HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A FAILURES IN MARRIAGE?
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A FAILURES IN MARRIAGE ?
On 24 July 07, Pope Benedict XVI met with the clergy of the dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso, Italy. One of the questions dealt with how to deal with failures in marriage
We are seeing an enormous increase in situations of divorced people who remarry, live together and ask priests to help them with their spiritual life. These people often come to us with a heartfelt plea for access to the sacraments. These realities need to be faced and the sufferings they cause must be shared. Holy Father, may I ask you what are the human, spiritual and pastoral approaches with which one can combine compassion and truth? Thank you. –Fr. Samuele
Benedict XVI: Yes, this is indeed a painful problem and there is certainly no simple solution to resolve it. This problem makes us all suffer because we all have people close to us who are in this situation. We know it causes them sorrow and pain because they long to be in full communion with the Church. The previous bond of matrimony reduces their participation in the life of the Church. What can be done? I would say: as far as possible, we would naturally put prevention first. Hence, preparation for marriage becomes ever more fundamental and necessary. Canon Law presupposes that man as such, even without much education, intends to contract a marriage in harmony with human nature, as mentioned in the first chapters of Genesis. He is a human being, his nature is human and consequently he knows what marriage is. He intends to behave as human nature dictates to him. Canon Law starts from this presupposition. It is something compulsory: man is man, nature is what it is and tells him this.
Today, however, this axiom, which holds that man prompted by his nature will make one faithful marriage, has been transformed into a somewhat different axiom. "Volunt contrahere matrimonium sicut ceteri homines". It is no longer nature alone that speaks, but the "ceteri homines": what everyone does. And what everyone does today is not simply to enter into natural marriage, in accordance with the Creator, in accordance with creation. What the "ceteri homines" do is to marry with the idea that one day their marriage might fail and that they will then be able to move on to another one, to a third or even a fourth marriage. This model of what "everyone does" thus becomes one that is contrary to what nature says. In this way, it becomes normal to marry, divorce and remarry, and no one thinks this is something contrary to human nature, or in any case those who do are few and far between. Therefore, to help people achieve a real marriage, not only in the sense of the Church but also of the Creator, we must revive their capacity for listening to nature.
Let us return to the first query, the first question: rediscovering within what everyone does, what nature itself tells us, which is so different from what this modern custom dictates. Indeed, it invites us to marry for life, with lifelong fidelity including the suffering that comes from growing together in love. Thus, these preparatory courses for marriage must be a rectification of the voice of nature, of the Creator, within us, a rediscovery, beyond what all the "ceteri homines" do, of what our own being intimately tells us. In this situation, therefore, distinguishing between what everyone else does and what our being tells us, these preparatory courses for marriage must be a journey of rediscovery. They must help us learn anew what our being tells us. They must help couples reach the true decision of marriage in accordance with the Creator and the Redeemer. Hence, these preparatory courses are of great importance in order to "learn oneself", to learn the true intention for marriage.
But preparation is not enough; the great crises come later. Consequently, ongoing guidance, at least in the first 10 years, is of the utmost importance. In the parish, therefore, it is not only necessary to provide preparatory courses but also communion in the journey that follows, guidance and mutual help. May priests, but not on their own, and families, which have already undergone such experiences and are familiar with such suffering and temptations, be available in moments of crisis. The presence of a network of families that help one another is important and different movements can make a considerable contribution. The first part of my answer provides for prevention, not only in the sense of preparation but also of guidance and for the presence of a network of families to assist in this contemporary situation where everything goes against faithfulness for life. It is necessary to help people find this faithfulness and learn it, even in the midst of suffering.
However, in the case of failure, in other words, when the spouses are incapable of adhering to their original intention, there is always the question of whether it was a real decision in the sense of the sacrament. As a result, one possibility is the process for the declaration of nullity. If their marriage were authentic, which would prevent them from remarrying, the Church's permanent presence would help these people to bear the additional suffering. In the first case, we have the suffering that goes with overcoming this crisis and learning a hard-fought for and mature fidelity. In the second case, we have the suffering of being in a new bond which is not sacramental, hence, does not permit full communion in the sacraments of the Church. Here it would be necessary to teach and to learn how to live with this suffering. We return to this point, to the first question of the other diocese.
In our generation, in our culture, we have to rediscover the value of suffering in general, and we have to learn that suffering can be a very positive reality which helps us to mature, to become more ourselves, and to be closer to the Lord who suffered for us and suffers with us. Even in the latter situation, therefore, the presence of the priest, families, movements, personal and communitarian communion in these situations, the helpful love of one's neighbor, a very specific love, is of the greatest importance. And I think that only this love, felt by the Church and expressed in the solidarity of many, can help these people recognize that they are loved by Christ and are members of the Church despite their difficult situation. Thus, it can help them to live the faith.