I come from a Southern Baptist tradition as does my wife Michelle. We are both divorced. I'm my wife's marriage #3 and she is my second. We have four prefab kids (my wife's kids), and one beautiful new daughter. Now the fairy-tale part -- we are both each other's first love from high school. One that we likely would have had for years had not a certain male teenager named Shaun gotten scared and dumped his first love. On Valentine's Day. Yeah, there was some baggage there that got mentioned at my first reconciliation.
As much as I love telling my fairy tale love story, this time we are talking about my spiritual journey. Or at least a part of it. Our annulments. My wife and I got married December of 2009, and we started RCIA in 2012. We still haven't formally entered the Church because of the long path of our annulments, and it's frustrating. Our new baby will be baptized in the Catholic Church before my wife and I officially convert. But both the Church and us, for that matter, believe that the annulment process is necessary. I've always thought the process is less about "following the rules" and more like the beginning of a truly healing process from a very painful period.
My wife and I were really blessed as we began our annulment process. Our priest explained it very well. By filling out the forms, and detailing the failures and other problems leading to your divorce, you (as well as the Tribunal hearing the case) get a picture of what went wrong and what failed. If I can lend a word of advice -- be brutally honest. It will only help. I'd pretty much beat myself up having stayed in a marriage about a decade longer than I should have. It was because of marriage and how I felt about it that I tried hopelessly to fix it.
"If I can lend a word of advice -- be brutally honest. It will only help."
During the annulment process you go over a ton of pain and hurt, often times (at least in my case) airing problems and issues that were never confessed to another human soul. Things that you have likely forgotten about or put aside. As you work with your advocate, the questions will likely come fast, furious, and deep. Your participation is vital to both the success and healing that are to come out of the process. Now I don't want to scare anyone but I don't want to sugar coat things either. The beginning of the annulment process is like treating a terrible infection. You will have to cut open your heart, expose the diseased tissue of your failed marriage to the light. This process hurts at first. That said, it's about the best relief (next to the Sacrament of Reconciliation) that we as Catholics will receive in this life.
You will also bring to light things that you NEED to keep from repeating in your "new" marriage. In order to learn from our mistakes, in order to get the most out of the annulment process, we must take all the failures (big and small) and apply them to our current marriages. In my own personal case, I was responsible for the separation and subsequent divorce. I was responsible for accepting distance and disconnect. I was also responsible for an accelerated courtship and marriage simply because it meant I wouldn't be living "in sin." Take that responsibility on yourself, take that right on up and offer it to God and get the heck rid of it. Bring that sin to light and burn the crap out of it. Take the failure, own it, learn from it, and become a better spouse and Catholic for it.
"Bring that sin to light and burn the crap out of it. Take the failure, own it, learn from it, and become a better spouse and Catholic for it."
Our priest also emphasized that the Marriage Tribunal wasn't adversarial. Meaning, that the Tribunal and your priest advocate work together to determine the outcome. Now, that's not to say that everyone is working for an annulment ruling. That's not the case. Certainly, I wouldn't want it to be that simple or that much like a kangaroo court. No, it means that the judges are careful to explore all avenues rather than rush to a quick and easier verdict.
During our annulment process my wife and I really thought that hers would be the most difficult since she was not only married twice, but to Catholics to boot. I was married to a Baptized Lutheran, and the wedding was celebrated in my home by a Presbyterian minister who was a friend of the family. It definitely seemed to us that I would be the easy one. Well, not so fast. Turns out both of her marriages to Catholics happened outside of the church, so they were never really a sacrament -- never valid in the first place. But because of the acceptance of marriages from other faith traditions, my annulment, sadly, has actually turned into the harder of the two. It's frustrating but it has been a great teaching tool as I've really done my own homework on the Sacrament of marriage and why it means so much.
Likely, there are many Catholics that are seriously considering ignoring the annulment process. Heck, they may even partake in the Eucharist. I mean it's not like they are checking your "Get to Partake in the Host" Card as you walk up. Some might even say to ignore the annulment because "God has already forgiven you; annulments are simply the laws of the church or laws of men." The truth of the matter is that we do have several "rules and laws" that we are to follow. None of them were meant to be easy or kind. It's not a deli where we get to make our own God sandwich. No. We need to actually pick up our Cross. It isn't meant to be easy and we're told that time and time again.
"It's not a deli where we get to make our own God sandwich. No. We need to actually pick up our Cross."
When my wife and I go to Mass, neither of us receives the Eucharist. It is painful, but it's been a fantastic witnessing tool. Every week the parish sees our family line up; and every week they see my teenage stepson and 11 year old stepdaughter receive the Eucharist. Then come me, my wife, my baby and my 7 year old receiving a blessing. It's hard, but we accept our current state and use it to show everyone that will listen why things are the way they are. In a nutshell, we take up this particular cross every time we go to Mass in the hopes that non-Catholics will be unafraid to join us in denying themselves the Eucharist, and current Catholics truly take the time to consider that annulment problem that they might be ignoring.
We're now entering year two of our annulment proceedings. I'm guessing that my wife's is pretty much complete and they are waiting to rule on mine. It's been an integral part of my learning about the Church. I have forty some odd years to make up learning about everything Catholic. It's a hard and challenging process and it's entirely possible that my annulment will not be accepted and I will be married to another woman according to the church. A scary thought indeed. That said, I'm willing to pick up my Cross, accept the grace granted to me and bask in my new faith tradition.
Cradle Catholics really have no idea of the gem they've had all their lives. The Church is one of the few places where the process/act/ceremony of marriage is still holy. Still valued, and most importantly still sacramental. I've always held marriage as a promise between three parties -- a man, a woman, and God. My dedication and the Church's dedication to the "institution" of marriage has made the annulment process that much easier to swallow and to endure.
Thankfully, my daughter of six months is going to know nothing but the Catholic tradition and for that I'm beyond thankful. So if you've been putting off having the annulment and it's prevented you from coming home to the Universal Church, stop that thinking right now. Start that healing right away rather than allow the infection to fester. Find a parish, a pastor, and a Church family that cares and wants the best for you. I'm a very lucky man to have found all of that in one try.