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September 14, 2015

Cardinal Marc Ouellet hits the nail on the head when he states, "Eucharistic communion . . . is an objective sign that sacramentally expresses personal union with Christ" (Page 11). When that personal union is broken, such as through divorce and remarriage without an annulment, he implies, the second marriage is a countersign that undermines the Church's "missionary dimension."

The question is whether Ouellet is hammering on the right nail or, to change the metaphor, whether he is chasing after the right gopher. He is correct: Offering Communion to the divorced-and-remarried is a counter-witness to a little-understood theology of Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as bride.

However, the refusal to accept people in a happy second marriage as full participants in communion is widely understood as a sign of an unforgiving Church, one lacking in the mercy that is central, not just to the Church's mission, but to the nature of God. It is anti-evangelical; it drives people away from the Church.

People may be chastised for not getting the point, for not understanding the Church's emerging theology of marriage. But then this is not a theology in which the Church has done much to educate the faithful.

So, when the cardinal says the Church must do more to help remarried couples find other means of expressing their faith than receiving Communion, it should be noted that many couples have done exactly that without the Catholic Church's help - they have taken up residence in United, evangelical or one of many other non-eucharistic churches.

It is sometimes said that in the United States, former Catholics are the second largest Christian denomination so many are those who believe their spiritual needs cannot be met in the Church of Rome.

Yet, the Church must remain true to Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Perhaps it can do that by readmitting the divorced-and-remarried to the sacraments after a period of penitence. Such penitence should not humiliate the penitents, but rather should draw them to a deeper appreciation of the truth and beauty of a life lived in union with Christ and his Church.

Further, the Church cannot talk high and mighty about the indissolubility of marriage unless it goes to great lengths to help those preparing for their first marriages understand that nothing is more beautiful than a life lived in union with Jesus. Perfunctory marriage preparation is little more than a hoop through which engaged couples must jump in order to be married in the Church.

As well, the Church's commitment to strengthening marriages cannot end on the wedding day. Our Church communities must make the effort to journey with couples in the first years of marriage and especially if times get tough later on in their marriages.

The indissolubility of marriage cannot be solely a correct teaching; it calls for pastoral

reforms that transform parishes and give strong support to couples. Ouellet's fine theology contains a demand for outstanding pastoral practice.