My Aleteia piece on the suffering faithful…

My Aleteia piece on the suffering faithful… October 13, 2015

gesu crucifix



is spotlighted today:

The Church is full of the obedient wounded. The flock who never strayed have troubles of their own, and some of these troubles come directly from original sin, the effects of which no doctrinal development, pastoral compassion, or rigorously trained professional can completely undo.

Poor family, they need to hear that their sorrows are known to God and to the Church. That the cross still hangs there above the altar because it must be faced, sooner or later, even when we’re inside the walls of the Church. Sacramental marriage is not a safe, cozy nest where no predators can find us. Every marriage includes some element of the cross.

Read the rest at Aleteia.

By the way, have you seen Aleteia lately? It’s gorgeous. They’ve revamped their whole site, and Elizabeth Scalia is bringing on lots of great writers.

Also, I’ve received tons of mail in response to the open letter to the Synod Fathers from Monica More that I posted last week (Married to an Angry Man). I am grateful that so many people took the time to offer responses and help. Please be patient while I work on responding.


photo credit Steve Moses (license) 

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  • Thanks. You hit the nail on the head. We need the Church to encourage us to carry our own crosses.

  • Bill Burns

    The only response I had for your guest blogger last week is that the next time I preach on anger, I will make a point of mentioning her suffering.

  • anna lisa

    As we all watch and wait to see what the Synod comes up with, I keep going back to this idea of *freedom*. Are we even asking the right questions about what marriage means? –A man and a woman, freely choosing to bind themselves together in one body for life? –*Freely choosing* —

    I don’t understand it when people come up with this explanation that things are set in stone once an “I do” is pronounced at a Catholic altar–that people can’t change or go a little or a LOT crazy, or that an abusive childhood might affect one of them once sufficient stress comes into the picture. etc. etc. etc. There are so many things that can happen! I just don’t understand the response that if abuse becomes the main theme of the marriage, –Too bad! You’re Catholic!
    A serial abuser has bad wiring in their head. He/she can either face their problem and make a good and humble effort to fix it, or risk having what has become a non marriage annulled, on the basis that an abusive nature stems from a profound immaturity of the soul.

    If a person’s chief vice is their inclination to being grumpy when they haven’t eaten or slept or has stress, that’s once thing–all of those things can be remedied with humility and consistent effort, –but if you’re consistently nasty, selfish and rape your wife?

    Sorry. That’s not a marriage, and there shouldn’t be any shame in walking away from serial abuse.

    • Eileen

      Amen, Anna Lisa! And we’re not doing anybody any favors by hanging badges of honor on them for bearing the cross of staying married to an abuser. Sometimes victims need a blunt friend who will tell it like it is more than they need a sympathetic ear.

      • anna lisa

        Eileen, there is another aspect to all of this that nobody mentions, but it’s huge:

        *The Catholic Church doesn’t marry anyone*

        The Catholic Church confers a *sacrament* if the marriage is valid. Marriage is conferred upon the couple *by* the couple alone. If one or both does not have the proper conformity of heart and soul, even if they *think* they do, there is no marriage.

        This is why the Catholic Church recognizes marriage in other faith traditions, and I think, perhaps why the Pope has hinted that *some* couples, who in the eyes of the world, are just living together, have actually married each other, and are living true love and fidelity. God sees what is true and what is counterfeit, in the hearts of his children.

        There are so many reasons why some couples eschew a traditional Church wedding (again, people are a billion shades of gray). I think what the Pope is doing, is leaning in to offer them encouragement on their journey–after all– their “marriage” might in fact be more virtuous in nature than the one that had all of the pomp and circumstance–and has a paper to go with it, with a raised seal. He isn’t condemning the ones without that stamp of validation, he’s *encouraging* them to live a true and authentic life of love and service to each other. That’s not to say that he isn’t urging them on to go higher, because marital love while exclusive is also communal, and needs to take it’s place in community with others. YES, he is urging them on to this, and hopes they will choose to bless their marriage with a life-giving sacrament. Yet think about it, the same people who would shout “sinners!” to them would also insist that the other couple, suffering in a non-marriage, but that *does* have the piece of paper, should be walled up in their “sacramental marriage”, like prisoners in their Church.

        • antigon

          ‘If one or both does not have the proper conformity of heart & soul, even if they “think” they do, there is no marriage.’
          For somewhere in the area of a couple millennia, & despite abuses, the Faith held – as She still does, despite abuses – that even peasants, sinners, & other hoi had sufficient dignity to make a vow & be responsible to it; & that failure in the responsibility did not mean incapacity, nor negate either the intrinsic dignity free will bestows, nor the character of the vow by which that freedom bound itself.
          And even royalty, since by the standard of your sentence above quoted Thomas More was a fool, given that by it Henry, & indeed arguably every other immature soul on earth, was & is incapable of marriage, but only, like salvation, of at best in hope working towards it.
          And so effectively abolishes the Sacrament, or at least the capacity of anyone ever to know if & when it’s obtained, since, save God as you propose, who can ever know what immaturity truly lurks in the hearts of men?
          Or of women. What we can know is the objective standard the Faith has in principle & always upheld, as also generally in practice, the abuses notwithstanding.

          • anna lisa

            Ir’s shocking isn’t it?–That a person can be deluded into thinking they are married, when there is no marriage at all, and no heart that is humble or free enough to live/be open to the sacrament?
            How we cling to our illusions in this life when we try to make grand buildings upon shifting sand.
            How shocking that love requires the entire self in order to qualify as love.
            Marriage is a state of being, not a date on a legal paper.

          • antigon

            Perhaps instead of shocking, that the rich wonders of our age have finally discovered we can never know whether anyone has ever been married, might better be described as – fatuous, dear AL?
            ‘How we cling to our illusions in this life when we try to make grand buildings upon shifting sand.’
            An excellent motto for the current corruption of Padre Danneels & his apostate clericalist mafia.

          • anna lisa

            antigon, We all know that the world calls marriage one thing, and we Catholics see a much, much deeper meaning–this is not to say that even Pagans can’t live marriage in an extremely virtuous way.

            Do you remember the first time you were sitting in Church, and a reading from Hosea comes up on the mic?

            God tells Hosea, that he wants him to take a notorious prostitute as his wife. Do you remember your reaction?

            I was too young to understand, so I just chocked it up to one more weird thing that I’d shrug off because it seemed absurd.

            I get it now.

            Israel is the prostitute and Hosea represents God. God likens idolatry to *infidelity*. God simply cannot become one flesh with a prostitute, because —what is it they call homosexual “marriage”–an ontological impossibility? It is not possible to serve two Gods.

            So yes, every sin, whether it is through weakness or through calculation is an idolatrous act. And yes–the entire human race has a problem with fidelity.

            What is so striking about many Jews is that they were able to mimic worship of God with something grotesque–it was a caricature of worship. .. Sometimes I wonder if Satan’s rebellion was something similar…?

            Like Eileen said earlier, I will leave it to the tribunals to sort out the truth about whether or not a marriage was a falsehood for whichever reason. I am so glad the Pope has made the process easier for the ones that hoped for true marriage but found themselves trapped in a grotesque caricature.

            In the meantime, my husband and I have taken it on as a personal apostolate to pray for struggling marriages.

    • antigon

      AL: Certain levels of horror must be fled, no question; and the Faith has never held separation of itself to be sinful.
      But allow me to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor: as far as I’m concerned, we all suffer from profound immaturity of the soul. Not sure that justifies abolishing marriage as an objective reality provoked by consent, distinct from the idea that only subjective adherence upholds it.
      Hard cases make bad law.

      • anna lisa

        “and the Faith has never held separation of itself to be sinful.”

        Perhaps I’m reading you wrong, but it seems that you are implying that if a marriage turns seriously abusive, separation is fine, but seeking an annulment is wrong?

        Flannery O’Connor is right. However,(people are a billion shades of gray) there are those who make a good faith effort, and arrive at true sainthood at the end, while others are so broken that they should never have begun the race to begin with.

        There are indeed hard cases that become triumphant cases. What Catholic in good faith, wouldn’t hope and pray for this? Miracles of grace happen–bonds of evil are broken.

        I have seen people with an absolute right to an annulment, fight to form a true marriage. Why? Because *conversion* happened. I find this particularly edifying because they *freely* moved toward love. Nobody implied that they were stuck within a broken, so-called marriage.

