I was disappointed with the Synod on the Family. I believe the Catholic Church had the best intentions but that it missed great opportunities to strengthen marriage and families, prevent divorce, and clarify misunderstandings. I doubt many truly know what being divorced is or who you are tempted to become when divorce is thrust at you. I doubt many can understand, although they will think they do, what it does to be unloved by the person who promised forever. I doubt many realize it truly takes only one to divorce and that there is often truly an innocent spouse, not innocent as in sinless, but innocent in the tearing apart of marital bonds and the amputation of family members.
As a suddenly abandoned, divorced, annulled, single mom of five boys I know firsthand the hardships and burdens facing one forced into an unwanted divorce. I know the agony of waving good-bye to your children half your weekends. I know the gut wrenching wrongness of pretending “this is for the best” while your sobbing toddler reaches for you as he’s pulled from your arms and placed in his father’s car to spend the weekend with this virtual stranger and the woman he lives with. I know the confusion that comes from sitting home alone when communication is withheld by the absentee parent ensuring that you will know nothing of your children’s wellbeing for the next 48 hours. I know the fear that your children will repeat their father’s mistakes, hurt those they should care the most for, and possibly burn in hell.
I know how confusing the annulment process is, especially when it is forced upon you before you are ready. I know how fast time requirements (Yes, there were time requirements imposed by Rome even before the Synod was held) come up. I know how unbending those requirements are no matter what circumstances you face or how you beg for just one extension.
I know the disbelief and questioning that comes from watching your newly annulled husband marry his paramour in the Catholic Church while you and many others are forced to confront questions about what validity this marriage could possibly hold and what value the Catholic Church places on Marriage.
It is for these reasons and more that I was disappointed in the Synod. In my work with the divorced, I find too many people questioning, as I had, the validity of their annulments and too many who watch cheating spouses remarry quickly in the Catholic Church. This leads to questioning the validity of these new marriages and many who are left questioning what marriage means in the Catholic Church when unions formed through adultery so quickly and easily receive the Sacrament. There are supposed restrictions placed on the ability to remarry, but I’ve never heard of these restrictions being carried out. For many, it is these new marriages, more than our own marriages, that lead us to question the validity of our first marriages.
It is a confusing mess, not made clearer through an easier, shorter, cheaper annulment, but made muddier through the Church’s seeming desire, at a time when marriages are declining, to marry anyone for the sake of marrying them and increasing marriage rates.
It is a strange and unending circle of questions, doubt, and confusion many had hoped would be resolved with strong statements from the Vatican. Instead we heard media accounts of continued discussion by those who wished to allow civilly remarried without an annulment Catholics partake in the most Sacred part of Catholic faith, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Instead of clarification about the sacredness of the marriage bond, we were met with promises to shorten and cheapen the annulment process. We were met with authorities who overlooked the fact that it is often the abandoning spouse who seeks an annulment to justify his actions and that the granted annulment seems to many to be, not so much a Catholic divorce, but the Catholic Church’s blessing on a breakup which should not have occurred.
The Synod & Timelines in the Annulment Process
I can’t imagine the challenges of attempting to address issues faced by families around the globe. I know Married couples in places like Africa can face incredibly lengthy, and perhaps unjust, annulment proceedings, but knowing and understanding are not the same thing. My head knows it, but my heart cannot quite comprehend the challenges that a drawn out procedure must present. Part of me hears of the shortened annulment process and can’t get my head past my own experience, having a new baby, five little boys, losing our home, updating expired teaching licenses, finding a job, living two hours away from the annulment offices and having my heart smashed to smithereens by my husband whom I’d loved, by this woman he had an affair with, and then yes, even by my children who understandably but painfully chose to stay with them every other weekend and I still sometimes want to shout and pound my fists knowing the outcome of my marriage may have been changed by my being forced to comply to a Vatican timeline.
