20 Jul, Friday – On Annulment

Jul 20 – Memorial for St. Apollinaris, Bishop & Martyr

According to tradition, Apollinaris was a native of Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria. He was made the first Bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter during the persecutions of Emperor Vespasian (or Nero, depending on the source),

On his way out of the city he was identified, arrested as being the leader, tortured and martyred by being run through with a sword. Centuries after his death, he appeared in a vision to St. Romuald. He was a noted miracle worker, and is considered especially effective against gout and epilepsy.

– Wikipedia

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Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22,7-8

Hezekiah fell ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘The Lord says this, “Put your affairs in order, for you are going to die, you will not live.”’ Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and addressed this prayer to the Lord, ‘Ah, Lord, remember, I beg you, how I have behaved faithfully and with sincerity of heart in your presence and done what is right in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah shed many tears.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, “The Lord, the God of David your ancestor, says this: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will cure you: in three days’ time you shall go up to the Temple of the Lord.” I will add fifteen years to your life. I will save you from the hands of the king of Assyria, I will protect this city.”’

‘Bring a fig poultice,’ Isaiah said, ‘apply it to the ulcer and he will recover.’ Hezekiah said, ‘What is the sign to tell me that I shall be going up to the Temple of the Lord?’ ‘Here’ Isaiah replied’’ ‘is the sign from the Lord that he will do what he has said. Look, I shall make the shadow cast by the declining sun go back ten steps on the steps of Ahaz.’ And the sun went back the ten steps by which it had declined.

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Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus took a walk one sabbath day through the cornfields. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath.’ But he said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God and how they ate the loaves of offering which neither he nor his followers were allowed to eat, but which were for the priests alone? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

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“… how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering”

My husband and I celebrated our ‘first anniversary’ last week. We have been legally married for four years now, but it was only a year ago that we took our vows in God’s house. I didn’t wear a white dress, he didn’t wear a suit. There was no maid of honour, no ring-bearer boy, no audience of parents and loved ones. It was just us two, my RCIA directors, our parish priest … and God. This was the culmination of 3 years’ work, petitioning the Catholic Church for an annulment of his previous marriage. Divorce is a controversial issue, despite the Catholic Church’s efforts to be more inclusive. As part of the annulment process, my husband faced multiple rounds of scrutiny. Our friends and family had to vouch for his character. He was made to see a Church-approved psychiatrist so a third party could attest to his state of mind. It’s heart-breaking enough to go through a divorce, but the Church makes you rehash all the reasons why your marriage did not work out. And you’re asked to justify yourself to a panel of complete strangers. Something like this will test your bond as husband and wife. It will make you think hard about the covenant you’re asking to enter into a second time. Why should the Church grant you its blessing if you couldn’t make it work the first time? Those are the hard questions that you’ll get asked, questions with no easy answers, questions that will make you doubt yourself.

I was deeply moved by how much my husband loved me and his devotion to his faith and God. No one can accuse him of not being ‘Christian enough’; it is no small feat to take on the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and to keep at it for quite so long. He soldiered on for 3 years despite all their pushback, until we got an answer he was satisfied with. I thought he was valiant, tenacious, inspiring, faith-led. The experience opened my eyes to the depth of his commitment to us and his faith in God.

There’s much debate about whether the Catholic Church should be more merciful to those who have been divorced. Is it Christian compassion to turn away those who yearn to draw near to God? Christ was not afraid to draw close to sinners, why should the Church not try to do the same? If ours is a God of second chances, why should that grace not be extended to divorced believers? But I am not here to judge or complain about the Church. On the contrary, I am thankful to have been confirmed a Catholic. We will all have doubts at some point in our faith journey. To never question and never falter is to not fully engage your faith. The struggle of the annulment process strengthened us as husband and wife. It was one of the most revealing experiences of my faith journey. It gave me a new appreciation for the gravity of marriage as a covenant. James 2:17 says that faith without deeds is dead; I firmly believe that to be the case. You’ll never fully live your faith if you coddle yourself from confrontation, or hide from life’s hard knocks. Yes, there were times when I grew disillusioned with the harshness of the Catholic Church’s responses, but I was also reminded that within God’s house are people who believe in mercy, who are truly selfless, who practice compassion even if the ‘rulebook’ states otherwise, who model Christ’s forgiving heart. I am humbled by all those who helped us along the way. I feel I owe them a great debt for opening my eyes. Yes, the annulment process is a contentious one. If you’re thinking about it, know that your resolve and your relationship will be tested at every step. But take courage and hold on to God… and hold on to each other. It can be a process of great revelation. You will discover things about yourself, your marriage and your faith that you would never have the opportunity to know otherwise. In its own way, it is a blessing.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are dealing with divorce, who are struggling to move forward, who feel as if they are not worthy to be in Church. Christ came to heal the sick and the sinners. He redeemed us though we were unworthy. Christ has not given up on you, you don’t give up on Christ’s capacity to grant you a new life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who are led first by Christ’s love and compassion, who model His forgiving heart, whose gentleness speaks to great strength. We give thanks for all those that God sends to us, to help us when we are mired in the dark periods of our lives.

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