Names and details have been changed to keep the individual anonymous.
John and Susan join our parish. In my meeting with them as new parishioners it emerges that both have been in other, youthful and disastrous marriages. The marriages were short and ended badly. Later in life John and Susan individually returned to their Catholic faith, met one another and have a strong, mature marriage. They have four teenaged sons. They felt they should come to receive communion.
I explained that they should definitely come to Mass and be part of our parish, but they should come to receive a blessing until such time as we could help them receive a decree of nullity for their first marriages. They asked why.
I said “Because your teenaged sons are watching. They thought again and I explained. “You see, your kids know about your previous marriages right?” They nodded.
“Well, eventually they will learn about the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage and they will wonder why you openly disobey the church’s teaching. However, if you refrain from receiving communion you will be teaching them that you believe the church’s teaching is important. If you do otherwise they will see you being public hypocrites, disrespect you and care nothing for their faith. On the other hand, if you explain why you are not receiving communion their respect for you and for the faith will be strong because they will see that you have made a sacrifice in your own life because you believe and try to adhere to the church’s teaching. Teenagers especially are idealistic. They want to believe and want to see the adults in their life making every effort to live out the gospel.”
John and Susan come to Mass every week with their sons. They come to receive a blessing and are working with us to receive a nullity decree for their first marriages. Rather than feel excluded, they have thanked me for taking their situation seriously and helping them find a way to belong to the church and move forward.
I can’t help feeling that the Bishops of Malta, on the other hand, are encouraging their priests to teach their people–and especially the young–that you can do whatever you wish as long as you feel in your heart that you are “at peace with God.”