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 Bishops on the Synod know what being divorced is like. I doubt many can understand what it is like to be unloved by the very person who promised to love you forever.
As an abandoned, divorced, annulled, single mom of five boys I know firsthand the hardships and burdens facing one forced into an unwanted divorce. I know how confusing the annulment process is, especially when it is forced upon you before you are ready. I know the disbelief which comes after watching your newly annulled husband marry his paramour in the Catholic Church, leaving you to question the validity of their marriage as a Sacrament.
It is for these reasons that I was disappointed in the Synod. In my work with the divorced, I find too many people questioning the validity of their annulments as cheating spouses remarry quickly in the Catholic Church. Many are left questioning what marriage means in the Catholic Church when unions formed through adultery quickly receive the Sacrament. It is these new marriages that lead us to question the validity of their first marriages.
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 Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist. 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. It seems like the Catholic Church is blessing breakups which should not have occurred.
The Synod & Timelines in the Annulment Process
I can’t imagine the challenges of addressing issues faced by families around the globe. I know Married couples in places like Africa face incredibly lengthy annulment proceedings, but knowing and understanding are not the same thing. Part of me hears of the shortened annulment process and can’t get my head past my own experience. I had a new baby, five little boys, lost our home and had to find a job, all while living two hours away from the annulment offices. Meanwhile, my heart was smashed by my husband, his lover and even by my children who chose to stay with them every other weekend.
When I 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 but refused to bend and consider individual circumstances. It did not take 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 approach to broken human hearts, stumbling faith, and shattered families, 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 but the Vatican and Pope Francis tried to address them all. In my small town, we face a variety of challenges arising from a wide range of income, education, employment and employability, in values, and in faith. Few institutions are capable of looking at all the needs in small communities, yet the Vatican took on the needs of the world. This is an 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 which 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 people face in this century.
In the first page of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis asks readers to read the document slowly with their 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 so my commentary is limited.
The document is lengthy and the topics are complex, but the writing is not. 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. Check things out for yourself.
Amoris Laetitia & Me – the Opinion of a Single Mom
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 pulls out so much rich love from it. I failed to recognize the beauty contained in such a small Psalm.
The second chapter of Amoris Laetitia,”The Experiences and Challenges of Families,” details the vast range of challenges to families. 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 brokenness in one culture is brokenness in any culture. Slavery, abuse, unemployment, oppression, to the enslaved, abused, unemployed, and oppressed is wrong and painful. 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, which 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 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 every human being 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 measured in money. Men are special and needed in the home. Women need to do a better job of showing them this.
My second criticism is in the glossing over of the significance of single parent families; 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 those problems. We have power and influence in our western societies and could make great changes in the world, but we are sometimes forced into destructive individualism. 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. Our attention diverted when we marry and then nullify our marriages.
Implementing Amoris Laetitia in my Single Parent Home
Psalm 128 gives us the picture of a 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 with love.
My life has changed drastically over the last seven years. I am a Joy-filled, faith-filled happy woman . I would not go back to the man my ex has shown himself to be. 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. 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 a chalkboard. I will ask one of the boys to read Psalm 128 and then ask them how we can be a Psalm 128 family. They will roll their eyes and just want to eat but 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 but I hope and pray they internalize these discussions and apply them when the time is right.
Will it make a difference in their lives? 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 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 to pursue God’s calling.