Newlywed Life | A Responsibility to be Obedient

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

The first sin in the Garden of Eden was the sin of disobedience. Baptism is the initial sacrament in our Christian journey which cleanses the stain of original sin. 

At the moment of our baptism, we no longer belong to ourselves, but we “belong… to him who died and rose for us.” With the grace of the sacrament comes a responsibility to live in service, obedience and submission to God and the Church. The stain of original sin predisposes us to temptation, to fall away from God throughout our lives.

Throughout the lifespan, every sacrament, including the Sacrament of Matrimony, is a gift from God to empower men and women in their journey of service, obedience, and selfless submission.  

PHOTOGRAPHY:     DU CASTEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Obedience is about responding to a call or a command. Children learn obedience in the home through the instruction and discipline of their parents. An obedient child is one who hears an instruction from a parent and responds appropriately and respectfully. In much the same way, our “grown up” responsibility requires adults to hear the command of God the Father and respond appropriately and respectfully. 

When the two become one flesh, man and woman are called to obey for the sake of their beloved, either in protection of or nurture for the other. And through marriage and family life, spouses collaborate to fulfill God’s commands and live as visible signs of his unconditional love. 

One must first discern the will of God before exercising freedom and choosing to obey him. 

Do you know the call God is asking you to obey? As it may relate to you in your individual life or within the context of your marriage, God yearns to be heard. He speaks through the big moments of our lives as well as the quiet movements in our hearts. In order to discern his will, we must create a space to ponder him--in the Mass, prayer, confession, and personal reflection. 

In the chaos of our lives, the will of God can be muffled amidst external responsibilities or expectations from others. 

Work can be a source of complication; for example, ‘I am confident God called me to this job, but my employer is asking me to sacrifice family dinner in order to meet a deadline... is God asking me to surrender family time for this job?’ 

In another context of extended family life, ‘I strive to honor my mother and father, yet they expect me and my husband to abandon our weekly date-night in order to spend more time with them; is God asking me to abandon intimate time with my husband in order to obey my parents?” 

These questions—and the decisions we must make—are complex and complicated. There is not often a clear “right or wrong” answer. Returning to a process of prayerful discernment and an examination of conscience may provide clarity in making the best choice.

Woman and man were created as reciprocal helpmates for each other. Through the gift and grace of marriage, couples can discern, discuss, and set boundaries for decision making in accordance with both God and their personal family values. 

Making a decision to protect personal intimacy with God and spouse may not be understood by others. Such unpopular boundaries may parallel an experience of Christ’s carrying of the cross; by fulfilling God’s design for his life with obedience, he received blows to his body from his peers and community members. 

An act of obedience, as established through Baptism, is to obey the will of God. As established through Marriage, holy obedience is a means for joint sanctification of both spouses. 


“Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.”


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Unveiling Mystery | Venerable Fulton Sheen on Sacramental Marriage

MARIAH MAZA

 

We know through the wisdom of Scripture and tradition that Christian marriage, a lifelong, indissoluble covenant between two baptized persons, is a sacrament. In the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he speaks about the self-giving love of husbands and wives and how this love reflects the love of Christ for his bride, the Church. 

Through Jesus, marriage is elevated to something more profound, divine, and mysterious. At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul confirms this: “This (marital love) is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” This “great mystery” of marital love is something sacramental.

PHOTOGRAPHY:    THE MANTILLA COMPANY

In fact, the origin of the word “sacrament” can be traced back to the Greek word mysterion meaning “mystery.” In return, the Latin word mysterium can be translated to mean “sacrament.” This is why, in the Byzantine Rite, the seven sacraments are referred to as the Holy Mysteries.

But these sacraments, despite being “mysterious” by their very nature, are something intended for us to enter into. The mysteries of the Church are not to remain shrouded in secret. God desires to reveal the divine beauty and reality of them to us through his grace. This element of mystery and the subsequent “unveiling” of it is especially true in marriage.

