The synod and the Prodigal's older brother


#1

To be clear, this thread has nothing to do with the actual judgments of the upcoming synod on marriage and the family. Doctrine is not, and must not be, determined by emotions.

But I’ve noticed that a lot of emotions seem to be coming out, among people who oppose the Church finding a creative way to extend mercy to sinners without compromising the indissolubility of marriage. People are unwilling, for example, to seriously consider the types of situations that deeply grieved Pope Benedict, and prompted him to start this whole process leading toward the synod. They are certainly defending doctrine, and defending it skillfully and passionately, but my sense is that they are offended that this issue is even being brought up.

I’ve seen people ask things like this, actually: “If THAT person can get a divorce and remarry, and then get communion, then why should I stay in MY marriage, even though it is hard?”

That sort of statement is almost directly out of Scripture, but Scripture does not endorse it. It is the feeling of the Prodigal’s brother, or the feeling of the workers who have worked all day in the vineyard. It is an understandable thing, but also an *ugly *thing. It is another way of resisting grace, by placing one’s own merits over and above God’s mercy. From the parable:

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

What I would really love in this thread is if people would be willing to confess that they DO experience this sort of resentment, when Pope Francis seems to support new ways to extend mercy to sinners. The resentment is just like any other sinful feeling (rage or lust, for instance): it needs to be repented of, and turned from. I would be in AWE of anyone who confessed their own “older brother” syndrome, as it applies to the Synod and related matters. It would be an inspiration to all of us.

But please, I don’t want us to get sidetracked into talking about the details of the synod. I know there are good and rational reasons to maintain current teachings and disciplines. What I’m interested in here is the emotions we experience defending such teachings – surely if we purge ourselves of these harmful emotions, we will be able to more gently and lovingly advocate for the correct theological decisions.


#2

I’ve definitely experienced “Older Brother” syndrome before, but I’m not sure that I have experienced it in relation to this particular topic; as long as the standing Dogma of the Church is not contradicted or lost, I’m all for new disciplines on this matter that show compassion and mercy yet somehow without compromising doctrine/morals.

Admittedly, part of my lacking “Older Brother” syndrome in this specific matter may be because I feel that, even if the Pope could (which he can’t, of course) say “Yay, divorces on demand for EVERYONE!” I don’t see myself taking advantage of that “freedom.” I think a lot of times Older Brother syndrome kicks in when we think we would do something if only we could be excused for it or get away with it, so that we resent those who DO “get away” with it when we don’t think we could be so “lucky.” And when it comes to marriage and divorce I believe that, given what I know about myself, even if I had no moral qualms with divorce, many other factors,which are a mixture of noble, emotional, loving, practical, and even self-interested (all in tandem with the fact that I simply have no interest in divorce), would probably still prevent me from doing so anyway. So I’d have nothing to gain, in this matter, from being the prodigal son as opposed to the older one, so I’ve no reason to envy or resent him on this issue…

I DO have worries and concerns about the synod, but from self-searching and self-reflection, at least so far, I think those have more to do with a lack of faith on my part (i.e. “What if the Pope actually changes dogma and proves infallibility is a sham?!!”) than resentment for those who would benefit from any “change.”

As for issues where I DO have Older Brother syndrome, I’ll not comment on those because you’re looking–it seems to me–for examples relating to this particular matter.

Blessings in Christ,
KindredSoul


#3

Much of Pope Francis’ teaching is to try to prevent the sin, not just extend mercy to sinners.
Your post hints that opposition to loosening Catholic teaching on marriage might be biased by emotion - “harmful emotions”. How much of the demand for changing Catholic teaching is biased - or misdirected - on “harmful emotions”, resentment against an “authoritarian” church because my parents were bossy, my husband was controlling, this show I saw on the Lifetime Channel, etc. etc. “Harmful emotions” can bias - distort our vision - both ways.

As a social worker I have seen enormous damage due to society moving away from traditional norms of marriage. The media reports child abuse and domestic violence, but does not report the reality that these, and many other problems, are FAR more common, proportionally, in families that have abandoned traditional values on marriage. My observation isn’t based on emotion, but work experience. I DO have emotion about this - I am angry that so little of this reality is communicated through secular and Catholic education and media.

In my area, the media comments about child abuse, but never about how child abuse is magnified by the abandonment of traditional marriage. In my diocese there is almost no mention of indissolubility of marriage. I’m angry about that blind spot, just like I’m angry there is so much poverty; that doesn’t mean my emotions are bad, or limiting, my rational response. Your emotions tell you the diocese should do everything possible to expedite annulments, because you see the wife who is now “free”; but you don’t see the long term impact on the children.

