One of the toughest things divorced Catholics have to face is people making judgments about their situation. This I have learned, seems to happen most often in places like the internet—where people can say things seemingly anonymously that I would expect they would never say face-to-face. My experience is that in personal interactions, there is oftentimes more sympathy but in many cases, that judgement still exists, even if it isn’t mentioned aloud.
I am heartened by Pope Francis’ recent statements “that the Church must accompany—not condemn—those who experience failure in married life.”
In all he does, Pope Francis encourages us to see the Church as a place of compassion. I fondly refer to him as the Mercy Pope. This is the gift that he brings to our world at this time. We are all broken people—damaged by the pain of original sin and the state of our society which has taken away the last vestiges of dignity that we all share as images of God.
The Holy Father encourages us to see the Church as a place of healing. Jesus ate with sinners after all. The people who most need the Church today and have always most needed her in the past are the ones who aren’t perfect.
Those of us with failed marriages happen to show our imperfection in a way that can be seen by the general population. Think of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What about any woman who chooses life and then experiences the suffering associated with being pregnant outside of marriage? Are our very obviously public failings any better or worse than those of other people? (No one knows by looking at a guy that he was the other party getting that teen girl pregnant—but he knows it.) I don’t think so and I don’t think we should be vilified because of it.
Holy Mother Church does expect us to do our part however. Refrain from communion if you are not in a state of grace. Live a life of celibacy because you are still married. If you’ve received an annulment, you are newly single and should not have sex outside of the sacrament of marriage. Do not spread scandal. Like all Catholics we are called to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We don’t get a special pass because of our sufferings.
In September of last year, Pope Francis gave a lengthy interview to Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro in which he states very clearly his expectations of our Holy Mother the Church:
I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability
to heal wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful, it needs to be by
their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s
pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol
or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed.
The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating
those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.
People suffering the pain of failed marriage are surely some of the wounded that our Holy Father is referring to. I don’t believe that he intends we take these issues apart with a fine tooth comb to determine who deserves the support and healing of the Church and who does not. Every person, being created in the image and likeness of God, deserves the Church’s love. Does a mother turn away from her child when he makes a mistake?
In fact, in his recent comments on failed marriages Pope Francis tells us also “may the Lord give all of us the grace to understand it and also the grace to never fall into these casuistical attitudes of the Pharisees, of the teachers of the law.”
If you are one of those people suffering from a failed marriage, take heart! Our Holy Father knows you and he sees your pain. Be strong in your walk with Christ and know that you have a place here in our Church. Stay close to the sacraments and remember that Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). You have a place at the table—you do belong.