Today’s Gospel poses a serious challenge to all of us who call ourselves “Christian.” How tempting is it for too many of us to regard ourselves as the “true believers,” relegating others to the status of marginalized, or even lost??
Jesus says today, “Whoever is not against us, he is for us.” But do we believe that? Do we believe we can be as welcoming as Jesus? Are we willing to eat with “tax collectors and sinners” (= the ‘impure’)? Might those who are divorced and remarried (through no fault of their own—being abandoned with children and needing the support of a father) be the equivalent of the ‘impure’ of the 1st century? If Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman at the well are any examples, Jesus first encountered them and welcomed them; only after did He challenge them.
But we cannot welcome the divorced and remarried: they’re in relationships of adultery! Some might say this. But it is worth recalling that the process of a canonical annulment does not negate an otherwise valid marriage; it is a simple declaration from an official point of view that the marriage in fact was not sacramental from a Catholic point of view. So the divorced and remarried are not necessarily “adulterous”—they are simply without a formal recognition that their previous marriage was defective from a Catholic sacramental point of view. I stress this because of its obvious importance: a Tribunal declaration is simply a recognition of the reality and not a creation of a new reality (ie, non-sacramentality).
So, are all welcome? There is nothing more painful during the first few weeks of RCIA than being forced to say “Welcome! We’re glad you’re here! By the way, until you take of the paperwork and process of annulment (which may well take over 2 years), you’re not really fully welcome…” We never say it in quite those words, but effectively we do say it.
What’s doubly difficult is the fact that we are holding non-Catholics to a standard of marital sacramentality that they neither knew about nor recognized as meaningful. No doubt couples in ALL marriages, at the point of the altar, want their marriages to last. But for non-Catholics, there is always the knowledge that if things do not work out, divorce and re-marriage are genuine possibilities. How can that be reconciled with the Catholic understanding of permanence? How can this be considered a “mortal sin” when one of the conditions of a mortal sin is “full knowledge of the serious matter” (which non-Catholics would not have, in these cases)? The standard reply of a police officer to an offending driver who says “But I didn’t know this law!” is “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” But in this case it simply does not wash. Yes, it is an excuse.
How badly do we want to be people of welcome to those who have had brokenness in their lives and are looking for redemption? Should Jesus have told the Samaritan woman to get her annulments and move out from the home of the man she was living with, before He would speak with her? What, after all, were the “seven demons” the Lord cast out from Mary Magdalene?
I want broken people to be welcome. I want “strange exorcists” to be part of our Church. I want sinners to feel free to come here to be healed. I want less judgment about the past and more hope for the future.
Would Jesus agree?