>> in the know with Fr. Joe Dear Fr. Joe: My sister and her husband divorced. This is the only couple in our family who has split up and we’re all trying to put it in the context of our Catholic faith. How do we deal with this without judging them?
We seem to have arrived at this point again, where our actions and laws have served to degrade the idea of marriage into a kind of “serious dating” that can be dissolved for any reason whatsoever. We, as Christians, are called to be different; that is a fact. Societal attitudes about marriage are leading us down a dangerous road. The church recognizes the sad reality that some marriages are destructive to the bodies, souls and dignities of the people involved. To protect the mental and physical health of the participants and their children, it is a tragic necessity for some couples to separate. To ensure that each of them is civilly protected and that children are provided for, it may be necessary for them to obtain a civil divorce. Even after they are divorced by the state the church considers them to be a married couple until they obtain a Decree of Nullity from a tribunal. This decree is issued after the church has studied all the aspects of the marriage. The term annulment does not convey what the process is. I guess to sum it all up, we are called always and everywhere to respect marriage. Sometimes, that translates into getting help and working through issues together and fighting for a marriage with all our hearts and souls. Sometimes, out of respect for marriage, we end it and protect our God-given dignity. So, when someone in our family divorces, what are we to do? You know I’m gonna type this: Pray. Pray for the family. Pray for any children born of this union. Pray that God uses you to be as loving as Jesus. In terms of judging, leave the judging of motives to God. God knows the human heart and knows your sister’s marriage better than anyone else involved. To put it simply: You don’t know what you don’t know. We don’t want to pretend that we know the totality of the situation or that we can know what is in people’s hearts and minds. If your sister asks your opinion, offer it gently and lovingly. Don’t pretend this isn’t hard for you and don’t forget this is hard for her, too. If, through what she shares with you, you believe she isn’t taking her marriage vow seriously, speak that in love if asked. If you can help without wounding your conscience, then do so. When other family members try to speak to you about this, don’t tolerate gossip. Encourage everyone to pray for all involved and change the subject. Talk about the Detroit Lions – who are simultaneously my favorite team and the source of my greatest suffering in life. When it seems the time is right, and if you sense that it’s the right thing to do, talk to your sister about the tribunal process. A Decree of Nullity not only allows people to get married it is also an opportunity for healing and a chance to close some doors. God bless your heart for asking this question; it shows you care about your sister and respect and honor the family and the sacrament of marriage. Trust that God, who started this good work in you and in your sister, will see it to completion. (Phil 1:6) Enjoy another day in God’s presence!