Soon-to-be-beatified Archbishop Fulton Sheen had a deep understanding of the divine mystery of sacramental marriage, despite his unmarried state in the priesthood. In his spiritual classic Three to Get Married, he writes, “great are the joys in marriage, as there is the lifting of progressive veils, until one is brought into the blazing lights of the Presence of God.” 

He wrote about four main mysteries, or “veils,” progressively lifted in marriage as a couple journeyed deeper and deeper into the sacrament: 

“In a true marriage, there is an ever-enchanting romance...First, there is the mystery of the other partner, which is body-mystery.”

Before marriage, a couple’s growing desire for intimacy manifests on multiple levels: emotional, spiritual, and physical. But until the sacrament is conferred, the ultimate expression of this desire for intimacy, for complete communion--for consummation--cannot yet be experienced. In the marriage vows, “both give themselves definitively and totally to one another. They are no longer two; from now on they form one flesh” (CCC 2364). Now the beauty of marital intimacy can be fully expressed in the spouses’ one flesh union. The first “veil” is lifted, because the beloved becomes totally known emotionally, spiritually, and physically in the sexual act of complete self-gift.

“When that mystery is solved and the first child is born, there begins a new mystery. The husband sees something in the wife he never before knew existed, namely, the beautiful mystery of motherhood. She sees a new mystery in him she never before knew existed, namely, the mystery of fatherhood.”

The Church teaches that “conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment” (CCC 2366). The mystery of sacramental marriage does not end after the wedding night, but rather grows and deepens through the fruitfulness of that consummation. 

Many times, that fruitfulness comes in the form of a child. And as a husband and wife welcome the birth of their child, an incredible transformation occurs in their hearts: the birth of their identities as mother and father. This reveals a facet of the beloved previously unknown. Spouses can delight in the unveiling of motherly and fatherly love they witness in each other with the onset of parenthood.

“As the children reach the age of reason, a third mystery unfolds, that of father-craft and mother-craft – the disciplining and training of young minds and hearts in the ways of God.”

Proverbs 22:6 admonishes parents to “train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” And thus, another mystery unfolds in marriage: the mystery of the “domestic church.” Husbands and wives, now mothers and fathers, take on the responsibility of spiritually forming the souls of their children. They strive in family life to imitate the Holy Family where Christ himself was born and raised. To do this, the spouses must continue to lean on the endless graces of the marriage sacrament, which, in its fruitfulness, has only grown in life and love since their wedding day.  

“As the children grow into maturity, the mystery continues to deepen, new areas of exploration open up, and the father and mother now see themselves as sculptors in the great quarry of humanity, carving living stones and fitting them together in the Temple of God, Whose Architect is Love.”

As parents watch their children grow in age and virtue, they witness the fruits of their prayers and spiritual formation. In time, patience, and trust in the Lord, spouses can hope to see their sons and daughters become saints who take their place in salvation history. 

At this point the time before children, when the “body-mystery” of their one flesh union was yet to be unveiled, is many years past. But the mysteries of sacramental marriage continue, until, in the words of Fulton Sheen, husband and wife are “brought into the blazing lights of the Presence of God,” when Heaven itself is unveiled. “The body may grow older,” says Archbishop Sheen, “but the Spirit grows younger, and love often becomes more intense.”

If you are engaged, the excitement of these unknowns becoming known is something to joyfully anticipate as your wedding day approaches. If you and your beloved are newlyweds, perhaps you have already experienced the sacred beauty that awaits behind one or two of these “veils.” May you find joy in the unending mystery of the sacrament and strength in the graces God desires to lavish on you and your beloved.

Venerable Fulton Sheen, pray for us, for all engaged couples preparing for marriage, and for newlyweds just beginning to unveil the mysteries of the sacrament.