        I have also witnessed the perversity of annulment: The father of a beautiful family disposed of his good wife and small sons in favor of his “Catholic” nanny. His first wife had already been baptized a Catholic, but he obtained the annulment based on the technicality that when they married she was an unbaptized Buddhist. That disgusted me. He was married to a good woman. He eventually blossomed into a serial sex abuser.

        Marriage is not about laws or paperwork.

        • antigon

          ‘Marriage is not about laws or paperwork.’
          Nor of straw men, AL. It is about vows, & the intrinsic dignity of men & women because we are free, & so free to make vows.
          That, finally, is a reality the Faith has always upheld, & what the world (& its clericalist allies) would deny to feign escape from responsibility for our sins, & the real focus of the current debate about marriage & roughly everything else
          And you read my argument more or less right, in that while the Faith has always allowed legitimate criteria for denying the Sacrament had ever obtained, those criteria are independent of whether either or both of the parties who made the vows turn vicious or in any other way violate the vows they made.
          They nonetheless bind because with all the complications of it, for better or worse God made us free.

          • anna lisa

            Lots of false vows are made in this world. People can clothe themselves in truth but be duplicitous liars.

          • antigon

            Another motto for Padre Danneels & friends!

          • anna lisa

            I know very little about Danneels, but it’s obvious that you are attempting to insult me again.

            Nothing made me grow spiritually, more, than the day I stopped being afraid to think for myself and listen with more of an open heart to what I was being taught in spiritual direction. I stopped listening to what the Catholic fundamentalists say and do. I realized how toxic they can be–how they say one thing but do the opposite. They promise heaven if you will only live by the rules of their hell.

            I haven’t always had the easiest marriage

            You call my thoughts and discussion fatuous, but I am only reflecting honestly about marriage, as I have experienced it , (and sadly, at times, the illusion of it) over the past 30 years.

            I don’t think anybody has all of the answers. God allows us to understand Him more and more over time if we are docile to his sometimes painful operations. We are a pilgrim people, learning by braille. God is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, but we continue to delve deeper and deeper into his mysteries. The truth about authentic marriage hasn’t changed, but our ability to fully grasp it *is* changing.

            The way I love my husband, and the way he loves me, (after three decades, beginning as a teen), has taught me more about God, than an Aquinas or an Augustine could.

            I hope that you too enjoy the deep and abiding marital joy that God intended for us since he created the first man and woman. There shouldn’t be any bitterness between the sexes, –even for those who try to deface something so beautiful with a dogmatic, iron fist.

          • antigon

            Anna Lisa:
            Seeking to flee from the meat & implications of your arguments by making this discussion personal cannot disguise your straw man & wanderingly unfocused aspirations to mysticalesque arguments; nor your insistence that it’s impossible really ever to know if anyone has ever been married; nor your necessarily implied contempt for the defacing of things supposedly beautiful by dogmatic, iron-fisted fools like Thomas More; nor that all this is finally a repudiation both of the dignity & freedom of the human soul.
            Nor can it disguise that addressing those arguments & showing how they are both wrong & yes fatuous is no insult but a respectful consideration of them, albeit necessarily also a refutation. Straw man invocations of illusively iron-fisted dogmatic fundamentalists, on the other hand, are no argument, are in fact little better than another failed effort to hide the want of even remote substance otherwise.
            The mottos for Danneels & friends were nonetheless no insult either to you or your arguments, but instead a precise description of what they represent.

          • anna lisa

            And now I can only wonder if you treat everyone like that–? With so much self assured contempt.

            Who is pulling out the straw man, implying that I said that the great St. Thomas Moore is an “iron -fisted fool”…?

            St. Thomas Moore was right to die before he put allegiance to a King before his allegiance to his faith. I would do the same.

            You say that the vast majority of marriages are real marriages, based upon the mouthing of a vow, when our Holy Father has said otherwise. Even O.L. of Fatima lamented that “many marriages are not of God.”

            What you want, we cannot have in this life. What you preach is presumption.

            There is very little presumption when I affirm that I most assuredly am blessed to have a true and authentic marriage.
            –Had I been shown what complete transformation this would require, when I, a teen, said “I do” at a Catholic altar, I might have felt devastated. I always say that it’s good that God doesn’t give us a list or a peek at what he expects us to accomplish in this life.

            I won’t speak for others, but I can examine the fruits they bear, and remember what Jesus said about this.

            Sifting through the real marriages, and the false ones is not a job I would gladly take though. My own struggle was hair raising enough.

            Just remember that Antigon–“by their fruits you shall know them” and this too:
            “and even if they know the language of angels, but have not love, they are but a gong.”

            Now move along and find another fatuous little woman who knows nothing about what marriage means, and be sure to educate her, as you have me.

          • antigon

            Anna Lisa:
            Am sorry you’ve chosen to flee the want of substance in your posts by further invocation of straw men, & by attacking me personally for addressing them, &, sorry, addressing them both honestly & respectfully.
            Accordingly I will endeavor to let this go for now, & leave the final post to you.
            Nonetheless before I do, I would note again that I addressed your original post both seriously & honestly, addressed its *arguments*, & such mild snark as I later allowed was but in response to your introduction of same; & that at no point did I get all injured & huffy by them, nor suggest as you have of mine, that your arguments were inspired by moral & character defects.
            Meanwhile at no point have I treated you with contempt, but have only addressed your arguments & method of argumentation.
            At no point have I called you a fatuous little woman, despite noting such straw pretenses are fatuous, which they are.
            If you will meanwhile re-read your arguments with remote intellectual detachment, you will see that rather than any straw man, it must follow from them that More was guilty of what you call iron-fisted dogmatism since he was killed not solely for the Faith, but for that central aspect of Her teaching you have here sought to scorn.
            And as regards presumption, A.L., t’was not I who proposed folk haven’t the proper heart & soul to be legitimately married, even tho they ‘think’ they do, especially in that you allow yourself to make a claim you deny others.
            But enough. I’ve addressed & arguably refuted your imperfectly focused arguments. I do not seek an internet catfight with you, nor suggest any moral weakness, if plausibly an intellectual one or two.
            And truly, I have no animosity for you of any kind. To the contrary, am both moved & impressed by your struggle to reach Heaven, & not least via the Sacrament you vowed & sustain.
            And for such deficiencies of my own character as you perceive & that in any event God knows are abundant, allow me to request of you an Ave for me if you would.
            Pax et B – Anitgon

          • Anna

            I’ve seen enough of your posts to know you aren’t actually trying to say that most marriages aren’t really real, but I see how the language in your original post reads that way. Especially the “has become a non-marriage.” That would imply that someone whose wiring has changed due to a brain tumor, stroke, or dementia (hiding in your genes but not obvious at the wedding), or whatever also is now in a non-marriage. I know you don’t think that, but it reads that way.

            I do think it’s difficult, looking at the state of the world, to think anyone can contract a valid marriage; I forget whether it was Francis or Benedict, probably the latter, who cautioned against an “ontological pessimism” in regard to marriages, noting that in the attempt of tribunals to be compassionate, they often sell short what is possible for redeemed humans like all of us. The Church does set pretty minimal standards for all the sacraments so that we can quit wondering if it “took” and get on with the business of living it. Like a priest can be a total heretic and as long as he intends to do what the Church does at the consecration (even if he *believes* that that’s nothing at all), Jesus is there. I always quail a bit when we baptize our kids and they get to the bit about “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” The only sane answer, obviously, is “no, how can I possibly clearly understand all that it will take to lead this child to heaven???” … and all the Church wants me to say is “yes” because I’ve got the general idea. And She believes me and baptizes my kid.

            Sometimes the attempt to theologically explain what’s needed for consent in marriage turns into sounding like a permanently receding horizon. As you truly note, you and me and most of us were self-assured morons when we married and had no real clue what we were getting into, nor were we nearly as mature as we thought. Which the Church is well aware of and expects growth as long as we have good intentions to start things off. But if we cast too much doubt on people’s ability to freely consent, then we risk throwing more devotion toward Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment without ever just jumping in in trust. Kind of like society keeps pushing the idea of complete financial stability before marriage; used to be common to marry poor, but now everyone thinks that’s totally irresponsible – but the bar for “financial stability” keeps rising.

