In the comments on yesterday’s post on paragraph 298 of Amoris Laetitia, a reader named John asks:
However, could it be possible that Pope Francis is making a “last ditch attempt” at bringing souls closer to God?
If the Church is to take the “hardline” stance which you advocate, I genuinely belief it will not benefit many souls. The youth of today have been atrociously formed morally, by parents, social and Church authorities over the last 60 years.
For example, why did the Church marry so many couples, who were clearly unsuited to marriage?!
As Pope Francis pointed out; half of marriages could actually be invalid.
This has led to the problem we have today.
Could it be possible that this is the Father running out to the Prodigal son to meet him?
Take the Divine Mercy devotion for example. What the devotion promises, seems almost unbelievable. Apparently Christ said that he is giving humanity “it`s final chance”.
Could it be that if the Church maintains that rigidity regarding this problem, it will drive souls further away?
Basically the battle for the culture is lost. The people that created this problem are long dead. It is the children and grandchildren that are left with their moral compass pointing everywhere but True North. How do we help these people?
These people who were reared with the notion that all this immorality is fine. Pre marital sex, contraception, co habitation etc.
How do you explain to a young man, whose father and grandfather were divorced and remarried two or three times, about the indissolubility of marriage? Where do you start?
After getting some push back from other commenters about diluting the message of the Gospel, John responded in frustration:
I`m 34. I see it all around me. Speaking the truth (which is right and good) is not enough. What do we DO with the people who have been taught lies all their life, and are now living the effects of those lies?
What kind of pastoral care, to bring them back to the Church do we engage with?
How do we teach about the indissolubility of marriage to couple who are already on their 2nd and 3rd marriage?
Solutions, please people!!!!
I understand John’s feeling of helplessness. I’m not that much older than he is, and when I did my marriage prep, my now-wife and I had to go to a mandatory “engaged retreat.” As I recall, there were over 70 couples in attendance. And when the question was asked how many were already sleeping together, almost every hand went up. They weren’t shy about it. Some thought it was funny. It just was what it was. I remember looking around the room, and other than us, seeing only a small handful of couples who had their hands down.
Now that I have a daughter in college, I know how much worse it is for her generation. How dangerous the selfie culture is. How little commitment there is to real chastity. How even the boys from otherwise good Catholic families have the audacity to ask girls they’ve barely gotten to know for sexual favors other than “going all the way” — but even that’s not out of bounds for them.
Add the pervasiveness of pornography, and it’s a crisis that’s hard to fathom. But the answers were the same as they ever were. I responded to John in the comments, but I think this is a discussion that merits being brought to the fore. My response to John was this:
The problem — however overwhelming it may appear on the surface — actually does have a simple solution. The apparent complexity comes from the manifold dimensions of human sinfulness, which certainly does complicate people’s lives.
Still, God, despite being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, is ultimately simple. He IS truth. He IS goodness. He IS love. He embodies all virtues in their perfection; He anticipated all the problems His creatures would face since before the dawn of time.
In other words: God is never surprised. He saw this coming — all of it — and he has given us what we need to overcome it.
You are correct that people are steeped in sin. … You are correct that people have gone so far down the wrong road that they can’t find their way back.
The problem with your analysis is that you believe the only way to help these people is to give them something that makes it easier on them. The reality is, the only answer to any of our problems is the Cross.
C.S. Lewis is an example of a man who wrestled with this for much of his life. He wrote books like “The Problem of Pain” that showed he clearly understood the value of suffering, but he also couldn’t wrap his mind around the Church’s absolute prohibition against divorce and remarriage because he fell in love with a woman who had left an abusive husband. It seemed unjust to him. It seemed unfair that she could not be freed.
“What God has joined, let no man put asunder.”
The problem with all of this is that God’s laws are immutable. In what degree He holds us accountable to them is only His to know, but He has given us absolutes, and expects that we believe them.
When we find ourselves desperate, or hurt, or afraid, or exhausted by the problems in our lives, we want Him to lift the burden. Sometimes, He does. Sometimes, He pulls us close as He bears the beam, ragged and broken, on the ascent to Calvary.
“This,” He tells us, “is how you will attain salvation.”
There is no value in a crossless Christ, and it is up to us to become imitators of Him. But there is a freedom in doing so. A liberation. We come to Him with our excruciating pain and sorrow and He transforms it into something redemptive, and in so doing, transforms us.