About the Author: Mariah Maza is Spoken Bride’s Features Editor. She is the co-founder of Joans in the Desert, a blog for bookish and creative Catholic women. Read more

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Becoming Radically Available to Love

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

Nearly 18 months ago, my friend returned from her inaugural FOCUS missionary training with a palpable enthusiasm to build community, love others, and make her love for Jesus visible in the world. She returned with a suitcase full of books, business cards, pamphlets, and ideas. She was eager to fundraise her salary and move to a new college campus for the start of the school year with the undergraduate students she would come to know, mentor, and disciple towards Christ. She was ready to serve where God had called her.

Her selfless demonstration of service as a missionary has influenced and inspired my identity as a wife.

PHOTOGRAPHY:   MEL WATSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Although I admired my friend’s zest and zeal through her process of discerning missionary life, I was cautiously curious about the details of her new routines. What was it, exactly, that she would do once she arrived on campus? I have not forgotten her response to my question:

“It’s about being radically available for others.”

This use of radically enlists a sense of wonder and mystery. Being available for someone is standard, like answering the phone but calling back later if something is going on. But being radically available means clearing the schedule and committing the rest of the day to talking on the phone.

While she committed to a dating fast for her first year on the job, I discerned my vocation to married life. Months later, her commitment to be radically available for her students has influenced my understanding of what it means to be a Christian wife in service of God and my husband. All in all, we are talking about vocations to love.

A holy missionary is wholeheartedly committed to being a faith-filled friend, mentor, confidant, and image of Jesus. We can look at the way Saint Mother Teresa befriended families in India and how Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati gave the coat off his back to the underdressed stranger. We may recognize missionaries in our midst and see how they surrender their plans and expectations to answer a call from God to build community with others.

Although I am not called to serve as a missionary in the world, do I bring a missionary heart of charity, service, and friendship into my own home?

To be radically available to another reminds me of the standard “stop, drop, and roll!” response when a person catches on fire. Yet when a significant matter arises in someone’s life, it is the one who is radically available who lovingly stops and drops everything in order to roll to the other’s side.

Saying I do on the marriage altar opens a door to the daily invitation to love my spouse. To love is more than an emotion, it is an act of the will. There are a number of factors that affect our heart’s approach to service: external pressures, internal insecurities, hormonal mood swings, lack of exercise or sleep, political conflict, social conflict, and simply feeling overwhelmed (to name a few). But we make a vow to love--and to serve--on the good days and the bad days.

Yet, in truth, I wrestle with the tension between selflessness and self-care. Christ tells us, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Does this mean we can momentarily push pause on loving others so we can escape to love on ourselves? How much am I willing to surrender for the sake of my spouse’s joy? Or comfort? My God-given responsibility as a wife is to work for my husband’s salvation; is his earthly happiness worth sacrificing my own personal pleasures, comforts, and opinions on certain matters?

Consider decisions as small as keeping the thermostat at a certain temperature, agreeing on specific holiday traditions, or choosing between music, television or silence as background noise in your home. Then there are decisions to read a book alone or spend quality time together, to sleep in or wake up early to make breakfast for your spouse.

Even in meager moments of surrender, I am encouraged by C.S. Lewis’ wisdom to “submit to death of your ambitions and favorite wishes… and you will find eternal life.” I am increasingly intrigued by the invitation to be radically available than by the alternative to be content in my own pleasures.

In every decision to choose the other, our individual identities fade and we become more fully united through acts of love.

As Catholics, we are privy to the benefits of the sacraments—and prayer—as fuel to keep loving when our tanks run low. Christ also says to “love others because he loved us first.” He makes himself radically available so that we, too, may love with an everlasting love—on the good days and the bad days.

Living a life of service and radical availability can challenge both our human nature and cultural norms. Who do we look to as models of charity? How often do we receive God’s merciful love to refill our tank? Do we elicit affirmation from others as permission to turn inwardly or as encouragement to serve others with virtue?

My prayer is that you and I can make a choice to fulfill the call to love by being radically available to someone this week, with the persistent hope of establishing ever-deeper bonds of charity in our homes and communities.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. Stephanie’s perfect day would consist of a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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6 Ways to Have a Spiritually Rich Wedding Rehearsal

What are your rehearsal dinner plans?