So this is a good thread, I’m just opening it up to both directions. Besides the OP’s view, how many find their friendly attitude towards (loosening) traditional marriage to be biased, or limited, or excessively driven by emotions based on personal experiences or the media? Do you think your reason may have been clouded by too many articles or endless TV shows that depict traditional marriage as a prison, and open mindedness to divorce/anullment to be “the loving response”? Isn’t your conditioned response a “harmful emotion”? Is anyone willing to repent here for watching too many made-for-TV movies?


#4

I don’t know if you realize that the part i bolded implies that the only possible reason anyone could be against what has been suggested by Cardinal Kaspar, who I believe first brought this up, and his supporters is jealousy. In your other posts on other topics, I have seen you in a much better light, so I assume that this was unintentional.

But please, I don’t want us to get sidetracked into talking about the details of the synod. I know there are good and rational reasons to maintain current teachings and disciplines. What I’m interested in here is the emotions we experience defending such teachings – surely if we purge ourselves of these harmful emotions, we will be able to more gently and lovingly advocate for the correct theological decisions.


#5

Hi Mercy Street!
Read your blog and I love it. I’d love the hear more about your own marriage, but that is not the topic of this thread.

I’m a big supporter of Gay Marriage, Lady priests, and all that…have been so since 1966, when I was 14. However, I’ve read Jesus’ ideas about the remarriage of the divorced in three of the four gospels, and so I have to take it seriously.

I was single until I was 34, and took it seriously. That meant no dating divorced men. Sometimes I said, “Jesus, you’re a pain in the butt.” but I always stuck to his teaching.

Did I ever have older brother syndrome in relation to this: no.

Did I ever have older brother syndrome: well, I’ve always felt for the older brother. Not that the younger brother had it so great either. Who wants to eat pig swill? My brother was a drunk and got all the attention from my parents, even as an adult, and I felt kind of jealous of that. THAT’S where I had big brother/sister syndrome.

As for the laborers, I could only but feel SORRY for those five o’clock hires. They had spent all day standing out in the sun NOT GETTING PAID, and worrying about coming home with no money to feed the family. I’d rather be working IN the field all day and not suffering their distress, which I can imagine was great. I’m happy they got paid equally!

I’m not even sure if Francis is going to be a good pope or not. My jury is still out. If he’s not, the Church has survived bad popes before and will again. Even if the laity has to take the lead!:smiley:


#6

For what it’s worth, I read the part in bold as applying specifically to anyone who was jealous admitting it if that was part of (not even all of) their motive, not as an implication that all people who are against Cardinal Kaspar’s suggestion are just jealous. I sorta read a conditional “if” into it and took it for granted, which I think is the way it was intended. Only Prodigal himself can confirm that, of course, but just giving my own observation. :slight_smile:

Blessings in Christ,
KindredSoul


#7

As I think more about it, I could see myself potentially having “Older Brother” syndrome in the hypothetical (dogmatically impossible, of course) scenario where the Pope actually “changed” the teaching and allowed someone with a valid marriage to “dissolve” it and remarry. The following hasn’t been on my radar at all, to my knowledge, but I’m saying I could see it being a problem, potentially…

It’s this: While I wouldn’t be “jealous” of someone for having been able to get a divorce and then remarry, I might be jealous that they are able to get away with something hitherto considered a sin, whereas some of my own sins would get no such leeway, so that I spend my life trying to resist them.

I’ll share an example that I imagine isn’t uncommon: During postpartum or when very unsure about NFP signs, my wife and I might wish that we could do “other” things that weren’t open to life, but that could still be some way of having sexual intimacy together. Well, it’s possible that, if Pope Francis and the synod were to say that someone who had been in a valid marriage could remarry someone else and receive communion, it would be easy to think: “Well it must be nice that their sin is now given the green light, while my wife and I are trying to faithfully refrain from our own temptations!”

Obviously that’s all a very hypothetical scenario based around an impossibility–the changing of doctrine–but if it happened, I could see myself resenting that, yes. That’s far from my primary motive for opposing such a change or being horrified if it happened, but it could be in there somewhere, in the event of such a thing…

But if we’re talking something that actually is within the realm of possibility, such as doctrine remaining unchanged but with some new pastoral practice that allows people with invalid first marriages to remarry perhaps with a less complex process to determine their first marriage’s invalidity, or something like that, then I don’t think I’d have any inclination to be like the Older Brother (even if I might think a more lax process would be unwise). After all, in that case the people who would “benefit” from such a thing aren’t really doing anything dogmatically wrong (they just happened to be doing something wrong before because it violated discipline of the Church), so I’d be no more tempted to resent them for being allowed to receive communion than I’d resent, say, a married priest for receiving communion if that discipline had been changed (or he had otherwise been given licit exception from the norm). Unlike dogma, after all, discipline can be changed or have exceptions, so I’d see nothing really to resent about my own situation from that.

