August 5, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Love heals old wounds, prevents new ones

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

In “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis extols the value of mercy, of not being judgmental toward sinners who have fallen short—sometimes by great lengths—of the high standards married couples are called to maintain. The Holy Father affirms the traditional teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, but he asks us not to condemn those whose marriages have failed.

This is the paradox of Jesus’ own teaching. He maintained strict adherence to the lifelong commitment that a man and a woman make to each other—rejecting the compromise that Moses allowed in cases of divorce. But Jesus did not condemn people who were unable to observe God’s law. He forgave them, and urged them to seek healing and reconciliation in their lives.

The attitude of Pope Francis toward those who have suffered through divorce is uncompromising. “Divorce is an evil,” the pope writes. “And the increasing number of divorces is very troubling. Hence, our most important pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love, helping to heal wounds and working to prevent the spread of this drama of our times” (“The Joy of Love, #246).

Hate the evil that divorce is, the pope tells us, but love those who have suffered through it. Heal the wounds created (or exacerbated) by divorce, and work to prevent new, deeper wounds from being inflicted on families, especially innocent children.

This is why the Holy Father reminds us that those who have divorced and entered into new marriages are not excommunicated. They have not been cast out of the community of faith, and therefore they should not be shunned.

“They are not excommunicated, and they should not be treated as such since they remain part of the ecclesial community. Language or conduct that might lead them to feel discriminated against should be avoided, and they should be encouraged to participate in the life of the community. The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage; rather such care is a particular expression of its charity” (#243).

Once again, Christianity seems paradoxical. Those who have acted in ways that are contrary to Church teaching are not to be rejected out of hand. They must be loved and cared for, and encouraged to participate in the life of the community—for their own sake and for the sake of their children.

Pope Francis combines his message of love and acceptance for divorced couples with a stern warning about the welfare of their children. “Never ever, take your child hostage! You separated for many problems and reasons. Life gave you this trial, but your children should not have to bear the burden of this separation or be used as hostages against the other spouse. They should grow up hearing their mother speak well of their father, even though they are not together, and their father speak well of their mother. It is irresponsible to disparage the other parent as a means of winning a child’s affection, or out of revenge or self-justification. Doing so will affect the child’s interior tranquility and cause wounds hard to heal” (#245).

Once again, Pope Francis follows the example of Jesus by reserving some of his harshest criticism for those who would either deliberately or unwittingly inflict harm on their children.

“For this reason,” the pope writes, “Christian communities must not abandon divorced parents who have entered a new union, but should include and support them in their efforts to bring up their children” (#246).

Keeping these families apart at arm’s length “as if they were somehow excommunicated” does nothing to heal their wounds. It merely continues the vicious cycle in which old wounds create new ones. “We must keep from acting in a way that adds even more burdens that children in these situations already have to bear!” (#246)

The good of children should always be our first priority—as parents and as a community of faith. In our weakness, and our sin, we Christians have too often neglected this important truth.

By the grace of God, love heals our wounds. We can be confident that where genuine mercy is present, hope and healing can always be found. That’s why Pope Francis challenges us not to reject those who have divorced even when they have entered into new unions.

Love, forgiveness, healing and hope are the gifts we have all received from our merciful God. Let’s not hold back these gifts but share them generously with all our sisters and brothers! †

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