Friday, October 5, 2018

The Aftermath of Divorce

Dear Friends,

Like you, I have family members and friends who have been through a divorce.

No one enters a marriage planning on divorce. No one enjoys the divorce process. It is a devastating experience. It tears at our lives.

All of us know people who, because of divorce and remarriage, no longer feel welcome at Catholic worship. They feel awkward, uncomfortable and maybe angry at what looks like a rejection of them. In the spirit of the compassionate and merciful Lord, about whom Pope Francis speaks so frequently, I hope they will come home to a God and a community who will welcome them and not judge them. In every way possible, I pray that people experience the Church in the aftermath of divorce as a place where hurts are healed, and hearts find the courage to rebuild life. All of this takes work, both on the part of the Church and the hurting or alienated.

It’s true that there are pockets of judgment in the Church, but the Church is bigger than that. This conviction about a big church goes back to Jesus. It is based on the promise of our faithful, gracious God to be with us on our life’s journeys, who will celebrate with us our victories and hold us in our defeats, who will laugh with us in times of joy and cry with us in moments of sorrow and sadness. God does not desert us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of divorce. He tells His listeners that that is not God’s intention, but the result of choices that men made over the centuries leading up to his day. Only men could initiate the divorce procedure. Grounds for divorce varied among the various rabbinic schools of thought, ranging from flimsy reasons, like poor cooking, to more serious reasons, like adultery.

Specifically, in Mark’s Gospel, as we hear it today, Jesus speaks of the implications of divorce as it pertains to women. For a woman, divorce meant total disgrace in the community, as well as loss of home and children. It was a catch 22: it was socially unacceptable for her to be on her own, yet no respectable man would marry her. In short, in Mark, Jesus is addressing divorce, not as we know it today, but as a situation in which a woman is treated as an unwanted possession.

The longer version of the Gospel today includes the next few verses, in which Jesus draws a child to himself and says, “Let the children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mark 10 . 14). Both children and women were considered the property of men in Jesus day. Jesus, in these two passages, calls for the full dignity of women and children to be recognized and upheld. The promises of God belong to them as well as to men. This way of thinking and acting has come down to us, but with resistance, as we see in the major issues of sexual exploitation raised in our society today.

The bottom line in today’s Gospel is to honor people for who they are, to shape our thinking and actions so that people may know we honor them, respect them, love them.

~Sister Joan Sobala