By Fr. Roy Cimagala

THOUGH I talk with a lot of young people, mostly students, I actually get to deal with older folks most of the time. And I must confess that one of the most difficult moments I have is when I have to grapple with painful cases of people with serious marital problems.

These are times when I pray really hard, importuning our Lord for more light and strength to bring me to see things more clearly and resolve them in the most prudent way.

Sometimes, I think there must be something really wrong in the air these days, because my impression is that now we have more couples whose marriages are in deep trouble.

There are times when I wish to run away from the cases, even to go as far as to tell off the persons involved, especially if at first glance I can already detect instances of stupidity committed by one or both of the parties.

I would rather wrestle, hands down, with the current global financial crisis than get mixed up in these complicated marital cases.

But I know fully well that that would not be priestly on my part. I cannot avoid the reality that like it or not, I have to handle these cases, especially if I wouldn’t have any other, more prudent priests to refer the persons to. I can’t deny it’s part of the pastoral care I have to give to everyone who comes.

And so, I just have to brace myself to take on that most delicate, agonizing and thankless task, listening to the endless twists and turns that the parties tell me, stretching my patience for as long as needed, and sharpening my wits and discerning powers.

At the end of the day, I feel many times completely drained. Aside from the monumental effort it requires for study, consultations, etc., it also entails, at least for me, a tremendous emotional stress. I can’t help but empathize with both parties, and thus I suffer with them.

No matter how much I try to protect and defend myself by intellectualizing or objectivizing things, the drama is usually so intense that it manages to get under my skin.

And that’s not the most difficult part. The most trying part is when you start to explain and clarify things. With emotions revved up to their limits, even defining the nature of marriage seems to need a first-class miracle.

Sometimes I get the impression it would be far easier to give a lecture on marriage to bulls and cows than to couples who are bent to decouple.

You can just imagine what is needed when you start making finer distinctions! Let me quote some recent words of Pope Benedict to the Roman Rota to give you an idea of some of these distinctions that need to be made:

“It is opportune,” he said, “to recall again some distinctions that draw the demarcation line above all between ‘psychic maturity which is seen as the goal of human development’ and ‘canonical maturity which is the basic minimum required for establishing the validity of marriage.’

“Secondly, the distinction between incapacity and difficulty insofar as ‘only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage.’

“Thirdly, the distinction between the canonistic dimension of normality, inspired by an integral vision of the human person that ‘also includes moderate forms of psychological difficulty,’ and the clinical dimension that excludes every limitation of maturity and ‘every form of psychic illness.’

“And lastly, the distinction between the ‘minimum capacity sufficient for valid consent’ and the idealized capacity ‘of full maturity in relation to happy married life.’”

I must say that even though I’m no canon lawyer, I suspect that many canon lawyers do not get these distinctions right. And that’s not surprising, since these distinctions are really very slippery to handle.

I feel that what’s needed is a sustained effort to catechize everyone about the nature and requirements of marriage, involving first of all our bishops and clergy, and the experts.

They should be generous and creative enough to make the finer points more understandable to all, especially those who are married or about to get married.