One thing we need to do is celebrate wedding anniversaries. Recently, in my diocese, we had a great celebration of the 25th, 50th, 60th, and higher anniversaries of married couples. In the context of Mass, they renewed their vows. It was inspiring, and encouraging to them and to other married couples. We need to encourage all married couples with such living examples of fidelity in the midst of the struggles of life, especially in our society that is so allergic to lifelong commitments. I hope that the Synod will show the way toward better marriage preparation, encourage groups that seek to strengthen marriage, and help those whose marriage is in difficulty.
In a society in which permanent commitments are not valued—and that applies to the priesthood and religious life as well as to marriage—it can take great spiritual strength, and is certainly counter-cultural, to renew each day a sacred lifelong commitment, trusting in the grace of God. That must be our path as Christians, and anything that tends (even unintentionally) to reinforce a culture that undermines fidelity to sacred permanent commitments must be resisted, as also any action that suggests that the Church does not take seriously the permanence of such covenants.
Our Lord's teaching on marriage, like his whole teaching on discipleship, can at times be very difficult. Especially in the world in which we live, but really in all periods of history, a certain heroism is required in the Christian life. We are all called to holiness; that is not just the vocation of the few who are canonized, but of all of us.
So what cannot be changed is the fact that what God has joined together, no one can put asunder. But the Synod may well deepen our understanding of Christian marriage, building on the treasure of teaching in Scripture and Tradition, such as the beautiful document of St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio. We need above all to help couples faithfully and fruitfully live the sacrament of marriage.
Sadly, marriages sometimes fail, and the Synod may try to find more effective ways of caring for people in those painful situations. If a couple separates, despite every effort to heal the marriage, and are legally divorced, each is called to continue in a faithful life of Christian discipleship. They cannot marry again, as they are married already. Many divorced Christians lead a life of exemplary holiness, recognizing this reality. They are an inspiration to us all. I hope the Synod offers encouragement to those who are divorced and faithfully living the Christian life.
Perhaps, when someone has been civilly divorced, if the marriage is examined by a Marriage Tribunal of the Church, it will be found not to have been valid, and the person will be free to marry. But that may not happen, or a person for various reasons will decide not to seek to discover their status in the Church concerning their marriage (that is, whether they are in reality single or married). Although the dedicated staff of marriage tribunals offers great pastoral care to those whose marriage has failed, the Synod might be able to find ways of improving the processes tribunals use for making a judgment concerning the validity of marriages, and so that is one possible area of change. Any human process can always be improved.
Many people who are divorced, and who are not free to marry, do enter into a second marriage. There are various reasons that can lead to this, and their fellow parishioners should not occupy themselves speculating about them. Catholics in that tragic situation can be involved in many ways in the life of the community, but they may not receive the sacraments, such as Holy Communion, since whatever their personal disposition is or the reasons for their situation, known perhaps only to God, they are continuing in a way of life which is objectively against the clear command of Jesus. That is the point. The point is not that they have committed a sin; the mercy of God is abundantly granted to all sinners. Murder, adultery, and any other sins, no matter how serious, are forgiven by Jesus, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the forgiven sinner receives communion. The issue in the matter of divorce and remarriage is one's conscious decision (for whatever reason) to persist in a continuing situation of disconnection from the command of Jesus. Although it would not be right for them to receive the sacraments, we need to find better ways to reach out to people in this situation, to offer them loving assistance.
One thing that would help would be if all of us realized that receiving communion is not obligatory at Mass. There are many reasons why a Christian might choose not to receive communion. If there were less pressure for everyone to receive communion, it would be some help to those who are not in a position to do so.