This month, from its opening on October 4 until its closing on October 25, the Synod on the Family will have high priority in Catholic news outlets, and I hope, worldwide media will report the discussions, as well.
Marriage is on the front burner, and in particular, how to welcome Catholics home whose marriages ended in divorce and who have remarried outside the Church. To this end, Pope Francis told those gathered at the opening Mass “the Church should be a bridge and not a roadblock.”
With the uncanny twist only the Holy Spirit can provide, the first and third readings for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (October 4) are about marriage and divorce.(Gen.2.18-24 and Mark 10.2-16). Here are three short reflections which can bring the readings and Synod together in our thinking.
- it is clear that the Law of Moses allowed divorce. It is equally clear that Jesus says in the Gospel that this was not God’s intention, but came about because of human frailty. Divorce was common in the time of Jesus, although only men could initiate the divorce procedure. Grounds varied among the various rabbinic schools of thought – ranging from flimsy reasons (She is a bad cook!) to the more serious (Adultery).
- Specifically in this Gospel; account, Jesus is addressing the implications of divorce as it related to women. For a woman, divorce meant total disgrace in the community, the loss of home and children. She became socially unacceptable on her own. No respectable man would marry her. In short, Jesus is addressing divorce, not as we know it today, but as a situation in which a human being is treated as an unwanted possession.
- In our families, among our friends, maybe we ourselves have known the reality of divorce. No one enters marriage planning on divorce. No one enjoys divorce. It is a devastating experience arising out of human frailty. Divorced and remarried Catholics feel awkward, uncomfortable, unwelcome at Sunday Mass. To all of these people, the Church needs to be a place where hurts are healed and hearts find courage to rebuild life. Pope Francis, in the spirit of our compassionate and merciful God, bids us search them out and welcome them. We need to do our share to heal the wounds that broke marriages bring.
As they marry, a couple promises love, fidelity – a promise that takes the work of a lifetime of effort, practice, mutual support.
There’s more. The promise, the embrace of God celebrates our victories with us and holds us in our defeats. These promises human and divine, are the stuff of married life.
Living as we do in the time of Pope Francis, we can be sure he will do all he can to help God’s people live through the greatest challenges we face… living this life – our only life - fully, as we move toward eternal life. He wants the Synod, and by extension all of us, “to rediscover a church that can unite compassion with justice.”
~Sister Joan Sobala