My husband and I recently celebrated the first anniversary of our marriage in the Church – even though we’ve been married six years. We were originally married civilly in a small ceremony in October, 2008. But this year we had our marriage convalidated, which is the official recognition of our civil marriage by the Catholic Church, elevating it to a sacramental marriage.
Marriage means so much more to me now than the first time I said “I do.” I now know that marriage is a gift from God, and not to be entered into lightly.
Most of my friends and family know that I was married before. My ex-husband and I had dated for five years before we married. We lived together beforehand, and although we were both cradle Catholics, neither one of us lived a very religious life. We attended the required pre-cana training for months, had a Catholic wedding ceremony, and then continued on with life as we always had. Nothing we learned or experienced changed our thoughts or values, or what marriage meant to us.
We divorced civilly less than two years after our wedding day. We chose to do this as amicably as possible. We had no children and didn’t share any bank accounts or property, so the separation was easier than many couples experience.
Within two weeks of the finalization of my civil divorce, I was diagnosed with leukemia, which made me question my life, death, and what was important to me. I received the Anointing of the Sick and spoke with a priest who said that God loves each of us, even if we are divorced. At one time during my treatment, I felt a deep sense of peace that I was loved by God and that everything would be all right, even if I died because of my illness. It greatly affected how I viewed my life from then on. I met my second husband shortly thereafter.
I didn’t begin the Catholic process of annulment until two years after that, when I was already civilly married to my second husband.
I had been back and forth with wanting to be “whole” in the Church for a few years before I actually sought an annulment. The process of civil divorce is quite different than the process of annulment in the Catholic Church. Depending on the state you live in, civil divorce can be mostly about filing the correct paperwork and paying the required fees. But divorce doesn’t exist in the Catholic Church. An annulment means that your marriage was never actually valid. It was missing one or more of the required aspects that make it binding in the first place.
Many people believe that if you offer the Church enough money, you can get an annulment no matter what. This is simply false. I paid nothing to the Church in the process of my annulment. Some people may offer donations, but there is no guarantee what the results will be. You have to wait and hope throughout the process.
And what a process it is. You are required to meet with a priest who is part of a marriage tribunal and verbally recount your story. You also do this in writing. Your ex- spouse is also encouraged to participate. Other friends and family on both sides are asked for their testimony. It can take years. Mine took two years from start to finish. Every piece to this process is inspected closely to come up with a final determination. There is a back and forth with the responses to each inquiry.
It is a challenge to wait, especially if you have already moved forward with another relationship in your life. I often questioned all the “rules and regulations” that the Church had for marriage and living one’s life. I would try to become comfortable with the philosophy that my father and many friends had, that if you were a good and loving person, you were OK with God (if He even existed) and everything would be all right; that sin really didn’t exist as I had learned it. But there was something so deep and eternal about the Church and at mass that seemed to go beyond the feel-good philosophies I was trying to adopt.
Our parish priest met with me frequently during this time and helped me to understand what I was feeling, and why an annulment did indeed matter for me. He helped guide me to start the annulment, and redirected me at the times I drifted away again during the process. I also couldn’t receive communion during this time which made me feel like I was missing out on the grace that might help me get through the ordeal.
I may not have made it through without his support. But it was totally worth it. There were many times I simply wanted to give up and tried to convince myself it didn’t matter whether the Church granted me the annulment. But deep down I knew it did.
My husband and I celebrated when my annulment was granted, and then began the next step of having our marriage recognized. Since then we have been blessed with a son and are currently expecting our second child.
To those of you who are divorced and ready to start dating, begin the annulment process, and finish it first before they begin dating. It has a healing quality that may be helpful before you date again. It helped me to understand just how important and sacred marriage is. This is essential to understand for any faithful Catholic who is considering dating. The waiting is difficult, but ultimately is a wonderful time to draw close to God, to discern his will for our lives, and how we are to live moving forward.
To all those contemplating starting this process or who are already in it, stay the course! No matter the result, you can find consolation and healing. Pray often and ask Mary for help and courage to make it through. I will be praying for you as well.