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Crossing Over the Bridge: Outreach to Divorced Catholics

Before the pandemic limited access to health care facilities, I would go to Lake Regional Hospital every Thursday afternoon to visit the Catholic patients. The weekly roster would vary from eight to twelve Catholics each week. The
parishes surrounding the Lake shared in bringing communion each day to patients in the hospital in the
morning, and the priests of the four parishes would visit throughout the week to offer the sacrament of the

Times of illness are exceptional moments of grace. Our physical weakness can open us to God’s mercy as we face the limits of willpower, science, and our own mortality. Time and again I witnessed the power of the Divine Physician in
the face of human frailty. My visits to the hospital allowed me to encounter many people whom I would never otherwise see. In particular, I noted that about half of the folks I visited were not actively participating in the Eucharist and parish life at the Lake. The paths away from the Church are as varied as the rivulets that form at the deltas of the great rivers of the world.

Often, the disaffiliation took place in their youth as they moved away from home. A particular dynamic for the folks at the Lake is that they moved here some time ago and never managed to get connected to a parish here. Through the years, I have helped many reconnect with their Catholic faith. A simple encounter in the hospital has brought many back to the Church.

The most well-worn path away from the Church was that of someone whose marriage ended in divorce. The particulars may vary, but the common theme was that a divorce is not only the rupture of the relationship between spouses. The entire web of relationships with family, friends, community, and faith are affected. Divorce changes everything. One particular aspect of divorce is that one of the spouses and frequently both, is going to move. Moving from one community of faith to another is going to require effort to re-engage, an effort that often isn’t prioritized as the immediate impact of the dissolution of a household takes place. So the change in social framework after a divorce requires intentionality to stay connected with the Church.

My experience has been that at least one spouse is going to leave the community. It is very rare that I have encountered both former spouses attending the same church after a divorce. When we take into account
the faith development of the children in a crisis situation, we can only begin to appreciate the profound
impact that a divorce has on each member of the family’s faith. Divorce, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that you can’t participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Divorce doesn’t automatically excommunicate you!
Often people don’t realize this. But the consolation and strength of the sacraments gets lost in the turmoil
of life after a divorce. Add to this a remarriage that would require an annulment, and folks just meander
away from the Church, taking the path of least resistance.

To summarize: there are many Catholics here at the Lake who have been divorced. They need assistance in healing their relationship with God and His Church. I think of the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15: we must be like the shepherd, the widow and the father who search diligently for what was lost so we can share in the joy that comes with re-uniting with that which has been missing. We must be like our merciful God, who sent his only Son to seek out his lost children.

As part of our New Evangelization outreach which Linda Bukalski coordinates for the Education Commission, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church is now committing to outreach for Catholics who have gone through a divorce. On Saturday, April 17 at 10:00 AM in the Fellowship Hall, Jay and Linda Bukalski, the deacons and their wives, and I welcomed Deacon Turf Martin and Susan Couhig from St. Vincent in Sedalia to assist us in planning for this ministry. Deacon Turf has taken a leadership role in the Diocese of Jefferson City to foster outreach to divorced Catholics and Susan has participated in the ministry.

We have evaluated the programs that are common in the US church for parishes to promote, and have chosen the program by Vince Frese. He provides many resources for parishes to offer outreach to divorced Catholics, as well as resources for individuals who are in a stage of their journey toward healing.

At this time, we are seeking parishioners who are interested and willing to assist in building out this important ministry. Prayerfully reflect on this crucial issue that impacts so many Catholics and our community and see how you can help build a bridge to those who need healing and assistance.

Or perhaps someone you know would benefit by directed outreach to a divorced person, and you would like to know
more about this ministry to be able to refer someone to it. We would especially need a few people who would be willing to act as a facilitator for a study group, or just someone who would be a faith-filled friend to
someone who has begun the journey of healing and reconciliation. Please call the parish office, and let us know
if you are interested or email Linda Bukalski at