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July 11, 2012
Living with separation and divorce
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

There is nothing quite like the suffering that comes from separation or divorce.  The rupture is so deep that it radically re-arranges one’s life.  Nothing stays the same.  Each day is one of distress and tears.

The first rule for survival is to restore order where chaos has reigned.  Taking care of self, the children, and one’s employment must take priority.  Allow God’s human instruments to heal the family. Two well-established online agencies can help:  the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics and the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved.  The English-language edition of Maria Pia Campanella’s book, "The Gift of Self" has been widely praised as “a pastoral aid for spouses who are separated or divorced but remain faithful to their marriages in a society which tell them to ‘move on.’” 

It is essential to pray every day, however one can.  We can never forget that Jesus is the symbol of universal suffering, and that he is in solidarity with us, present and at work in the soul.  In the Agony in the Garden, Jesus is on the verge of crisis.  He prays not for strength, courage, and acceptance of his Father’s will.  What surprises us is the human repugnance, the horror, his revolt and effort to escape.  On the cross, he cries out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” but he does so without despairing but with utter trust in his Father.  The following psalms are prayers of consolation: Pss 43, 57, 73, 78, 79, 82, 88, 105, 136.  Pray the scriptural verse: “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).

Strong cultural pressure dictates that one should move on—that despite Church canons, one ought to live in an arrangement, not sanctioned by the Church, in an arrangement which brings other concerns.

In her book, "On Death and Dying," the Swiss physician, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, (d 2004) identifies five stages of loss experienced by terminally-ill cancer patients:  denial and isolation, anger and rage, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Because these stages of life are a universal principle, they are applicable to the separated and divorced.  

With the acceptance of one’s new status, there are countless opportunities for finding a way to live a creative and satisfying life.  The suffering will not go away, but the separated or divorced person can come to discern in prayer a new vocation that brings with it its own joys and fruitfulness.  Committing oneself to parish or civic activities is one place to start. Returning to school for an advanced degree or for a new professional or a vocational interest is another creative way to grow and to help others. There is life after this tragedy, and God has gifted each of us with ingenuity and creativity to transform our lives into a mosaic of supreme beauty.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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