Never before have I been so interested to hear what comes from a gathering of bishops than I am now. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been all that interested, but this time is different. You see, the Synod of Bishops is gathering to discuss, among other things, the changing dynamic of the Catholic family and I am part of a family that falls into the “different” category. I am a divorced Catholic mom.
I wish I wasn’t part of this group. And even more, I wish this group wasn’t so large that it warranted a gathering of advisers to the Holy Father. But alas, this is my reality and the reality of the Church.
I always attended Mass alone. Occasionally my husband would go with me, but I knew it was awkward for him and it ended up being awkward for me, too. Once our first son was born, I sat in the pew, embarrassed, wondering what people thought about me. Mind you, I never got a judgmental look. It was all my own self-consciousness. I figured people thought I was a military wife, or that he had to work. I always made sure my wedding ring was visible. Until one day, it wasn’t.
To be a single parent at church is an interesting position. On one hand, it feels incomplete. I’d see the families who walk up for Communion together and hold hands during the final blessing and I always thought, That’s what I want. That’s what it should be. Being a single parent at church feels a little black-sheepish. There’s the single mom. The one who couldn’t keep her marriage together. I wonder what happened? Funny..the term “black sheep.” We are still sheep in need of a shepherd, but sometimes it feels like we don’t fit in with the flock.
On the other hand, in that pew with my sons feels like THE PLACE I HAVE TO BE. Raising children is hard, even in the best marriage. To do it in a divorced home feels like you’re walking on eggshells, waiting for the day you feel the repercussion of the split. The day the collateral damage it has done to your children finally comes to the surface. My ex-husband and I are working our tails off to do the very best we can to love each other and love our boys together as “mom and dad,” but it’s still scary to walk this road. So to be a single parent in the arms of the Church just feels right. God wants the broken, the hurt, the worried to come to Him. The oft-used quote “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” is 100% true, yet too many of the sinners whose imperfection is visible, like the single parent, run away because of embarrassment.
I say all this to ask you to do two things.
- Pray. Please pray for me and my family and for anyone who finds him or herself in this position. It’s not somewhere we want to be, but here we are. And pray that what comes from the Synod is what God wants for the Church.
- If you see a single parent at church or a parent who is coming without a spouse, and you feel that nudge from the Holy Spirit, don’t be afraid to say hello and offer some words of encouragement. I was so incredibly blessed to have people sit with me Sunday after Sunday to lend a hand. A friend who put her hand on my back on Easter Sunday as I bawled during the entrance hymn. A woman who sneaked into my pew and held my squirming baby so I could pray after Communion. I know what you’re thinking – If I walk up to someone I don’t know and speak up, she could tell me to mind my own business! What if she starts crying? To those excuses and any others you might be thinking, I would say, do it anyway. But do it with love. I believe that some parents are one snarled lip or shaking head away from not coming back to church again. So be the face of Christ- the face of love, compassion and mercy.
I wish I was not a divorced mom, but I am incredibly grateful that I am a divorced Catholic mom.
Have you seen a single-parent family at church? Have you been tempted to say something? If you didn’t, what stopped you?
Copyright 2015 Abby Brundage.
Photo: “The Black Sheep” by mwingine (2012) via freeimages.com