I apologize for my spotty blogging lately; things are about to get even more sporadic around here as National Novel Writing Month kicks off in ten days, and I plunge back into fiction writing. This year's novel will be book 7 in the Tales of Telmaja series, and I hope to be publishing book 4, A Smijj of Conflict, in the very near future. Many thanks to my patient book readers and my patient blog readers for putting up with me all this time!
I'm in the throes of the final edits of book 4, but I wanted to pop in here for a bit to talk a little bit about this idea we've seen floated here and there: the idea that mercy demands that we find a way to readmit people who are divorced and remarried outside the Church to Holy Communion.
I honestly don't think that the Church is moving toward any sort of blanket permission for that sort of thing. What might happen--and it's still a big "might"--is that a tiny handful of people whose first marriages were very likely invalid but who cannot for excellent reasons prove this invalidity (think, for instance, of couples married in Catholic parishes in Baghdad about 15 years ago, perhaps, which parishes and all their records no longer exist) might be on a case-by-case basis allowed to receive Holy Communion under extremely rare and specific circumstances for some sort of pastoral reasons. Maybe. We don't even know yet if that will happen, let alone the wider permissiveness some Catholics fear.
But having said that, I wonder a bit about this idea that "mercy" demands the divorced and remarried be admitted en masse back to Communion. Setting aside the reality that it's not very merciful to let people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves (as St. Paul warns of sacrilegious Communions), aren't we making an awful lot of assumptions when we--or some of us, anyway--agitate for Holy Communion for all or most remarried people?
Sure, there are situations where the innocent spouse, abandoned and betrayed, is the one who has later remarried. The innocent spouse might not even have been a Catholic at the time his or her first marriage fell apart. He or she may feel the call to become Catholic later, or may have "remarried" a baptized Catholic who eventually decides that it's important to get the marriage blessed, if possible. And there may be lots of reasons why the first marriage, even if it was the wedding of two Protestants in a Protestant church, might be invalid (though it could have been valid as well). But that's why we have an annulment process, so that if the first marriage was invalid that invalidity can be determined.
However, when we call for mercy, we ought to make sure that we're not overlooking a different sort of case, a sort I've personally encountered among friends and extended family: the kind of case where two Catholics marry in the Catholic Church, and one spouse decides five or ten or fifteen years into the marriage that he or she doesn't want to be married anymore, or at least, not to this particular person to whom he or she has vowed perpetual fidelity...and the other spouse wakes up to a nightmare of betrayal and abandonment, and often the reality of his or her spouse's adultery as well.
Not all of these marriages were invalid. Some of them may indeed have been invalid for the usual sorts of reasons, but some, perhaps most, of them were entered into by two baptized and practicing Catholics who knew what they were getting into and who had no impediments to the marriage. And if the marriage was valid, no annulment is possible for either party.
Imagine, if you will, a Catholic wife and mother (and, yes, I know women often institute divorce, but most of the cases I know involve a woman being abandoned so I am using that example) who is going along in a struggling marriage, working to improve things, praying, taking the children to Mass and educating them in the faith--and one day she finds out that her husband is leaving her. Maybe he's bored with the life of husband and father and pines for his freewheeling single days; maybe he's selfish and self-centered; maybe--and this is frequent--he's been involved with a mistress, and wants to keep up that adulterous relationship. The divorce happens, in spite of the innocent party's objections (thanks to our no-fault divorce laws).
Then her husband "marries" his partner in adultery. The kids have to spend time with the father who left them and the woman he calls his "wife." His real wife keeps taking the kids to Mass, keeps teaching them the faith, keeps praying, finding some solace in her parish life and the sacraments.
Her husband tries to have their marriage annulled, but the Church rules in her favor. Theirs was a valid Catholic marriage. His selfishness, his betrayal, his adultery, his abandonment--none of that changes the reality that he entered a valid sacramental covenant with her that can never be broken apart from death.
But now he wants the Church to accept him and his partner in adultery. He demands that the Church readmit him to Holy Communion, and his mistress (if she is Catholic) as well.
If we insist that the Church be "merciful" to him, what are we doing to his real wife? How is it merciful for the Church to ignore the grave wrong that has been done to her--not a wrong which has somehow been righted, but a wrong that permeates her life and fills her days and impacts everything she and her children do? She is the one to whom this grave injustice has been done, and her faithless husband's demand for "mercy" is actually yet another instance of his great cruelty to her. Ought the Church facilitate this cruelty? Ought the Church turn her back on her suffering daughter and embrace the instigators of that suffering without holding them accountable in any way for their ongoing wickedness to this man's real wife and to their children?
In the Beatitudes Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy." How is the man who betrays and abandons his wife to marry another, or the woman who betrays and abandons her husband to marry another, being merciful to their real spouses? They are not being merciful; they are being cruel beyond all telling. And those who insist on the kind of cruel mercy that ignores the suffering of the faithful spouse need to rethink things a little.