“So… the Pope said Divorce is OK now, right?”

couple getting divorced

I have seen plenty of social media discussion recently on the new annulment reforms Pope Francis has brought in. Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge) has brought with very mixed reactions from priests and laity alike.

Predictably, some are saying it is too slack while others say it is not changed the process at all. But there does seem to be the inevitable grey area’s of the document which let’s face it, is something we have come to expect from Pope Francis. For instance one part of the document talks about lack of faith at the time the marriage took place and how this could be a possible contributor to declaring the marriage void. But how is one to determine this?

It’s a very difficult question, and there is really no black and white answer here. I certainly do not envy the Priests and Bishops who are going to have to be making the decisions in these matters.

Of course some people will argue that Pope Francis is just asking for trouble by seemingly blurring the edges or allowing grey areas. What also doesn’t help is the fact that the media do not understand the document or even have the slightest idea of what sacramental marriage actually means. It doubly doesn’t help when they purposefully twist the Pope’s words to make it sound like he has said something he never said at all.

For instance I heard of a priest recently who received a phone call from a lady who wanted to marry the father of her child because she was under the impression that “the Pope said divorce is ok now, right?”.

(Stop. Just take a minute to notice your reaction to that last sentence. Did you laugh? Sigh and roll your eyes? Did you think how stupid that woman must be? Be honest with yourself.)

The woman was told that this was not the case and to consult her local parish priest. Of course this was the right thing to do, but I can’t help feeling this was a blinding opportunity for evangelisation and catechesis that might have brought this woman and her whole family back into the faith.

It was not this woman’s fault that she had not been given the correct information. In fact her statement only highlights the chronic lack of catechesis and pathetic marriage prep that the last two generations have had to suffer. If anything her lack of knowledge shames the church itself.

I have to say I am not totally up to date on the annulment reforms, but I feel it is something that practising Catholics should all gain some basic knowledge of. It cannot be stressed enough how sensitively one must handle a question of this nature. Because for many people, the harsh truth is that they will not be able to marry the Mother/Father of their children or the person they are in love with. Please do not underestimate how painful this sort of news is.

It can only be truly explained in the context of a relationship with Christ – because that is the only way it can be understood, and lived.

Let’s not moan and whine about the new reforms, but instead always try to be at the service of our brothers and sisters, and help them to rectify any marriage issues they may have. And if their situation cannot be rectified, let us respectfully help them to accept and carry the cross that they have been given.

My Top 5 Hopes for the Family Synod.

synod

 

There are of course more than 5, but here goes (in reverse order):

5. That Parents will be made aware, and supported in the fact that they are the primary and most influential educators of their children, and that their home is a domestic church.

Most of the parents I know have no idea of the spiritual authority they have over their children. They have no idea that THEY are the primary educators and that THEIR witness to the faith is going to be the single biggest method of evangelisation their children will ever, ever get. The vast majority want to transmit the faith to their children but how can parents be expected to pass on the faith to their children if they do not know it themselves? The Bishops have to realise that adult formation should be moved up into top priority in parishes if they want the next generation to learn the faith from their parents. Parents need to be mobilised into realising that God is not just something that occurs in church on a Sunday morning, but He is in-fact a living reality throughout every moment of every day of our lives. Our homes should be schools of prayer and love where we can show our children everyday what it means to truly follow Christ.

4. That the Theology of the Body and NFP will be recognised and vigorously promoted from the pulpits as being THE MOST important, counter-cultural evangelising message a couple will ever hear.

Our society is obsessed with sex. It is also obsessed with self gratification. We have a porn pandemic. We also live and work in a culture that dehumanises us into a number on a payroll. The value of human life is not regarded in very high esteem unless you are earning a wage and can become a consumer. Human dignity is something that needs to be re-taught and re-learned. We are dignified simply because we are human beings. We are made in the image and likeness of God. A husband is dignified simply because he is a man and a wife is dignified simply by the fact that she is a woman. The physical, emotional and spiritual differences between men and women are God given and complimentary.  To (re)discover this dignity in the bedroom, and the whole of the rest of our lives is one of the biggest strengths the Church has against the secularisation and consumerism of the west.

3. That the (soon to be reformed) Annulment process will take into account the scandalous lack of effective marriage prep currently available.

Lets take the two lifetime vocations: Holy Orders and Marriage. For Holy Orders you get 7 years training before you commit for life. For Marriage, in my parish, you get 1 day. 1 DAY!!! And they muse over why so many Catholic marriages fail. Given today’s emotionally based secular view on marriage it is more important than ever to prepare and educate people in what they are about to commit to. How is it possible that such neglect has taken place on such an important issue? It is my belief that a huge proportion of Catholic marriages could be classed as invalid due to lack of preparation. And then after the marriage has failed people find they are trapped in a sacramental union they had no idea they were getting themselves into. I truly hope the Bishops sit up and realise their responsibility here. I discuss this more HERE.

2. That the beautiful truths of our beautiful faith will actually get taught.

How can the Bishops expect couples to understand the indissolubility of a sacramental union if (due to complete lack of adult formation) they don’t even know what a sacrament is? Why have the vast majority of Catholics never heard of NaPro technology, Billings or Creighton? – let alone understand how they work or the positive effects they have on, well, everything. Why could the vast majority of parents at the baptism course I helped with, not recite the Our Father without reading it off a sheet in front of them. Why had I never even heard of the CCC or known there were such things as Papal documents until I went to Catholic university aged 31?

One of my main hopes for this synod is that it is recognised that, for whatever reason, most adult Catholics do not know the basic truths of the Catholic faith.  I hope and pray that the Bishops will recognise this, find effective methods of teaching these truths and then ensure that this desperately needed education is actually reaching the people in the pews.

1. The recognition that most Catholics do not have a relationship with Christ, and if they do, it’s on their terms not His. 

This is the real elephant in the middle of the room. The Vatican survey showed very clearly that normal everyday Catholics do not accept church teaching on issues such as contraception, gay marriage and divorce and re-marriage. These are major life changing issues that on the surface, to the unbeliever, seem to make no sense whatsoever.

Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples tells us that only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practising. Fully, 10 percent of all adults in America are ex-Catholics. The number of marriages celebrated in the Church decreased dramatically, by nearly 60 percent, between 1972 and 2010. Only 60 percent of Catholics believe in a personal God. She really hits the nail on the head by bringing to light the fact that most Catholics do not have a relationship with Christ.

Why on earth would you want to remain open to life when you have already had your two kids and want to move on with the next stage of your life? Why would you choose an extremely challenging life of chastity rather than marry your gay partner whom you love deeply?

The only answer to these questions is that you do it because you love Christ more than you love yourself.

It is almost impossible for people to understand and accept many parts of Catholic doctrine, if not understood within the context of a personal relationship with Christ. A relationship that is based on His terms, not theirs. This correct relationship needs to come first. It is literally square 1.

Please God – let the Bishops recognise this, and Please God (even more so…) may they reflect on whether this is an issue for them personally. Do they have a relationship with Christ on their terms, or on His? Who is really in charge of their diocese? Has it influenced the way they have been guiding their flocks?

 

Lets us pray for the Synod…