The Gray Wave

By Mary Jo Pedersen, M.A.

Mary Jo spent 30 years in ministry to families and faith formation in the Archdiocese of Omaha. She and her husband, David, have three children and five grandsons.  Pete has no family in town and lives in a nursing home. Howard and Ann are retired and living in Arizona. Paul and his wife Rose moved to assisted living because of limitations from Paul’s recent stroke. Joan volunteers in the school library and takes her neighbor who is homebound to Mass every Sunday. Rich, a widower of six years, has just happily remarried at age 68. And Mary Beth at age 73 helps her single parent daughter raise two little boys. John Allen in his book, The Future Church, refers to this diverse population as the “gray wave.” Major questions for the Church continue to be:

• What do these fellow travelers have to offer us?

• How will we support their spiritual journey? There is nothing uniform about the graying of America. Those over 65 are either rich and poor, healthy and physically compromised, married, divorced, single, and widowed. Yet in looking at their spiritual journey some common patterns emerge. The spiritual journey of later life is one of paradox. New freedoms and increasing limitations are twin paths that join toward the end of life. Many older adults experience a new freedom for leisure, service, and learning. Children are married or moved away, parents for whom they were caring are gone, and many have retired from the rigors of full time work. Yet retired friends of mine find themselves busier than ever, often commenting that they “never knew how I had time to work!”

Married couples experience opportunities for more time together and a new sense of us – a welcome spiritual dividend after a long history together and an important measure of growth in a sacramental marriage. With the freedom that comes from having launched their own children, couples find new ways of nurturing and giving life in the community.

Joan volunteers in her local school library. Pat and Judy babysit sick grandchildren when childcare won’t take them. Older adults often sponsor RCIA candidates and provide funeral meals. For some, their time and energy goes into the care of an ill spouse or sibling.

Though there are major adjustments in the later part of marriage there are also opportunities for earning and growth, for using energy and talent for things they value or enjoy, but could not fit into their schedules earlier. With more discretionary time, older adults want to continue to be active and to learn, whether it is ballroom dancing or computer classes at the local community college. In a recent study done by U.S. Catholic magazine polled their subscribers over 65 asking how many were interested in more information about their faith, 68% said that they wanted more ongoing faith development opportunities in their parishes.

In tandem with this new freedom for elders are experiences of diminishment. In varying degrees some physical, relational, and economic losses are inevitable in the later years. Dick and Ann no longer take fishing trips with friends since Dick’s back trouble has limited his mobility. The O’Brien’s have lost their pension and are moving to a smaller home, thus giving up their dream of traveling in retirement. Many couples are working longer to maintain health care benefits.

Not all losses are physical or monetary. The later years can be colored by grief at the loss of loved ones and caring for a special needs child or the mental illness of a family member. Pat and Ann struggle with reconciling the divorces of two of their four children and the resulting limited contact with grandchildren.

Aging often presents the spiritual challenges of grief, physical limitations, loneliness, regretted lost opportunities, and financial stress. The spiritual battle of aging is between overcoming loss and appreciating the treasures and possibilities at the end of life. Having spent their lives preparing for the future, elders now have the gift of enjoying the present moment.

Aging brings perspective and time for reflection on life’s blessings. This yields gratitude for simple things, a desire to keep growing, and the joy of watching the next generation mature. If they allow it, older adults enjoy being the receiver of kindnesses instead of always the giver.

In the mix of darkness and light, faith can be deepened or lost. At this point on their life journey older adults are asking hard questions. Who am I now that I am no longer working, or that I am alone? What comes after this life? What is the meaning of suffering? How can I reconcile what I had hoped to accomplish in life, but did not? These are profoundly spiritual questions that go to the heart of our Catholic faith, a faith that provides meaning to grief and loss, suffering, reconciliation, death, and eternity.

Research from The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), in its recent studies of Catholic practice, shows that older adults are more inclined to attend and practice their faith than younger  generation. The spiritual exercises of aging take reflection; and reflection takes time. The later years can provide both.

Elders look to the Church for direction and companionship on this last leg of their spiritual journey.  Being true to the original vision of family ministry established in the early 1980s, we continue to listen to  those who are experiencing this stage of life and listen to the research about future social, financial, and health trends that affect our aging families. We recognize the value of like to like ministry among elders as we have with the engaged, married, divorced, etc.