          • anna lisa

            Anna, thank you for weighing in. I’m not at all sure about marriage statistics. I’m really not a numbers girl anyhow. I wouldn’t hang my hat on the idea that most marriages are not real marriages, but I wouldn’t be shocked either.

            What draws me in and fascinates me is the desire to understand what Jesus really, REALLY means about things.

            I had not realized how utterly holy and majestic marriage is REALLY supposed to be through much of my married life. Sure, I played lip service–but then there was this “real world”, and “sure Jesus” mentality.

            I could describe for you a crushing case of a marriage that needs to be annulled but it would take too long–Talking about marriage in a philosophical way doesn’t put the face of agony on the marriage, that was entered into with good faith, but has been deeply betrayed.

            I’ll keep my examples general:

            My husband comes from “upstanding” culturally Catholic families, but their behavior would make an Isabelle Allende novel blush.
            –Bonobo monkey colonies have higher moral standards. They weren’t unique in this!

            God forbid that your expensive shirt not be clean and pressed by some subservient slave while you visit a prostitute/your mistress –and then go to mass the next day.

            Men will be men eh?

            — At least his own parents had the common sense to get rid of the catholic veneer.

            Now that the women in Latin America have entered the workforce in huge numbers, I would imagine that there are fewer prostitutes and whore houses because the new thing (I’m told by a good Catholic friend) is office dating whether you are married or not. The sly wink that used to be reserved for the men goes both ways now. She says it’s a national past time.

            Anna, maybe we have higher standards here–a little bit? The last vestiges of a post puritan culture?

            This doesn’t mean that infidelity isn’t rampant though, because statistics here are a little shocking too–and those statistics are the ones of people who have actually made the leap from not living fidelity in their hearts and minds, to actually acting upon that corrupt inclination.

            Infidelity doesn’t just have to be about sex either, it can be about a million other things that replace the rights of spouses and families. That’s where it gets much murkier. It would take a book to delve into the idols that can adulterate a marriage. Money’s a good one, eh?

            My point is that marriage is sacred, even if we have made it banal, and have become jaded by the low barriers to entry.

            It is *shockingly* sacred.

            I stand by the fact that a true marriage cannot *exist* hand-in-hand with infidelity. That is simply impossible.

            What is that million dollar Catholic zinger that the gay marriage campaign brought to our dinner tables?–It is an ontological *impossibility*.

          • antigon

            ‘I stand by the fact that a true marriage cannot *exist* hand-in-hand with infidelity. That is simply impossible…It is an ontological *impossibility*.’
            Save that is not a fact nor either ontologically or simply impossible, since the Sacrament of Matrimony holds if validly confected even despite infidelity, just as the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, & Confession hold when they are conferred honestly, even if later befouled by infidelity.
            And once again, were your argument true, it must follow from it that the Church was wrong to deny Henry his annulment, & Thomas More a fool for failing to grasp your wisdom.
            But he wasn’t a fool, & the Church wasn’t wrong, Anna Lisa. It’s you who are wrong.

          • anna lisa

            Thump your chest on your high hilll Antigon. I stand by the fact that God can’t be one with a prostitute. He still sends her to the desert and then takes up the broken ties OF HIS OWN MERCIFUL VOLITION when she *repents*.
            Have a nice weekend bro. lol Read up in scripture on calling someone else a “fool” –my almost friend. Except not. you aren’t because you’re a giant….um…
            …you’re not a gentleman. K? Sleep on that.

          • antigon

            Dear Anna Lisa:
            Your theory is contrary to the constant teaching & understanding of the Faith regarding the Matrimonial Sacrament, in defense of which More & doubtless many others have been martyred.
            It is hardly chest thumping nor ungentlemanly to note that; & as I have never remotely called you a fool nor engaged at any point as you steadily have in personal invective, one can’t but suspect you are reduced to the latter precisely because you can see your pet theory is without merit, else you would address the arguments against it rather than scratching at anyone, speaking of high hills, with the effrontery to examine it.
            Some might call such scratching unladylike, others all too much like lots of ladies, but such cattery is just distraction from the main point; which is that quite despite your amazing & utterly unprovoked invective, the Faith has ever & ever will reject your theory as inimical to reality, & very particularly to the reality of the Matrimonial Sacrament.

          • Anna

            Well, from your description, it doesn’t sound like there was any intent of fidelity in the first place which would mean the marriage was null. But it can’t be true that anyone who cheats on their spouse destroys what God has joined. Otherwise anyone could ditch their spouse and be in the right as long as they remarry, kwim? Certainly, infidelity (which can’t change your ontology any more than any other sin) means that the person isn’t living the reality of marriage as a signpost to our union with God, but it doesn’t, alone, invalidate the marriage any more than people in mortal sin become unbaptized (and would mean that couples who patch things up and stay together are living together outside of marriage…) Though typically the tribunals will take infidelity within the first year as a strong sign the person never meant the vow in the first place.

            I agree that marriage is “*shockingly* sacred,” though I think that applies to all the sacraments that we (well, *I* at least) experience while half aware. Generous of God to unite with me when I’m so distracted at Mass!

            I’d never want to be on the tribunals, that’s for sure. One priest I met, who was working in the tribunals, said he’s haunted by the question “what if I’m wrong?” Way too much for me to sort out who was really too immature or selfish or whatever to contract a marriage, and who wasn’t, and who is trying to claim they were just to get out. (I think it was on Faith and Family where someone had married a very theologically knowledgeable person who wanted an annulment on the grounds that he couldn’t possibly have freely consented since he didn’t know life was going to involve *this* [whatever “this” was]. Dummy; what did he think the ambiguity of better/worse meant?) The bar has to be low so that normal people can actually marry, but it’s hard to tell when it’s gotten so low as to be meaningless, or so high that almost no one could be considered married. And it’s going to get ever harder to tell, in a culture full of wounded-wrt-marriage people, who was too wounded to contract a marriage and who is just wounded like all of us are from a world full of sin.

          • anna lisa

            Anna, I really appreciate your clarity and charity.

            We live in an age of so much confusion. For many of us who thought we had total clarity, Our Holy Father is challenging us. I was really moved to read what Archbishop Cupich had to say a couple of days ago: “I changed my mind”. Or: “Like the three kings, I came from one direction, but chose to leave by another.”

            What comes to my mind in all of this discussion is that man was not made for marriage, but marriage was made for man.

            I am also aware that one of the most astute theologians of all, after God himself, is Satan…He would like to *bludgeon* human beings with his invitation that we follow it to the letter, rather than the spirit.

            I have followed Catholic discussion on the internet for the last five years, and have been startled to see the extreme lack of charity by the dogmatic on both extremes of the spectrum. I had seen this in life, (not at first) but internet discussion finally made me understand how much actual evil exists in the hearts of fundamentalists. They are perfectly content to destroy their enemy in order to prove that they are right. They take actual pleasure in this process of destruction in the belittlement and finally the relegating of others (who aren’t right like them) to hell. It is chilling. It’s hard to stomach.

            I will admit that when it comes to this discussion on marriage, I have changed. It happened before Bergoglio. I’d had enough of the fundamentalists. They might have had just as much a hand in me almost destroying our marriage, as the misogynistic attitudes my husband’s father imported to my now, very *changed* spouse. I don’t need to boast by saying that he is nearly a saint by the grace of God, and by his willingness to allow grace to untie the knots that he’d been hardwired with by his parents. It’s just the truth.
            (My husband used to beg me not to associate with the traditionalists–but I thought they were the embodiment of virtue. He despised the way they scared me into being like them, and just wanted his wife back…)

            It IS scary when they ask us if we are ready and willing to form our children in the faith.

            As for what you wrote, all of which which I agree with–the one thing that really bothers me about comparing the sacrament of matrimony with that of baptism, or confirmation is that marriage is such an extremely intimate communion between two people (theology of the body). –Baptism, integrates us into the body of Christ and thus the entire Christian community. It’s true that when we sin, we sin against the entire body, and yes, that sin deforms our soul to some degree, depending upon the gravity, but marriage requires such an intensely *intimate* union of souls, (ONE.FLESH) –that if one or both spouses are not functioning in unity, and this becomes a permanent state of being, it must not *be* a marriage, and it must not have *ever* been one despite the illusion of one. An intense disunity is like “antimarriage”, or the defacement of the truth in action. If people can behave like an anti Christ, (like baptized Hitler), spouses can also reduce marriage to the antithesis of what it was designed to be: a sanctuary of virtue and nurture. Clinging to such a thing (-really an abomination if you think about it), for the sake of being some kind of martyr, can’t be the right track.

            I just don’t believe infidelity happens in a vacuum; it is the culmination or the bad fruit of a tree that is already diseased profoundly. I’d call it the sacrament of antimarriage.

            Just like a demon needs to be named in an exorcism, men and women need to be able to identify and NAME abuse, because abuse hides behind shame and pride. It gets to grow and thrive there in the name of “uprightness” of all things!

            After naming it. and calling it out of the shadows, abused spouses should take bold and swift action to test and see if it was ever an authentic marriage, by performing a kind of operation on the marriage/nonmarriage. The status quo needs to be confronted, and I really think the abuser should have to move out of the family sanctuary, where he or she is doing so much damage to the psyche of the ones he or she is supposed to be protecting. To allow it to fester on, is to literally aid and abet that abuse. This is where family and friends really need to rally behind them.

            In my personal opinion, the family should meet together with the separated parent on weekends. The days between those weekends should be ample time for the excluded spouse to reflect and make resolutions to really experience what is on the line in order to be shocked into affecting a change. This is what is so critical –interrupting any kind of destructive behavior–a change in pattern.

            If this isolation doesn’t change the abuser–if it doesn’t humble him and leave in stark contrast what he stands to lose, I doubt he ever had it in him (her) to form a marriage, to begin with.

            You know what Anna? If the victim spouse really searches their heart and memory, they will be able to spot all of the little clues that were like little bells and flags, even if the courtship caused them both to stay on their toes, and put their best face forward. A good therapist could help them to see, find and document the clues.

            Given time, and armed with the findings of this intense scrutiny, the wronged spouse should FIGHT like it’s life or death for the right to find a proper mother or father figure for the poor victims of that falsehood, by making their strongest case for the annulment, and even if that never happens, family and friends can almost fill gaps. Most of all, the annulment will be a testament to the spouse and children that everything they endured at the hands of their erring parent was NOT okay. They should all receive mental health therapy, and spiritual direction to try to repair damage.

            Because there is so. much. at. stake.

            And because its so. important. to. tell. the. truth. with. our. bodies.

            –Even the most upright appearing lie can’t enter heaven.

          • Anna

            Spent Saturday burying the saintly priest who married us (and married my parents too). All this conversation provoking thought about marriage, but that too… we’ve been so blessed.
            I think, overall, I agree with what you’ve written here. Certainly I don’t think abused spouses should stay and martyr it out (and advised a number of people so, back when Faith & Family Live was still around), though I think there can certainly be cases where there was a valid marriage and the wronged spouse’s faithfulness to her/his vows (at a distance) are a sign of God’s refusal to ever throw any of us away. (I don’t personally know them, but friends of my brother are in this sort of situation. Husband is in prison due to his utter destruction of their family; wife still visits and prays for him, though with a clear understanding of the gravity of his actions and knowing that they cannot reunite.)

            I don’t think every instance of infidelity shows a lack of a valid marriage though. e.g. I have an aunt and uncle who stuck together even after said uncle’s descent into alcoholism and thereby into an affair (both of which he eventually ended). The alcohol wasn’t an issue when they married, but certainly led to many poor decisions later and was the occasion for much suffering for my aunt, though she has done quite the job in raising her husband’s son as her own. Or a road-not-taken example, when our first child was born, we went through a time of feeling so isolated from each other. Neither of us knew why and we both were trying to connect, but it just wasn’t working. Eventually we talked about the isolation itself, rather than trying to fix it by other means and that turned out to be the way to connect again. But if we hadn’t… if we’d both kept trying to cover that feeling up by forced cheerfulness or had gotten resentful about it, who knows how that would have ended years later. But I don’t think our marriage was invalid at that point, even though it was probably a turning point for good or ill for the marriage overall.

            I like your solution for the marriages where one spouse is clearly in the wrong, though I suspect that is less often as clear-cut as one could wish. Most are probably more like the marriage in “Fatherless” (a novel I *detest* but which is useful for illustrating what I mean). There’s one marriage the author describes where, as far as I can tell, he means the woman to be the long-suffering St Monica type and the man to be the philandering jerk. And the husband is certainly wrong for having an affair. But the woman… enmeshed with her eldest, emotionally incestuous with her second eldest, and perpetually emasculating to her husband with every attempt made on her part to show him that the family will be just fine without him as long as they have her holy wonderfulness. Ugh. Anyway, I think the “separation mixed with trying to help offending spouse see the light” solution is excellent, but would need solid third-party involvement to make sure that it isn’t “pile on one person when both are contributors to the mess” time. Actually, I think Retrouvaille tries to help with that. And when that doesn’t help, the point of the annulment process (and therapy) as you said is, in large part, helping people see why they ended up there. *Note to those playing along at home: I am Not saying blame the victim. But most of us know some of those perpetual-crisis types or someone who everyone else can see is heading for a train wreck but won’t listen to concerns. No reason to keep going from frying pan to fire.*

          • anna lisa

            Funerals have way of making us search our souls about this whole thing called life and what we are doing with it. The death of a saint is a much happier event than the day we gathered for my cousin, –who died alone in a car of a heroin (meth?) overdose. Her father didn’t even show up, and my ex-aunt isn’t even Catholic anymore, so the poor girl didn’t even get a funeral.
            –No matter what I have suffered in this life, just having Faith is reason enough to affirm that I should be extremely thankful.
            My father may have ended things as a saint after all he suffered, but will possibly be one of the feistiest saints in heaven. There are still a few Ann Coulter books in his bookcase that need to be burned. He’s possibly detained at the pearly gate until the deed is done.

            I too have been pondering marriage and making my husband grapple with all of my passionate discourse (talk about marital abuse!–The poor man!). I haven’t heard back from my spiritual director (I asked him for some good links for documents on annulment and a little more direction on communion for the divorced and remarried.) Btw– There is presently a First Things article linked to at the NCR that just bothered me. The young woman has plenty of good things to say, but it appears that she is instructing the Synod fathers, after her short stint at marriage (which was on the rocks at the beginning.) I really have to wonder if she realizes how smug she sounds. Her whole premise is that she would have bailed on her marriage, were it not for the fact that she didn’t want to end up excluded from communion. I for one would never have stayed in a marriage with that thought at the forefront of my mind. The Church’s teachings are extremely important to me, but I’ve always known that the pressure my parents exerted upon me to get married at such a tender age, pretty much left me in a position of having an assured annulment if I wanted it. That always made the “fixing” of our marriage so much easier because we were *free*. LOVE had the final say. I just hate the idea that in the minds of some there is this box with a padlock on it called “Catholic marriage” that some governing committee (or two!) has the key to. Marriage is so sacred and personal, that this strikes a bad note in my heart. Anyhow, I do believe our marriage was valid (we were happy they practically forced us to get married, because that’s what we wanted anyhow.) My mother just didn’t have the right to be so pushy and shaming. Anyhow, other than the birth of our children our wedding day was the happiest day of our lives, and there were zero reservations. But she caused damage with her painful lectures and made me feel like a criminal. My husband’s family, was the opposite, (and shamed us too), but was entirely made up of serial philanderers, so I was running the other direction from the body mill they were all busy attending to, and business was brisk. They liked to sneer at their son/brother who had chosen to be the “good one” of their family, and then turned around and happily exploited him to do everything for them, because he was too kind to say “no”. They thought he was insande to tie himself down.
            On my side, all I could hope for was to redeem myself from my former ways–and hey–I still “saved myself” for my husband, despite tons of opportunity to chuck my virtue out the window–We had married each other in word, before we asked for the sacrament. I’m not defending that order of things but that’s the way it went. But off I went in search of redemption.