When I occasionally think of it, I still want to cry out at the injustice thrust upon me by the timeline put into place by my husband when he filed for the annulment. This was a timeline the Vatican said prevented a drawn out process. This was a timeline that refused to bend and refused to consider individual circumstances. This was a timeline that never took into consideration that an annulment might be used as a weapon by an abandoning spouse. This was a timeline attempting a one size fits all, cookie cutter approach to broken human hearts, stumbling faith, and shattered families. It was a timeline imposed by well-meaning people who turned a blind eye to new problems their solution presented.
The Release of Amoris Laetitia
There are so many issues facing Marriage and the family today, that I can’t begin to imagine attempting to address all of them. Yet the Vatican and Pope Francis did. In my small town, we face a variety of challenges in range of income, education, employment and employability, in values, in faith and degrees of faith – the list continues endlessly. Few institutions are capable of looking at needs in small communities, yet the Vatican took on the needs of the world. This is an incredibly admirable step and one only the Vatican could attempt with such selfless intentions.
I am approaching this six months after the 2015 Synod thanks to the release of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, Latin for “The Joy of Love.” It is a document of approximately 255 pages that relates Pope Francis’ synod findings. It is not Church doctrine but a sneak peek into what goes on in the Pope’s mind, of how he sees the world, and the magnitude of challenges we face this century.
Pope Francis in the first page of Amoris Laetitia asks readers to read the document slowly with our families. It is not a document to be rushed through, but to be discussed and prayed over. Having taken his advice, I admit to having only read the first two chapters as of this writing so my commentary is limited to these two chapters.
The document is lengthy and the topics are complex, but the writing is not. Margins are wide and the font is large so I encourage you to read and discuss Amoris Laetitia without being intimidated. Do not take my opinion or the opinion of others in the news media as Gospel. Always check things out for yourself.
Amoris Laetitia & Me – the Opinion of a Single Mom
In my writing on Single Mom Smiling and in other places, even in this very piece, I start out with the negative and work my way toward a happy ending. I know life is hard, but I also know the Lord will embrace us eventually. I guess I hope to reflect that pattern in my writing.
Amoris Laetitia is very different. After a brief introduction including a reminder that families can be built either on sand or on rock and that most of us build somewhere in between, Amoris Laetitia’s Chapter I “In the Light of the World,” personifies love. There is no negativity at all in this first chapter. Instead, Pope Francis greets readers with a picture of true love, a family built on rock as portrayed in Psalm 128.
“In the Light of the World,” takes Psalm 128, a very small section of the Bible and one I’d either overlooked or not thought through, and pulls out so much rich love from it. The fact that I failed to recognize the beauty contained in such a small Psalm is one of many thoughts I have to reflect upon as I study Amoris Laetitia and consider how my missing the magnitude of this section allowed me to fail to recognize riches in those I might have met and deficiencies in those I chose to partner with.
The second chapter of Amoris Laetitia, “The Experiences and Challenges of Families,” details the vast range of challenges to families that share our world. It gives insight to the differences faced by people of varying locations, cultures, income levels, and backgrounds. At the same time, it gives insight to our connectedness as a brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ.
We realize that brokenness in one culture is brokenness in any culture. That slavery, abuse, unemployment, oppression, to the enslaved, abused, unemployed, and oppressed is wrong and painful in any person anywhere. We realize the dignity that comes from work gives value and lifts rather than exhausts. We realize the human desire to love and be loved.
We also see blessings we take for granted that so many others cannot begin to comprehend, and we see the need to strengthen ourselves to lift those whose needs are greater than our own.
Amoris Laetitia’s discussion of the challenges seemed to center around the current exaltation of the individual. Each of the challenges faced by families worldwide is a result in varying degrees of the individualism. In reading through these two chapters, we realize that every human being across time and space longs for an end to loneliness. At the same time, we isolate ourselves through technology, through self-centeredness, and through a separation from God and His plan for the Psalm 128 family.
