When I was younger, I always wanted to be a writer, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would grow up to write about divorce, especially due to personal experience. Yet, here I am, writing every week about that very controversial, painful, and misunderstood issue. The hardest thing about writing articles to help divorced Catholics find healing is knowing some people believe I am promoting or condoning divorce. There couldn’t be anything further from the truth. I am the most pro-marriage person I know and my desire is that all marriages would be permanent, exclusive, life-giving, and happy unions. But, the reality is divorce happens. And it happens to good, faithful, traditional Catholics just the same as it happens to anyone else.
I use the term “misunderstood” because there are many Catholics who have never been divorced (thanks be to God!) who tend to look down upon those who have been and see them as nothing more than complete failures and bad Catholics. This attitude is in direct contradiction of the second greatest commandment, the Judeo-Christian ethic of love thy neighbor as thyself. No matter what role a spouse played in their divorce, whether they are the one who left or the one who was abandoned, there is one thing that is certain: there is an entire community in the Church that feels desperately hurt, unwanted, and alienated. These people need to be able to connect with the non-divorced Catholics in their parishes and neighborhoods, feel accepted, and worthy of friendship.
Even after 20 years of dealing with this issue on both a personal and a professional basis, there is never a time my heart does not break over hearing about yet another couple’s divorce. It is one of the worst tragedies I can imagine. I recently received an email from a divorced Catholic, and I feel compelled to offer a few corrections to some inaccurate perceptions some non-divorce Catholics may have.
First, here is an excerpt from her email:
Recently my daughter married in the Church, and the wedding coordinator at the parish told the wedding party about how and when to proceed to Communion. She then said if we were divorced we couldn’t receive. WOW.
When I first was divorced, after I talked to my parish priest, I went to a 12 week seminar for divorced people at a local protestant church. I didn’t want to change my religion, but was just trying to get back into society in general. They were such a great help, I can’t say enough good things. I am still a Catholic and practice my religion, but I really don’t think the Catholic Church likes to admit there are many divorced Catholics—we are not counted out, but are pushed aside to a great degree.
If anyone wonders why divorced men and women can seem bitter at times, this woman’s testimony would be an excellent illustration of why. It is important for all Catholics to know what the Church teaches: Catholics who have been divorced, but not remarried without an annulment and who are in a state of grace are welcome and encouraged to receive the sacraments. The sacraments are the best opportunity to find healing after divorce and unless a person is not in the state of grace (which applies to all of us) a divorced Catholic should partake as often as possible.
Second, it’s so important for all Catholics, regardless of their state in life, to welcome and help each other, no matter what our situations are. Each and every one of us should take care to never push someone aside because of circumstances such as divorce, struggling with addictions, same-sex attraction, gambling, pornography, etc.
Pope Francis recently gave a homily in which he warned of the trap some people fall into of “perfect piety.” The Holy Father said these people suffer from, what he called “The Jonah Syndrome”; that Christ called them hypocrites because they have “an attitude of perfect piety,” which looks at the doctrine of salvation but does not care for “poor people.”
As Catholics, we should all be looking out for each other and helping one another just as Simon of Cyrene encountered Christ who he assumed was a common criminal, yet assisted him in carrying his cross all the way to Calvary. Especially since the holidays are coming up—a time of year that’s difficult for anyone who is suffering—now is a great time to look to our brothers and sisters and see how we can help.
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