I do have concerns about what language the synod might use, etc, even if I hold confidence that dogma cannot be changed, but those concerns are another matter for another thread. :slight_smile:

Blessings in Christ,
KindredSoul


#8

If people fell into the sinful mindset of the older brother, then couldn’t the pope just extend mercy to them and make it not a sin?


#9

I have no idea how it implies that – perhaps you’re misreading it somehow? I think there are lots of good reasons to oppose Cardinal Kaspar’s suggestions. (I’m not sure if they are definitive, but they are good). None of those reasons involve jealousy.

My point is, once again, not about those good reasons. It’s about when people have good reasons for a position, but are motivated by bad reasons for that same position. In such cases, we need to repent of our bad reasons before we can effectively engage in dialogue – otherwise we end up harming relationships and fostering division.

Let me make this personal, with a completely different example. I’ve often gotten in debates about how the Church might more effectively pastor people with same-sex attraction. Now, since I myself have SSA, I sometimes find myself being personally defensive in those debates – trying to justify myself, not trying to reach out for ways to love others. This sort of defensiveness (on my part) can poison conversations. I need to repent of it, and – until I do – the conversations will not foster unity and healing in the Church.

So that’s what I have in mind, when I’m talking about “older brother syndrome” – how can people who bring a bad emotional attitude toward a topic repent, and allow their conversation to be more godly. Hope this helps clarify.


#10

You’re really tempting me to change course slightly, and talk about the actual content of the synod! But I will resist. Man, is it hard to! :o

As for your other comments, it is surely the duty of the Church to refrain from tempting people to sin unless it is absolutely necessary. If the Church should ever appear to give “carte blanche” to one type of sinner, but not another, then the Church would be tempting people to envy and jealousy, which is wrong.

However, there are perfectly holy and necessary actions (as in the Prodigal Son story) that tempt people to jealousy. So that’s the tricky part.

I mean, consider a person “married” in Vegas when they were 18 and not yet Christian, “divorced” two years later, then married in a Protestant church at 35. When the person converts to Catholicism at age 60, it is VERY implausible to me that their continued sexual relationship with their “second” spouse involves them in serious sin. So I don’t think the Church would be doing anything wrong if the Church said that such a person’s first “marriage” wasn’t a marriage at all! (Even if the ordinary conditions for an annulment aren’t present, or discoverable).

Uh-oh, I said I WASN’T going to get into the synod, here. Oh, dear. :blush:


#11

Oh, I agree. My reading of Francis has not made me think he is “light on sin”. He is loving toward sinners, yes, but not light on sin.

Your post hints that opposition to loosening Catholic teaching on marriage might be biased by emotion - “harmful emotions”. How much of the demand for changing Catholic teaching is biased - or misdirected - on “harmful emotions”, resentment against an “authoritarian” church because my parents were bossy, my husband was controlling, this show I saw on the Lifetime Channel, etc. etc. “Harmful emotions” can bias - distort our vision - both ways.

Absolutely.

As a social worker I have seen enormous damage due to society moving away from traditional norms of marriage. The media reports child abuse and domestic violence, but does not report the reality that these, and many other problems, are FAR more common, proportionally, in families that have abandoned traditional values on marriage. My observation isn’t based on emotion, but work experience. I DO have emotion about this - I am angry that so little of this reality is communicated through secular and Catholic education and media.

In my area, the media comments about child abuse, but never about how child abuse is magnified by the abandonment of traditional marriage. In my diocese there is almost no mention of indissolubility of marriage. I’m angry about that blind spot, just like I’m angry there is so much poverty; that doesn’t mean my emotions are bad, or limiting, my rational response. Your emotions tell you the diocese should do everything possible to expedite annulments, because you see the wife who is now “free”; but you don’t see the long term impact on the children.

Emotions are awesome, when they are harnessed toward godly ends. But oftentimes, we speak before we consider the emotions that are “driving” our words and our tone. That’s what I’m worried about.

So, for instance, the attitude many of my fellow academics show toward fetuses enrages me, but I will never get anywhere in a conversation if all that comes through is my rage. We have to find the RIGHT emotion for the context. It is sometimes right to speak in anger, but never in rage. It is sometimes right to speak passionately about justice, but never right to speak out in jealousy – even veiled jealousy.

So this is a good thread, I’m just opening it up to both directions. Besides the OP’s view, how many find their friendly attitude towards (loosening) traditional marriage to be biased, or limited, or excessively driven by emotions based on personal experiences or the media? Do you think your reason may have been clouded by too many articles or endless TV shows that depict traditional marriage as a prison, and open mindedness to divorce/anullment to be “the loving response”? Isn’t your conditioned response a “harmful emotion”? Is anyone willing to repent here for watching too many made-for-TV movies?

