“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it’. […] That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh” (Gn 1:27–28; 2:24). Ever since the beginning, God has blessed the union between man and woman, in such a way that, once united, they are no longer two, but one. Owing to this necessity – which we could almost call ontological –, matrimony has always been surrounded by some form of ritual commitment with ethical and moral rules ever since Antiquity, whether among pagans or Jews.
Christ sealed it with the formal obligation of indissolubility, especially registered by Matthew in his narration of the Pharisees’ attempt to trap Jesus regarding this matter: Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?’ He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19:3–6). And he further declared: “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mt 19:3–6).
From the earliest times, Christians have striven to abide by their Master, living matrimony as a sign of faith, as one of the oldest documents of primitive Christianity attests: “Christians are indistinguishable from other men […]. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives” (Letter to Diognetus, no. 5). In the rite of matrimony, in the very act when the Sacrament takes place precisely when the bridegroom and bride declare mutual consent, the formula to be pronounced by the minister of God immediately says: “You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide.” It is God who unites them for life. Consequently, there does exist a family morality that should be followed and loved.
And if these rules seem “overly rigid” to some, it should be kept in mind that they were given by God himself. They are not “pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications” of human making. Evidently, in its pastoral mission, the Church helps and guides those who find themselves in irregular situations, but any and every action that pastors take should seek a solution that does not contradict the Law of God – a solution grounded in the truth, and in coherency between the choice of life and the faith professed.
Note: Regarding these “situations in which a man and woman, for serious reasons cannot fulfill the obligation to separate’, the note related to this paragraph (n. 329) leaves the door open so that, in living together, there is no preoccupation with a relationship modo uxorio, that is, the sin of concupiscence, with this cynical explanation: “In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’”
Enter the various parts of our study
II – The matrimonial bond is not dissolved by anyone or in any case even after separation or civil divorce. Situations of apparent amendment in irregular second unions are still adultery
III – By what criteria can pastors adequately discern the individual cases of divorcees? How should the legitimate and illegitimate be defined in this pastoral discernment?
I – There exists an objective and immutable morality for the family. The divorced in a new union, except for very few exceptions, live in the state of adultery. If the ‘overly rigid classifications’ correspond to the teaching of Jesus and the Church, they should be adhered to
You see clearly, Venerable Brethren, how mistaken are those who think they are doing service to the Church, and producing fruit for the salvation of souls, when by a kind of prudence of the flesh they show themselves liberal in concessions to science falsely so called, under the fatal illusion that they are thus able more easily to win over those in error, but really with the continual danger of being themselves lost. The truth is one, and it cannot be halved; it lasts for ever, and is not subject to the vicissitudes of the times. ‘Jesus Christ, today and yesterday, and the same for ever’ (Heb 13:8). (Pius X. Encyclical Iucunda sane, no. 25, March 12, 1904)
Now someone approached him and said, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?’ He answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He asked him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus replied, ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mt 19:16–19)
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Lk 16:18)
To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): a wife should not separate from her husband – and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband – and a husband should not divorce his wife. (1Cor 7:10–11)
Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers. (Heb 13:4)
The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love ‘are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mt. 19:6), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 48, December 7, 1965)
Adultery and fornication are forbidden for a number of reasons. First of all, because they destroy the soul: ‘He who is an adulterer has no sense, for the folly of his heart shall destroy his own soul’ (Prov 6:32). It says: ‘for the folly of his heart,’ which is whenever the flesh dominates the spirit. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Ten Commandments, Article 8)
It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1756)
Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations – even transient ones – they commit adultery. Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire (cf. Mt 5:27–28). The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely (cf. Mt 5:32; 19:6; Mk 10:11; 1 Cor 6:9–10). The prophets denounce the gravity of adultery; they see it as an image of the sin of idolatry (cf. Hos 2:7; Jer 5:7; 13:27). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2380)
Adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his commitment. He does injury to the sign of the covenant which the marriage bond is, transgresses the rights of the other spouse, and undermines the institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is based. He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children who need their parents’ stable union. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2381)