In addition, the U.S. Bishops and some dioceses have created plans that will guide pastoral ministers in assisting older Catholics in realizing the full potential of their later years. Family ministers and parishes have begun the effort by gathering widows and widowers for bereavement programs and providing support for caregivers. Many parishes offer faith formation and personal enrichment opportunities for older adults, including them in intergenerational programs and also allowing them space for gathering around their own later life issues. Parishes have long provided opportunities for elders to use their experience and gifts as sponsors for RCIA, marriage preparation or other parish or community programs.

Local retreat centers are good collaborators in offering classes and spiritual enrichment for the later years. The experience of aging, whether one grows older alone or with a married partner, is one of change. This is not something new. Change is essential to life and to spiritual growth. The spirituality of aging is about the transformative nature of change. That is true of every life transition. For followers of Christ, the dying and rising is embedded into everyday lived experience of loss and of new life.

Aging places before us great challenges and opportunities for deepening faith in the paschal mystery Jesus continued from page 1 Christ. When faced with the normal developmental losses of later life; the memory failing a bit, the body weakening, the loss of loved ones, are elders able to see the new  possibilities, the “freedoms from” that result from loss?

It isn’t change itself that is the spiritual stumbling block, it is the attitude toward such later-life changes that can bring happiness and peace. Acceptance leads to transformation, resistance to depression.

As the church welcomes this gray wave into its pews I find Joan Chittister’s attitude an inspiring vision to guide ministry to aging families into the future. In her book, The Gift of Years, she says: “As long as we breathe we have responsibility for the co-creation of the world. We have potential to become wiser, spiritually stronger, more than ever a blessing to our families and to the human family.”

Resources on Aging

Loving for a Lifetime: The Six Secrets of a Happy, Healthy and Holy Mature Marriage. Is a six session video series by Dr. Richard P. Johnson which can be used as marriage preparation and/or marriage enrichment for maturing adults. Dr. Johnson also has a similarly titled book: Loving for a Lifetime: 6 Essentials for a Happy, Healthy, and Holy Marriage (Liguori. 2004). These resources are available at

Also by Richard Johnson is his Parish Ministry for Maturing Adults: Principles, Plans, and Bold Proposals (Twenty Third Publications, 2007).This volume provides a vision, model, and strategies to help parishes in developing a ministry for those in their maturing years. They’re Your Parents Too!: How Siblings Can Survive Their Parent’s Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy (Random House, 2010) provides practical advice on a wide range of topic for families dealing with their parents in their later years. Unresolved childhood issues, negotiating care giving concerns, and ensuring the best care of parents with the least conflict are just samples of topics covered. There are numerous examples of books like this in our public libraries.

Prayer for the Jubilee Day for Older Persons

Lord Jesus, you promised, “Behold I make all things new.” Renew us in mind and body. Help us to use our years of experience by sharing our wisdom with enthusiasm and imagination. Expand our concerns that we might be ever more creative in helping others, especially younger people, who may be looking for guidance and support. We thank you, Lord Jesus, for the beauty of years, the freshness of dreams, and the encouragement of happy memories. Let our lives, at this time, be second springs, bursting with the joyous colors of hope, the warm breezes of love, and the delicate showers of grace which nurture our continuous growth.

Bless all who love us and all whom we love. Unite us ever more closely as members of your body on earth until the day we reign with you forever.

We pray to grow in wisdom and grace as older members of God’s beautiful creation.


Provided by Senior Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Harrisburg.  May be reproduced.

Ministering to Parishioners Over 65

Richard P. Johnson

Our Church is aging. We are in the first act of a historical drama that is destined to transform our culture and Church in ways we have yet to imagine. The number and percentage of elders occupying our parish pews increases weekly. This phenomenon will continue for at least the next 25 to 30 years. Indeed, the phenomenon is likely to remain a permanent fixture in the demographics of our faith communities.

Senior Group vs. Maturing Adult Ministry

Most parishes have senior groups. They serve seniors primarily on social, entertainment, and on recreational levels. If one were to investigate the major “work” and yearly schedule of most Church senior groups, one would most likely find dinners, card parties, trips, games of chance, prizes, more trips, an occasional speaker (usually from a local funeral home, cemetery, or hospital), and of course, more trips. Notably absent from most parish schedules would be social justice projects, spiritual reading discussion groups, any comprehensive faith formation events specific to the needs and concerns of maturing adults, or any participatory, liberating, or transformational learning.

