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Divorce: Now What?

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Correcting misunderstood Church teachings regarding Divorce

by Rebecca Teti 

DECEMBER 11, 2009 (www.faithandfamilylive.com)  -  If you’ve suffered a divorce or know someone who has, you might like to know about Divorced Catholic.

It includes FAQs relating to divorce, and Journey of Hope, an online program aimed at helping divorced Catholics with practical, spiritual, emotional and moral issues related to the experience of divorce, and more.

I’m so glad to see this because Church teaching with respect to divorce seems to be widely misunderstood.

I often run into Catholics who falsely think they can’t receive the sacraments due to a divorce, when very often that isn’t the case. 

The site seems to handle the topic with a great deal of sensitivity and wisdom. I think those of us who aren’t divorced could learn a lot about the suffering and feelings of failure, judgment and isolation our divorced brothers and sisters can experience—and how we sometimes unwittingly add to that pain—by scrolling around, too.

I bring this up now because I learned from a former pastor that Advent can be a privileged occasion for helping people who may have left the Church for any reason to “Come home for Christmas.” He used to reach out each Advent & Lent to the divorced members of our community to help them understand how much the Church loves and needs them—and that far from being unwelcome at Church, the Church wants all the more to spread its consoling arms around them.

On a related note, here’s something Pope Benedict said in a 2008 speech about healing the trauma of divorce. He noted that the Church reaches out not only to the innocent victims of divorce, but also to those who may be guilty of grave sin but wish to repent and begin anew. After first noting that Church teaching is clear as to the gravity involved in deliberately breaking up a marriage, he says:

the Church, after the example of her Divine Teacher, always has the people themselves before her, especially the weakest and most innocent who are victims of injustice and sin, and also those other men and women who, having perpetrated these acts, stained by sin and wounded within, are seeking peace and the chance to begin anew.

The Church’s first duty is to approach these people with love and consideration, with caring and motherly attention, to proclaim the merciful closeness of God in Jesus Christ.

 Then comes an image I love:

Indeed, as the Fathers teach, it is he who is the true Good Samaritan, who has made himself close to us, who pours oil and wine on our wounds and takes us into the inn, the Church, where he has us treated, entrusting us to her ministers and personally paying in advance for our recovery. Yes, the Gospel of love and life is also always the Gospel of mercy, which is addressed to the actual person and sinner that we are, to help us up after any fall and to recover from any injury.

The late Fr. John Hardon once opined that living the divorced state with chastity and Christian dignity could be a very real vocation: perhaps not in the technical theological sense of the word, but in reality, because a divorced person’s testimony of relying on Christ instead of turning to secular solutions brings a very necessary testimony to the world. 

Being Christian doesn’t insulate us from the mistakes and sufferings of human life—it just means we can be liberated from them. Divorced Catholics need to know they aren’t second-class citizens on the path to holiness, but have a vital role to play in healing the culture through their witness—and the Church is with them in solidarity all the way. 

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