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.