            Unfortunately, by the time my new friends, the Trads got through with me I was practically roadkill. My 22 year old husband didn’t understand what was happening. A perfect storm.
            –and then this weirdo Trad priest (who I later figured out was just a big pervert, who addressed me on subjects that I hadn’t even brought up) scared. the. hell. out. of. me. Of course the Trad friends had plenty of books on hell for me to read too! And Ohhhh how they would cut me down if I wore anything they considered worldly–and would compete with each other over who was the most haggard/sleep deprived/rumpled/hairy/ poor/crafty and virtuous. Their obsession with “the great chastisement” etc, etc. etc. was CRAZY. –And of course they wanted to found a “real” Catholic school, right? (Don’t they all?) **(Including the young mother who wrote that letter to the Synod so bad people won’t get to have communion which is somehow saving *her* marriage !)–A tiny little enclave where a tiny little remnant “true to the magisterium” can save Catholicism from total annihilation.
            (–Not so true to the magesterium these days are they…!)
            Remember too, that there was no internet, for sane people to compare notes. Talk about isolation!

            So the best thing that EVER happened is that I listened to my Mom, and let her pay for putting my kid in a regular Catholic school. They *immediately* informed me to get lost for being such a pagan worldling who would dare try to stick around and infect their carefully cultivated children. That blessed act may have saved not only my marriage, but my now warped Catholic faith.

            But a lot of damage had already been done. A pivotal moment came when I read St. Faustina’s diary, and read how important it is to have a spiritual director. So I got on my knees and asked for one. Of all prayers I have ever, ever prayed, that one was answered *immediately*.

            That priest saved. my. marriage. He taught me how to not be afraid anymore. He showed me a truer version of God.. There are still Catholics out there that give me flashbacks of the fear I used to have (coughmsgrcharlespope) but I’m almost over it. A little bit of fear never hurt anyone, but of course, perfect love casts out ALL fear.

            At my Dad’s funeral a very nice (but Trad) friend (who told my son Max that he is going to hell because he accepts gay people) insisted to me that I MUST wear an ALL-CLOTH brown scapular, because the other ones “won’t work”. She very kindly gave my family a bag that she sewed herself, and then reminded me about my son’s perilous worldliness. She paid the $300 bucks for Gregorian masses for my Dad, as did a couple of other people. It just left me scratching my head that almost a thousand bucks were paid for 450 masses. –So what–poor people just have to suck it up because there is no one to cough it up? It just doesn’t ring true to me. Nor does it ring true to me that *my* marriage is safer if a bunch of loser-Catholics get to have communion…
            I asked the author of that First Things Article what she would have done in “las miserias” where they sniff this awful bi-product of cocaine production, where Bergoglio encountered 90% of his flock in irregular living situations but still going to mass and communion. I asked her if she would go about protecting Jesus from them…?

            Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about my response, –but now…I don’t know what to say. I want those poor people to have communion with Jesus, and it doesn’t have so much as the tiniest iota of an affect on how I view the sanctity of marriage.

          • Anna

            Competition over who is the hairiest, lol! So glad my rearing was so emphatically middle-of-the-road; also maybe my obnoxious temperament, which leads me to purposely wear pants if I know I’m going to be around sola skirtura types, helps preserve me from the Trads you describe.

            I don’t think the communion question is one of protecting Jesus as it is one of preserving a sense of the gravity of the situation. It’s true that marriage is holy and of cosmic importance. And it’s also true that the whole divorce/remarriage thing is explicitly addressed in the gospels. So to “downgrade” it to a venial sin seems to brush aside the tremendous destruction caused by divorce. Or, if the proposals for re-admittance to communion are not in the spirit of “no big deal” but are instead mostly due to assuming that the original marriage was probably invalid (perhaps b/c by *far* the majority of annulment requests are granted), then that seems to me to be a sea change for all marriages. Right now, the presumption of validity means that the Church, at a wedding, is rejoicing at the creation of a new image of the Trinity. But the presumption of invalidity would change the wedding day from one of joy to one of suspicion: “You say you’re getting married; well, we’ll see.” Either way, I think it would have huge repercussions for all marriages.

            Also, it seems to keep being assumed (not necessarily by you, but by many in the debates in general) that only the sinned-against spouse wants to receive communion, but that is hardly the case. And it seems to me to be highly damaging, to the abandoned children especially, to have the abusing/abandoning parent be able to say “See, I didn’t do anything bad! The Church says separating myself from you and the person I’d vowed to love didn’t separate me from God at all!” I mean, sure, people (including myself at certain times in my life) present themselves unworthily all the time which is a risk Jesus is willing to run to give himself to us. But it doesn’t have to be officially okayed by the Church.

            It’s always thorny, but I suppose part of the problem is that we all expect it not to be. We could be the Church in certain parts of Africa: what to do about converts from native religions where polygamy is the norm? Clearly they can’t keep all x number of wives, with the Church giving some sort of accommodation for polygamy in certain hard cases. But what is the just thing to do with all the women who depend on the one spouse for support? And which marriage, if any, is the real one since there was no sacramental marriage at all, and no intent of monogamous fidelity anyway?

          • anna lisa

            Anna, I never. succumbed. to. the. hairy. Never! I always slyly wore makeup and fiddled with my hair! I am guilty of some hippyish clothes and orphan underwear though. Poor, poor, husband. If I were the devil I’d tempt women not to bathe and to ugly-it-up as much as possible too!

            Again, I agree with you entirely in principle, about communion for the divorced, but as you pointed out, some places of the world exist with such challenges and entrenched cultural practices that mortal sin isn’t the issue.

            I think it’s pretty hard to commit a mortal sin. God bends over backwards. What parent would agree to eternal damnation for their erring child? I think that kid needs to pretty much spit in His face and stalk away.

            I pulled my second grader out of first communion prep. when the teacher told a bunch of seven-year-olds that if their parents didn’t go to mass that Sunday they were in mortal sin aka GOING TO HELL. (You may as well get a pitchfork and start driving people out of the Church.) My kid didn’t even get what she meant, he just had a general fear and loathing of her authoritarianism, and begged me not to leave him there.

            So yes–jerks happen–but they also get aided and abetted by Catholics with martyr complexes who think it’s holy to let the creep be an overlord, when he(she) needs to be removed from office (aka getting your neglectful/abusing butt *kicked to the curb*.) Hopefully conversion happens in the process!

            I hate divorce. I’m disgusted by children and spouses left victims by their parent(s) lack of control. It really stinks to high heaven, I’ve seen it up close, and it’s nauseating. My husband was deeply affected by his parents terrible relationship and the destruction of his family. BUT, there are mitigating circumstances where even the Pope realizes that barring a victim from communion isn’t a proper solution.

            The creeps of the world may feel like they’re getting away with something, but if scripture tells us that every word will be accounted for with scrutiny, –something tells me that there are going to be a lot of stunned people when they go before God. The dramatic need for atonement for every broken heart, and every tear that was selfishly inflicted might very well look like hell for the perpetrator. *Nobody* is getting off the hook for anything, with or without a change in communion practice. (educated Catholics will probably be doing most of the “gnashing of teeth” in the outer darkness, because they should have *known better*.)

            The same can be said for those who mutilate their bodies by vasectomy or tubal ligation. Just because they go to confession,and are able to return to communion that very day, doesn’t mean there isn’t some HUGE hole in the fabric of life, that they created, and that will need to be atoned for. They will see it some day, and it won’t exactly be like getting off Scott free. It will be very sobering to see the truth of their actions. (If they could see it in this life, they would probably go to any lengths just to try to reverse the damage.)

            As for ambiguity concerning sacramental marriages–? Simple. Renew the vows at a Catholic altar–but only, ONLY after all the serious problems have been dealt with and there is good reason to believe that they will be fulfilled.

            We renewed our marriage vows with the same priest that married us, even though we never felt that we were not truly married. It was a truly joyful event, just like the first time, but there is simply
            “new wine” and “aged wine!” :)!

            Please forgive my need to be corny, but I just have to say it: our marriage is *heaven on earth* now, (ok, about 99% of the time.) I just wish I could run and shake all of the miserable spouses out there and tell them to STOP IT, and to choose heaven instead of hell!

          • Anna

            “As for ambiguity concerning sacramental marriages–? Simple. Renew the
            vows at a Catholic altar–but only, ONLY after all the serious problems
            have been dealt with and there is good reason to believe that they will
            be fulfilled.”
            But doesn’t this just require that everyone cohabit? My point was that the Church considers marriages to be real unless proven otherwise. If the reverse is codified (i.e. if the presumption with all divorces is that there was never a valid marriage), then the Church is saying that everyone’s “marriage” is really only a trial period until… until when? Some marriages break up in six months, others in 30 years; when would the Church finally say “this marriage counts”?

