Deeper more fundamental questions also usually have to be addressed, questions about who Jesus is, what marriage is and what God expects from us. They’ve bought in to the culture’s ideas of a God who simply wants his children to be nice and tolerant and a Church who can’t be trusted (or listened to) when it comes to questions of sex and relationships.
Most Catholics, divorced or otherwise, think they know the Church’s answers to those questions. Many also have bought into an idea of marriage that isn’t about the two spouses helping each other grow in holiness, but rather about each person’s own personal happiness. Our personal happiness is not supposed to be at the top of the list.
“They think of marriage as something that lasts for ‘as long as we both shall want,’ not ‘as long as we both shall live,’” said Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass. Others’ is.” Buying into cultural misconceptions like that one, as well as misconceptions about God, marriage and the meaning of life, aren’t just problematic because they can lead people to divorce.
Much of the reason for that, said Frese, is that “Catholics have been infected by the culture’s idea that we’re somehow entitled to happiness. They’re also problematic because they can lead people to rush into new relationships, believing that’s the answer to their unhappiness, ignore the Church’s teachings on chastity, and repeat past mistakes, mistakes which more often than not cut them off from the Church and the sacraments.
“Helping them let go of all that, and see that what they’re truly longing for is Jesus, takes some work.” So does overcoming some fundamental problems of catechesis. ” (Journey of Hope Productions, .99), that catechetical challenge starts with countering the idea that being a divorced Catholic is an oxymoron.
But, because a good portion of the Catholics who seek the Church’s aid in the wake of a divorce are (like many of their married peers) both unevangelized and uncatechized, answering those questions is just the beginning.And that challenge is made all the greater by the pre-existing wounds most divorced people bear — wounds from habitual sin before and during marriage, wounds from the culture or wounds from their own parents’ troubled marriages.“So many of the people who come to the Church seeking help are hanging on to old hurts or ideas about what’s going to make them happy, and it ends up just making them more miserable,” said Rose Sweet, author of “A Woman’s Guide to Healing the Heartbreak of Divorce” (Hendrickson, .95).Those groups offer comfort, support and a safe place to talk ... But they also generally neglect to communicate the truths Catholics most need to hear about sex, marriage, suffering, and salvation ... Likewise, some Catholic-based groups, such as Beginning Experience, focus solely on helping people deal with the emotional pain of grieving the loss of a spouse, but don’t do direct evangelization and catechesis.That may be fine when it comes to their outreach to widowed Catholics.Accompanying that belief are other questions divorced Catholics have about their standing in the Church: Are they excommunicated? Can they continue in lay apostolate work or liturgical ministries?If they apply for an annulment, does that mean any children they have will be considered illegitimate?And it’s a good first step for those going through divorce. “Divorced Catholics are suffering in a different way,” said Craig Dyke, who chairs the Diocese of Peoria’s advisory board for divorced and widowed ministry.“They’re dealing with anger, hurt, frustration and the misconception that the Church has turned her back on them. They need to hear the Church’s teaching in all its strength.” To make matters worse, however, plenty of Catholics involved in ministering to the divorced and separated don’t want to give that.“They’ve bought into a fake image of what it means to be loving. “There needs to be a big move within the Church to not focus too heavily on triage,” said Sweet.They’ve defined ‘good’ as never making waves and defined ‘kind’ as not saying anything that would make the other person uncomfortable.” “But,” she continued, “Jesus often made people squirm in their seats. “We need to shove a sucker in their mouth, then get them on operating table.” That is to say, in order for divorce ministry to truly be effective, it can’t end with cookies and a hug.