An annulment does not invalidate a marriage, but merely recognizes the reality that binding marriage vows were absent during the entire span the “spouses” were together. Toward the end of my marriage, I would recall the circumstances surrounding our vows, and I would think, “Wow, I am not actually married because I could get an annulment.” Currently undergoing a drawn out divorce, I haven’t even been able to file for an annulment. The thought that an annulment simply validates the reality that my marriage never took place has always circled my mind. It is what eventually led to my justification to venture into the dating scene without an annulment. I figured I deserved to move on with my life, and I had suffered enough. Besides, I told myself, God knows what’s up—I’m not really married.
Never forget the subtlety of the serpent; he has an ingenious way of appealing to our reason, clothing sin in some fraudulent good. I have since given up dating and returned to Truth, putting my trust in Christ and His Church as His voice on Earth. I realize now that God has given us this unwavering confidence in His Church when he bestowed upon Her the gift of infallibility. When in doubt, always listen to Her voice. Ultimately, God has used my state of life as an opportunity for growth. Patience pays off in grace if we are willing to accept it, but it took me a while to relinquish my own will (I have written more extensively about my specific situation at www.liltinglilies.com).
The problem with falling back on this whole “just God and me” idea is that it relegates the Church to a superfluous middle-man position, rather than the Christian life-source. This dangerous thinking is what has led to the Protestant mentality concerning the Church, negating any need for Sacraments or a living Tradition, which is life in Christ.
“Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
I understand now the imperative role the Church plays in protecting her children. Her stance for requiring an annulment is to determine the invalidity or the validity of marriage at the time the vows took place. I imagine forbidding dating is a protective measure to ensure people don’t run off and fall in love, only to discover they cannot procure an annulment. Whatever the Canon Law, theological foundations, or philosophical speculations, I will leave it to the Church to decide, and I will obey because She is my Mother, who guides me along the way of salvation.
I am one of the few pleased the Church is convening a Synod to address these family issues, but it’s not because I want Church teaching to change. I do believe there are always ways to improve practices in accordance with teachings. In my opinion, insufficient marriage preparation is intimately linked to the overabundance of people seeking an annulment. My “husband” and I did an overnight weekend preparation at a fancy hotel a month before the wedding, and the only thing I recall hearing is the suggestion to “argue naked.” Another aspect we could improve is how we approach issues, recognizing that behind every abstract issue there are real people trying to find their way back to Christ. Too many Catholics are quick to pass judgment on those who have remarried without an annulment, and sometimes even those dating without one. Had I been accused of adultery for dating without an annulment, I would have been driven further from the Church. However, priests do need to warn their sheep about the perils of dating without an annulment and advise against it. Also, they need to speak Truth to those entangled in the complexities of remarriage outside the Church. But, Charity needs to be at the heart of communication, as it is often lost in translation when many otherwise well-intentioned people fail to show true compassion. There must be a way of charitably presenting the hard Truth while also avoiding watering it down.
God has employed a Divine Pedagogy throughout salvation history, patiently preparing His people for the fullness of Truth. It is imperative that a genuine pedagogical relationship be built, fostering trust between those helping and those being helped before the message can be both delivered and received in sincerity. Charity and prudence go a long way in opening up another’s heart to Truth. There’s no use trying to tactlessly hammer the Truth down someone’s throat; that will only drive people away and is contrary to Christ’s message of love. I’ve often heard others quote Jesus’ words to Mary Magdelene, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus told her the Truth without watering it down. They fail to remember that this was only after He saved her from being stoned to death by her accusers. He had her trust. God attempts to send His message through the members of his Church as a warm flame of Truth, not to set the sinner on fire and consume him, but to draw the sinner out of the coldness of the dark to warm himself by the fire of Truth. Only then might the sinner trust that he will be cared for within the shelter of Mother Church, choosing to rest within Her warm embrace and abide in Truth once more.
Do we need to hear Truth rather than consoling lies of relativism when in these predicaments of sin? Absolutely, but what we need more than anything else is Love. Amor vincit omnia (love conquers all). If John Paul II believed love could conquer even the hatred of war, surely love will help others conquer the battle of sin. We must present Truth in Love, always. Otherwise, you are only following the first greatest commandment, to love God, and neglecting the second, to love your neighbor. The two are indeed inseparable, for in every person Christ is to be found. Pray for your neighbor and love him, and God will give you an opening. However, if you try to storm the walls of the sinner’s hardened heart, he will barricade himself inside with even greater defenses. Trust me; I’ve been on both ends.
So we should hope and pray for the best from the synod and stop all this Chicken Little-ing, maintaining faith that the gates of hell shall not prevail. We must never forget that the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals. If some great fissure were to result from the synod, it would not be because the pope erred but because his sheep chose not to heed his voice. Infallibility is a negative charism, meaning it prevents error from being taught, not meaning that the Church will always make the best decisions at the best time. This still remains a tremendous security that God has bestowed upon His beloved Church. We may not understand what God is up to, but surely bringing as many people back to the Sacraments as possible is a good thing (clearly without compromising Church teachings). Mark Shea writes, “The rule of thumb is, ‘In essential things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity'” . Be still and know that He is God.
 Brandon Vogt. The Church and New Media. 79
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The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.