"An annulment is a declaration by a Church tribunal (a Catholic church court) that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union."(so, to clarify, an annulment is not the same thing as a divorce; an annulment declares that a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church wasn't there) I've learned little tidbits about annulments here and there from Theology classes that I've taken, but my knowledge of the process is not that immense. And, I have to confess, the topic has always seemed rather faceless, clear-cut, and simple when drawn out on a classroom white board. I've never thought about the annulment process much, because it doesn't have an effect on me. How wrong and selfish I have been.
I have begun to realize that even though I-or other close family members-have not dealt with the annulment process personally does not mean that it has no significance for me. We are all connected, and the Catholic Church is one big, universal family-the people going through this process are connected to me, and I should not be indifferent to them. Instead of focusing my thoughts, prayers, and concerns only on what directly affects me, why can't I look outside of myself and pray for those seeking annulments? Why don't we talk about the importance of praying for those seeking annulments?
Because, whether you realize it or not, everyone involved in the annulment process needs prayers. I've been sending up prayers for Patty as she begins this process, but this topic still seems pretty far from me, so I don't think of it much. I tend to believe that many Catholics, like myself, have distanced ourselves from the realities of the annulment process-but last night, my perspective widened a bit. I was with a small group of people at my parish, and at one point, the discussion turned to annulments. I was surprised to see that half of the women present either have gone through or are currently going through the annulment process! As they began pouring out their stories, asking for prayers, and talking about this process, my heart was opened, and I looked at these women with new eyes. I cannot comprehend the pain and difficulty that they have gone through. As these women mentioned, the annulment process is supposed to bring healing and closure-but it can be very hard emotionally and mentally. Having to re-live painful memories of a past relationship (that they may have happened years earlier) is difficult. When the process of annulment takes a long time, that just makes things even more difficult.
As I told those in the group last night, I love learning the doctrine and teachings of the Catholic Church. But, sometimes, as I picture everything clear-cut, on the textbook page, I forget about all of the real people, with faces, hearts, stories, and lives, who are involved. It is good to have knowledge, yet it is also good to have the wisdom to be pastoral and implement that knowledge of unchangeable doctrine in the proper way. Last night, I began to more deeply appreciate the pastoral initiative of Pope Francis in his work regarding the annulment process. Leading up to the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis explained that the annulment process needs to become more streamlined and efficient (you can read more about what he did here). After talking with these women last night-one of whom was put through an unnecessarily long and drawn-out ordeal-I can start to see that making the annulment process more efficient seems like a very good thing.
So, keeping all of this in mind, let's remember to pray for those seeking annulments-for healing, peace, wisdom, clarity, and any other needs that they have. Let's also pray for those who work with the process, for their perseverance and wisdom as they try to smoothly and efficiently.
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Church Teachings: Annulments (these are some very informative FAQs)