In short, most parish senior groups see themselves as “get-together groups” that just happen to meet at the church with little effect upon, or even expectation of, true interior growth. It’s time for a change. We desperately need to go beyond senior group thinking and toward maturing adult ministry. We need to realize that the number of bingo parties, bus trips, or brownie and cake sales in the parish does not measure success for maturing adult ministry.

Maturing adult ministry is an organized curriculum of learning experiences designed to assist each maturing adult to align their own unique life experience with the teachings of their faith tradition as they meet the ongoing spiritual growth mandate in their own senior years.

Author Jane Regan identifies five presumptions of adult faith formation in her book Toward an Adult Church. Regan speaks about adult faith formation. I have modified her words and meaning into maturing adult faith formation/ ministry. I thank her for her original work.

Principles of Maturing Adult Ministry

1. Maturing adult ministry is not simply about establishing new programs in the parish, but about shaping a new vision of maturing adult ministry as a vital component in a shared learning community.

2. Maturing adult ministry curriculum is not about Church documents or formal theology (although these can serve as points for reference). Rather, maturing adult ministry curriculum comes from the lived experience of its members in a faith context.

3. True learning, learning that is genuinely transformative, involves some measure of re-shaping of self. Maturing adult ministry needs to aim at the very heart of the maturing adult; new motivation, new understanding, new confidence, and new life are all goals of maturing adult ministry.

4. Maturing adults learn best when in dialogue. If we expect to succeed in transformative learning with adults we must be personal, practical, and relevant.

5. Maturing adult ministry is marked by hospitality. Hospitality means to be welcoming in all aspects of our human experience – socially, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. As we mature our spiritual pace is supposed to quicken. With advancing maturation we are called to shift our perceptual focus more toward our interior life, the place where God resides within us. As we mature we grow closer to that transcendent understanding of living in the world, while not being of the world. This paradox is only one of many that begin to connect and bind together the patches of our life into a wonderful quilt of many colors. This masterpiece quilt keeps us warm and secure in wholeness and authenticity.

As the years, may exact a physical toll on us, our need for an advancing appreciation for the intangibles of living only increases. Intensified focus on adult faith formation has been a continuing call from many segments of the Church community for years. Yet, meager headway has been made toward this much discussed goal. Perhaps we need to better understand the inner spiritual developmental needs of maturing adults and how these needs can be additive for the entire parish mix.

1. Maturing adults can help us better understand that we are all one, that all the various age groups in the church are intertwined. Church intergenerational connections are like family systems theory. If one ingredient (cohort) in the mix doesn’t express its flavor then the others cannot express themselves fully either.

2. Maturing adults need to be lifted up as mentors to help us along the way lest they become antagonistic critics.

3. Maturing adults can help the parish learn how to pray. This arises from their advancing wisdom, a wisdom that requires that we arouse the contemplative within us and learn to rest in meditative silence so this wisdom can be gradually discovered and its power unleashed within the entire faith community.

4. Maturing adults help the parish gain much needed focus of a historical perspective. Maturing adults offer guidance, instruction, and dialogue with others on deeper spiritual levels so all members can construct the most enriching life meaning possible. Perhaps the best response to the call for change, indeed for personal transformation of elders, is in constructing a true learning community in our faith communities. Indeed, one could argue that unless the faith community is also a thriving learning community, it is destined to find distortion and dysfunction. Eventually it may even unravel. We cannot have fully functioning and truly faith-filled maturing adults without lifelong learning. Where will the leadership come from for this expanded vision of maturing adult ministry? The talent for such an endeavor resides right in the parish. The talent is waiting to be ignited by a new vision, animated by new learning, and motivated by a new commitment to excellence.

Richard P. Johnson is founder and director of The JOHNSON Institute, an independent school awarding certification in “Spiritual Gerontology” and “Faith Formation for Maturing Adults.”

Grandparents as Mentors

Gary and Kay Aitchison

We have been grandparents for 18 years, and during that time we have observed a tremendous accumulation of stresses in the families of our children and our friends’ children. As we all know, society has placed nearly super-human demands on today’s families. Many parents are struggling to succeed in the multi-arena of family, jobs, church, and community while also dealing with the effects of a diminished economy. Obviously, today’s families could use more support than most of them are getting. Yet, many have a resource, not fully utilized – their children’s grandparents. Parents, even if they have unlimited time, can’t be everything to their children. Grandparents are perfect candidates to fill the gaps in the fabric of family life. They expand a child’s horizons because they bring a different vision, a perspective, and dimension.

