Choice and Compassion
As a priest, I have opportunities to meet with people in the very most difficult times in their lives, times when they are struggling and seeking to make decisions that hopefully will lead to health and wholeness. Compassion and understanding are so important as people share the difficulties they are dealing with. That involves listening to the various feelings they are experiencing. When people are hurting, our hearts automatically go out to them.
After listening and drawing out the various feelings they are experiencing, it is helpful to consider options. When we are hurting, we typically think we are stuck and have no options but usually we have a few courses of action to choose between. Sometimes the best option is to dig in more attentively right where we are. Sometimes the best option is to look for a way out of the struggle that is plaguing us. Just realizing there are choices we can make is very helpful when we are in the midst of pain. Rarely is there one path that will make everything perfect but, as we tune in carefully to our struggles, we are usually led to a choice that seems best or at least necessary. In those times God’s grace is available to us.
While I am not a marriage counselor, it is not uncommon for me to meet with people who are going through significant relationship challenges. That conversation usually begins something like this: “I don’t really have anyone else to talk to but I can’t go on living like this. I don’t want to get a divorce but if something doesn’t change, I’ll have to because this is killing me.” Actively listening to people in such situations is vital. As they share their struggles and pain, paths forward emerge. Often people are able to address the brokenness in their marriages in such a way that tremendous growth occurs. What they have been looking for is finally reached. They change and their spouses change. Sometimes, however, divorce is simply the only course. Divorce is hard and crummy and it should be a last resort but sometimes it just has to happen. Abusive relationships often don’t get better and need to end. Repeated unfaithfulness often necessitates leaving a relationship. The vast majority of marital problems can be solved and even turned into wonderful opportunities for mutual growth. But some marriages need to be allowed to die in order for the couple to find new life. I always challenge couples to hang in there and work things out, but sometimes those efforts don’t bring resolution.
Were I, or the Church, or society, to remove the option of divorce altogether, we would be creating a culture of oppression. While it might be true that most divorces could be avoided with better choices and hard work, it would be cruel to eliminate that option altogether. In order for married people to find new life sometimes they have to get divorced. I grieve divorces. I’m sure God does too. But I don’t think God wants people to waste away in oppressive relationships. We have all seen divorced people blossom and find meaningful lives. The Church and society wisely allow for that choice to be made. And the Church tries to help people make better choices by carefully working with couples as they prepare for marriage. The answer is not to remove divorce as an option but to help people as they make choices.
Abortion is similar. Over the years I have sat with a number of women who have struggled with an unwanted pregnancy. A few times they have been careless but they weren’t alone in that, and more often they have been the victim of irresponsible or cruel behavior by a man they knew or did not know. Not all sexual activity is mutual. Date rape is highly prevalent. Unwanted pregnancies have a variety of causes and many of those causes are not the sole responsibility of the woman. The pain a woman experiences with an unwanted pregnancy is huge and real. If I were to say to such a woman: “You just have to deal with that,” I think I’d be a crummy priest and person.
In those situations, a lot of listening needs to be done. Like other struggles, we look at the various options available and then seek God’s guidance as we make a decision. I’ve been with women who have chosen to go through with births and keep the child. Others have chosen to go through birth and give the child up for adoption. Others have chosen to abort the pregnancy. None have made any of those choices lightly. All of the choices involve hard work and prayer. And having options available is vital to health and well-being.
Were I, or the Church, or society, to remove the option of abortion altogether, we would be creating a culture of oppression. Abortion, like divorce, is not something that should be chosen lightly. But to eliminate it as a choice holds women in subjugation. The answer is not to remove abortion as an option but to apply compassion as people make choices.
God has woven choice into creation. Through our choices we find God’s guidance and make better and better choices. God does not force himself on any one of us. God loves unilaterally and invites us to choose love ourselves. The Church is not here merely to impose rules. The Church is here to apply God’s love to all people as they go through a life of choosing between difficult options. If we merely restrict options, we create oppression. As we apply God’s grace and love, we participate in redemption.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Joy and Concern
We pray for one who has died, Burke Fitzpatrick Chambers – mother of Marti Rice and sister of Tranum Fitzpatrick. Rest eternal, grant to her, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon her.