Though the rehearsal evening is traditionally hosted by the groom’s family, you and your beloved can still take on a role--whether privately or with your wedding party and family members--in planning a spiritually rich evening, one rich in gratitude and anticipation.

Photography: Spoken Bride Vendor    Evan Kristiansen Photography

Photography: Spoken Bride Vendor Evan Kristiansen Photography

Many brides say their actual wedding day passes in a blur, with little one-on-one time for quality conversation with each and every guest. In some ways, the rehearsal dinner is like a mini-reception: joy and celebration, with more freedom of time and leisure in an intimate setting with those you’re closest to. Here, to reflect that spirit of joy and closeness, our suggestions for a spiritually significant rehearsal.

Go to Mass with your fiancé the morning of.

With such an extensive list of last-minute details and events, time with your fiancé to simply be, to absorb the reality of the transformation about to take place, can be hard to come by. Taking a few hours for a final date as an engaged couple, to daily Mass and coffee, provides a welcome respite and strengthens you in the Eucharist.

Have your celebrant(s) hear confessions.

Entering into marriage with the clearest conscience and a heart as fully disposed to grace as possible is a great gift. Ask your priest(s) to hear you and your beloved’s confessions in the chapel at the conclusion of the rehearsal and, if time allows, invite your wedding party and families to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, as well.

Attend, or host, a holy hour.

Ask your celebrant to expose the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration following the rehearsal and before your meal--if you’re planning to provide confession, it can be held during this hour of reflection. Consider extending the invitation to all guests who are able to attend, and to inviting musically gifted friends to provide praise and worship or chant.

Share a personal piece of your faith.

When distributing gifts to your wedding party and family and/or assembling welcome bags, it’s beautiful to give your guests an insight into your spiritual life as a couple. Including a custom prayer card, saint medal and short bio, or a book that’s resonated in your relationship is a gift of faith, an expression of who you are, and an invitation to learn.

Looking for ideas? Start here:

Personalized holy cards | Gifts and artwork by Spoken Bride Vendors | Spiritual reading recommendations from our community

Ask for a blessing.

Have your priest pray and give a blessing over attendees at the end of the evening.

What if not everyone is on board?

As unifying as your wedding day is--on many levels--the pain of division can also arise in instances where your loved ones are not Catholic or not practicing the faith.

If you’ve attended or read about other weddings wherein the couple, their parents, and their siblings are all entirely present at pre-wedding prayer time and immersed in the Mass, fight the urge to compare your own situation.

In some families, the Lord works through many, and in others, through certain individuals--perhaps you and your fiancé, in this instance--whom he calls to witness to the fullness and beauty of the faith to loved ones.

If inviting others into your pre-wedding spiritual plans will cause tension, allow yourselves the freedom to experience them privately as a couple. That might mean staying alone in the chapel after the rehearsal for some moments of prayer--or even Adoration--praying a novena that ends on your wedding-day eve, or praying together in the car on your way to dinner. Know that no matter how “Catholic” your wedding appears on an invitation, the actions you choose and emotions that arise in your own hearts are what truly invite the Lord into your celebration.

Did you incorporate a spiritual element into your rehearsal? Share the practices that have deepened the final 24 hours before your walk up the aisle in the comments and on our social media.

Here, read our tips for making the most of the moments immediately before your wedding Mass.

Engagement + Newlywed Retreats, Part II | How to Plan Your Own Personal Retreat

This post is the second of a two-part series. Find Part I, our regional guide to the best retreats for Catholic couples, here.

If you and your beloved crave a respite from wedding planning or life’s busyness--quite literally, retreat--yet your time, travel, or financial circumstances aren’t suited to a more formal, sponsored retreat, it’s still possible to create your own day(s) of contemplation and fruitful discussion.

Here, our tips for planning a DIY retreat.