A grandparent’s place in the life of a grandchild is unique and never should be underestimated. By their position and lived experience, grandparents have earned the right to be recognized as the wisdom generation. They bring a host of talents to their many roles as nurturers, models, mentors, memory makers, family historians, and keepers of the family legacy. Grandparents are a strong and formidable link between a family’s past and its future. They can be the anchors that keep a family grounded. Most of all, faith filled and wise grandparents are carriers of faith, tradition, morals, and values. They can be a tremendous witness to their grandchildren. Not all grandchildren are being brought up in the faith of their grandparents and this may be challenging. Still, the subtle example of grandparents living their faith can be a powerful influence.

Grandparents teach faith by all that they do including praying for their grandchildren, telling bible stories, sharing about the lives of holy people, doing good works, creating Christian traditions in the home, teaching prayers, praying at mealtime, and by taking their grandchildren to church when their parents cannot or do not.

Grandparents have an important role in handing down the family faith traditions even though some of the seeds they sow may not bear fruit until after they are gone. In recent years, our own ministry to families has expanded to include grandparents. It is obvious that grandparents have a great deal to offer to today’s stressed out families. Most grandparents care deeply about their grandchildren and have a strong bond with them.  These grandparents, whether they live in the same community or are long-distance grandparents, want to play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren and are searching for the best ways to do it.

This ministry to grandparents is designed to help them recognize their special vocation as guides and companions to their grandchildren. We introduce the concept with a presentation on the blessings of grand parenting. This presentation raises awareness and affirms, empowers, and guides grandparents to discern just where God is calling them to use their gifts and talents. Since many grandparents have expressed an interest in sharing with others, we have also created a six-meeting small group   study/discussion program for parish grandparent groups. This program brings grandparents together to share ideas and give support. We have discovered that grandparents are eager, and often more available than their children, to participate in parish programs.

Grandparents have been described as “wisdom with wrinkles.” Their life experience and insights make them the sages of the family. The grandparent grandchild relationship connects the younger and older stages of life and gives meaning and understanding to both. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “Grandparents are a precious resource for families, the church, and society.”

Kay and Gary Aitchison are former National Leaders of the Christian Family Movement-USA, and a Diaconate Couple.  They live in Ames, Iowa and have 13 grandchildren.


Blessings of Age

Blessings of Age, is a Pastoral Message on Growing Older within the Faith Community. It is addressed to Older Persons, Caregivers, Pastors, Pastoral Staff, and Parishioners.  Following is an excerpt from the final section addressed to Pastors and Pastoral Staff. Because parishes differ in their particular needs and resources, we offer a few foundational principles for parish ministry with older persons.

1. Older people are providers, not just recipients, of pastoral care.

2. Older people themselves should help to identify their pastoral needs and decide how they are met.

3. Older people are as diverse, if not more so, than other generational groups.

4. Older people need a mix of activities that connect them with each other, as well as the larger faith community.

5. Spiritual health affects and is affected by the individual’s physical, emotional, mental, and social health. While the faith community is especially concerned about meeting spiritual needs, it cannot ignore these other realities.


Together We’re Better: Age Well-Live Well

By Ken Bomar

As the baby boom generation ages, our communities and local Churches will encounter unprecedented needs related to older persons. By 2030, the U.S. population 65 and older will double to about 71 million older adults, or one in every five Americans. Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person calls  us to ensure that no one is left without the caring presence every person deserves. Our readiness to meet these vast needs will depend on our ability to forge collaborative partnerships between parishes and community resources, such as governmental agencies and other organizations that provide services to the elderly.

In Texas, the Diocese of Austin has partnered with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) to better serve older persons in the community. This partnership has helped ensure that parishes are aware of resources and that Catholic families have practical ways to get involved in serving the aging community. Because every state has a similar department on aging, as well as other related agencies, this model can be replicated throughout the country. Following is a sample.

1. Use the Age Well–Live Well model to promote key areas. These should include health and wellness (physical/mental), resource awareness, and individual and community engagement (volunteer opportunities). Age Well– Live Well is a collaborative community initiative that promotes health, wellness, volunteerism, and provides information on services for older Texans and people with disabilities. Through the Age Well–Live Well initiative, local organizations work together to provide residents with information on local, state, and federal programs.