The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1665)
Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Mt 5:27–28) What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (cf. Mt 19:6) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2336)
The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble (cf. Mt 5:31–32; 19:3–9; Mk 10 9; Lk 16:18; 1Cor 7:10–11). He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law (cf. Mt 19:7–9). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2382)
Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery: If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another’s husband to herself (St. Basil, Moralia 73, 1). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2384)
Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2385)
Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ — ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ (Mk 10:11–12) The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1650)
A marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death. (Code of Canon Law, can. 1141)
II – The matrimonial bond is not dissolved by anyone or in any case even after separation or civil divorce. Situations of apparent amendment in irregular second unions are still adultery
“And so, whatever marriage is said to be contracted, either it is so contracted that it is really a true marriage, in which case it carries with it that enduring bond which by divine right is inherent in every true marriage; or it is thought to be contracted without that perpetual bond, and in that case there is no marriage, but an illicit union opposed of its very nature to the divine law, which therefore cannot be entered into or maintained.” (Pius VI, Rescript. ad Episc. Agriens., 11 July 1789) And if this stability seems to be open to exception, however rare the exception may be, as in the case of certain natural marriages between unbelievers, or amongst Christians in the case of those marriages which though valid have not been consummated, that exception does not depend on the will of men nor on that of any merely human power, but on divine law, of which the only guardian and interpreter is the Church of Christ. However, not even this power can ever affect for any cause whatsoever a Christian marriage which is valid and has been consummated, for as it is plain that here the marriage contract has its full completion, so, by the will of God, there is also the greatest firmness and indissolubility which may not be destroyed by any human authority. (Pius XI. Encyclical Casti connubii, no. 34–35, December 31, 1930)
If therefore the Church has not erred and does not err in teaching this, and consequently it is certain that the bond of marriage cannot be loosed even on account of the sin of adultery, it is evident that all the other weaker excuses that can be, and are usually brought forward, are of no value whatsoever. And the objections brought against the firmness of the marriage bond are easily answered. For, in certain circumstances, imperfect separation of the parties is allowed, the bond not being severed. This separation, which the Church herself permits, and expressly mentions in her Canon Law in those canons which deal with the separation of the parties as to marital relationship and co-habitation, removes all the alleged inconveniences and dangers (CIC., c. 1128). It will be for the sacred law and, to some extent, also the civil law, in so far as civil matters are affected, to lay down the grounds, the conditions, the method and precautions to be taken in a case of this kind in order to safeguard the education of the children and the well-being of the family, and to remove all those evils which threaten the married persons, the children and the State. (Pius XI. Encyclical Casti connubii, no. 89, December 31, 1930)
This Christological vision of Christian marriage allows one to understand why the Church cannot claim for herself the right to dissolve a marriage ratum et consummatum, i.e., a marriage that is sacramentally contracted in the Church and ratified by the spouses through the marriage act. In effect, the entire communion of life, which humanly speaking defines the marriage, evokes in its own way the realism of the Incarnation in which the Son of God becomes one with mankind in the flesh. In committing themselves to each other without reserve, the couple signifies by this act their effective transition to the conjugal life in which love becomes a sharing as absolute as possible of each other. They thus enter into the human behavior whose irrevocable character was recalled by Christ and which he made an image that reveals his own mystery. The Church cannot have any power, then, over the reality of a conjugal union that has passed into the power of him whose mystery she must announce and not hinder. (International Theological Commission. Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage, no. 13, 1977)
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. the Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom (cf. CIC, can. 1141) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1640)
Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. the Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble (cf. FC 83; CIC, can. 1151–1155) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1649)
In view of the doubts and anxieties this idea could cause, it is necessary to reaffirm that a ratified and consummated sacramental marriage can never be dissolved, not even by the power of the Roman Pontiff. The opposite assertion would imply the thesis that there is no absolutely indissoluble marriage, which would be contrary to what the Church has taught and still teaches about the indissolubility of the marital bond. (John Paul II. Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, no. 6, January 21, 2000)
