Pete's wife divorced him against his wishes; what does that make him?
Need an idea for Lenten almsgiving?
Help us spread faith on the internet. Would you consider donating just $10, so we can continue creating free, uplifting content?
Now that the Extraordinary Synod on the Family is over, do you find yourself saying, “I wish I could have said this to them …”? And with the Ordinary Synod on the Family just a year away, do you find yourself saying, “I hope I can say this to the next synod …”?
Here’s what I would like the Synod Fathers, this year’s and next year’s, to think about. I’d like them to think about my friend, Pete. (I have permission to relate this story.)
Pete’s an old friend, active in his parish, as generous a man as you can ever hope to meet. About four years ago, after 30 years of marriage, his wife walked out on him. He was devastated. “Father, I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy.”
After the civil divorce was finalized, relatives and friends, many of them self-identified Catholics, told Pete to take off his wedding band and “move on.” Their advice, in various forms, came down to this: “She’s never coming back. Your marriage is over. There are other fish in the sea. God wants you to be happy. There’s no point to your suffering.”
Pete, to his credit, didn’t listen to them. He pointed to his ring, and told them all, “I’m a married man. We knew what we were doing on our wedding day. We knew what we promised to each other and to God; we knew what God had promised to us.” Pete immersed himself in the sacraments. He cannot live without Eucharistic Adoration, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy. “I will not stop praying for the restoration of my family until the day I die.” Because I know Pete so well, I believe him.
I’m proud of Pete because of his readiness to pay the price for his costly fidelity. I’m proud of him because of the legacy he is forging for his minor children. Years from now, his kids will be able to tell their own kids, “When life hit Grandpa hard, he didn’t give up on Grandma, and he didn’t give up on Christ. He took up his cross and followed Christ until the very end. You can’t fake following Christ that way. Grandpa carried his cross every day.” What a great legacy he will leave to his children and grandchildren! What dignity in his quiet daily suffering! What generosity in his humble daily hope!
I wonder what some folks in and around the Synod might say to Pete. Could it be that some would say: “Pete, lighten up! Why so serious? God doesn’t expect this of you! God cannot be enough for your heart. Why expect so much from God’s grace? You cannot live this way until the day you die! Why won’t you do what’s necessary to be happy? Why not make the best of a bad situation, the way so many others have?”
I’m sure Pete would answer: “But I know what we promised and I know what God promised; God is faithful so I must be faithful. And God is helping me to be faithful!”
As I’ve read the storm of words surrounding the synod, I can’t help but believe that at least some folks would find Pete to be, if not quite a fool, at least embarrassing. I recall the anointing at Bethany in Mark 14:4 (“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste…?”) Could they tell Pete that his costly fidelity is an unnecessary extravagance? Pete would say that he had only done his duty (Luke 17:10); and he would insist that he is a better man for it. He knows that when God reveals His will, He provides for the grace for His will be lived – to all who would ask for such grace. Pete knows that God revealed that as a married man Pete must remain faithful until death. He’s asked for that grace – and he’s been receiving it.
Still, it pains Pete to hear the urgings of well-meaning friends, and to read many opinions swirling about and between the synods
– those seeming to suggest that his fidelity is not what God commands, not what God expects, not what God provides for. It pains him all the more because God’s own fidelity, God’s own generosity in providing the sufficient grace to live His commands, appear to be overlooked or discounted by many in the public domain, including many self-identified Catholics. He insists, “They talk of God’s mercy. God’s mercy is found in His grace given to live the Law of Love; God’s mercy is never to be found in making excuses for refusing to do what love requires.”
In the past four years, Pete and I have talked several times each week – hundreds and hundreds of phone calls. I know he suffers the most when he is badgered by those nearest him who insist that he “face facts” and “just move on.” He’s asked me many times, “Why does it bother them that I wear my ring and conduct myself as the married man that I am?”
I’ve thought about that question a great deal. I repeat it here because I think it bears upon some of the various reports we heard from and around the synod. I told him that some folks don’t like to see him wearing his wedding band for the same reason that people don’t like to visit patients in hospitals. In both cases, they are reminded of their own vulnerability. Seeing a patient in a hospital bed, aren’t we likely to think, “I too, can get sick and die”? We can’t bear to think of our own vulnerability to disease, so we shun reminders that sickness and death come to us all.
Likewise, Pete’s abandonment by his wife reminds us that we are all vulnerable to disappointment and betrayal (just as each of us is capable of betrayal). Pete’s pain has been wrenching to behold the past four years and I wish him relief from that pain – but not at the cost of his soul. Pete agrees with me. So he entrusts himself to the riches of grace afforded to him by the Church Christ founded. He lives his costly fidelity – daily – with the indispensable help of God’s grace.
And that’s what scares people. Folks look at Pete’s abandonment and his pain, and they turn away, as one would turn away from a bedridden patient in order to forget about disease and death. They look at Pete’s pain and think, “That could be me.” Of course, that’s a horrifying prospect. They imagine that in such great pain, they would seek the quickest path to the most obvious relief, that is, to “moving on.” If Pete gave in, these folks would likely breathe a sigh of relief, because that would mean their own searching for a shortcut to escape the pain would be inevitable, because “everybody does it that way now” and, “God wants you to be happy.”
Seeing Pete, I suspect, causes in some folks fear and resentment – fear, because he was betrayed, resentment, because he has remained faithful. Any one of us can be betrayed; apart from God’s grace, any one of us could be a traitor. If Pete, by the grace of God, remains faithful, then it is not impossible to remain faithful to the difficult Law of Love – difficult, but not impossible. That means that their own willingness to look for the easy way out is a matter of choice and not a matter of fate. They are actually responsible for the decisions they make. And if you can’t trust in the fidelity of God, then it’s well nigh impossible to take responsibility for such decisions.
Pete, sustained by the grace of God, should be a topic of conversation throughout the Church, from now through the end of the next synod. In light of the moral law and Sacred Revelation, we must tell Pete whether Christ thinks he is a faithful fool, or, like Christ Himself, a faithful friend, who loved His own unto the end. (John 13:1)
When I write next, I will address this topic: “Persecuted Christians—Who’s Next?” Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.
is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.