I was talking with a friend the other day, who is on the registration committee of our parish. He was telling me about some of the difficulties of registering new parishioners. It seems that some of the people who want to register as parishioners have, to put it kindly, issues with the teachings of the church.
Some are divorced. Some are divorced and remarried. Some are cohabiting. Some of them had come to our parish after being turned away by another parish.
My friend felt uncomfortable because he wasn’t sure what sort of policy he should be following. Which got me thinking, what should we do with those who want to participate in our parishes, but are living lives that are not the way we believe God calls us to live?
Someone (I’ve seen it attributed to various people – often L. L. Nash, but I can’t find any corroborating evidence) said “a church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” That’s a very true statement. In fact, Pope Francis said, just last week, “The church has also human aspects. Those who belong to it, pastors as well as faithful, have flaws, shortcomings and sins. Even the pope has them, and he has many.”
So what do we do when someone is divorced? First off, let’s realize that it’s not sinful to be divorced. There are legitimate pastoral reasons (such as abuse) for spouses to live apart. Furthermore, divorce is a civil concept. It means legally you don’t have to share your property, but in the eyes of God a divorce means nothing. The divorced couple is still bound to each other spiritually in holy matrimony.
Which can lead to another problem. Many people today are divorced and remarried. According to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel:
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”
But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
So it is pretty clear that someone who says they are remarried [and has not had an annulment] is in an adulterous relationship.* Should we let those people into our parishes? Sure! If we excluded sinners from our parishes the pews would be empty. That doesn’t mean we should say “great, keep on sinning” but it does mean that we should welcome people where they are, and proclaim the truth to them, with love. You can’t proclaim the truth to someone who isn’t there, and you can’t get them to listen to you if you don’t first show them you care about them.
In fact, Pope Francis said something about the matter this week, during his homily at the Casa Santa Martha. The Pope said,
“Think about a single mother who goes to church, in the parish and to the secretary she says: ‘I want my child baptized’. And then this Christian, this Christian says: ‘No, you cannot because you’re not married!’. But look, the Pope adds, this girl had the courage to carry her pregnancy, what is this? A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors.”
Copyright © 2013, Michael Lindner
*Editor’s note: This comment is not intended to offend anyone who is remarried. The author intends this to point us to the compassion we are called to have toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.