I had to laugh at myself as I walked to the mailbox this morning.
My bank account was recently hacked and money stolen. I was on the phone with my bank for long periods of time as well as on the Internet filing claims and speaking with fraud specialists seeking refunds of the fraudulent charges.
The bank refunded the nearly $1,000 that was stolen from my account and as part of their investigation, I was mailed multiple forms to fill out and send back for each of the 15 unapproved charges. If I didn’t fill them out and return them by a certain date, my refunds would be reversed and I would end up losing all that money.
What a pain!
Who has time to fill out forms and stick them in the mail? Why can’t this all be done over the Internet or taken care of in the phone calls I made? And that’s why I had to laugh at myself. I, and most people for that matter, am spoiled by the instant gratification society I live in.
This type of attitude spills over into everyday life, including, for many, their attitudes toward the annulment process. Just as getting my money refunded was critical to me, so is the annulment process for people who want to date and remarry again (only much more critical).
But there are always excuses or negative feelings about the process that get in the way, much the same way I let those forms sit for a week before I actually filled them out and put them in my mailbox.
“I’ve heard it takes five years to get an annulment! What am I supposed to do in the meantime, live like a hermit?”
“My aunt went through one and said it cost her thousands of dollars – there is no way I can afford that!”
“I’ve already been through a civil divorce and that’s enough for me. If the Church says I can’t date unless I do their ‘Catholic divorce,’ well, that’s their problem, not mine.”
These are all comments I’ve heard over the years and really, they are all based on mistruths and misunderstandings about which people rarely bother to find out the truth.
But truth be told, you shouldn’t be dating, in a serious relationship, or engaged unless you have a decree of nullity in hand.
Those are the facts, my friend.
But you may wonder why this is so? Why is that little piece of paper so important? Why does the absence of that little piece of paper mean you can’t receive the sacraments if you have already remarried? Why is the Church trying to make things difficult for you?
Last week I wrote the analogy of protective borders around a playground on a busy city street and this applies here, too. The Church, upholding the teachings of Christ, has these parameters in place to keep you safe.
Allow me to explain…
Canon Law teaches us that for a sacrament to be a sacrament, two things MUST be present; matter and form. So you can have a validly ordained priest (form) pray the Epiclises or words of consecration (form) over an Oreo cookie (matter) but you will not get the Eucharist. The matter must be a host that is made within the specifications of the Church (unleavened, wheat bread). And you can have the specified host on the altar, but I cannot pray the Epiclises over it and render the Eucharist. I (the form) am not an ordained priest. Another example would be that you cannot baptize a baby with Coca-Cola; it must be water and the appropriate blessing said during the pouring of the water.
Likewise, you can have all the appearances of a sacramental marriage – the service at the church, the dress, tux, ring and certificate, the limo and the reception, etc. but if the matter or form are lacking, you don’t necessarily have a sacrament.
Not bad news
So what the annulment process does is investigate the dating, engagement, and marriage relationship of the couple with specific emphasis on the day of the wedding so a determination can be made as to whether or not a sacrament took place on the day of the wedding.
If the verdict is there was no sacrament, you receive a decree of nullity (commonly known as an annulment). If the verdict states a sacrament did take place, then you are bound to your ex-spouse until one or the other dies. And this means you are not free to date.
I know, I can hear you saying, “Thanks a lot for the positive feedback, Lisa. Sure glad you write for CatholicMatch.”
But please don’t feel this means bad news for you and I’ll tell you why.
There is great healing in the annulment process and that alone is worth more than you can imagine. But moreover, when it is approached without the demands of needing to be free to be in a new relationship, it becomes your true compass. Going through the annulment process helps to close that painful chapter of your life, but also gives you a clear sense of direction for your future and this is a freedom that is priceless. It gives you the freedom to give yourself without reservation to your future spouse. It brings such joy into dating relationships because there is no hesitation about whether you should or shouldn’t. God has sanctioned your search for a new spouse.
If the declaration you receive states you are bound to your spouse despite your divorce, you still have a clear-cut direction, meaning you know a new relationship is not in the cards so your future is wide open to whatever great things God has waiting for you now. And I guarantee you, if you open yourself to Him, He will give you great things.
If you want to date and haven’t received a decree of nullity, I encourage you to go through the annulment process and put this period of your life it entirely in God’s hands. Don’t go into it with a demand or a purpose, wanting to be free to date and remarry.
I encourage you to enter into it with the desire of finding what God’s plan is for your life. What direction does He want you to take? Enlist the Holy Spirit as your guide and pray for the direction to understand the past, clarify the future, and fortify you for the long haul.
And if you already have your decree of nullity, my best wishes to you in your search for the right one!
Don’t miss the first two parts of this series: