I've been in a marriage deprived of marital grace.
I lived 13 years in a non-sacramental marriage. I remember feeling like I was living in a black box with a locked door. The door was locked from the outside - and I was trapped within.
I remember thinking that my husband had the key and that he could unlock that door at any time and let me out. And I would live. And I would be filled with joy.
I thought he held the key in his hand. That my loneliness had everything to do with him. With his choices. What he did. What he failed to do.
The truth is, the other spouse does not hold the key in a non-Sacramental marriage. The truth is, the key is marital grace. I was blaming a man.
No one is qualified to determine whether a marriage is sacramental or not. Only Mother Church - the venue for God's marital grace and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony - can make that determination. But I do know this, if there is no marital grace, there is only sadness. A box.
And a lonely soul inside of it.
In 2005, a went through the annulment process and realized many things about myself - and that marriage. I took a long hard look at the two people that met that day and took vows. And I realized what Mother Church determined after looking at it all very closely. We were not ready. I . . . I was not ready.
The details don't matter here. It is enough to say that no woman (or man) can make up for the absence of marital grace in a non-sacramental marriage.
That grace is mystery. It is beauty. It is serendipitous. It is always on time.
I know these things because, today, I know the strength and joy of marital grace. This month, my husband and I celebrate 17 years of grace-filled marriage.
I still have a box. Inside that box, my soul abides with Christ. Grace is there - that key is there. And grace opens the door and lets me go out and love my husband and my family and live for Christ and do tough things and give of myself. Then, I go back to the quiet place, the door is always open, and I enter into that intimate space where Our Lord waits. He fills me up. He even shuts the door and locks us in together if I desire it.
And then, He walks with me to the door and we walk through it together. And I am filled with what I need to live my vocation.
That same miracle happens to my husband.
And to both of us together.
Grace is always there.
Marriage is no longer a trap. I am no longer imprisoned by fear. This life of marriage - it no longer feels like a box I want to escape.
It is life.
Where love holds me. Where grace reigns.