Today I received my final annulment letter telling me that Westminster has formally agreed with Brentwood that my ‘former marriage has been duly declared null and void.’ It goes on to say ‘This means that it is now possible for you to contract marriage in the Catholic Church with anyone who is free to marry.’
Not quite. Every morning I am met with the words “Hello hermit” when I am lovingly brought a cup of tea into my sanctuary. For a while now I have been describing and sharing my impossibly beautiful long dark night of my soul. Impossible because it is impossibly lonely, beautiful because God has found me in Love, and now I am consciously aware of His presence. From the secular to my ‘open cloister’ has been quite a journey. Often I have used the metaphor of being in my desert where frequently it has been parched. The 40 long days and nights of my first Lent’s, have met face to face with my 40 years lived. My desert, my sanctuary, my cell, my cloister, my place of seemingly permanent retreat inside of myself, is where He permeates every part of me. My Soul. It’s where all the Love throughout my childhood and indeed my whole life recognises His presence Now.
Writing down my feelings and expressing myself in unhindered Truth has been a very healing process. There is almost something cathartic about owning the Truth and then setting it free from being locked up inside, and then, just allowing it to be. In writing down my impossible long dark night I can see all the beautiful lights, lanterns and candles lighting and blessing my life. So much kindness and Love. In deepest sadness I have been blessed. And so I set it free.
Having come to such a deep Love of the Catholic Faith in my late thirties, I chose to give my children the privilege of a beautiful Catholic upbringing. A gift. An eternal resource which I was not privileged to have as a child. I was fashionably christened Church of England but I had a working class secular upbringing, with no church attendance, my family had no practising faith. Having fallen in Love with the Catholic faith I decided to have all five of my children baptised Roman Catholic. From the very beginnings I had every intention of being united with my children in faith. I was initially told that I could be received into the Roman Catholic Church pending the successful annulment of my first marriage, and so all my five children were baptised into the Roman Catholic Church on a beautiful perfect May day in 2009.
However when the newly appointed priest came, he explained that it would only be a possibility for me to be received into the Roman Catholic Church if I was living as brother and sister within my current (second) marriage. I was not initially given this information.
My second marriage of nine years to date was a Church of England marriage, undertaken before I came to the Catholic faith. My now husband could not get his first marriage annulled, neither did he wish to. His first marriage was a happy relationship that lasted over 30 years, and then his former wife left him for another man, her relationship did not work out. For two years my husband tried tirelessly to restore their relationship. He failed, and so after two years of their separation they were to be divorced, it was only at this point that his wife wanted to re-consider their separation, but by then we were together. He did at this point ask me if he should return to her, I said only he could make that decision. I too was divorced and alone with two tiny children, when we first met. We were both lonely, and comforted each other with compassion and physical intimacy. 11 months into our relationship I was expecting twins, we were married 15 months after meeting. My husband who is 22 years older than me, was Christened Church of England but is not himself a man of faith; he quietly has a humanist outlook and does not believe in anything supernatural or spiritual. At the time that we were married I was very angry with my secular God who I thought had allowed my first marriage to end. I thought I had no faith left.
With my children having been received into the Roman Catholic faith in 2009, and realising my predicament, I was left with an excruciating moral dilemma. To live and possibly die (officially recorded) as a different religion to my five children, (which for me was unspeakable) by continuing to practice as an unofficial Catholic and to be separated from my children and faith community by not receiving the Eucharist, the Sacraments, or the official reception. Or to live in a platonic friendship within my marriage as brother and sister, and not to live as a loving marriage should be lived, thus hurting my husband. Thus freeing me to be officially received into the Catholic Church and being united with my children in faith.
The only other alternative was that I could be received into full communion with Rome if my husband or his former wife were to die, thus ending their marriage covenant. I did not believe that I could allow myself to be received into the church upon the required death of another being. In choosing to be part of an intimate marriage I did not choose for a life of celibacy, but the desire to be united with my children in faith as their mother was so very strong and maternal, and the spiritual division and separation between me and my children was all to painfully much to bear.
The annulment process for my first marriage took over two long years. This gave me much time to consider my situation. The pressure of being faced with such a difficult situation and not having had an intimate physical relationship over the past year caused the fissures and blemishes within my current marriage to deepen and become more obvious, causing me split loyalties. I committed to my second marriage before I came to faith, before I came to know the Roman Catholic Church and her teachings on second marriages, and before I came to understand the beauty of the spiritual covenant of authentic Love and marriage within faith, between two people and God. And now I truly know Love bestowed by God in triune, because God found me in Love.