            I agree about the mortal sins, though that wasn’t quite my point with the Africa stuff either. I meant that the Church has to teach Truth and uphold the redeemed vision of life that we are called to and that is made possible by Christ, even though we are still also living in a world tangled by sin. So the polygamy question is one that, much like the Church has said about IVF and frozen embryos, has gotten so knotted up by human sin and confusion that there is no entirely just solution that will make it all better. Of course, with divorce an abandoned spouse is not left without the sacraments unless he/she freely chooses to enter another marriage. It’s one of those situations where the Church pretty much says, “Yes, it’s a cross. We don’t have a magic wand to fix it, we’re just here to give you the sacraments so you can carry it with Christ.” And to say to the abandoning spouse (or spouses, since most cases are two-sided), “Sorry, separating yourself from your wife/husband and children to chase someone else also means you’ve walked out on Jesus.”

            At any rate, I’m not at all fussed about what will come of the synod or the eventual documents from the Pope. The Church is the Church and has to teach what is true; if it doesn’t, then, like Flannery O’Connor said, “to hell with it” and we’d all better put our resources to use finding the true Church instead of wringing our hands about the false one.

          • Eileen

            Anna, if you’ve been reading the comments on other blogs, you probably know that quite a few of anna lisa’s fundamentalist Catholics are saying we should require engaged couples to do and be x, y, and z and if they don’t pass muster, they can forget about a Church marriage and just go to city hall. So the call for telling people to just live together outside of the Church’s official recognition is out there and it’s coming from an unlikely source. It’s almost like they don’t really believe actual sacramental graces are conferred only when the couple marries in front of the priest. Hmm.

            I think so much of the Catholic marriage debate has to do with the Church’s role as a governing authority. The Church was instrumental in bringing the notion of consent into marriage and so it’s clear to me that the Church has historically been right on point. But it wasn’t until the 12th century or so that some theologians began looking at marriage as a sacrament. And marriage was not officially declared a sacrament until the Council of Trent, and it was done so in response to Martin Luther declaring marriage to be of this world. Prior to the Council of Trent, the Church largely recognized common law marriages, particularly among the serfs, without ceremony or rite. If the sacrament is eternal and by that I mean that it was a sacrament prior to the Church’s declaration of it being one (and as Catholics we believe that to be the case), that means that there is historical precedent for genuine Christian sacramental marriages occurring without official recognition from the Church.

            Anyway, when I started reading about the Church’s marriage recognition and unrecognition (i.e. annulments and dispensations from canonical form), I felt sort of smacked in the face with the same sort of Catholic authoritarian weirdness that declares eating meat on a Friday in Lent as being a sin of magnitude equal to rape or murder. I don’t know where this leaves us as far as remarriages, more annulments, more living together, etc, but I think it’s great that the Church is currently looking at marriage and divorce.

            Finally, I just want to thank anna lisa for her part in this conversation. I loved reading all her posts.

          • Anna

            Heh, I’ve mostly been avoiding the comboxes elsewhere. It’s just that anna lisa and I have enough history to actually have a conversation. And we agree on the big stuff; neither she nor I would be fine with couples test-driving each other *edit* or with abused spouses sitting home to martyr it out any more than the Church is fine with that.

            I understand being more squicked out by the theological arcana if you’ve been burned; I like it enough to have majored in it. 🙂 The Church’s marriage law is pretty straightforward and goes back to the idea that baptism truly *does something* and so natural marriage would be ontologically different from sacramental marriage (which all goes back to the Petrine/Pauline privileges from the NT). It’s just (“just” sounds so easy and minimal, eh?) the practical applications that are a huge mess to untangle b/c people in general are always going to be a mess.

            I can’t tell quite whether you mean the “authoritarian weirdness” in reference to the trads of anna lisa’s experience who don’t get the difference, or in reference to actual Church authority which *does* know the difference in the gravity of marriage and the gravity of preferred minor penitential practice.

          • anna lisa

            Thank you for the historical background. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t until the Council of Trent that they recognized marriage as a sacrament!
            (Poor Catherine of Aragon is the one that should have been begging for the annulment! She’s lucky she *survived* her “marriage”.

          • Anna

            It’s actually not accurate; the Council of Lyons several hundred years before Trent listed all seven and included mention of the acceptability of remarriage after a spouse’s death. And, seeing as Paul addressed the question of annulments (he doesn’t call it that, of course; he just talks about what happens if one spouse converts and the other doesn’t), it’s not like sacramental marriage was a new invention in the 1200’s any more than papal infallibility was first a concept after Vatican I. Always double check the internetz. 😉

            You’re right about meeting people where they are; I’d like to make Calah Alexander’s story (at Barefoot and Pregnant) required reading for all priests since “meeting people where they are” is usually code for “clap and give everyone a sticker for participation” not “find out where they are by *lots of personal interaction* and go from there.” Calah’s story is the best example I’ve seen of the right way to do things. Fr. Maguire, not professorially known for gentleness and mercy lol, saw what they were capable of and called them to do it; saw what they may or may not have been capable of but was a sine qua non (no more meth); and kept inviting the next (baby) step as they were ready for it. He never handed them a program and walked away, nor did he expect everything all at once. He walked the whole way *with* them – and that’s what people don’t like to have to do b/c it takes a lot of time and commitment, not a checklist.

          • anna lisa

            Thank you Anna, I’d like to read what Calah wrote. She’s a great writer with a lot of intuition. We need more fatherly priests like that! I wish we’d had the same.

            Thanks for the correction on the actual council–not that it makes much of a difference to me–I see it more along the lines of the Church recognizing something that existed prior to the recognition of it, like officially declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, though it wasn’t something new. Just curious–do you think that the sacrament existed from the beginning (with the first men and women)?

            I’m optimistic –JPII’s teachings on the theology of the body are such a huge breakthrough to help married couples understand their divine calling. (Shame on those who spread fear and dread about something so beautiful! Body haters have been around forever–and boo to clericalism that would turn us into second class citizens!)

            I just sat down to my computer after soccer, but on the way home NPR was reporting on the synod, and it sounded encouraging to me. Treating people individually on a case by case basis sounds right to me. I’d personally never get civilly remarried, but I haven’t walked in those peoples’ shoes. I’m so glad the Pope has made a huge push to make annulment financially possible for the poor.

            So you majored in theology eh? Cool. My husband once asked me with some exasperation to go *study* it formally for realz (lol). He just lives his life, but I’m always trying to figure it all out. I don’t think I question the teachings of the Church, what I question are the humans that err too much on the side of a kind of rigor that I believe is contrary to what God actually intended. By now, I guess it’s like beating a dead horse for me to say it, but those theologians that teach that most humans are perishing, and headed to an eternal hell (using quotes of saints like big guns to back them up) —make. me. sick. My husband doesn’t understand how it bothers me so much. He’ll just shrug and say “to hell with them”and go on to the next thing like it shouldn’t bother me in the least! I think it’s much easier to love everyone, (even a jihadist) if you look at them as a brother or sister that you will eventually spend eternity with. Sin is the enemy. Evil is the enemy–not fallen humans who literally thirst for God like we do.

          • Anna

            I agree with it not mattering about the actual council; it’s the sort of thing people pull out when they want to argue the Church invented something and don’t get that councils just clarify what was already there rather than thinking up something out of the blue.

            The question about the sacrament existing from the beginning is a bit complicated given that there are (now that baptism exists) differences between sacramental and non-sacramental marriages, though non-sacramental marriages can still be perfectly valid. So there were real marriages… but I’d speculate that the graces therefrom were quite the same as with the current sacrament. I don’t mean God left them with nothing, just that having a Savior *did* make the world wholly different. But one does notice that, even though polygamy was accepted then, God worked through the original marriage and lots of awfulness happened when people ignored the original relationship (like Leah and Rachel, or Sarah and Hagar, or Solomon’s many wives). I do particularly like the bit in the wedding Mass where the prayer says something about marriage being the one gift that was not lost at the Fall.