Photography: Dominick Tardogno, seen in How  He Asked | Caty + Ryan

Photography: Dominick Tardogno, seen in How He Asked | Caty + Ryan

Choose a destination.

A shrine, monastery, cathedral, or other holy site in your area (or within day-trip distance) are good potential retreat locations. If you live in or near a city, consider planning a day of pilgrimage to several shrines or chapels. This directory of Catholic sites in the U.S. is a handy starting point for your plans.

Seek out the sacraments.

In the real presence of the Lord, the sacred beckons. Allow time in your day and travels for Mass, confession, spiritual direction, and/or Eucharistic Adoration.

Bring materials for introspection and prayer.

As deeply as we all desire quiet and rest, once we find it, it’s easy to feel...restless. The fruit of our perpetually connected, phones-at-the-ready habits. It’s alright if you struggle to focus during longer periods of prayer; persist, asking the Father to remove distractions from your heart and draw you into himself.

Moreover, come prepared, and allow time to practically and spiritually renew your relationship. Plan for at least one, and up to several, periods of Adoration or quiet prayer before the Tabernacle during your day of retreat. Designate a time for structured prayer, reading, or other devotions. You might consider…

Lectio divina (read Spoken Bride vendor Liz Escoffery’s tips for praying with your wedding vows here) | Spiritual reading on love and marriage (find our recommendations here) | Beloved, a video series on Catholic marriage | The Culture Project International’s lecture series on St. John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility | a talk from the National Forum on the Theology of the Body | How-To Catholic, a podcast on liturgical living and the daily life of the faith, hosted by a husband-and-wife duo | Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire podcast | Leah Darrow’s Do Something Beautiful podcast | Dr. Gregory Popcak’s More 2 Life podcast, focused on relationships

Talk.

Discuss the thoughts and insights borne of your prayer, reading, or listening. If questions surface--from the fun to the serious--ask them. A Q+A book for Christian relationships, like this one from the author of The 5 Love Languages, can spark your inquiries. Should particular issues arise that invite further probing and communication, pray about whether pre-marital counseling or spiritual direction can benefit you.

Plan a date.

End your day of retreat with dinner, a long walk or hike, or favorite hobby. For movie buffs, Christopher West’s The Cor Project offers a free, downloadable guide to “Theology of the Body at the movies” when you subscribe to their mailing list.

As Christ is transfigured atop the mountain, a vision of heavenly glory, his friends desire to linger there. Yet, he gently reminds them, they aren’t meant to stay forever at the summit; it’s back on the ground, amid the world, that they’re called to be his witnesses.

And so it is with a retreat, just as with marriage: some moments are so elevated, so glorious, we never want to leave. In the times we’re back in life’s trenches, when the crosses feel heavy, when our hearts cry out, it’s those memories of transcendence that sustain us. May you find true peace and rest during your time of retreat, re-entering the world remade and brought to life.

Engagement + Newlywed Retreats, Part I | Supplementing Your Marriage Prep

This post is the first of a two-part series.

We’ve been asked recently for our tips on making your marriage preparation as in-depth and transformative as possible. Whether you’ve chosen a day-long workshop, pre-Cana classes at your parish, or meetings with a sponsor couple, consider taking time for further education and prayer, as time and finances allow, with a supplemental retreat for you and your beloved. In these days of the New Evangelization, the Church is rich with resources ancient and new that invite rest, contemplation, and time to be drawn nearer to one another as you both are drawn into the Father’s love.

Photography: Mel Watson Photography

Photography: Mel Watson Photography

Because so many worthy resources exist for different spiritualities, devotions, and needs of the heart, it would be impossible to list them all. Your diocesan website is a good place to begin seeking upcoming events that might bear fruit in your relationship. Another is the dwellings of religious orders in your area, some of whom welcome visitors to join in their daily rhythms of prayer, work, or ministry or who host speaking events.

