There are many crosses to carry in life. Some people suffer through the death of a loved one. Others endure severe and chronic health problems. Some people suffer through great loss; their homes, businesses, etc. And some people suffer the devastation of divorce. All these situations offer Christians the opportunity to be a witness to others as they carry their crosses. Bearing their sufferings with perseverance reveals the essence of true Christianity… a steadfast hope in the Resurrection and life after death. Through their suffering, they are witnesses of Christ.
Men and women who go through a divorce, in my humble opinion, have the most prominent calling of all to carry their cross in a way that gives witness to Christ, and what it truly means to love. That calling is clearly given in the gospel of John, during the last supper:
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do (John 13: 14-15).
Why and how is this a calling for divorced Catholics?
It is precisely in that gospel passage, where Christ says, “…as I have done for you, you should also do” that we are called to treat everyone – even those who have hurt you and betrayed you – with dignity and love. This can be very difficult for someone who has been through a divorce to accept and practice, especially when the world’s response is always “an eye for an eye.” But on this Holy Thursday, as we reflect upon exactly what Christ did for His apostles, it is fitting to go beyond the biblical account and apply it to our own lives, ex-spouses and all.
We all know divorce is a source of just anger; anger over broken promises, infidelity, destroying a family, emotional harm to children, and the list goes on. There is just and righteous anger, but it does not take precedence over the mandate to love and pray for our enemies.
I found this to be a particularly bitter pill to swallow in the years that followed my divorce, but after contemplating Christ’s sacrifice for me, I was able to come around to the idea that treating my ex-spouse and all the others who were involved in that devastating event in my life with charity was something I needed to do.
Okay, I can hear your outrage, and I understand. Allow me to define what I’m getting at. Does Christ’s command to love mean you must go shower your ex-spouse or other Judas’ in your life with smiles and loving attention, ignoring their unjust treatment of you and simply becoming a door mat? No, no, no. It means you should be concerned for the good of their soul and act in a way that is associated with that concern.
So they are to blame for multiple counts of deliberate hurt against you. Fine. In return, you can enact your call to love from Christ in simple ways that will help both you and the recipient become better people:
- Always use a calm tone of voice when speaking with them and refrain from using foul language, pointing fingers, and insults.
- When you remember the ways they have hurt you, say a prayer for them.
- Always be direct and honest (remembering to stay calm) which means sometimes, your response must be tough and contrary to what they want or are trying to get away with.
- Making sure they understand you do not condone whatever immoral behavior they may involved in, but not delivering that message with bitterness.
- Remaining open to talking through problems without being agressive or blaming.
Let’s step back for a momemnt and address the question that many will ask as they read this: “What about the abused spouse?” Abuse is a terrible thing to go through, no question, and how in the world can someone love another who has abused them? Isn’t that physically and emotionally unsafe? Well, although abused spouses’ circumstances are different and direct contact is likely not a good idea, their calling is still the same.
Christ told us to love our enemies and pray for those who have hurt us. You can pray for your abusive ex-spouse without having any interaction. And it’s a good thing to remember that often times, the people who are so lost in doing the wrong thing don’t have someone praying for them. They need your prayers and sacrifices.
So today, won’t you take a few moments and reflect upon Christ’s call? By doing so, you can give great meaning to your Holy Thursday remembrance, and the rest of your life.