Re “Remarriage, Mercy and Law,” by The Editors (9/22): As a Catholic happily living in a sacramental marriage, I deeply value the indissoluble nature of that union. But my limited experience of people who have divorced is that almost always the divorce was inevitable, or one party was innocent. There is nothing less convenient than a divorce—who would go through that for anything other than a complete and intolerable breakdown of the relationship? How can mercy not be extended to people who go through that and then find love again?
There also is a social justice angle, I think. Divorce is far more common among low-income families because a lack of economic stability makes it so difficult to keep a marriage together. While I think it is vital for the church to strongly advocate for social and economic conditions that will reduce divorce among the poor, it is also important that the poor aren’t being disproportionately excluded from the table of the Lord because of the situations they find themselves in—not because they are less moral but because they often have so many more crosses to bear. Marriage is a social justice issue, and until we make it so, there will be no renewal of family life.
Re “A Complicated Grief,” by Kerry Weber (9/22): Having, along with my wife, suffered through three miscarriages, I know the emotional pain that tugs at our hearts during a problem or risky pregnancy can feel like torture. Years later, as a widower, I share a different sense of grief and joy, believing that my wife has already met these three children. How do you find the joy in the midst of sadness? Our baptismal faith is a central part of that joy, whether the death we hold close is a child, a too-young spouse or our elderly family members. Ms. Weber’s story of Marian Elizabeth has touched me, and I am certain many other readers; it reminds me of the child of my good friends, Emily, whose genetic difficulty led to a life of only a few hours, too. The fact that Emily continues to shape the lives of those who hold her family dear, just as Marian Elizabeth has a story to be told again and again, stands as proof that these children continue to help in the unfolding of God’s creation, sacramentally transforming those who pause to consider their short lives and the profound love of these parents for each child, and of Jesus for these parents who held their daughters but briefly, but forever in their hearts. Thank you for sharing this poignant love story.
In “Make Room at the Debate” (9/15), Helen Alvaré seems to be setting up multiple straw men. Few people would consider having contraception available under their for-profit employer’s health plan as having anything at all to do with the value of motherhood. Many couples who value motherhood seek reliable, modern, safe methods of birth control that are less damaging to the daily rhythms of their married lovemaking. The church’s recommended method, “natural” family planning, is unworkable for most couples, at least for those who value married lovemaking as one of the strongest unitive forces available for supporting their marriage. It totally ignores the natural rhythms of lovemaking in most marriages and treats women’s natural cycle of libido (which peaks during her most fertile period) as of no importance.
What makes a marriage a sacrament is the love relationship between the spouses, not the biological function of procreation.
The vast majority of Catholic women not only take advantage of modern methods of birth control, but give thanks to God for inspiring human beings to develop this gift to all humankind at precisely the right time in the evolution of human history that it became needed. Who can doubt God’s wisdom in this timing?
In “American Exodus” (9/15), Gabriel Romeri asks us to “Imagine if people of all faiths came together to make room” for unaccompanied children coming across our border. Perhaps we could also imagine if the leaders of people of all faiths had the spiritual depth to competently address the underlying issues that drive the rampant drug usage in the United States. That would do more to solve the violence and refugee problems in Central America than bigger doors and bigger Band-Aids. What if we all preached and practiced, “Live Simply That Others May Simply Live”? Such a radical concept would likely ruffle many comfortable folks.
Father DeSiano asks: “Can it be that people are involved in God’s grace without even the dimmest recognition of it?” This is a good question. Jesus teaches us that to enter the kingdom of God, we must become like little children. I wonder if children are aware of the grace they bring to a given situation. Are they aware of the fruit they produce when they laugh out loud at random or when their eyes fill with tears over situations that many of us might not even notice? Is it possible to be so consumed with love that you are an intentional disciple although you have never been catechized or instructed in the official sense? It is possible that there is a quiet mother somewhere who has given birth to one or two children and who spends her days nurturing them. She seems not to produce much fruit; no one has been converted in her name or by her example except her son or daughter. Is it also possible that because of the love this child received, she goes on to found an order or discover a cure or lay down her life for others? How can we know when someone is producing fruit? It is, perhaps, too beautiful a mystery.
John Conley, S.J., misses a couple of important points when he decries the criticism of Israeli policy in “For Israel” (8/4). The United States is in a position to influence Israeli policy, if our government has the political will to attempt to do so. When a person (or government) has the ability to protect the innocent, there is at least a moral right—if not a moral obligation—to do so, whereas a person (or government) has no comparable duty to act when any action would be pointless. Assad in Syria cares little for U.S. expressions of condemnation of maltreatment of his citizens (absent a credible threat of force). The Saudis may have repressive attitudes toward women, but they are unlikely to change these cultural attitudes in response to U.S. criticism. The Chinese do not care much what the United States thinks about Tibet. But as our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel cannot blithely ignore what Americans believe, if these concerns are expressed vigorously enough. That puts the situation regarding Israel in a qualitatively distinct category, which Father Conley should have appreciated in attempting to draw comparisons.
While I readily admit to a pedestrian knowledge of the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Margot Patterson’s “Gaza Again” (8/4) made some factual statements that were news to me. Ms. Patterson writes, “the kidnappings were not ordered by Hamas leadership but committed by a rogue cell in Hebron.” Where did The Forward, a New York City Jewish daily publication and these “other sources” that Ms. Patterson relies on, get this information?
Readers respond to “Remarriage, Mercy and Law,” by The Editors (9/22).
I’m all for mercy, and I applaud the pope’s marrying couples that had cohabited or even experienced divorce, but annulment was part of that. I’m not sure how, theologically, you skip annulment. Reform the annulment process; it’s arduous and sometimes beyond arduous. But I know too many people who have also experienced great healing from the process of annulment—and in some cases have been helped to identify patterns so they did not repeat them. Mercy is valuable, always, but how we define it matters.
Divorces create new families. To exclude from the sacraments a person serving their family in love does more to discredit the newly configured family than it does to legitimate the first one. Celebrate families and the love they engender, even the ones that do not follow the patterns we thought and taught were ideal.