And think beyond the confines of topics related specifically to marriage prep: retreats with the themes of prayer, art, theology, mental wellness from a Catholic perspective, and beyond allow ample time for discussion, self-examination, and growth in faith.  Below, by region, are a series of programs and ministries that can provide the silence and deeper dive you might be thirsting for.

 

East Coast

Charis NYC: Ignatian retreats by and for Catholic young adults, with several program options centered on spiritual concerns common in this stage of life, including discernment, contemplation, meaningful living, and life’s transitions (New York City).

Given: A day-long event for engaged or married couples featuring talks, worship, and the sacraments (Baltimore).

International Institute for Catholic Culture: Founded in response to John Paul II’s call to the faithful to re-evangelize the culture and form a “civilization of love,” this non-profit educational center well-suited to lovers of theology and academics provides classical language courses, lectures on the intersection of faith and culture, art exhibits, and musical performances (Philadelphia).

Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center: An apostolate of Regnum Christi that hosts Ignatian-inspired retreats of varying length, as well as monthly reflection events. The center is particularly gifted with meeting the needs of couples, offering its own marriage prep program for engaged couples, speaking events for newlyweds, and marriage workshops. Catholic counseling and therapy are also available onsite, through the Alpha Omega Clinic (Washington, D.C.).

St. Joseph Retreat House: Serving the New England region with guided retreats inspired by St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, with time included for structured prayer, recreation, and spiritual direction (Boston).

Theology of the Body Institute: Offering a variety of 5-day courses designed to form the entire person, “head and heart,” the Institute combines academics with the sacraments while educating on Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body Audiences, Love and Responsibility, and other writings, alongside topics like beauty, interior prayer, and a retreat created specifically for engaged or married couples (Philadelphia).  

 

Midwest

Love Your Marriage: An day-long event for married couples, with an emphasis on creating a holy, thriving relationship through all stages of life, including newlywed years and parenting (Denver).

Ruah Woods: a Theology of the Body education center offering study courses and retreats both on and off-site. The center also offers psychological services from Catholic professionals whose worldview informs their work with clients (Cincinnati).

St. Benedict’s Abbey: Men’s, women’s, and couples’ retreats led by Benedictine monks (Atchison, Kansas).

Tabor Life Institute: Programs and retreats that teach the Theology of the Body through the use of Scripture, writings by Church mystics, art and iconography, and the Eastern Rites of the Church. The Institute--whose staff includes a priest who attended some of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body audiences in Rome, the first time they were delivered--additionally hosts Pre-Cana weekend event for couples preparing for marriage in the Byzantine Rite (Chicago).

 

South

Alexander House: Founded by a longtime-married couple who restored their relationship from the possibility of divorce with the help of a Catholic therapist, this apostolate for couples in all stages of marriage and family life provides courses for engagement and problem-solving for troubled marriages, all in light its mission to help couples create a joyful domestic Church (San Antonio).

Casa Maria Convent & Retreat House: Offering structured retreats, including those for couples, that include talks, personal prayer time, the sacraments, and participation in the Divine Office with the beautiful Sister Servants of the Eternal Word (Birmingham).

Catholic Charismatic Center: Offering retreats for young adults and couples (recent leaders include Father Stan Fortuna), rooted in the spirituality of the Charismatic renewal movement (Houston).

Three to Get Married: An engagement retreat aimed at comprehensive formation of spouses-to-be--spiritual, psychological, emotional, and cultural--through presentations from priests, married couples, medical professionals, and trained psychologists (Nashville).

 

West Coast

John Paul II Resource Center: Providing day-long Theology of the Body retreats on a variety of topics--including those geared toward women, men, parents, couples, and educators--as well as talks for marriage preparation and enrichment (Phoenix).

New Camoldoli Hermitage: A beautiful, coastal Benedictine hermitage, offering preached retreats throughout the year by the Camoldolese Benedicitines and inviting participants into the prayer of monastic life (Big Sur).

