Pope Francis' statement is too late for me, but I'm OK with that now.
In August 2002, my divorce was final. When the judge signed the decree my immediate reaction was happiness. I thought I was free! I thought I would be happy (finally) because of a little ink on a piece of paper. Oh, the silly things I used to believe...
It didn't take long before I started to feel suffocated by guilt. I was sure that God was going to punish me (by death) for getting divorced AND that I deserved it.
A bit irrational? Maybe. But, seriously, how many people make it through divorce without at least one irrational thought?
For this particular thought though, I had help in coming up with it. You see I was raised pseudo-Catholic.
My parents were both raised Catholic and went to parochial schools. However, outside of the baptisms for my younger siblings and attending funerals, I don't remember us attending church as a family. Despite this, Catholic-ish teachings certainly made it into my psyche and one of those teachings was that if you got divorced, you committed a serious sin. So serious a sin that as a result you weren't allowed to be a part of the church anymore.
But, it wasn't only Catholic guilt that I felt after my divorce.
You see, shortly after meeting my first husband, I decided to embrace his religion and became a Southern Baptist. And guess what.... They didn't look too kindly on divorce either.
My beliefs of this double-religious guilt produced tremendous fears and I was so stress out that I developed hives. To help me relax and hopefully shed some of my guilt, I decided to take a vacation. But instead of looking forward to the trip, I found myself actually dreading it because I figured this would be God's chance to get me in a place crash. (Yeah, OK, I was pretty irrational by this point.)
As you probably guessed, God didn't take me out with a plane crash or in any other deathly way because I got divorced. (Unless you consider me ditching the guilt-ridden woman persona a death.) What did happen as a result of my divorce was that I explored religions and my relationship with God.
I think that if back then I had had some reassurance that my divorce was OK in the eyes of God, that I wouldn't have been so miserably distraught with guilt. So, from that standpoint I'm extremely grateful that Pope Francis made the statement:
"People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church."
I sincerely hope that his message eases the pain that many divorced and divorcing Catholics feel.
However, if I had had his reassurances 13 years ago, I doubt that I would be the person I am today: confident in my place as one of God's most loved children - just like everyone else.