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Annulment, Calling, Marriage, Sacraments, Vocation
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Divorce, Annulment, Marriage, and Pope Francis

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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:

Presiding over the wedding of 20 couples in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis celebrated marriage as the union of a man and woman playing complementary roles during their common journey through life…The newlyweds ranged in age from 25 to 56 and represented a variety of situations, with some already having children or having lived together before marriage. (Source Catholic News Service

…and the upcoming Synod of Bishops:

An international gathering at the Vatican this fall will be attempting to decide what to do about [the situation of marriage and family in the 21st Century].  Convoked by Pope Francis and with assemblies scheduled this October and next, the synod represents an effort at the top levels of the Church not just to identify the problems facing marriage but, if possible, point to solutions. Pastoral care for people whose unions fall seriously short of the ideal — a category that includes divorced and remarried Catholics whose first marriages haven’t been annulled — will be discussed in that context. (Source OSV Newsweekly)

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.

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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.


Photo by Paul Haring/CNS

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