It seems quite clear then that the non-extension of the Roman Pontiff’s power to ratified and consummated sacramental marriages is taught by the Church’s Magisterium as a doctrine to be held definitively, even if it has not been solemnly declared by a defining act. This doctrine, in fact, has been explicitly proposed by the Roman Pontiffs in categorical terms, in a constant way and over a sufficiently long period of time. It was made their own and taught by all the Bishops in communion with the See of Peter, with the knowledge that it must always be held and accepted by the faithful. In this sense it was reaffirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Besides, it is a doctrine confirmed by the Church’s centuries-old practice, maintained with full fidelity and heroism, sometimes even in the face of severe pressures from the mighty of this world. (John Paul II. Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 21, 2000)
Human beings have also the right to choose for themselves the kind of life which appeals to them: whether it is to found a family—in the founding of which both the man and the woman enjoy equal rights and duties—or to embrace the priesthood or the religious life. The family, founded upon marriage freely contracted, one and indissoluble, must be regarded as the natural, primary cell of human society. The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfilment of its mission. Of course, the support and education of children is a right which belongs primarily to the parents. (John XXIII. Encyclical Pacem in terris, no. 15–17, April 11, 1963)
No Catholic is ignorant or cannot know that matrimony is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelical law, instituted by Christ the Lord, and that for that reason, there can be no marriage between the faithful without there being at one and the same time a sacrament, and that, therefore, any other union of man and woman among Christians, except the sacramental union, even if contracted under the power of any civil law, is nothing else than a disgraceful and death-bringing concubinage very frequently condemned by the Church, and, hence, that the sacrament can never be separated from the conjugal agreement. (Pius IX. Denzinger-Hünermann 2991. Allocution Acerbissimum vobiscum, September 27, 1852)
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples”. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 84, November 22, 1981)
Through marriage, in fact, the love of married people is taken up into that love which Christ irrevocably has for the Church, while dissolute sexual union defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit which the Christian has become. Sexual union therefore is only legitimate if a definitive community of life has been established between the man and the woman. This is what the Church has always understood and taught, and she finds a profound agreement with her doctrine in men’s reflection and in the lessons of history. (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Declaration Persona humana, no. 7, December 29, 1975)
What are the offenses against the dignity of marriage?
These are: adultery, divorce, polygamy, incest, free unions (cohabitation, concubinage), and sexual acts before or outside of marriage. (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 502)
III – By what criteria can pastors adequately discern the individual cases of divorcees? How should the legitimate and illegitimate be defined in this pastoral discernment?
A series of critical objections against the doctrine and praxis of the Church pertain to questions of a pastoral nature. Some say, for example, that the language used in the ecclesial documents is too legalistic, that the rigidity of law prevails over an understanding of dramatic human situations. They claim that the human person of today is no longer able to understand such language, that Jesus would have had an open ear for the needs of people, particularly for those on the margins of society. They say that the Church, on the other hand, presents herself like a judge who excludes wounded people from the sacraments and from certain public responsibilities. One can readily admit that the Magisterium’s manner of expression does not seem very easy to understand at times. It needs to be translated by preachers and catechists into a language which relates to people and to their respective cultural environments. The essential content of the Church’s teaching, however, must be upheld in this process. It must not be watered down on allegedly pastoral grounds, because it communicates the revealed truth. Certainly, it is difficult to make the demands of the Gospel understandable to secularized people. But this pastoral difficulty must not lead to compromises with the truth. In his Encyclical Veritatis splendor, John Paul II clearly rejected so-called pastoral solutions which stand in opposition to the statements of the Magisterium (cf. ibid. 56). Furthermore, concerning the position of the Magisterium as regards the question of divorced and remarried members of the faithful, it must be stressed that the more recent documents of the Church bring together the demands of truth with those of love in a very balanced way. If at times in the past, love shone forth too little in the explanation of the truth, so today the danger is great that in the name of love, truth is either to be silenced or compromised. Assuredly, the word of truth can be painful and uncomfortable. But it is the way to holiness, to peace, and to inner freedom. A pastoral approach which truly wants to help the people concerned must always be grounded in the truth. In the end, only the truth can be pastoral. ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (Jn. 8:32). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Concerning some objections to the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful, no. 5, January 1, 1998)
