The day my soul became Catholic was the day I found out that as a divorced and remarried woman I could not receive Communion. Tears of sorrow and joy flowed. Sorrow because I had by then grasped the truth of transubstantiation, only to find I couldn’t consume, and joy because at last we found the ground of real authority—his Church, the one he founded, the one tasked to keep all he taught her Apostles.
I came to Catholicism from Calvinism. That’s a tough row to hoe if there ever was one. It was that prescient and beautiful encyclical Humanae Vitae which softened my heart to the Catholic Church. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to hear what the Church believed in her own words. And so I kept reading—Theology of the Body, Familiaris Consortio, Mulieris Dignitatem, and Church documents significant to those of us coming from the Reformed tradition.
Because I had been divorced, and because another family member recently left his marriage after forty-three years, our children had many doubts and questions about marriage. One day around the dinner table one of the kids voiced their anxiety, stating in our presence that “you never know” if both mom and dad will be there for you as you grow up.
This clued us in to how deeply they had been affected by our choices and the culture that made them possible. As Christian parents we were keen to bring up our children in a Church unwavering on marriage. The Catholic Church offered a rich and beautiful doctrine of marriage in all its fullness, especially as a picture of Christ’s marriage to his bride, the Church. This vision was slowly leading us to consider the Church’s other claims.
But there’s more to coming to the Catholic faith than theological reading. As any convert can attest, there are many ups-and-downs during the journey: Struggling with doctrine followed by insights from magisterial passages coupled with Scripture, feeling still and alone followed by being overwhelmed by the presence of the saints before us, crying out to God for His presence and having Him answer in the Blessed Sacrament. Many times I woke up in the middle of the night thinking: How can I be considering Catholicism? But then in the morning at daily mass praying the liturgy, I experience the profound presence of God, even though I do not take the Eucharist.
Since I cannot now receive the Eucharist, it is through spiritual communion that I am kept spiritually fed by the Lord. This act of willing reception is not, as some may think, second-class communion. Far from it. To believe so is to diminish one of the ways Christ feeds his people, as Hans Urs von Balthasar warns in his book, Prayer:
For spiritual communion is by no means merely an act of longing for the reception of the Lord under the sacramental signs; much deeper, and more properly, it is the act of prayer of a living and understanding faith, by which it enters into living communication and communion with Christ, the eternal and living Truth.
Balthasar wants to impress upon the reader the objective reality of spiritual communion. It is not the absence of something but the presence of him. I don’t get to pine or indulge in self-pity during the distribution of the Eucharist. And God forbid I should become angry with my priest or the Church for not giving me Communion. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput put it during the 2014 Erasmus lecture, “none of us are welcome on our own terms, in the Church we’re welcome on Jesus’ terms. That’s what it means to be a Christian, you submit yourself to Jesus and His teaching. You don’t recreate your own body of spirituality.”
Before you feel sorry for me, remember that the Church didn’t do this to me. I did this to myself when I disobeyed my God by walking away from my first marriage. Was I young and immature? Yes. Were there circumstances that drove me to such drastic measures? Sure. And yes, I am currently pursuing a Decree of Nullity, trusting God for a just decision. Whatever the outcome, I can not, and will not walk away from the Church for standing firmly on the teachings of Christ.
Some people may be shocked at the idea of submitting to a church that tells me because I’m divorced and remarried I can’t take Communion. But unless it can be shown otherwise, any tampering with Communion for the divorced and remarried will corrupt the doctrine of marriage, and—by diminishing the image of the Church as bride of Christ—debase the Church.
I have run to her for shelter. I now pray—for my sake, for my children’s—that the Church will not waver.