Age Well–Live Well focuses on:

• Creating awareness of aging issues and resources offered through Age Well – Live Well partners and the aging and disability network

• Improving the physical health of older adults, people with disabilities, their families and all segments of the Diocese/Parish area

• Providing opportunities for Diocese/Parish members to volunteer with older adults and people with disabilities

• Engaging the community in collaborative partnerships that benefit all


2. Develop educational and motivational programs to involve the maximum number of people. This can include events, seminars, internal and external communication, web based information exchange, partnering with local media, and programs to meet specific needs.

3. Utilize resources that are already in place. Grants and ongoing governmental programs support a wide array of resources for the elderly, but often people are unaware of them. Church leadership can serve as referral points to inform families about these services.

4. Commit to short term initiatives leading to long-term mutual goals. Continue to communicate with partners, parishioners, and the community. As the demographics of our society and parishes change, an aging population that is healthy and adequately cared for is a large goal and one that will require considerable planning to ensure that every person is treated with dignity and respect.

Ken Bomar is marketing director for Volunteer and Community Engagement with the Texas Dept. on Aging and Disability Services.

Trail Map Tips for Stepfamily Success

By Elizabeth Einstein, MA/LMFT

1. Understand two critical realities. Making a stepfamily work well is a process. It also takes time.

2. Take time to live alone as a single after divorce or the death of a partner. Develop and maintain a solid network of family and friends. Start school, move into a new job, or do whatever it takes to move toward a long-awaited dream you’ve always held. Take risks that lead to restoring your ability to trust others. Beware of that first intense relationship and realize that, quite likely, this person is your transition person and not necessarily the one you’ll end up marrying.

However, it can be a vital relationship for rebuilding self-confidence and self-respect, as well as learning how to be with someone again.

3. Take time before you commit and prepare wisely. Resolve and heal former relationships. Learn information about stepfamily living. Help your children grieve their changed family situation with family discussions and therapy so they can better adjust to stepfamily living.

4. Clarify your relationship with your former spouse. Peaceful relationships help your children move between two households. Effective co-parenting and minimizing loyalty conflicts for children only works when the original relationship is reasonably healthy.

5. Dealing with discipline will be your greatest challenge. The first hurdle is dealing with discipline, so that you can present a “united front” to the children as soon as possible. Examine your parenting styles. Perhaps take parenting classes during courtship. Seek out skills and communication classes. Agree on approaches that respect everyone.

6. Examine and clarify boundary issues early. Time, space, chores, and authority are issues to sort out early in the stepfamily journey so everyone is on the same page.

7. Disclose and discuss finances. Money discussions are best done before remarriage, because issues around money and other economic considerations are the second greatest challenge in the stepfamily.

8. Reduce children’s anxiety. Kids worry about their roles in the new family and may be confused. Many are angry about all the changes. Reduce their concerns by talking with them openly.

Yes, they still have a good relationship with their other parent without it upsetting you or your new partner. No, they needn’t lose touch with their grandparents. Yes, they can they still see their old friends? Clear answers provide the reassurance youngsters need. New stepparents can assure children their intent is neither to replace their biological parent nor interfere in those relationships. Ask them how they view your role in their lives, listen well for guidelines, and watch for opportunities to build good relationships with them.

9. Participate in stepfamily education

or counseling. Because stepfamilies differ from other families in so many ways, the more you learn in advance, the fewer struggles you’ll face later. Attend a stepfamily education class. Visit a therapist who’s savvy about stepfamilies and is trained in family systems – especially before marriage and in the early stages. It’s a healthy family that seeks help to strengthen its family life.

10. Celebrate with a creative ceremony that includes the children. At the cutting edge of tradition, stepfamily weddings can help create a storehouse of memories that provide a strong foundation for your stepfamily. Everyone who wants to take part in a meaningful way can be encouraged to do so. A child might want to play the piano, sing a song, read a poem, or manage the guest book. Encourage your children to be a part in the ceremony but no one should be forced. If there’s resistance by a certain child, talk about it calmly to get to the bottom of what the child is feeling – it is usually unresolved divorce issues. A creative and joyful ceremony heralds your new beginning to friends and family and provides a positive start to what lies ahead.


