Today is World Marriage Day, an annual observance to honor husband and wife as the foundation of the family, the basic unit of society. It salutes the beauty of their faithfulness, sacrifice and joy in daily married life. I invite every husband and wife to spend a little dedicated time in prayer and reflection by participating in a seven-day virtual retreat focused on marriage (www.foryourmarriage.org). See page 8 in this bulletin for more details about opportunities for marriage enrichment, divorce survival, and retreat.
We all know that marriage is NOT a bed of roses. Every marriage hits its rough spots. Pope Francis noted in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia that “the life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship…Each crisis becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity” (no. 232). If you are struggling in your marriage, take heart! The Church cares about you and wants you and your spouse to find healing and a renewed sense of love. Be open to the resources our Church offers to enrich and support your married life.
At the same time, we need to be aware of those couples who have found it impossible to stay in marriage due to insurmountable difficulties and so have chosen to separate or divorce. All of us need to be sensitive to their situation as St. John Paul II beautifully asked us: “I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced and with solicitous care, to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church… Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother and thus sustain them in faith and hope.”
In this context, it is important to have a clear picture of their status in the eyes of the Church as there are many misconceptions: Catholics who are separated or divorced, and who have not remarried outside of the church, are in good standing in the church and can receive the sacraments, including holy Communion. That means divorced/separated Catholics are not excommunicated from the church as some mistakenly think. Annulments do not cost thousands of dollars. Annulments do not take years to process and do not have to be processed in Rome. Divorcees with children can get an annulment. Even if your “ex” does not cooperate in the annulment process, you can still get help. Separated/divorced Catholics are welcome at Mass and Church activities. Separated/divorced Catholics can receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation – provided their remarriage, if any, is in the church. They can be sponsors at Baptism and Confirmation. The children of the separated/divorced Catholics can be baptized and receive other sacraments.
Knowing that we are all God’s children trying to live life to the best of our ability will give us a greater understanding of the struggles we all face, especially those with difficulties in marriage; it will then give us a greater appreciation of each other.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal