About a month ago I posted a blog item on “Divorce, Remarriage, and Moral Tragedy.” The point I tried to make is that some of those who argue for the Church taking a more lenient stance on these questions are confusing the possibility of forgiveness with the possibility of repairing the damage done by one’s sins. It is certainly possible to repent and be forgiven for even the worst misdeeds. But that is altogether different from pretending that the forgiveness can undo or render irrelevant the harm that has been done. Moreover, by some acts a person may put him or herself in a position in which it is impossible any longer to do right by everyone concerned.
The great Catholic novelist Sigrid Undset has one of her characters (in her celebrated historical novel, Kristin Lavransdatter) make this point more powerfully than I could. The central character, Kristin, wants to marry a man who has already had an adulterous affair with a married woman and fathered children by her. Kristin’s father, Lavrans, is very much opposed to this path. He says the following to his daughter:
But I wed not my daughter to a man who has two children by another’s wedded wife. You know that he has children? You are too young to understand that such a wrong breeds enmity in a kindred–and hatred without end. The man cannot desert his own offspring, and he cannot do them right . . . They were not flesh and blood, those children, if they hated not you and your children with a deadly hate. See you not Kristin–such sins as these–it may be that God may forgive such sins more easily than many others–but they lay waste a kindred in such wise that it can never be made whole again.
In all candor I have to admit that Kristin does marry the man, and it does not turn out as badly in this respect as her father predicted. On the other hand, it does not exactly turn out well, either.
In any case, it is a great book. Those who have not read it, should do so. Those who have, should read it again!