Divorce. Remarriage. And the Eucharist.
There is a lot of talk right now about how to handle the divorced & remarried Catholic who wants to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
I know the heartache well. I was divorced and remarried. And then I converted to the Catholic faith.
As we approach the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, there will be many more conversations on this topic. Here is my thought.
The Church, in mercy, has given us a way to healing. The annulment process was incredibly healing. I pulled out the mess of a previous marriage, the Church helped me to sort through it, and then, I realized that what I had believed to be a marriage was never a Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The necessary components that make a Sacrament a Sacrament were not there. So marital grace was absent.
That was healing. That news brought hope. Hope that I wasn’t hopeless, that marriage wasn’t impossible for me, that I might discover the path to real marriage and real love and real marital grace.
Many see the Church’s “traditional” stance on marriage as insensitive and unmerciful.
You cannot receive the Eucharist if you are divorced and remarried.
But there is an “unless” to this statement.
…unless your first marriage was unlawful. Unless you have submitted to the Church and asked Her to come into the situation and help you sort it out. Unless you recognized that the Sacrament of Marriage comes from God by way of Mother Church and you ask for Her guidance.
This is not unmerciful.
This is not rigid.
This is a pathway to wholeness. To forgiveness. To mercy. To understanding. To hope.
I submit to what the Church says as She moves forward on this topic. I trust Her – just as I trusted Her to sort out Sacrament from non-Sacrament.
The problem is with our society. I believe it gives birth to far more non-Sacramental marriages than Sacramental ones. I think the antidote is not to look the other way, but to apply mercy by way of the annulment process, to recognize that there are many people approaching the Sacrament with as much understanding/knowledge as a kindergarten child attending a college course.
Let the Church be merciful – and truthful.
Let Her protect the Sacraments – and the one who needs them.
And all of this is possible, not by saying a previous marriage does not matter, but by opening Her arms up and saying, “Come, let us look at this and see what happened. We want you whole. Healed.” I believe many – if not most – of those caught in this mess are really caught in the mess of a non-Sacramental marriage.
The annulment process could use more mercy and be completed more swiftly, perhaps.
But I don’t believe the answer is to pretend the first marriage didn’t matter. It mattered. We have the scars to prove that.
What matters is figuring out what happened, why it was not a Sacrament, what was missing. That is the path to healing and restoration.