Well, I don’t have a friendly response to divorce or to people “living their dream” and thereby ditching their spouse and children. No, I hate that. I don’t think extending mercy is about enabling such things. If the only way to extend mercy is to encourage sin, I’m all for not extending mercy.

But I’m not convinced the only way to extend mercy is to encourage sin. I’m interested in what sorts of creative ideas the bishops might bring out of the synod, in this respect.


#12

You can only extend mercy toward sinners. If you say the person hasn’t committed a sin, it is impossible to show mercy toward them. You can “be nice”, but you cannot extend mercy.


#13

Now it’s my turn to resist getting into the synod in order to address my concerns with your specific situation, and I think I’m failing to resist: I’ll just say I do see a lot of problems with the Church saying that the 60 year old’s marriage would just be “presumed” invalid due to the circumstances (which is what I think you’re saying), at least unless the synod used incredibly nuanced language that listed each situation, in detail, where such a presumption could be made… Otherwise it seems that each situation would still call for some sort of investigation, even if it might be more “open and shut” in some cases than others. Even if the Church was going to say “In some cases it’s left to the individual’s discretion” it would have to specify what cases (which might result in an incredibly long laundry list) in order to avoid everyone and his brother saying that the exceptions applied to them.

But in your proposed scenario, in keeping with your intent in this thread, I would still have no reason–personally–to resent or be jealous of the 60 year old, at least not about this particular moral issue (remarriage without seeking a formal annulment). So what if his marriage was invalid? I’m quite sure mine isn’t, so sure in fact that if my wife left me yet could not say there was some impediment on her end, I would not seek an annulment, even, because I’m just that sure that our marriage was valid. Even if she sought one, I’m confident nothing I could add to the investigation would provide grounds for one, so I’m confident they’d find no grounds to declare our marriage null if (as I said before) there was nothing on her end to make it so. A life of celibacy would be a moral requirement I simply take for granted if my wife left me or something like that.

So even if the 60 year old was “getting away” with not having to go through the (full) annulment process in order to have the invalidity of his first marriage recognized, I’m not tempted to be jealous of that because I’m sure that my marriage is valid so that, even if the Church were to give me (in a terrible display of imprudence, an extreme hypothetical scenario just to make the following point) total discretion to divorce and remarry based upon my own judgment of its validity, I could not in good conscience take advantage of that anyway. My own discretion, as it were, would tell me my first marriage is valid, so that “freedom” would be useless to me anyway… The same would go for the Church making it “easier” for me to remarry. Unless doctrine were changing, I’m so sure my marriage is valid that such ease would do me no good, and would be irrelevant to me. In fact, it’d take a formal annulment to make me feel confident that there was anything that invalidated the marriage on my wife’s part, because otherwise I’d fear that even if she said there was that some part of that was wishful thinking on her part, and that our marriage was in fact still valid.

Besides all that, to me the annulment process is a safety against sinning, and a good one, not a chain blocking my freedom or holding me back. I don’t want to be free of it or left to my own discretion–if, Heaven forbid, my wife should leave me and I should be tempted to remarry–no matter even if my first marriage appeared obviously invalid to the casual observer (even me), so therefore I’ve nothing to envy about the man who doesn’t have to follow that process… To me, he’s taking a gamble of epic proportions, and that’s just not something that moves me to jealousy, no more than I would be jealous if the Church said it was morally acceptable to play Russian Roulette. I guess I just like to keep things safe when it comes to eternity. :stuck_out_tongue:

Blessings in Christ,
KindredSoul


#14

I like how you pulled this back into the original post.

And it makes a helpful point. Supposing the Church did (for whatever reason) make annulments open and shut in those extreme cases – cases which involve heathen marriages, essentially – I don’t see why *anyone *would be jealous. What makes people jealous is when people get divorces and remarriages just to “upgrade”, as it were, which makes it look like rules about marriage and sex can just be glossed over and forgiven afterward.

But the thing is, I think sometimes people get UPSET about the latter cases, and these cases make their rhetoric become more extreme. And yet, the Church – if it effects changes – will be effecting changes to deal with the former type of cases. So the anger invokes by the latter cases is not helpful for conversations that pertain to the former cases.


#15

I completely agree. :slight_smile:

I do think, though, that a lot of the anger over this is in fear that the whole thing, if not worded with extreme care and precision, will be abused by people who are in the latter category (including some who have deceived even themselves, so not necessarily only coldly immoral types who “would just do it anyway” no matter what the synod said), sort of like Vatican II, a perfectly valid council, was abused by a lot of people. All we can do is wait and see, of course. Besides, that too would probably be getting off topic to discuss in detail…it’s just to say that much of the anger and paranoia about the synod might arise from that too, rather than resentment. I admit I myself have been concerned about that, but it’s in God’s hands.

Blessings in Christ,
KindredSoul


#16

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