On Thursday I went to a workshop in Sioux Falls by our diocesan Marriage Tribunal. Wonderful. Never thought I'd say that about a 6 hour (total) drive and 5 hours of conferences, but they were wonderful. I really feel confident and hopeful about helping individuals in this regard.
What is a Marriage Tribunal you might ask? Sounds rather ominous, no? Maybe from a futuristic dystopia by Ray Bradbury?
As Catholics, we view marriage as a precious gift from our Lord and as a permanent endeavor for husband and wife. This permanence is reflected in marriage vows: "I Bob take you Judy to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
At its heart, Catholic marriage is the grace filled choice of husband and wife for each other. We respect your choice, your promise. We assume that the couple is true to their promise. But we are aware that sometimes, something goes awry.
The American legal answer is divorce. As the word suggests, divorce is the breaking, the division of something. In this case, a marriage. The marriage was real, the marriage was there, but now we give up on those promises. The Catholic response, in union with this vision is an annulment. An annulment means to recognize as null, non-existent, that the real thing was never really and fully there.
An annulled marriage might have lived out some of the particulars or parts of a good marriage. There might be children, their might have been a beautiful wedding, but in some small, or even large, way the marriage wasn't real. We often describe it as simulated. Children play doctor, house, or war, but it really isn't present. Some couples play at marriage.
It is the Marriage Tribunal who gathers facts, investigates, and judges this.
Because you can't marry two people at once. If you promised (and really did promise) "all the days of my life," and you're still breathing, then you are still in that promise. We take you seriously.
And because we don't want you to make the same mistakes. Why?
Because we love you!
Maybe more thoughts later.
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