Family Matters

Divorced, Remarried … and Coming for Dinner

We're faced with more than one divorce and remarriage involving close Catholic family members. We worry about the effect on our children. Do we embrace the new unions with hope of bringing the wayward siblings home to the Church? Or show our disapproval in an effort to teach our own children right from wrong?

This dilemma is a tough one and, sooner or later, most Catholic families face it. We want to be very clear at the outset: There is no catch-all answer to this question. Every divorce and remarriage situation is unique, and our response to each one will be unique as well. (For example, are they well aware of Church teaching, or have they received conflicting information from some authority figure?) A blanket, right-or-wrong reaction simply isn't possible here. But we offer considerations that may help.

First, as odd as it may sound, how your reaction will affect your children should be a secondary consideration. In other words, how you should treat these family members is a question to answer in its own right, apart from whether you have children. Decide what the Christlike response to the situation is first; only then decide how to convey this to the children.

What, then, is the Christlike response? First, Christ created scandal by associating with all manner of sinners in order to make his grace and mercy available to them. Yet he never shied away from delivering his message for fear of driving people away. Many abandoned him because of one or another of his challenging teachings—but he never abandoned them for failing to live up to it.

Second, while Christ did associate with sinners, he never excused their actions. He may have stopped the crowd from stoning a prostitute, but, in the same breath, he urges her to “Go, and sin no more.”

Our response should be both straightforward and merciful. Our close relatives should know exactly what we believe and why but never be talked at with a spirit of condemnation. “Speak the truth in love,” St. Paul urges. In our experience, we've found that a carefully written, well-thought-out and well-prayed-out letter can be effective.

If children are old enough to fully understand what's happening, we should discuss it frankly with them. They should know why we do not approve, framed in the beauty of the Church's teaching on marriage. Above all, they should know that we love “Uncle Bob and Aunt Rose” and are praying for their change of heart.

On a practical level, if these were our relatives, we'd certainly still have them over for family gatherings and welcome them warmly. We'd include them in all the holidays and birthdays. We personally would not, however, have them spend the night in our home. This would constitute turning a blind eye to their living situation, perhaps even seeming to condone it. That is a line we could not cross.

Ultimately, it is exposure to our own family's loving faithfulness that will do our dear relatives the greatest good.

Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.

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