Our Lady of the Rock: Retreat opportunities hosted by Benedictine sisters, inviting guests to participate in the daily prayer and tasks of their monastic farm life, which is largely self-sufficient (Shaw Island, Washington).

Sacred Heart Retreat House: A site run by Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart, this house provides retreats for men, women, couples, and young adults, rooted in the Carmelite spirituality of leading the faithful into a deeper relationship with Christ (Los Angeles).

 

Nationwide (U.S.)

Passion and Purpose for Marriage: An initiative of Dynamic Catholic, this one-day event, hosted across the U.S. and based in California, offers talks for couples in all stages of their relationship on practical matters in the vocation of marriage, prayer and worship, and time for one-on-one discussion.

Miles Christi: Guided Ignatian silent retreats hosted by the Miles Christi brothers, offered nationwide and based in Michigan and California.

We thrive on the community you help us to grow. If a program or retreat you’ve attended has blessed your relationship outside of marriage preparation, be sure to share it with other brides in the comments and on our social media.

Next week, read more on retreats, including digital resources and how to plan your own retreat with your beloved.

An Introduction to the Annulment Process

REV. FR. TIMOTHY NAPLES

 

To our brides discerning the vocation of marriage for not the first, but second time, we see you and are here for you. Divorce and separation are wrenching for all involved, and the road to annulment might seem like an unlit path through the dark. We hope this resource, written from a lovingly pastoral viewpoint, helps illuminate the first steps in this process and plants the seeds of self-examination and healing. Jesus, Divine Physician, be with us.

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Are you planning a Catholic wedding for a second marriage?

You want to get married, but you have been married previously. You know that the Catholic Church will consider you bound to your first marriage until an annulment is granted. Beside the doctrinal foundations of the Catholic faith that are relevant to any possible second marriages, there are also a million “what if?”s that have a practical impact on each person’s situation after being civilly divorced from a previous marriage.

This guide will only answer a small handful of these “what ifs." I hope it will also provide some primary considerations, offered in a spirit of charity and understanding in difficult circumstances, as a great starting point to answer questions for your own situation as you move forward.

First consideration: your parish priest

A parish priest is likely to be a key source of information and answers about all the elements involved in this process. Your local parish priest is going to be your first contact for the official annulment process, and likely the one who submits your official petition for annulment to the tribunal office of your Diocese. Perhaps you have a good personal connection with a priest in another parish; you might do well to speak with him about an annulment. Perhaps your own parish priest will direct you to work with another priest in your Diocese. Regardless, a parish office, working with a local parish priest, is likely the only place to get the official application for an annulment. You typically cannot send an application for annulment to your Diocese without the signature of the priest who arranged your application.

Second consideration: your history with your former spouse

The annulment process will ask about the whole history of your marriage. The Church needs to know this history, and not just the immediate circumstances of the divorce. While you will need to provide all the documented information about your prior marriage, and also the civil decree of divorce, much more information will be needed. The Church requires the whole story of the previous marriage in various written formats. It is rather standard that an autobiographical narrative is written out, from the time of your first meeting with your former spouse, through engagement and marriage, and into the subsequent married life, up until your civil divorce.

It can be like writing out a five-page confession. It can take a while to re-visit and re-process it all. It can be difficult. But this is essential according to the Church’s doctrine on what an annulment is. It is not “Catholic Divorce,” but the Church’s judgment as to whether a key element of the sacrament of matrimony was missing at the time of the marriage, and therefore whether the wedding, presumed-to-be-sacramental, should only be held as binding in its mere civil effects. The civil effects of marriage can, and do, end in divorce decrees. But the sacrament cannot end, except by the death of one of the spouses.

Third consideration: children

The third consideration is an extension of the civil effects. Here let us first clear up a misconception: the Church does not designate  children from previous marriages “illegitimate” if the previous marriage gets annulled.

