I wish you could meet my friend, Bill. Bill is a terrific guy, good looking, hard working, great sense of humor. For some reason I just can’t understand, his wife divorced him many years ago. One day, we were talking and he said something that aptly described what I think most Catholics who go through a divorce feel at some point: a disconnect from their Catholic community.
Bill told me he only got to see his kids two weekends a month and other than those visitations, he was completely on his own. So going to mass on Sundays and holding hands with others as the congregation prayed the Our Father was an experience he anticipated and loved because typically, it was the only form of human touch, the only physical connection with another human being that he would have all week.
I could relate to that, myself. During my post-divorce years, I lived alone and experienced that stark reality of the absence of physical touch – no hugs, no kisses, no pats on the back. It’s very lonely and it becomes easy to start wondering where all the “they will know we are Christians by our love” stuff was?
Having been through that, and knowing that others are experiencing that, I can’t stress enough the importance of being proactive when it comes to finding ways to overcome being alone. In an earlier article, I stressed the importance of doing things by yourself, which is a critical step in rebuilding your life after divorce. Yet, there is a balance to be had. As a human being, you cannot deny the fact that you need love, you need the physical touch of other human beings, and you need moral support from your neighbors and peers. No man is an island. But most of all, you need to know that, despite your divorce and current circumstances, you still have a valid connection to your faith community.
If you are feeling disconnected in this way, here are some important things for you to know and think about:
- As a separated or divorced Catholic, you are an important part of the Catholic Church and you are welcome in your parish. You should not only participate at mass and in the sacraments, but you are encouraged to attend parish functions, such as men’s groups, bible studies, women’s reflections, volunteer opportunities, etc. If you are an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, Lector, Usher, or of other service to your parish, a civil divorce does not prevent you from fulfilling your duties. This is so important for you as a divorced Catholic to be a part of and receive that sense of belonging you’re looking for.
- Moreover, being a member of CatholicMatch is a huge step in the right direction. If you cannot list your status as “annulled,” and begin the dating process, you can still create a community of like-minded adults with whom you can have a friendly relationship.
- It’s also important to listen to what our popes have said and done in regard to making sure the divorced community in our church feels welcome:
The Church is extremely sensitive to the sorrow of her members: just as she rejoices with those who rejoice, she weeps with those who weep (cf. Rom 12:15).
As the Holy Father, John Paul II, clearly stressed in his address to us during our plenary assembly: “Let these men and women know that the Church loves them, that she is not far from them and suffers because of their situation. The divorced and remarried are and remain her members, because they have received Baptism and retain their Christian faith” (Address to the Pontifical Council for the Family, 24 January 1997, n. 2; – L’Osservatore Romano – English edition, 5 February 1997, p. 4). Taken from: L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 6 March 1997.
Likewise, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed the importance of reaching out to those who have suffered separation and divorce and look at the example of our new, beloved, holy father, Pope Francis… every step of the way, he is turning to the lowest of the low, the forgotten ones, the destitute ones, and bringing them back to the attention of the Church as a whole.
I encourage all non-divorced Catholics to take into consideration your divorced brothers and sisters who need your encouragement and love. Make a point to pat them on the back once in a while or give them a hug, for believe me, they’re going without. Don’t make judgements… listen to them and lead them. It might just be your compassion that keeps them close to the faith.
For my divorced brothers and sisters, I encourage you to keep the faith and don’t lose heart. AND, don’t live like a hermit in the shadows… you are loved, and you are needed in the Church, in our community lives. Come to mass and sit in the front row. Come to parish functions and be a part of the community.
God bless you and know I’m praying for you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.