I wanted to find something to write about today, and while I am preferring right now to avoid the “controversial” and focus more on the spiritual and personal relationship with God, sometimes those things intersect. So I’m going to write about the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics and the reception of Holy Communion after reading this article by Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island.
I’m not going to quote the article because its short enough that you can just read it yourself. And I also will preface this with an obvious warning that I am not a canon lawyer, so much, if not all of this post is purely my opinion based upon my understanding of Catholicism.
First, I find it slightly odd that there is an advocacy for the annulment process to be made simpler for the sake of bringing blessings to second marriages so that more Catholics can take Holy Communion. I think that the annulment process is difficult and involves so many factors other than the testimonies of the alleged spouses because the purpose of an annulment is not Catholic divorce, but to determine whether a marriage actually ever occurred. Streamlining and fast-tracking a process that many Catholics already feel has simply become a rubber stamp for divorced Catholics seems like a terrible and scandalous idea.
Second, while I certainly understand the difficulty that divorced and remarried Catholics find themselves in when they are forbidden to receive Holy Communion, I firmly believe it is imprudent to attempt to mollycoddle them and attempt to advocate for them to receive that which one cannot receive while in a state of mortal sin. Regardless of the difficulties, no person can be in two marriages at once, and until the first marriage is declared to be invalid, the first marriage is considered sacramental by the Church and the second marriage is adulterous, and one needs to go to Confession as long as they willingly remain in a state of perpetual adultery.
Third and finally, any attempt to carve out an exception to the rules regarding abuse of the Sacrament of Marriage in order to provide those willfully and stubbornly persisting in mortal sin to receive Holy Communion without expressing contrition and a resolution to cease participation in mortal sin is not only unjust towards the souls living in that sin and unjust towards God, but also creates a perceived injustice towards those in the Church willfully unrepentant of other types of mortal sins. For example: the homosexual couple that has been civilly married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. Say they live in Massachusetts and have been civilly married since 2004 and have adopted children, and like the valid marriages of other Catholics, have their entire lives intertwined from finances to personal property. On top of that they love each other very much, and fully do intend to remain committed to each other forever. They also desire deeply to receive Holy Communion, but refrain because at least in that respect they recognize and accept Church teaching.
Like the remarried couple, asking this couple to deconstruct their “marital” relationship would constitute a lot of difficulty and hardship. Do we, then, seek to carve out some kind of exemption for them? Is this not simply the opposite side of the same coin? Are not remarriage and same-sex marriage severe assaults on the dignity of marriage as God created it? Yes. They are. How can we attempt to relax the rules for one type of serious sin against marriage and not another?
Ultimately I think its important to remember what discipleship is all about. Its about taking up our crosses and following Jesus without counting the cost. Discipleship isn’t about taking shortcuts. It isn’t about making one feel good about themselves. It isn’t about entitlement. Discipleship calls us to repentance. It is unreasonable to believe that individuals will never fall again, but is also unreasonable to expect anything less than a devout attempt to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and any move that compromises reception of Holy Communion without serious repentance, resolution, and contrition from remarried Catholics (or others persisting in mortal sin) would be a failure of the Church to her duty to shepherd the souls Christ has entrusted to her. It is a sad day when people leave the Church because they find discipleship too difficult, but the Church isn’t about having high numbers, it is about saving souls and bringing them to Jesus.
St. Olaf, patron of difficult marriages, we seek your intercession on behalf of the Church, that those in difficult marriages would seek discipleship. We pray that the process which the Church uses in order to determine null marriages would be strengthened and not weakened and that she will take seriously her call to bring sinners to Christ for reconciliation, and that she would also bring reconciliation to spouses who struggle in their marriages. Look after your King’s flock and destroy the roots of sin which seek to destroy the wheat.
St. Olaf, pray for us!
St. Monica, pray for us!
St. Michael, pray for us!
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!