The Church often finds herself in that tension between the ideal and the real – between the theological vision of wholeness and the lived experience of brokenness. The situation of marriage and family in the 21st Century is one of those places of tension. Divorce, annulment, marriage, and Pope Francis have been in the Catholic News a lot lately. And I find my own personal lived experience weighing heavy on my heart.
What Catholic News? The papal-celebrated-weddings:
…and the upcoming Synod of Bishops:
I have talked about my experience of divorce before, but not so much about my annulment. At the time, I was in my first year of teaching theology in a Catholic high school; a job I was elated to have… a job I felt called to do. When I pursued a nullity of marriage, it was not because of an impending re-marriage. It was because I needed a spiritual cleansing. I needed this off my permanent record.
Honestly, the annulment process did not achieve that spiritual cleansing for me. I wish it did. I wish there was some prayerful recognition of closure that was more spiritual than a stamped letter in the mail.
Though the grace of the Holy Spirit came through my family, friends, and therapist… though the pastor that worked with me was kind and wise and patient… though healing and wholeness came, I will never forget the deep spiritual longing that I felt.
I love that the Church is discussing divorce, annulment, and remarriage. I love that it is recognized as a pastoral problem that needs to be addressed. I love that Cardinal Walter Kasper–a prominent German theologian and former Vatican official–has suggested one approach that the Church might consider in the Synod is to allow divorced and remarried Catholics (whose previous marriages are not anulled) to receive Communion provided they display “a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength.”
“a source of strength…”
Theologically, the Church holds the Sacrament of Marriage in high regard; an annulment declares that something essential was missing, the marriage was not sacramental, and it is possible to dissolve. What Cardinal Kasper is suggesting is not that the Church relaxes its teaching on Marriage, but rather that for people in deep spiritual longing, the Sacrament of Eucharist may be a source of strength.
From my own experience, I have to say my greatest hopes and deepest prayers are that the Synod find a way to better minister to the brokenness.