For some people, this means the suffering of a chronic or fatal illness. For others, the ravages of poverty. For still more, the death of a child or a spouse. For more, enduring a marriage that is blisteringly painful.
And for some, the requirement is that they leave the bed of the person to whom they are not married, because it is worth what they receive in exchange.
Like the confession of a dark and shameful sin, removing onesself from a situation that is soul-killing brings with it peace and light. It will not be easy, but it will be better. It will be better because it is right, and things that are right are things we perceive in the very fiber of our being.
God gave us the natural law to lead us to the Divine law. He gave us the Magisterium to interpret and apply both. We may feel indicted or angry by being told that we are wrong, but on some level, we always know that we are wrong. And we know, if we are honest, how to make it right.
The only thing that Holy Mother Church can do is to stand fast. To not conceal herself in the tattered garments of a sinner, but to stand pure and spotless as a radiant queen. She calls sinners to herself that they may be washed clean in the blood of her Divine Spouse. She asks something extreme from them — a total emptying out of self. She cannot do this if she equivocates. Conversion — real conversion — gives no quarter to sin.
The truth is attractive. Even to those who have never heard it. Perhaps especially so. Think of the barbarism of pagan Rome. Think of the persecutions of Diocletian. The huddled men, women, and children who sang hymns to God as the hungry lions tore them asunder. Is it any wonder that Tertullian proclaimed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church!”
Christ redeemed the world by His blood; so too do we. We live our faith. We die for our faith — if not through red martyrdom, then through white. It is only supreme sacrifice in the service of a greater cause that inspires people to change their lives. To see a man give everything for what he believes moves us to want to know what he has; to see a man compromise what he believes to gain the approval of others fills us with contempt.
It is only by holding the line, raising the bar, and proclaiming the “hard sayings” of Our Lord (at which even the people of His time “turned away” — and he did not stop them) that we can be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
The other way leads only to temporal irrelevance and eternal death.
* * *
After reading my comment, another reader responded by email:
A comment you made … really struck me because it describes what I feel: “Like the confession of a dark and shameful sin, removing oneself from a situation that is soul-killing brings with it peace and light. It will not be easy, but it will be better. It will be better because it is right, and things that are right are things we perceive in the very fiber of our being.” You see I recently civilly divorced my legal husband. He and I were married civilly for 34 years – 5 years separated – 3 years living as brother and sister and 2 years separated. This happened after I had a re-conversion in 2010 after my father died. I left him because at the time he was married to his first wife’s in God’s eyes. I told him I wanted to go back to the Catholic Church to receive the sacraments. My parish priest said we could live as brother and sister. Being older, it was not an occasion of sin for me but awkward. After a while, I realized I was causing scandal because all our family and friends knew we were separated but still married. He wanted to have a girlfriend so I moved out. Last month, we finally made it legal. It was hard to do but like you said it is better. I pray for his soul. That’s all I can do.
That young man named John needs to be told that Jesus already had the final word on marriage. I see his point because I am the cause of my children not practicing the faith. You tell people the truth and then you pray for them. I think my re-conversion came because I prayed the rosary for years even though I was in mortal sin. I also read about purgatory and that planted a seed. I don’t think people nagging me about the truth about my sin would have helped me when I was in sin. By the grace of God, he pulled me at the right time. I ask him to give that same mercy to my children. Please keep me in your prayers as I face my life journey.
It can sound trite when we talk about “carrying the cross” or “offering things up,” but these are not just platitudes. Anyone who has lived or is currently living in a troubled marriage will tell you that it’s among the most excruciatingly painful experiences they’ve ever had. I’ve heard from people who would prefer death to another day suffering the cruel barbs from the person they love most in the world, and who is supposed to love them. Talk to the other spouse, and the pain is often equally deep, if for different reasons. I suspect many married people have experienced something like this at some point in their relationship. I know I have.
I’m certain that those in second “marriages” or other unions are no less susceptible to the pains and ravages of love. And if they are living in a sinful situation, they lack even the consolation of sanctifying grace.
But there is no way forward except through. There is no thing to do except the right thing. There is no path to heaven except by the cross.
It is the answer. It always was, it always is, and it always will be.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.