There are increasing cases of Catholics who for ideological or practical reasons, prefer to contract a merely civil marriage, and who reject or at least defer religious marriage. Their situation cannot of course be likened to that of people simply living together without any bond at all, because in the present case there is at least a certain commitment to a properly-defined and probably stable state of life, even though the possibility of a future divorce is often present in the minds of those entering a civil marriage. By seeking public recognition of their bond on the part of the State, such couples show that they are ready to accept not only its advantages but also its obligations. Nevertheless, not even this situation is acceptable to the Church. The aim of pastoral action will be to make these people understand the need for consistency between their choice of life and the faith that they profess, and to try to do everything possible to induce them to regularize their situation in the light of Christian principle. While treating them with great charity and bringing them into the life of the respective communities, the pastors of the Church will regrettably not be able to admit them to the sacraments. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 82, November 22, 1981)
Various reasons can unfortunately lead to the often irreparable breakdown of valid marriages. These include mutual lack of understanding and the inability to enter into interpersonal relationships. Obviously, separation must be considered as a last resort, after all other reasonable attempts at reconciliation have proved vain. Loneliness and other difficulties are often the lot of separated spouses, especially when they are the innocent parties. The ecclesial community must support such people more than ever. It must give them much respect, solidarity, understanding and practical help, so that they can preserve their fidelity even in their difficult situation; and it must help them to cultivate the need to forgive which is inherent in Christian love, and to be ready perhaps to return to their former married life. The situation is similar for people who have undergone divorce, but, being well aware that the valid marriage bond is indissoluble, refrain from becoming involved in a new union and devote themselves solely to carrying out their family duties and the responsibilities of Christian life. In such cases their example of fidelity and Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before the world and the Church. Here it is even more necessary for the Church to offer continual love and assistance, without there being any obstacle to admission to the sacraments. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 83, November 22, 1981)
Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope. However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 84, November 22, 1981)
Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage. By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner. With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 84, November 22, 1981)
So the Synod — when speaking of the pastoral care of those who after divorce have entered on a new union — rightly praised those couples who in spite of great difficulties witness in their life to the indissolubility of marriage. In their life the Synod recognises that good news of faithfulness to love which has its power and its foundation in Christ. Furthermore, the fathers of the Synod, again affirming the indissolubility of marriage and the Church’s practice of not admitting to Eucharistic communion those who have been divorced and — against her rule — again attempted marriage, urge pastors and the whole Christian community to help such brothers and sisters. They do not regard them as separated from the Church, since by virtue of their baptism they can and must share in the life of the Church by praying, hearing the word, being present at the community’s celebration of the Eucharist, and promoting charity and justice. (John Paul II. Address at the conclusion of the Fifth General Synod of Bishops, no. 7, October 25, 1980)
Although it must not be denied that such people can in suitable circumstances be admitted to the sacrament of penance and then to Eucharistic communion, when with a sincere heart they open themselves to a way of life that is not in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage — namely, when such a man and woman, who cannot fulfil the obligation of separation, take on the duty of living in total abstinence, that is, abstaining from acts that are proper only to married couples — and when there is no scandal. Nonetheless, (tamen) the lack of sacramental reconciliation with God should not deter them from perseverance in prayer, in penance and in the exercise of charity, in order that they may eventually receive the grace of conversion and salvation. Meanwhile the Church, praying for them and strengthening them in faith and hope, must show herself a merciful mother towards them. (John Paul II. Address at the conclusion of the Fifth General Synod of Bishops, no. 7, October 25, 1980)
Lent encourages believers to take seriously Jesus’ exhortation: ‘Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many’ (Mt 7:13). What is this ‘wide gate’ and ‘easy way’ that Jesus refers to? It is the gate of moral self-sufficiency; the way of intellectual pride. How many people, even amongst Christians, live indifferently and accommodate themselves to a worldly mentality and to the gratification of sin! Lent is an appropriate time to analyze one’s own life, in order to renew with greater decisiveness our participation in the sacraments, to make firmer resolutions for a new life, endeavoring, as Jesus taught, to pass through the narrow gate and difficult way that leads to eternal life (cf. Mt 7:14). (John Paul II. General audience, no. 3, February 16, 1994)