            If you’re a ToB fan (and even if someone’s not) I have to highly recommend the ToB Institute in PA (and not just b/c I’m certified through them). Outstanding professors for all their classes and the class format is perfect: half retreat (daily Mass etc. is available and all class sessions are with the Blessed Sacrament present) and half academic class. I’ve had great experiences at all the ones I’ve been to and I’m hoping to be able to go to more. So, so good and so many great people to get to know (from all over the world and all over the spectrum). So take your husband up on that. 🙂 My poor husband had to come along to all the classes since we’ve always had littles who weren’t okay with mom being gone for a week; so he drives us out there and then plays with kiddos all week while I get to revel in actual thinking and prayer time. I’ve got the academic theology, but he’s the saint!

          • anna lisa

            “I do particularly like the bit in the wedding Mass where the prayer says something about marriage being the one gift that was not lost at the Fall.”
            I’ve never noticed that before. Probably because Catholic weddings are so scare around here.
            I would like to think that if a man and woman–even at the very beginning of humankind –loved each other completely, according to the natural law that is written on every heart–God lavished his blessings upon that marriage.–That he always has–but we aren’t simple and unencumbered enough to receive those blessings–we choose the shiny marble that we can see, instead of the pearl that is sometimes counter-intuitive, but vastly superior.
            The TofB institute sounds right up my alley, but alas, I’m kind of a chicken to go by myself on a plane. Haha PA is like a different country. I’m tempted to go back to school, but somewhere like San Francisco, which isn’t so far away…Which reminds me!–Speaking of prophets sent from afar–I just heard at mass today, that our own Bishop Barron is finally coming and will be celebrating the All Soul’s day mass at Calvary cemetery, where my father was just buried (my infant Ambrose too, grandparents, etc.). I still can’t believe Papa Franchesco sent him to *us*. Santa Barbarians! lol

          • Anna

            Yes, the Institute gets a lot of people from Toronto, New Orleans, and Cincinnati areas, as well as PA; the rest is a smattering from all over and not many from your neck of the not-woods. 🙂 But I just saw they’re having the 2016 ToB Congress in SoCal, so you could go to that!

          • anna lisa

            Cool. I just might do that. Sept. of 2016 gives me time to plan ahead, and San Fernando Valley is just a bit over an hour away.

            I still haven’t read much about the Synod, but just the general buzz out there keeps me thinking about some of the solutions people have been talking about. One of them is beefed up pre Cana. I’m 100% behind this, but then I have to just be honest with myself. Love is learned by loving *in the trenches*. No book or class in the world would have made me “see the light”, but I’m all for informative books and classes!

            I learned to cook by cooking :)!

            Also, I would say that around the seventh year of marriage, all couples should be invited to attend a marriage workshop. I’ve noticed that a lot of marriages break up a bit before the 10 year mark.

          • Anna

            Yes, I agree that marriage prep has been perfectly terrible for all but a lucky few for years and it hasn’t helped the success rate. And certainly prep needs to be better so it’s at least easier to find the truth for those who are genuinely looking; too often the truth has been purposely obscured by those entrusted with teaching it.

            But a lot of the proposed solutions are really pretty useless. My brothers recently got married, same parish, different priests, a parish known for orthodoxy and solid priests. But the hoops! The couples had to get letters from the pastors of their parents stating that they had no prior relationships that would be an impediment to the impending marriage; this even though the priests doing the marriage prep had known the boys for as long as they would have been old enough to enter into any other marriage, far longer than my parents’ pastor had. And for at least one of them, the priest interviewed the mothers about their opinions of their children’s readiness for marriage – but he had both mothers there at the same time and what mom is going to say “Oh, her kid is way too immature for marriage!” or “My kid has these major issues…” in front of the prospective mother-in-law? Can you imagine the problems that would cause? (You can, you’ve got a good imagination, but oy.) But the priest actually concluded that interview with, “Let’s see ’em try to get out of this one in ten years!” Geesh, if he thinks they’ll try to, he has no business agreeing to marry them! Plus, not everyone is dumb; many interviewees know the “right” answers; my cousin would never have said a word about her daughter’s serious immaturity before that wedding b/c it was way too awesome to be planning A Daughter’s Wedding. Never mind that the divorce was final six months after.

            Anyway, yay to better marriage prep, but I’m with you, it won’t be a panacea.

          • anna lisa

            Well–for one thing, I’m almost laughing because my future MIL went in and *threatened* the priest if he married us. He told her to hit the road. Then my husband stood up to her and said “if you don’t show up to our wedding you will never know your grandchildren!” That was a big deal for him, because standing up to her abuse had been beaten out of them as children. She relented and made me sign a quit claim to any assets. Petty–but the least of my troubles.
            My oldest son was finally divorced last year. It may sound awful to Catholic ears but we all breathed a deep sigh of relief.

            She had been his first girlfriend. He met her in the first weeks of school, a month after his 18th birthday. He adored the girl. We were hundreds of miles away, and couldn’t see their relationship unfolding. He would send random photos and seemed happier than I’d ever known him to be. It worried me when he stopped going to evenings of recollection, and quit playing sports. She was his everything. They were together constantly. They competed for grades and pulled almost straight A’s.–Both were in pre-law mode. When he came home for Christmas vacation, he would spend hours and hours on the phone with her until past midnight.

            The summer after his freshman year, I found an engagement ring hidden under some t shirts in his closet. I thought that my husband had bought it for me and he was hiding it for him! He proposed to her in Capri, on one knee, during his school’s Europe semester. He was nineteen, she twenty. He was elated.

            The following Christmas vacation, we sent her a plane ticket so we could finally meet her. My first impression was that she was *so nervous*, so thin, and so pretty. She wouldn’t look us in the eyes. She was clearly a very bright girl. What really surprised me the most was that she had the demeanor of someone much, much older.

            Little by little our son told us bits and pieces of her life. When she was a baby, her father left her mother when she cheated. They had married because she was pregnant. Most of her life she had been desperately poor and on welfare. Her mother married a couple more times, but both men physically abused her. She homeschooled her and Church hopped. They practiced Kabala for a while, and her mother began a slow descent into mental illness. She physically abused her.

            Getting away to college where she was offered a full scholarship was a huge relief. She displayed zero emotion or attachment to her family. When she spoke of her parents, and her stepparents, her voice was filled with anger and contempt. My son’s instinct was to protect her. He wanted so badly to right all the wrongs in her life.

            He liked the role of savior.

            They would talk for hours about what their future life would be like when they were both practicing law, and were rolling in the money. From the beginning, I had taken him aside, and pointed out to him how deeply wounded she was. I pointed out that she had never had parents or a family, or siblings. She was always cool. She rarely smiled or laughed. She could be cruel and cutting. What we didn’t know, is that she cheated on him while he was in NY.

            He had a law internship in Manhattan. On his 21st birthday, he went out with friends to play pool and drink beers, and she, angry that she wasn’t there too, got drunk with her manager at Applebees and slept with him. He found out, –her roommate told him. She told him a lot of things about her. They broke up, but he forgave her. He loved her too much to give her up.

            She hardly smiled on their wedding day. She was very cool and collected. The night before, she took her engagement ring off and the bridesmaids were all exchanging glances, while she sat in some stranger’s lap and sipped from his martini.

            She loved to enter a room and have as many male eyes as possible on her. She took note of who did and who might.

            She had completed the RCA class to become Catholic, and came into the Church in Texas. Our pastor assumed the best because he knew us and my extended family. He knew they had gone to four years of Catholic college, most of which time they had been engaged. How could we go to him and say, “well–we actually don’t know her…”

            She didn’t really want to become a serious Catholic, and didn’t want to go to mass. If I talked theology with her, she appeared mostly bored and a little uncomfortable.

            After the wedding, they went back to Texas to live. Over the months we would check in with them, or would have them out for vacations. I kept asking my son what was wrong, because they just didn’t seem *happy*. He was sinking lower and lower into depression, he denied that anything was wrong.

            He started law school in L.A. She got a job at a fitness club. They met a bunch of new friends through the school and started partying and clubbing with them on the weekends. She would say things like “hurry up and get rich, so I don’t have to work.” She thought that was cute and funny. She then invited her best friend, a guy, (gay) to live with them. He carried on a promiscuous life and enjoyed describing his “love life” in lurid terms.

