome saints and our Blessed Mother. There are also many in our present age living lives of heroic virtue for the good of another. Did not our Lord Jesus say, “greater love hath no man than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” There is a direct application here. Can we not lay down our lives for our precious children and give them what God wants us to? A daddy and a mommy and if one of them should become sick (in body, mind or soul) we can, with God’s grace, forget about our desires and live for the good of another (spouse and children) with joy. Again, dying to ourselves. If we think the cross is too heavy, then we can heed St. Teresa of Avila, “once we accept the cross, no more cross.” As Deacon Harold Burke Sivers so eloquently states, “marriage is a cross; divorce is when the husband and wife put down the cross and the children pick it up.” He happens to be a child of divorce.