Between the customs of a secularized society and the requirements of the Gospel, a profound rift is being created. There are many who wish to participate in ecclesial life, but do not find any relation between the world in which they live and Christian principles. It is believed that the Church, merely due to rigidity, adheres firmly to its norms; and that this contrasts with the mercy that Jesus gives us the example in the Gospel. The difficult requirements of Jesus in his words: ‘Go and from now on do not sin anymore’ (Jn 8:11), are ignored. Often, we fall back on personal conscience, forgetting however, that this conscience is as an eye that does not possess light in itself, but only when it looks toward the authentic source of light. (John Paul II. Address to the German Episcopal Conference, no 6, November 17, 1980)
This means unions without any publicly recognized institutional bond, either civil or religious. This phenomenon, which is becoming ever more frequent, cannot fail to concern pastors of souls, also because it may be based on widely varying factors, the consequences of which may perhaps be containable by suitable action. Some people consider themselves almost forced into a free union by difficult economic, cultural or religious situations, on the grounds that, if they contracted a regular marriage, they would be exposed to some form of harm, would lose economic advantages, would be discriminated against, etc. In other cases, however, one encounters people who scorn, rebel against or reject society, the institution of the family and the social and political order, or who are solely seeking pleasure. Then there are those who are driven to such situations by extreme ignorance or poverty, sometimes by a conditioning due to situations of real injustice, or by a certain psychological immaturity that makes them uncertain or afraid to enter into a stable and definitive union. In some countries, traditional customs presume that the true and proper marriage will take place only after a period of cohabitation and the birth of the first child. Each of these elements presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness). The pastors and the ecclesial community should take care to become acquainted with such situations and their actual causes, case by case. They should make tactful and respectful contact with the couples concerned, and enlighten them patiently, correct them charitably and show them the witness of Christian family life, in such a way as to smooth the path for them to regularize their situation. But above all there must be a campaign of prevention, by fostering the sense of fidelity in the whole moral and religious training of the young, instructing them concerning the conditions and structures that favor such fidelity, without which there is no true freedom; they must be helped to reach spiritual maturity and enabled to understand the rich human and supernatural reality of marriage as a sacrament. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 81, November 22, 1981)
This view contradicts Catholic teaching that excludes the possibility of remarriage after divorce: “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ (Mk 10:11–12) –, the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1650). (Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith. Notification on the book Just love, a framework for Christian sexual ethics, Sister Margaret A. Farley, RSM, March 30, 2012)
But Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in the theoretical or practical indifference towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in the zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being. Catholic doctrine further tells us that love for our neighbor flows from our love for God, Who is Father to all, and goal of the whole human family; and in Jesus Christ whose members we are, to the point that in doing good to others we are doing good to Jesus Christ Himself. (Pius X. Enyclical Notre charge apostolique, no. 22, August 23, 1910)
The Scriptures tell us: ‘Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more’ (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). […] The Church’s tradition has included ‘admonishing sinners’ among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: ‘If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way’ (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. […] The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek ‘the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another’ (Rom 14:19) for our neighbour’s good, ‘so that we support one another’ (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather ‘the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved’ (1Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community. (Benedict XVI. Message for Lent 2012, no. 1–2, November 3, 2011)
To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be noted that Jesus’ mercy was not expressed by putting moral law in parentheses. For Jesus, good is good and evil is evil. Mercy does not change the connotations of sin but consumes it in a fire of love. This purifying and healing effect is achieved if within the person there is a corresponding love which implies recognition of God’s law, sincere repentance and the resolution to start a new life. The sinful woman in the Gospel was pardoned greatly because she loved greatly. In Jesus, God comes to give love to us and to ask love of us. (Benedict XVI. Homily during the pastoral visit to Assisi for the eighth centenary of the conversion of Saint Francis, June 17, 2007)