Elizabeth Einstein is a pioneer in working with remarried families and a leader in the field of stepfamily education. She is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Ithaca, NY and author of several books.

Divorce & Remarriage in the New Testament

 By John S. Grabowski, Ph.D.

The issue of divorce and remarriage has a long and somewhat complicated history in the Bible. Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 allows a man to divorce his wife if he “finds in her something indecent” (Dt. 24: 1c).

Some of the prophets linked this open-ended permission to infidelity in marriage (e.g., Hos. 1-4; Ez. 16, 23), while others flatly rejected it (cf. Mal. 2:14-16). In Jesus’ own day Rabbis continued to debate the text with some restricting divorce to cases of infidelity (the school of Shammai), while others (such as the followers of Rabbi Hillel) allowed divorce for much more trivial reasons (such as a wife’s inability to cook).

The NT adds further complexity with multiple versions of Jesus’ teaching on the subject, all of which have been subjected to highly technical debates over their translation, context, and meaning by scholars. This complexity leads some people to conclude that the NT offers little helpful guidance for the matter in our own rather different cultural context. Still others find in the NT texts a pattern of adaptation by early Christian communities so that the exceptions become the rule and Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage must always be adapted to new historical situations and circumstances.

But these conclusions are premature. A close look reveals that the NT offers a consistent, although not totally uncomplicated, teaching on the question of divorce which serves as the foundation for the current teaching and practice of the Church.

The oldest NT text dealing with the issue is found in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (written c. 55 A.D.). In a brief statement in Chapter 7 (verses 10-11) Paul discourages separation (christhenai) and forbids divorce (aphienai) on the basis of the teaching of Jesus that will later be recorded in the Gospels. He then deals with a new situation which had emerged in the community not treated by Jesus’ teaching – what to do if one spouse had converted to Christianity and the other had not (7:12-16). Paul addresses this new case on the basis of his own authority as an apostle, allowing the unbelieving spouse to separate if he or she could not live with the believer in peace. It is not clear whether the believing spouse could then remarry. Written some ten years later, Mark’s Gospel contains the earliest written version of Jesus’ words on the topic. In response to the Pharisees’ challenge, Jesus rejects the teaching of Deuteronomy 24 as a concession to human “hardheartedness” (sklerokardia) caused by sin (cf. Mk. 10:5). Jesus sees this as a violation of God’s original intention for marriage disclosed in the

Genesis creation accounts which he now prophetically restates. When questioned about this teaching by his disciples, Jesus goes even further, equating divorce and remarriage with adultery(mocheia—cf. Mk. 10:11-12). The fact that Mark also applies this teaching to women divorcing their husbands (10:12), reflects the practice of Roman law (though there were a limited number of cases in which women could initiate divorce in OT law— e.g., Ex. 21:7-11).

The later Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke share a similar short saying of Jesus which again forbids men to divorce their wives and equates remarriage with adultery (cf. Mt. 5:31- 32; Lk. 16:18). The net effect of this rejection of divorce as a largely male prerogative coupled with the NT rejection of the double standard for sexual morality was to elevate the status of women and to open the way for an understanding of marriage as a genuine partnership.

However, both Matthew 5:32 and the longer parallel of Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees later in the Gospel (Matthew 19: 1-12), contain what is often taken to be an exception to this strong rejection of divorce in cases of “porneia” (Mt. 5:32d; 19: 9c). The exact translation of the term is the subject of some dispute.

Some translate the word in a way which equates it with some form of sexual infidelity. Hence it is sometimes rendered “adultery” (“marital unfaithfulness” in the NIV), “fornication” (NRSV) or “unchastity” (NASB). But if Matthew meant to name adultery as an exception to this prohibition why did he not use the word mocheia as he does elsewhere in the same verses? Furthermore, how would such a position be any different than that of Hosea,

Ezekiel or the followers of Rabbi Shammai? How would this qualify as a revolutionary restatement of God’s intention for marriage by Jesus whom Matthew portrays as the New Moses?