A Single Mom’s Criticism of Amoris Laetitia
So far I am thrilled with Amoris Laetitia with two small objections. First, page 44 section 55 gives only a small nod to men. I wish this section was given greater importance. Men do not understand the value they have or how needed and appreciated strong leadership skills are. They mistake power for what they can get on the job rather than for what they can give in the home. Men need to know their worth cannot be compared in gold bars or other worldly ways. Men are special and needed beyond measure, and women we need to do a better job of showing them this (myself included!)
My second criticism is in the glossing over of the significance of single parent families. Perhaps glossing over isn’t the right term, but very little attention was paid to this challenge. Single parenting, especially in well to do western societies, may not seem like much of a problem compared to slavery and persecution, but I believe it is the root of the problem. We have power and influence in our western societies and could make great changes in the world, but we are sometimes forced into that dangerously destructive individualism Pope Francis warns of.
Challenges to make ends meet, to keep heads above water and schedules straight, nevermind emotionally and spiritually devastating breakups take attention away from bigger problems in the world. We often are so caught up in survival we not only fail to lift others but in our own homes produce “orphans of living parents,” as Pope Francis calls them.
With intact families, we are more likely to raise faith-filled children and are more able to look outside ourselves to lift others. The Bible tells us that if we are able to remain single for the glory of God, we should do so because Marriage takes our attention away from the Lord’s work. How much more is our attention diverted when we marry and then nullify our marriages?
I am hopeful that the rest of the document will focus more on single parents and how to strengthen marriage. We will have to see.
Implementing Amoris Laetitia in my Single Parent Home
Psalm 128 gives us the picture of that family built on rock. It is the family I hope my children build. For me, Amoris Laetitia changes my parenting. I am struck again by the power of love spoken into our lives. Amoris Laetitia and Pope Francis have made me realize the importance of leading my family in love, beginning not with the negative but with love.
My life has changed drastically over the last seven years. I am a Joy-filled, faith-filled happy woman happy. I would not go back to the man my ex has shown himself to be, and I would certainly never trade that beautiful little boy who has been such a gift or the faith the Lord has built in me for what I once treasured, but I still have my moments I wouldn’t want the world to see.
As a mom of five boys, I am sometimes driven by fear, fear of what will come tomorrow and fear of the man my boys will become. That fear coaxes me into parenting and living with a “Do Not” attitude. “Do not stay out to late. Do not date that girl. Do not skip your homework. Do not, do not, do not…”
Amoris Laetitia reminds me that “Do Nots” are temporary and conquered too easily when free will replaces authority. Do nots leave a hole and holes are not vacuums. They are always filled by something. I, for one, will attempt to fill those “Do Nots” with love.
Tomorrow my boys will be home, and I will have Psalm 128 posted near the front door on chalkboard where I update a Bible verse when I remember to and at dinner, instead of our short, almost routine prayer, I will ask one of the boys to read Psalm 128. I will ask them what they think and how they can have the Psalm 128 family. I’m sure they will roll their eyes and just want to eat. That’s fine. We can eat and talk and discuss how to pray for their dates and their spouses at the same time. They will think that is weird. My youngest is only six and praying for his spouse will probably give him cooties, but I can hope and pray that they internalize these discussions and apply them when the time is right.
I will shrink the font and decrease the margins of Amoris Laetitia so they are less intimidated by it. I will print it out and discuss short pieces over the next few days and years without telling them it is 255 pages. We will discuss the challenges according to ages and sensitivity levels and what seems like an overwhelming call to reach out to neighbors.
Will I make a difference in their lives or in the world? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have to try, and then I have to leave it up to my children and to their Father. For, as Pope Francis so eloquently pointed out, children are not property even of their own families. As Pope Francis pointed out, even Jesus needed to break from Mary and Joseph to pursue what God had called him to. I can only prepare my children to do the same and hope they break both from their father and from me to pursue God’s calling at a far greater level than either of us have.