Saturday, 26 October 2013

Confusion on Annulment, Divorce and Remarriage

The October 27th. issue of a well known national Catholic weekly featured two separate articles about Catholics who may be considering a possible annulment of their marriage.  The first article by Francis X. Rocca (Catholic News Service) immediately dashed any hopes for divorced couples based on Pope Francis’ recent comment that the Synod of Bishops would explore a “somewhat deeper pastoral care of these difficult marriages”. 
In contrast, another article in the same weekly warns readers that the Church can no longer avoid dealing with marriages involving abusive spouses. This is without question an issue which for many years has been considered a taboo by many including the Vatican.  According to newly gathered statistics, a staggering forty per cent of the cases handled through Catholic Family Services involves some level of spousal abuse.




While Pope Francis recently raised hope for remarried Catholics; a patriarchy of celibate individuals i.e. the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, subsequently and  quickly reaffirmed the well established Church teaching barring divorced and remarried members from receiving communion.  Exactly how did an imperfect Church, made up entirely of sinners, arrive at a decision calling for punishment of these unfortunate members of our community?  Why do we think that these struggling individuals should be banished from receiving communion?   People in pain need God more than ever.  How and when did the Church think it could override a Creator who not only understands our pain but can help us to overcome our failings? Is the Church incapable of positively reinforcing the bonds of these marriages?  Several years ago a deacon delivered a homily at our parish in which he warned "Jesus walks away from the sinner!"  Based on such examples what are we saying about God and about Catholicism?  




   If we are in a state of religious confusion about annulment, divorce and remarriage it is only because we, especially the laity, have not been willing to share our experiences about such trying and difficult issues. At the same time, if we want to develop healthier attitudes about sex, celibacy, abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and other pressing religious issues we will need to share and listen to those who have failed, suffered and frequently questioned or felt separated from our unconditionally loving Creator. One such individual is Fr. Ronald Rolheiser.  His recent article ‘You don’t get what you want, you get what you need’ (see The Catholic Register Oct. 20, 2013) speaks about celibacy in a way not usually heard of from among members of the clergy. In speaking about his spiritual journey just six months beyond his chemotherapy treatments he shares this incredible insight on the matter, “What I learned from walking the road in the company of three close friends was how spoiled and immature I'd become. Having lived as a celibate priest, outside of the constrictive demands of marriage, children and family for more than 40 years, I realized how idiosyncratic and self-centered the patterns and habits of my life had become. I was used to calling the shots for my own life, at least in its day-to-day rhythms”.  Rolheiser’s very personal experience comes from suffering and speaks to us from below not from above as so many clerics are want to do.


Finally, when it comes to present church teachings on divorce and remarried couples; I am reminded of a priest who spoke about the matter in a completely new way. He said “If couples involved in a difficult marriage, one that is destined to fail, but stick together for the sake of their children, they should be given a medal from the Church, as soon as the kids are old enough to support themselves.” This was the same priest who once privately shared how he had attended Mass at the Glass Cathedral in California.  Dressed in his civvies, sitting at the far end of this magnificent building, he was approached by an elder and asked if he would like to bring up the gifts at the appropriate moment.  Without a moment of hesitation this priest accepted his humble request. The greatest stories and teachers in the world are those who like Jacob wrestled with God before  accepting his humble offering of an indestructible faith.      


  The only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in prayer, but that which we carry with us in our daily conduct.    Andrew Murray

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