For these reasons the Catholic scholars who have produced some of the best available English translations of the NT have translated the term as “unlawful marriage” (NAB, Jerusalem Bible) – that is, a marriage between two people too closely related by blood. Such a practice, common in the Gentile world, would have been abhorrent to Jews or Jewish Christians because of the incest taboos of Leviticus 18 which were understood to apply to all people. This is exactly what the term porneia indicates when it is used to forbid such marriage in the letter to

Gentile converts to Christianity in Acts (see Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25). Given that we know Matthew’s Gospel was written for a community of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, this translation fits the Gospel’s context. In this case, these clauses in Matthew are not so much an “exception” to the thrust of

Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, but a recognition that a particular OT law still had binding force for Christians. Thus while the teaching of the NT on divorce and remarriage is not without some complexity, it is not inconsistent or incoherent. Based on this teaching the Church sees the tragedy of divorce as an evil and something contrary to God’s plan for marriage. In fidelity to this teaching the Church holds that it cannot undo a sacramental marriage that is validly concluded and physically consummated (see

Canon 1061). Civil divorce does not undo sacramental marriage, hence the divorced are called to remain unmarried in fidelity to this bond. This is why persons who are divorced and remarried cannot receive the sacraments with the exception of three cases: 1) they are in danger of death; 2) they are living “as brother and sister;” or, 3) they have received an annulment for the previous marriage. Most annulments are declarations that a sacramental marriage never took place between a couple because of some impediment to their consent (e.g., deceit) or situation (e.g., too close of a blood relationship). Those annulment cases in which a marriage is actually dissolved involve natural marriages (marriages where at least one party is not baptized as in 1 Cor. 7) or cases where a marriage is not consummated (and hence not fully sacramental). This is not to ignore the fact that there are many people who find themselves in the painful situation of being divorced and (civilly) remarried. These persons are still members of the Church. They are not excommunicated and can still participate in the Church’s life – albeit not through reception of the sacraments (except in the three cases mentioned above). The Church and its members can certainly do more to support these brothers and sisters, but this support cannot take the form of compromising or ignoring the teaching of Jesus. As Pope Benedict XVI has recently reminded us, Christian charity must always be founded upon and lived in truth (cf. Caritas in veritate, nos. 1-2).

 John S. Grabowski, Ph.D., The Catholic University of America.


Jesus and the Divorced

By Rose Sweet

Jesus fell three times.

That’s how a lot of divorced Catholics feel as they trudge uphill through battles of loss, anger,  depression, loneliness, court battles, custody arrangements, and more. Their road is long and it seems whenever they get ahead, the weight of their cross drives them back down. It’s vital for those who minister to the divorced to maintain balance in the way they help. Let’s draw two clear and complementary truths from the way of sorrows: Let them be comforted

At the start of Jesus’ passion, the Father permitted his Son to sweat blood in the garden but also sent an angel to console Jesus. On the way to Golgotha, Veronica also comforted Jesus, by the gentle wiping of the blood from His brow and the sweat from His face. Consolation has always been part of the spiritual road along with times of dark desolation.

Some people who minister to the divorced have a Veronica personality that is loving and gentle – in a sense ”feminine” although many men have this gift as well by their natural temperament. They’re best at listening, affirming, nodding, smiling, hugging, and encouraging pats on the back. The divorced need that. But they need more than that, too. Let them carry the cross

Suffering is hard to watch, but it can be cleansing, purifying, and instructive. Rather than try to take the cross away – or minimize it – it is better to help the divorced see the hard truths about their lives that they may not have wanted to see before. Do they need to get to confession? Is there forgiveness that needs to be sought? Are they stuck in fear, anger, or pride? For their very salvation, this rocky road may be how God wants to call them to go higher.

Some who assist the divorced can be like Simon – they help to carry the load for a short time or only when absolutely necessary. It will be easier for those with a certain personality to confidently teach the truth about love, marriage, sin, and divorce. They seem less comforting but they will not be afraid to make waves if it means bringing the truth into the light. Even though this might seem a more “masculine” approach, both men and women can have this gift of boldness.

Both comforting and challenging are necessary for a balanced approach to ministry. Jesus had the “work” of salvation do in His suffering; similarly we should not try to comfort or carry other’s crosses for them forever. All are called to help, but not to stand in the way of what is necessary for true healing – helping the divorced person along the way, past their hurts and fears, to a total surrender of their heart to the Father, back to God in the fullest way possible, through His Church and the Sacraments.

Yes, Jesus fell three times . . . but with the help of others He got up three times, too.

Rose Sweet is an author, speaker, and producer of “The Catholic’s DIVORCE SURVIVAL Guide,” a 12-show DVD series available at . You can read more about Rose at her website .  Summer 2011