It’s wedding season again. Time for hair appointments and dress fittings. Flowers and tuxedos.
Recently, I went through the whole wedding preparation process, beginning with a morning at the salon. It was not at all enjoyable.
A customer sat in a nearby chair and chatted with her stylist. They were commiserating about Catholic priests who have the audacity to insist on church weddings. They couldn't understand why any priest would refuse to officiate at a backyard nuptial or beachside ceremony. What’s worse (according to these women) was the whole trend toward pre-marital counseling. Even Protestant pastors were beginning to require such nonsense. Who do they all think they are?
I would have preferred being almost anywhere else. Okay, I thought, it’s time for a Catholic to take a stand. I took a deep breath and gave it my best shot.
“I get it.”
I had been in the salon 30 minutes, minding my own business, but I had dared to open my mouth and challenge them on their position. They were shocked. These chatty women now sat in total silence. Undaunted, I went on. “If we really believe this is a sacrament, doesn’t it make sense that it takes place in the Church? And if it’s supposed to last forever, then pre-marital counseling can only be a good - perhaps even necessary - thing.”
I think the ladies wanted to boot me from the salon. The young woman working on my hair couldn’t stand the silence that ensued. “Well, I think it should be about the two people getting married. They are the only ones that matter.” (Great, I thought, now she'll make sure I have green hair for all those wedding pictures.)
What I wanted to say was that I “got it” in a way they couldn’t possibly appreciate. I’ve been there. I’ve been the starry-eyed young bride. I’ve wanted to get married and pushed it through regardless of how many red flags I saw. I have disregarded what my parents thought, what God thought, and even what my own spirit suspected.
I have embraced almost every phase of the slippery slope Pope Paul VI predicted. Premarital sex. Artificial contraception. Sterilization. Separation. Divorce.
And I have the scars to prove it.
But the pain that came after the dust settled cannot be overstated. I remember the day the whole thing imploded. I was living in my parents’ basement. My three half-grown children had just left to spend the summer with their dad. They called to say they had arrived safely, and my young daughter announced that their step-mom was pregnant.
I sat on my bed and tried to keep my emotions in check until the phone call ended.
Nothing prepares a woman’s heart for things like this. Nothing prepares her for the news that her children have a stepmother, that her husband has a new wife, that they will share the delight of bringing a child into this world, especially when the rejected one is living in her parents’ basement and her children are visiting their father for six long weeks. Nothing prepares a woman for the realization that she deliberately and irrevocably ended her own chances of ever having another baby and yet the rest of her family will experience that joy with someone else. That’s about as low as a woman can feel.
I sat on my bed for a very long time and felt the weight of my sin.
Yes, I get it. I get it all too well. I get why this sacrament must begin in the heart of the Church. I get why the priest carefully takes the couple through the steps of setting the foundation. I completely get it.
I felt very sad for the women who disregarded what I said. “What does she know,” they seemed to say with their silence.
I'm sure there are readers who know what I'm talking about because they have been through the pain of a non-sacramental marriage. Here's the amazing thing. Even now, there is hope for healing. Mother Church is waiting for you. Go to your parish priest and ask about an annulment. (There are so many misconceptions about annulments. Let your parish priest walk beside you. He will guide you through the process and help you discover what really happened.)
I thought the annulment process would be something like opening Pandora’s Box. It turned out to be the most healing experience of my life. Mother Church helped me to begin again and live again – in a rightly-ordered way.
Sometimes I wonder how I survived the aftermath of a non-sacramental marriage. Mother Church is not on some power trip. She loves us and knows what will make us happy.
Oh yes, I get it. I understand it all too well.