As a pastor, not one week goes by that I don’t have to deal with a broken marriage in some way or other. The amount of time we invest helping people pick up the pieces of their lives, question whether an annulment is possible, go through the procedures and try to make sense of the devastated wasteland that is modern marriage and family life is shocking.
It really is very, very difficult to maintain the Catholic teaching on marriage when the whole societal structure of family life and marriage is disintegrating around us. Take, for just one example, the impossibility of the marriage vows in the face of quick, no fault divorce which is facilitated by voracious lawyers encouraging divorce and agnostic judges who also aren’t opposed to divorce.
At one point in our society divorce was a scandal. Decent people just didn’t do that. Decent lawyers wouldn’t touch divorce cases like decent doctors wouldn’t do abortions. It was considered not only immoral, but a crime against marriage and against God. Now the shark lawyers line up and advertise for divorce work. They pride themselves on being ‘bulldogs’ for their client. A judge in the old days would tell a man or woman to go back to their marriage and not grant them a divorce. Divorced people were social pariahs. They were shunned by family and respectable society. Now, more often than not the divorced person is mollycoddled and treated as a poor victim when, in a good many cases of my experience, they are busy taking their former spouse for every penny they can get.
What is a man or woman to do who wants to be a good Catholic but their spouse walks out on them, gets a quick no fault divorce and ends the marriage? The Church says that person (if the marriage was valid) must spend the rest of his days as a celibate. Is that fair? I know of a situation where the husband and wife are both converts to the faith. In her fifties (after twenty five years of marriage) she walked out to ‘find herself’. She claimed he had been unfaithful. Turns out his affair was ‘an emotional affair’. He had been chatting with an old high school girlfriend on Facebook. So now, if he wants to remain a good Catholic he’s not only had his wife walk out, spread the story throughout the community that he’s an adulterer, ruined his good name, taken him for every penny he has, and because he’s a Catholic (she’s now left the faith) he’s also sentenced to celibacy for life.
This is one example. I could multiply it over and over again. In this case the woman seems to be the villain. There are just as many men who are stinkers. The whole Catholic marriage thing (in practice) is extraordinarily complex, and when you add the current re-definition of marriage by the homosexualists it becomes even more bizarre and sick. Of course the whole problem goes back to Humane Vitae and the contraception culture, but that’s the stuff for another post.
It seems to me that increasingly the Catholic Church (along with certain conservative Protestant groups) is going to be the only bastion of Christian marriage. The mainstream Protestants have not only compromised on all these issues, but are leading the charge against traditional marriage and family life. Neo-Evangelicals have pretty much caved on divorce and remarriage and over homosexuality and co habitation have adopted a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy.
When it comes to pastoral care, how does a Catholic priest deal with couples and families who are in the midst of the mess? The liberal approach is to be loving and kind and welcoming and turn a blind eye to the teachings of the church. The conservative approach is to take a hard line and turn away all those who are ‘outside the church’. My own way is first to welcome all and then explain the true teaching of the church and invite them to live it out despite the difficulties, and to provide them with every help and assistance to do so.
Whether they take up the offer is up to them, but at least now they know. Eventually I suppose the Catholic Church will become more and more of a ‘sign of contradiction’ in our society. Catholics will seem to be like the Amish–following a quaint and archaic way of life which is somewhat admirable, but impossible.
When I’m feeling ornery I say, “Bring it on.” Some days I think there’s nothing I’d like better than to bid farewell to this tacky, materialistic suburban life, live in a hermitage, next to a church, grow a long beard, keep silence and say Mass every morning for three old ladies and a few large families who have moved into the community….oh, and write my blog posts every morning.
‘Cause I’m not giving up my laptop.