Say an annulment is granted. Some combination of factors and choices, along with the lack of the sacramental grace, led parents to divorce civilly. The Church has no need--or desire--to bring any retribution upon any of the children. The previous marriage was judged to be binding civilly, but not sacramentally. Therefore, the laws of the Church affirm that the societal status of children is still entirely legitimate, and that the children of the family should not lose any of their proper status and dignity in society.

This would be true even if the Church still used the designation of “illegitimate” in any circumstances. But, again, the term has been removed from church law. For the practical consideration, it is obviously of great concern to the Church that children still be given a healthy upbringing in faith and morals, and we hope that after the tragedy of divorce, both parents would remain supportive of nurturing the Christian faith in their children. Such unity of religious practice does not always happen when former spouses arrange their relations with children from the previous marriage. We pray for these difficulties encountered by co-parenting Catholics, but we also affirm that there should be no concern about this when applying for an annulment.

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Fourth consideration: witnesses

It is very important for the Church to be objective about the intentions and dispositions of the former spouses at the time of their wedding. Such detailed insistence is not for the purpose of dwelling on personal fault or blame. We assume that whatever personal faults or insufficiencies were a factor in undermining the first marriage “from the get-go” are already the source of sufficient guilt and sorrow for the divorcees. While the Church would like to facilitate healing and growth in a renewed life of virtue after divorce, it also needs to have testimony, objectively, that there was something wrong or something lacking in the first marriage.

To do this the Church insists that witnesses to the relationship, those who knew you and/or your former spouse before and after your wedding, provide statements. These can be compared to, and added to, the testimonies of the former spouses. Be prepared to provide the contact information for family members or friends who knew you and your spouse, especially during your courtship and engagement. Here it often comes up that one former spouse is no longer in  contact with the other. Know that an attempt truly must be made to inform him or her that the marriage is under consideration for annulment. However, know also that if there are serious reasons to avoid any direct contact, your Diocese could proceed with the annulment without providing to your former spouse your current address and phone number.

Fifth consideration: finances

It used to be widely believed  that a significant amount of money was needed to be paid in fees in order for a Diocese to process an annulment petition: hundreds, if not over a thousand, dollars. While a full annulment process can require extensive time, most Diocesan fees were probably never that exorbitant. You may inquire of your parish priest if there is a fee.

The annulment process is more and more considered an essential area of pastoral service, meriting funding by other means. It so happens that my own Diocese is one of many (though not all) that have eliminated any and all fees for the annulment process. If any fees are  financially unreasonable to handle, speak with a Catholic Charities office in your state and see if they have any grant programs or assistance in cases where a fee for annulment applications is a true financial hardship. If your Diocese has already removed all fees for annulment applications, then in gratitude consider donating a bit, within your means, to their Catholic Charities programs, to the diocesan annual fund, or to your local parish. It might help someone in a similar situation.

Sixth consideration: the peace of Christ

The last consideration is the big picture. Applying for an annulment is not an absolute guarantee that your future hopes for a second marriage will work out. Here we move forward in faith, knowing that the Catholic Church is a “big picture” kind of Church. Because by “big picture” we mean eternal life, the forgiveness of eternal debts, and the remitting of eternal punishments in the grace of Christ our Lord and personal Savior.

All our considerations of marriage should keep their connection with Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is a very good sign, that despite all the discomfort of divorce and annulments, a person desires to keep their contact with the Church. Jesus Christ is the only lasting source of peace. In light of eternity, even life-defining events such as marriages and careers are still short term considerations.

We take great consolation in the fact that Christ wants to be with us in all our short-term considerations. If we are meant to “get through them,” he wants to guide us through them. If we are meant to “live” in marriage and family, or in any other vocation in life, he wants to be the life in the middle of it.

Images by Horn Photography & Design


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About the Author: Fr. Naples is a cradle Catholic from upstate New York. He worked for the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, in the summer of 2003 and was accepted to seminary for the diocese that fall. He completed six years of study at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and was ordained a priest in 2009. He began giving scripture centered marriage instructions for the Diocese of Burlington in his first year as a priest, and remains involved in marriage preparation as a pastor.

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