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End times

To hear some folk talk about it, you’d suppose mercy was the greatest threat to us rather than our greatest boon. I can understand it – we’ve all got something of the older son in us, and like him, we can get pretty irritated when some wastrel gets, as we see it, ‘let off’ the consequences which ought to follow his or her sins; we’d all think of throwing the first stone – it’s the way we are. ‘Rules is rules’, and without them things fall apart. So there’s some justification in our feeling a bit of outrage about those who break the rules, not least if we’ve been pretty scrupulous about it ourselves. If you’re English, it’s like watching someone barge into a queue ahead of you when you’ve been waiting patiently.

But even in that context I was taken aback by the tone of some towards C’s post yesterday; the fellow’s a saint. I am not, so here’s my contribution. For all those standing and insisting Jesus said there is no divorce, I agree, but ask where in Scripture they find warrant for the ingenious device of annulment? Jesus didn’t say ‘well, you can’t divorce, but if the Sanhedrin says there was no marriage, then it isn’t a divorce, so you can marry.’ No, he didn’t. His words are clear. So where did the annulment stuff come from? You first find it when Emperors and other important folk like Kings wanted shot of their wives. The Church was clear, no divorce. So, when Louis VII of France, having married the richest heiress in Europe, Eleanor of Aquitaine, decided to get rid of her as she seemed to produce nothing but girls, suddenly it was discovered that their marriage was not ‘valid’ as they were within four degress of consanguinuity. That the Pope at the time had said that was no bar (it was not exactly a secret that they were related), was now discovered not to be right, and so there was no marriage. Bingo, Louis could go marry another woman, as his previous marriage, despite the daughters, was no marriage, and, ironically, Eleanor could go off and sire a brood of Angevin sons with Henry II of England. The Church, being full of intelligent men, found an intelligent answer to a problem. It did not do the obvious literal thing and say “Jesus said no divorce, so, no divorce”, it said “Jesus didn’t say anything about valid and invalid marriages, but we can, and therefore we are not breaching his teaching”. Ingenious, but was that really what JesusΒ meant? Well, the Church said it was. Now it may be saying that its own rules can be changed a bit to extend mercy to others, and some folk have the nerve to quote Jesus’ words as though the world were so stupid that it cannot see the obvious – that annulment is the Catholic Church’s way of allowing people to get out of a marriage which was usually legally and contractually OK at the time. Pull the other one, it has bells attached.

I wonder about C. sometimes, as he knows. He’s the one convert I’ve met who seems not to suffer from ‘convertitis’, which I define as a state of mind where, having made up your mind that the Catholic Church is THE Church, you don’t want it to change as it has provided you with a secure anchorage. This is particularly so now, when so many converts came in under two pretty authoritarian Popes, creating an atmosphere where those who wanted refuge from the modern world could find it. It’s no accident that most of this group find rambling Pope Frank a problem. Changes are coming, and they are either going to have to accept them, on the authority of the Pope, or reason like Protestants that a Pope who changes what they think the Church is, is no Pope and does not need to be obeyed. I noted that the one cradle Catholic we have here, David Monier-Williams, who, let’s face it, has seen it all in his Church, is more sanguine and accepting; I note that as a sign of a good Catholic formation. That’s why I wonder about C, he’s more like David than his fellow converts.

He sees what most folk see, which is that his Church has long used annulment as an exercise of mercy where reasonable cause exists to exercise it. There are few cases in the past where a monarch did not get his annulment. The famous one, Henry VIII, was because his wife’s uncle, Charles V, was occupying Rome with his troops and put pressure on the Pope of the day. That was why fat Henry threw a hissy fit and stormed off, any other time and he’d have got what he wanted. Latterly, the Church has extended this privilege to others, but the system is creaking under the demands made on it. To listen to ginny and Dave Smith, some of their Princes of the Church are dreadful heretics who want to usher in divorce, well, I’ve bad news, that happened when the clever fellow invented something Christ said nowt about – annulment. The reason their system is creaking is that their defence of marriage has utterly failed. That does not make the Church wrong, but it does mean that pastorally it needs to do something for the millions of Catholics who have failed marriages on their hands. That, as I read it, is what old Wally Kasper wants – but heck, he’s their Prince of the Church, and if they want to accuse him of heresy, then so be it.

I saw someone cite to C the words of Jesus ‘go sin no more’. I offer this invitation, those here who have sincerely and truly gone and sinned no more, chuck those stones at will. For the rest of us, we will err on the side of mercy. That is not to condone adultery, it is to say that where there is reasonable doubt about the validity of a marriage, things should be moved along a bit quicker, and those screaming blue murder might get a grip on the reality for many of their fellow Catholics and get out more.

Of course, if their Church, and other Churches, did more by way of preparing folk for marriage, that might be best of all. But it would provide far fewer opportunities for folk to get on their high horses and call others heretics and condoners of adultery – which might take all the fun of converting to Catholicism away for some folk! Dear old C, he takes it on the chin – well, colour me bad – when someone smites both cheeks, I smite back. Go show me where Jesus said ‘there will be something called an annulment which means that what everyone said was a marriage at the time wasn’t really – and that fulfils my teaching about no divorce’. if you can’t do that, reflect on what mercy means, and reflect on the gap between what you deserve and what God offers you – and get on your knees and thank him – and stop judging others and leave it to your church. There’s the challenge to all these JPII and B16 converts – can you be obedient to authority when it dares disagree with you? I shall be watching with care over the next month or so.