Welcome to the next installment of UNYOKED: Healing After Divorce. This series will answer some questions and address some common issues that divorcees face while still trying to live out the Faith. We will share some personal experiences, some stories from other divorcees, explore what the Church teaches, the process of annulment, and try to answer some of your questions as they come up.
As Catholics we are called to live out our vocations faithfully focused on Christ and trusting the Church to lead us. As we know, the vocation of marriage does not always end in “happily ever after,” but sometimes in divorce. Though stories of broken lives are as unique as the people who experience this heartbreak, one thing is still true: these individuals are still called to holiness. And we, as the body of Christ, are to embrace and pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in their joys and trials, which may include divorce.
If you happen to be a faithfully practicing Catholic, and are also a divorcee, you may experience a certain awkwardness while still attempting to be actively involved in the Church. Articles that speak of how to faithfully practice the faith in a deeper way with your spouse may tug at your heart strings, while you think to yourself, “I really wanted that for us”, or “I always thought that our life would be like that.” Seminars on how “you and your spouse can be good examples of a faith filled marriage” may sting a little bit, but you’ll still try to incorporate those ideas as best you can all while still single-parenting. Perhaps amidst the brokenness, your ex isn’t in agreement in raising your children in the Faith, and so you struggle to instill in your children the Truth knowing they will receive information contrary to that over the weekend with the other parent. The scenarios can be many, but the weight behind them is the same. You don’t fit the projected ideal anymore. A perspective shift is needed both within yourself, and respectfully from others.
“We must not be discouraged by our faults, for children fall frequently.”
– St. Therese of Lisieux
What does the Church offer the divorced person seeking healing and wholeness? We look to Her for guidance and for a way of becoming whole once again. We seek God’s will in our life, still. The preceding breakdown of a marriage, the final break down that led to the divorce, and the aftermath can leave a person of faith feeling stripped bare, raw, and even sometimes traumatized. This was, after all, someone that we’d anticipated living out our days and our faith with, raising our children with, loving God with. And it all came crashing down around us. Perhaps it was a shocking revelation when our ex served us papers that left our idealistic expectations in the dust, and us grasping for some understanding. Or perhaps it was no shock at all, but still we held on to some sliver of hope with an unrealistic idea of how it would all go down. Whichever way it was, it can leave us a bit shell shocked at first, before bitterness or anger sets in, confusion. Grief. Perhaps a sadness and grief, followed by, “Now what?” The good news is that when we are seeking God’s will for our lives, even after divorce, He isn’t going to leave us hanging. He offers a beginning to healing with the process of acquiring a Decree of Nullity which can be a stepping stone to healing.
A Decree of Nullity, in my opinion, is one of the most compassionate responses to a divorced person that the Church can offer. Even more than counseling, (which I can’t put enough value on), a Decree of Nullity gets to the heart of the matter in a hurry. If I’m being honest here, the process is unpleasant. It requires a lot of you. It requires a degree of humility and trust that can be hard to accept especially after having endured the difficulties of divorce. If, like myself and many other people I’ve spoken with, you’ve endured a very high level of conflict in the process of divorce, you may look at the idea of rehashing all that was before, during and after your marriage as something you would rather push the delete button on. You’d rather simply wipe if from your memory like it never happened and move on without having to relive it ever again. The Church asks a lot of us when it hands us several pages worth of questions about the very intimate parts of our life that may have been dysfunctional. Why would I want to share with strangers about my sex life? Why would I want to relive abuse from my childhood? Why do they need to know all of this? The Church, as with everything, moves slowly and methodically through things to come to a complete, whole, all encompassing understanding of a subject before it declares anything. That is the way it has always been throughout Church history. They study your answers, and the nuances of your life story so as to have a clear picture of where you started before you even got to the altar to utter “I do”. The compassion for us divorcees is found in the long awaited answers. We already know that we are broken people, but through this process the Tribunal offers us an insight into the underlying issues that have formed us, formed our relationship with our spouse, and offers us a reason.
A few people I’ve spoken with have mentioned that the reason given for the granting of their Decree of Nullity was not what they were expecting. Perhaps it was due to sexual abuse before their marriage that was never addressed. Maybe it was due to other childhood trauma, the breakdown of their own immediate family, someones addiction, abuse, neglect. It could be any number of reasons. The process of the annulment requires several people to review your case and study it through the eyes of Canon Law, and even in-person interviews, as they seek to understand your particular case. It is as unique as you are. They are looking for anything that could have hindered your ability to truly be able to live out the Sacrament of Marriage in a healthy manner. And on the other side of that, there is also a person to defend the bond of marriage, a devil’s advocate, if you will. No marriage is perfect, and maybe it was a case of two people not submitting to God’s will for their lives. These are things they are seeking to discover. Through the study of your life, relationships and marriage, the Tribunal comes to a conclusion that ultimately offers you an insight into where things may have hindered your “yes”. For myself, I took this as the Holy Spirit letting me know what I needed to work on, seek help for, and educate myself about with regards to the Sacrament of Marriage and my personal growth in faith and life.
The blessing comes in having the brokenness revealed to you so that you can seek healing and wholeness again. I love that saying about the church being a hospital for the sick and broken, rather than a hotel for the well. The Annulment doesn’t erase what took place during that time in your life (marriage), excuse abuse if there was any, or place blame. But it offers you a jumping-off point (a diagnosis) for God to lead the way to a healthier and more holy you. God wants for us to be happy and healthy and holy. Perhaps you even desire to be married and live out a Sacramental marriage as you’ve come to understand it through the teachings in the Catechism. When we are able to address those parts of us that are broken, it helps us to heal and have more understanding to be able to proceed forward in a way that is closer to how God wants us to live. This is exactly what the annulment can reveal– the underlying cause of the sickness or brokenness that led to the divorce, and that can ultimately lead to our healing again.
Rehashing and reviewing my answers to the Tribunal was one of the most difficult experiences of my life because I was laid bare, with all my faults and all my failings. Let me offer you an invitation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the process of seeking your own Annulment. Go and receive the peace that Jesus offers through Confession. It is the one thing that helped me get through it. God gave me forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession, so I knew that when I had to write about things that would perhaps be humiliating and painful, God had already forgiven me in the Sacrament. (And maybe gave me extra Grace to face this challenge.) I was simply witnessing my brokenness to man so that they could offer me further healing. Trust me when I tell you, the Tribunal and all the people involved in the process of reviewing your case have read stories like yours…and far worse. Be at peace knowing that ultimately, the Tribunal has your desire for “wholeness” in mind.
If at this time you feel unable to approach this process, fear not. The Sacraments are still available to you to help you heal in the mean time. I think I would be negligent if I avoided sharing that the benefits of the Sacraments are essential to your healing, and can help you get to where you need to be, both mentally and emotionally, to be able to face the annulment process. There in lies the graces that we need to be faithful servants, even if this experience of divorce were not a part of our life. Be faithful to Our Lord in his call to you to continue to seek Him out even if you can’t fathom approaching the Tribunal yet. Trust that He will lead you where you need to go, and trust in His timing. The Lord wants us to be whole and healthy, and if you are seeking healing, be assured that He is seeking to heal your heart even more than you can imagine.
Please subscribe to Catholic Sistas if you would like to keep up with this series! There is much more to discuss and share on the topic of healing after divorce. Also, if you have a personal story or subject with regards to divorce and healing that you think would be of benefit to others to discuss, you can email me directly. My purpose for this series is to help us to touch on the topics that may be seen as taboo/awkward so that we can find answers and heal both as individuals and as a community.
FOR THE ANNULMENT PROCESS
Your local parish office/Tribunal office, and/or your parish priest