Like waves breaking on rock, polishing and shaping by force, the Catholic faith sands and sculpts my being. The day my soul became Catholic was the day I found out that as a divorced and remarried woman I could not receive Communion. “Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom,” Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor. This is how my conversion to Catholicism has been: the fullness of truth purifying and reorienting my thought and imagination—metanoia.
On January 28, I came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. And on Saturday January 30, 2016 my husband and I convalidated our marriage. But the road leading to January 28, 2016 was arduous; one filled with suffering, abnegation, an insatiable desire for the person of Christ, and healing. As a divorced and remarried woman, this path included journeying through the annulment process. It also included time living faithfully by Familiaris Consortio §84, which states that divorced and remarried Catholics must live with their spouse as brother and sister.
I am nothing but a lowly handmaid of the Lord, whispering fiat to his calling. And so what I am about to say comes from that posture.
It is not possible, after reading Familiaris Consortio to walk away confused about the Church's position on the divorced and civilly remarried. Or what a divorced and civilly remarried man and woman and should do. That cannot be said about Pope Francis's new apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Thank God it didn't exist when I was exploring Catholicism—I may not have wanted to become Catholic.
I could no longer intellectually or spiritually assent to Protestantism. Convinced of the existence of God, needing objective truth outside of human authority, I found it in Catholicism, especially in the Church's encyclicals and council documents. The words of the Church over her two-thousand-year history confirmed the Scriptures. She spoke truth, beauty, and goodness with the breath of the Holy Spirit, who “guide[d] [her] into all the truth” (John 16:13).
Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, is encouraging and pastoral. Chapter four, on love in marriage, is especially beautiful. But at chapter eight, it begins to unravel, leaving one wondering where the encouraging pastoral pope has gone. Our Holy Father is evidently conflicted; He begins the section on irregular situations by saying,
The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God's mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. . . No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! To which I would respond “yes, and amen!”
Pope Francis goes on to talk about accompanying and integrating into the life of the Church the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried. Saint Pope John Paul II said the same things. Pope Francis several times repeats that he doesn't want these people (people like me) to feel like we are excommunicated members. Pope John Paul II urged pastors and the whole community, “with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life.” Indeed our family experienced nothing but accompaniment, kindness, and integration.
How should people like me, who were objectively in a state of adultery, be accompanied and integrated?
I needed to be led out of my own subjective reality, feelings, and ideas. I needed the church not to “abandon [me] to [my] own devices.” It doesn't get any clearer than Familiaris Consortio §84: a valid marriage is indissoluble; go through the process of annulment. If you are granted a decree of nullity then your second marriage is valid. If you are not granted a decree of nullity, then your first marriage is valid and you are currently living in a state of adultery. You have two choices: Go to confession, repent of adultery and “live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.” Or you can continue to live in your state of adultery, in which case you cannot take the Eucharist. There are merciful and pastoral ways to counsel the faithful through this, and I have experienced the love and mercy of Christ through His priests and deacons. There is nothing wrong with desiring moral clarity and believing that it is available to us through the word of God.
Pope Francis seems to disagree. His idea of accompanying and integrating people like me calls for me to go digging into myself. It has me asking a priest to join me gazing at my belly button so that we can reach a joint decision of how culpable I am. He advises: “a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.” It is all individual and subjective. My experience becomes truth and reality. I might as well be ordering a cheeseburger. He says nothing of the sin of adultery, he says nothing of the specific penitential path St. Pope John Paul II already gave the Church in Familiaris Consortio §84. He obfuscates. He waffles and asymptotically approaches communion for the divorced and civilly remarried without clearly arriving at it.
Pope Francis is concerned for the divorced and civilly remarried; he wants to offer us mercy. This is as it should be for Christ's vicar on earth. God offers grace to every sinner—that is each and every one of us. No one is beyond God's mercy. And although we have all fallen short of the glory of God, redemption is always available to us through Jesus Christ. And that's it right there. It is so simple that our Holy Father misses it. If redemption is through Jesus and his merits, which the Holy Father confesses that it is, then it means all the ways back to Jesus come by the means Jesus, and his Body the Church, have given.
Pope Francis's desire to give the Eucharist to the divorced and civilly remarried is admirable. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice,” the prophet Isaiah said of the coming Messiah. And I am grateful that our Holy Father desires to walk in the foot steps of our Lord. But I submit, that this is not the way to heal us bruised reeds.
One of the first things I learned from the Catechism of the Catholic Church was paragraph 1257: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.”
This means that the Church abides by the sacraments as given to her by her Lord, she can do no other. But God is not bound. Pope Francis is right to note that there are times when a second marriage which is objectively adulterous shows signs of rich spiritual fruit in the life of the family. This can be confusing. It was for us. In the beginning we couldn't understand how we could be experiencing such grace and spiritual blessing in our family if we were living in a persistent state of adultery. But we know from CCC 1257 and the Scriptures that God is not bound by his sacraments: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,” Romans 9:15. Of course we are not to presume upon God's grace. Knowing this helped explain our experience and drove us to greater love for God. Yet part of a deeper love of God is a desire to live a life in conformity to what Christ through his Church calls his disciples.
I want complete healing for my fellow brethren; this abbreviated version will not bring it. In the end it may even bring a despising of the Eucharist by the very people who are now vying for it. If I must spend the rest of my apostolate convincing Bishops and the lay faithful of this, then so be it. In the end, this is not about conservative Catholics versus liberal Catholics. It is about real and palpable healing for the divorced and civilly remarried. But lasting healing, and true mercy, only comes through obedience, albeit imperfect and painful obedience at times, to the penitential path the Church has always offered—the path through the annulment process. I know, I lived through it.