Thursday, February 7, 2013

Annulment is Not a Dirty Word (Conversion - Part 6)

This morning my "quiet time" was interrupted by Dear Hubby, then Pepper, then the Blitz and then, frankly, I gave up. I know I have to get up earlier than I did today in order to have that solitude but it was hard to let go because I was contemplating the first reading from not today, but yesterday and this passage in particular:

For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
That what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.
Hebrews 12:7, 12-13

For some reason, this passage reminded me of my beginnings of RCIA and having my previous marriages annulled. At first, it just seemed like a painful ordeal, a harsh discipline . . . but I am getting ahead of myself.

Shortly after starting to attend Mass at St. John Vianney, I found in myself a profound curiosity about the Catholic faith. I started wondering about the order of the Mass and why things were done as they were. At the time I had no intention of converting but I responded as in all things: I began a process of research.

I started with a book, Why do Catholics do That? which explained some things quite well. I began to see the flow of the liturgy and the rhythm of the Mass.  A friend suggested Scott Hahn's book, Rome Sweet Home.  It was very hard for me to buy this book, I will admit, because I hated the cheesy title (of which I am still not enamored). Nonetheless, I was drawn to learn about why a Protestant minister became a Catholic theologian. So I read the book and related to much of what he said, particularly about his searching for the "true church of Jesus Christ." These books were the starting point of my quest.

Within months of joining the Parish, I had done enough research to know I wanted to join the Catholic church; Father Sam, however, said (basically), "There is a way to do this, and it is through the RCIA process." Even well-researched and convicted people have to go through RCIA, apparently. So I did.

I was sure about most things, but I had one source of concern* and one roadblock.  My roadblock was that my previous marriages had to be annulled. This was a big one for me. I had married to escape the issues of my adolescence. I had been in and out of relationships for years until, in my mid-thirties, I finally realized that I could not change my past, nor my past relationships, but I could change the course of my future. At that point, I began to take true responsibility for my own happiness which included accepting the mistakes of my past and forgiving the other actors in those events.

It is an understatement to say that I entered the annulment process with fear and trembling. Annulment meant revisiting not only my past, but truthfully and fully owning up to my part in all that went wrong. In annulment paperwork, you not only tell the story of what happened in the marriage, you have to tell why you think it happened, what you could have done to repair or prevent it and why it ended as it did. (And not only this, but put it all on paper for total strangers to assess.) Oh and let us not forget, you also have to provide witnesses who may know something about the situations. As gut wrenching and difficult as that was, it was the easy part. The hard part was knowing my former spouses (in their current lives) would also be revisiting our mutual past. I felt terrible about intruding on their lives in this way. Over the time of counseling with Father Sam and working on the annulments, I got in contact with them and had a chance to say,"I'm sorry for my part. I'm sorry for the pain I caused you. I wish you nothing but joy and peace in your future." It was amazingly liberating to be able to say, "I'm sorry" while truly expecting no apology, no admission of responsibility or anything else in return.

[I notice as I write that I want to launch into a defense of the process of annulment. I know it is widely misunderstood and disliked. That's not my role right now.]

I can tell you that for me, the process of going through my annulments was one of the most healing, hopeful, and cleansing experiences of my life. I was able to look back at what had previously been chapters of shame in my life and to realize that I was a regular human who had made mistakes and subsequently confessed those mistakes and that they were over and done with. I was able to close those chapters and accept God's true and complete forgiveness. It was beautiful.

At the time,all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

*I will talk about my "one concern" in my final installment of my conversion story.

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Three - Crucifix Ephiphany
Part Four - Seeker
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith

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