Intellege ut credas; crede ut intellegas* (St. Augustine)
If Catholic Parents had enough foresight - and maybe a crystal ball - when considering divorce as the solution to marital differences (and that’s all they are, really, if you’re truthful about it), they would shudder at the notion that they would willingly inflict such a tragedy upon their children. It is a given that most petitioners research divorce itself – if only to find an attorney - but probably few research divorce and children.
But…IF they did research the proper steps required; IF they then followed all the proscribed rules; IF they kept the divorce amicable; IF they could maintain the respect due their vocations with the children and IF they could lay aside all spousal differences when matters arise concerning the children and act jointly as Parents, then I would say that their particular divorce would be as close to perfect as one could possibly get. Not that I am pro-divorce, by any means. In fact, I am virulently anti-divorce and my articles and blogging bear that out.
Catholic couples receive weeks of Pre-Cana conferences on Marriage 101, the duties of a husband and wife and the need to sanctify each other through patient acceptance of their respective crosses, before they are ever allowed to marry. And I assume such conferences still include some discussion on the begetting of children and the selflessness required of each parent when they start coming (seemingly non-stop.) And it is to those “seemingly non-stop” children that so little attention is paid to what any prospective divorce would have upon their fragile world. It matters not that that world is of tweens or teens, the moment you speak the word divorce to them, their world implodes and the landscape of their lives is forever altered.
And once any of the decades-old rules concerning children and divorce are broken, whatever Parental respect the children have, at least for one Parent, is broken also. Breaking the rules – any rule - will force the children to do the unconscionable: choose one parent over the other. Once that has been forced upon children, it is all but over for the Parent not chosen. That Parent will face years, if not decades, trying to repair the damage done to parent-child relationships from that one act of pure selfishness. And if Spousal confidence is broken and children hear statements they have no inherent right to know, that simply adds fuel in an unlimited supply that will keep the fires of parent-child estrangement burning brightly for years. I speak truly of this, for I am into my 5th year of an unnecessary tragedy that has scarred most of my children. Is this what you Catholic Parents want for your own children??
It’s hard for any Parent to see their children hold on to ideas and notions that are so contrary to their best interest. This holds especially true for Children of Divorce. Ripped from the security of a two-parent family and placed into the uncertainty of a single-parent one, it will be equally as hard for them to re-discover the Love for a parent that was so unceremoniously ripped from their grasp. I say that with a fair amount of certainty as, despite the multitude of evidence that this particular parent has never ceased loving his children, I have become more accepting of the near impossibility of correcting a seemingly entrenched trait – its all Dads’ fault and Dad doesn’t love us. Though it changes nothing in my duties as a Father, especially in adhering to non-reciprocal love, it nevertheless remains a frustrating and, at times, silently discouraging lesson in futility. It could be enough for any Parent – let alone a divorced one – to just give up and, like Poe’s raven, caw “Nevermore; nevermore.”
George Santayana, the noted essayist, philosopher and novelist, penned a much used quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Nothing could be closer to the truth about divorce, especially as it pertains to the most egregious of its by-products – lack of trust, lack of communication and lack of charity, especially with Parent-Child relationships. The three factors noted above – trust, communication and charity – are the first to die with the spouses and ultimately ends their marriage, and are the last to be remembered by children as the remedy for estrangement – not that they should even need to.
That is what a Parent is for and he/she must continually help them to remember what is needed in order to heal shattered hearts and repair relationships. And yes, I said Parent…for, as is usually is the case in such situations, only one will do so when both aught to. Such are the evils of divorce that it drives even otherwise conscientious parents from working together for the common good of the children. “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many” is an obviously bastardized quote from Star Trek that I have often used to describe such situations. Based upon my own experiences and those of friends, if the Catholic Petitioner in a divorce was to respond to even the minutest particle of Charity, their entire house of cards would fall. But they do not respond to much of anything, let alone Charity. So much time and energy has been spent building that they can do nothing else but bulldoze forward. They are caught in a time-warp of their own choosing and cannot stop, despite the visible damage before their eyes. So…the children – and the innocent spouse – suffer for “the needs of the one”.
The amount of egg-shells broken underfoot trying to navigate the tortuous path of parental estrangement with children would cover the entire playing field of Kauffman Stadium, with probably enough leftover for Arrowhead as well. It’s a path I would not wish upon anyone, for it most certainly is not for the weak, whether in faith, strength or courage. It is the road that must be taken though, however rocky it becomes, and however unclear the final destination. It must be travelled by someone and children cannot be expected to do so, at least not alone, as they have been tasked with too much already. By necessity, then, it falls to the parent – even an estranged one - to get it done.
There is no one else left that can think clearly, reasonably and charitably and so it’s accepted, willingly and lovingly. It becomes a much needed part of helping to heal innocent lives and hearts shattered by what can only be called an act of pure selfishness. How easily we forget that children are not born to eventually sacrifice their happiness for that of the Parents. No! It is the Parents who bind themselves at their wedding to sacrifice their own happiness – if called upon to do so - to secure the children theirs!
You will seldom see any clear signal that progress has been or will ever be made in restoring broken parent-child relationships; at least there has not been for me. And just accept the fact that one mistake – minor or major – could and will set you back to zero, as it has me a time or two. So be prepared to earn your right to be called a Parent, a Dad, a Father…and you had better have what it takes. But mostly – and this is a key point - you had better have what your children need you to have: faith, courage and non-reciprocal love.
To that end, fellow Catholic Parents and Respondents, you should have always before you the image of the Crucified Savior hanging upon His Cross, looking down at you, at your tear-streaked face. And you will see in His eyes, the question He has already answered of Himself and is now asking of you:
“What are you prepared to do?”
*In order to believe you must understand. In order to understand you must believe.
Spero columnist David Heath is a freelance writer and blogger.