My choice was to be an impossibly painful one.
Trying to discern Gods desire in this situation has been so very difficult. For the past year I have been living as brother and sister within my marriage (much to my husbands and at times my chagrin). Morally I feel as if I have cheated my husband out of a wholesome, fulfilling and loving marriage, but I would be in denial if I didn’t acknowledge that our marriage was never spiritually fulfilling or based upon spiritual Truth, I just never understood or acknowledged it at the time when my decisions were made. Now physical and spiritual needs for us both are being every day challenged.
Morally (because of Roman Catholic teaching) I was taught that I should not have married my husband, and that in honest truth he should still be with his first wife. Having embraced the faith so deeply how could I not too embrace this? Having lived with some of the problems we have faced during our marriage, in my deepest heart I felt this to be true, but we have beautiful children together, who are part of a loving family unit, which should not be broken.
My faith is so strong because I have had to turn so intimately towards Christ, my relationship with Him means so much to me. And so selfishly I prioritized my personal desires to be united with my children, and converting to the Roman Catholic faith. I chose this over a life of intimacy with my husband.
Sometimes when we turn to faith, life can be turned upon its head and become utterly crucifying. I am living through such a moral dilemma. I have felt that any which way I turn I morally fail someone. Whether I fail my husband, the church, my children, or myself. My husband and I have had to learn to be with each other in a new way, and to succeed in this at times makes life even harder. It would almost be easier if we failed and could walk away. Mostly we are just companions, any form of emotional togetherness or intimate truth is ruined. I did fail myself a few times physically in the past by needing intimacy, when my husband offered it, but God has been ever patient with me. Since having made my decision to live as brother and sister, I have now been received into the Roman Catholic Church. I am holding tightly to the fact that God calls us; to keep on in loving-kindness in whichever situation we are faced. In contradiction before I was received in, I met with an anger inside of myself that I never before knew existed; and at times this was so difficult to live with, the anger has been alleviated and dispersed since my reception. To receive the Eucharist daily (when I can) is so very important to me.
In complex situations where people have come to the Catholic Faith from a secular world, or different denomination of Christianity, people can have made quite acceptable choices within the secular law, choices which were not considered a sin. And yet those same law-abiding people when they want to convert to Catholicism, having been led to the Catholic Church by God, may not only be held apart as mortal sinners, but further more, have to commit further sins, by either breaking their current wedding vows after having committed to them, or by continuing to live now consciously in mortal sin, as taught by the Catholic Church. Even officials at times, do not have all the solutions and answers to bring good people to peace and salvation. The distortions of the protestant revolution has maybe left others in a state of flux as a result and influence of their inherited upbringing and choices made lawfully under those inherited laws. The ironic thing for me in all of this mess, is that God, who is Love and Spirit, has revealed to me the Truth in my heart. God found me in Love, and there in Truth I belong.
As a result of the reformation, Christian faiths are not only fractured but the different laws regarding re-marriage have the potential to crucify good people. The divide between secular/protestant/Catholic faiths can be crippling. I think maybe my husband deserves to be made a saint, for still living with us and looking after us, under such excruciating conditions which are against his will. I now have to possibly watch on as my husband decides to seek his comfort and intimacy elsewhere (maybe already he did) whilst still being married to me, else I have to return to my husband in physical love and turn away from the Eucharist and my Truth, else spend the rest of my married life living as brother and sister, and denying myself the intimacy of another human being. I am only 42, which is most definitely not the answer to the question.
Thank God that He may hold it all.
Thank God for prayer which is such a deeply penetrating comfort.
Throughout the whole of my journey The Roman Catholic faith has shown me the deepest Love and care, they have held me close and prayed for me in my situation. They have continued to give me unconditional Love, only second to that of my family, and my husband serves me and my children almost everyday in loving kindness. I was kindly given this piece of scripture by a lecturer at university.
1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Concerning Married Life
1 ‘Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried [a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Concerning Change of Status
17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.’
For a while now I have been describing and sharing my impossibly beautiful long dark night of my soul. Impossible because it is impossibly lonely, beautiful because God has found me in Love, and now I am consciously aware of His presence. He permeates every part of me. My Soul. It’s where all the Love throughout my childhood and indeed my whole life recognises His presence Now.