            My son sunk deeper and deeper into depression. He accidentally called me once, he was looking for her and he’d been drinking. I told him to get the guy out, but he felt bad for him.

            I was really praying for them. Something was wrong. I would look at my son, and someone else was looking back at me. It’s like he didn’t even know who he was anymore.

            He started to track his wife with his phone via gps. She was distant, and evasive. The weekend that he had to be in Denver for his childhood friend’s wedding, she declined to come, so he went alone. It so happened that my son Max and two cousins were planning on going to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Their DD, decided somewhere along the line, that a drink or two wouldn’t hurt, then they lost each other during the concert. By the time they all met up again, it was too late to drive, so they called my oldest son to see if they could crash at his place. He tried and tried to get a hold of his wife, but she wouldn’t pick up. So the boys went over there anyhow, and strangely the garage entrance was unlocked. (Not the best part of L.A.) Even more strangely–the entrance to the building was unlocked. They went all the way up to the apartment and THAT door was unlocked. They walked right in, and found my son’s wife in bed with his friend from law school.
            My son Max beat him to a pulp.
            The LAPD came, took their statements and left.

            My son was so devastated he almost took his own life. It took months for him to get to that point, and after forgiving her. He tried to get the boys to keep the whole thing quiet, but none of them could stand her, and hadn’t trusted her from the beginning. They had zero inclination to cover for her.

            My son called me from Europe where his Uncle had set him up to “forget her”, but he only wanted to die. He told me that it was only his faith that kept him from doing it.

            It’s been almost seven years now. The whole sad episode is completely behind him. He suffered intensely, but now there is no pain at all. He has forgiven her–he always did–but there is no lingering desire for him to even see her anymore.

            He is finally himself again, and that nightmare is finally over.

          • Anna

            Nope, relief doesn’t sound awful to me. Glad he came through it all right; we’re still waiting to see what will happen with my sil. The husband seems to be bad news, though I guess it’s hard to say for sure given the very limited contact they will agree to have with any of us. But all we can do is try to keep contact going a bit, and not say too much so she doesn’t feel like we’ll say “told you so” if she needs to get out. You’re right; people can only hear what they’re ready to hear. Hoping I can manage to instill a solid amount of mental health in my kids; that savior complex you mention with your son sure kept me with some crumbs for a long time, I’m pretty sure my bil would have an easier row to hoe if he hadn’t fallen prey to it, and I’d hate to see my kids going through all that just b/c they feel they have to rescue someone else.

          • anna lisa

            Anna, when my husband and I go to daily mass together,
            after the final blessing we kneel down, say our prayer to St. Joseph, and entrust our children’s vocations and spouses to him.

            –That gives me some measure of reassurance. Hindsight “woulda coulda” is always tempting in situations like my son’s. If I had known how badly things were going to turn out, I would have pulled him out of college and sent him to another continent–but that might not have worked either because he was utterly smitten.

            He’s the kid we helicoptered too much…Another good reason for having a big family–helicopter parenting is physically impossible! The other thing that went wrong is that we moved away when he was in eighth grade. His school was fine at first (nice little hippy Catholic school with laid back parents, and lot’s of friends)–but the prep school he went to the year after was snobby, big, and clique-y. None of the people from his 8th grade went there so he didn’t know a soul. He retreated into books and running on his school team. We had told him that college is a level playing field and things would be different…
            Our other two kids were happy at public H.S. there. For all the cr*p Marin gets for being a liberal bastion of kooks, –I have to say that they do a much better job teaching kids to be inclusive and kind in the public system! (they do smoke a lot of pot though :/)

            Anyhow, maybe you can see, why I get so defensive when people want to say that just because adultery happens, and someone is immature–it’s still a real marriage. Why don’t they just leave it to the tribunals?

            I also have zero stomach for how the word “abuse” gets bandied around like it’s something tolerable –that abused spouses just need to tough it out if they or their children are being abused, because a Catholic altar is involved!
            What on earth?!
            I prefer the modern age we live in, where people recognize mental problems, receive therapy and spiritual direction to get over their unacceptable behavioral problems.
            risk. being. *removed*. from. their. position. of. TRUST.
            (and having the marriage annulled)
            (My SIL’s Mom had her marriage annulled after five children and years of abuse/adultery. She remarried and had three more children).

            Patience? *Yes*.
            –Stupidity in the name of “religion” *NO*. (That’s called enabling a codependent and is not Godly in the least.!) …

          • Anna

            I agree on modern thought about mental illness and the like. Just like saints who died b/c they didn’t want to complain about an illness and then it was too late. As if their funeral was so much easier for everyone than a doctor visit would have been (though, to be fair, treatment was often rather more of a crapshoot than it is now). Yes, SO glad I’m not on the tribunals. It always looks easy for everyone else to make the call from the sidelines, but life from the inside is so much more complex. How to distinguish incapable-of-contracting-marriage immature from the plain old “oh my word, I was such a doofus back then!” immaturity that most of us see when we look back on our younger days…

            Your son is a UD alum, yes? I’m guessing I’m too old (Spring ’97 Romer) to have been there when he was, but my younger brother turned 30 this year so maybe they were there at the same time. Your son sounds like a spring Romer too, though I’d put you as a fall Romer, I think. Though that’s based mostly on your menu posts and it’s hard to say without meeting you in person. (Not that you went to UD, just that it’s always immediately obvious when you meet someone on campus whether they’re a fall or spring type.)

          • anna lisa

            My oldest is 28. He was a fall Romer 🙂 I wish I had gone to U.D.! I ended up going to a small Protestant College. It was good though, because it made me study my faith. It led to some lively classroom conversation. 🙂 I felt something roar to life in me when my New Testament prof. denied the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He whipped out his old library card from Cambridge, pointed at his picture and smugly said, “This is me…but is it REALLY ME?” As the kids nodded in appreciation at his point, I said, “excuse me–EXCUSE ME! But do you REALLY THINK you can dispense with 2000 years of FAITH, and those who have DIED to uphold that faith with a lousy library card from Cambridge???!!! (Ok–I didn’t say “lousy” but it was in the tone of my voice)
            So there I sat–all high on my Joan of Arc horse, trembling with some new found zeal, and he smiled broadly. He wasn’t offended in the least–and I was hooked. Heh.
            I was pregnant at 20, had absolutely no focus or drive toward a career, and thought it would be easy peasy to do what my Mom did. (naive, naive, naive) I may have been a spoiled doofus, but my parents were a good example. I think that makes all of the difference in the world. Good families produce offspring that have better internal maps.
            My kids all know what I’m up to, when they go on a second date with someone, and I try to casually ask those top three questions…
            Are the parents still married?
            Are they Christian?
            Any siblings?
            (There are of course notable exceptions to the rule, like my HUSBAND).

            Anyhow–Now I’m at this big crossroad. I have three kids in college, (and the four younger ones)–and I’m crazy enough to want to jump back in myself. My husband is encouraging me, and promised to cook all of the meals if I go for it.
            I’m really tempted.

          • anna lisa

            Yes, Anna, yes. I wish I didn’t have to use my own experience with marriage, but it’s really the only point of reference that gives me a really, very deep view into what happens when there are a lot of “knots” to be untied. Thanks be to God there are still pairs of many well formed Catholics entering into marriage. (I’m not going to say “Orthodox Catholic” couples any longer, because I believe a fringe group hijacked that term a while ago–and some of them are perhaps the *least* prepared for marriage, because their ability to understand equality, and charity has been deformed in some ways.) What I am going to say is that here, now, today, in the environment that we live in, there are all kinds of couples attempting to enter into valid marriages, with the best of intentions, –but this doesn’t mean that those best intentions can be separated from a lifetime that has been colored by abuse in as many ways as humans know how to abuse each other. What I’m trying to say is that Jesus comes to meet us where we are at. Usually the process is a little less stunning than the conversion of St. Paul. My husband’s family for instance was riddled with literally almost every kind of sexual abuse you could put on a list. He witnessed some horrifying, gut wrenching things with his own eyes, and had to deal with it. He internalized all the ways his parents covered up these *crimes*–true crimes, before he even became a teenager who could process that information. He never received any therapy for it, other than speaking to a pries years and years later when he entered the Church again and was confirmed. It took him years to come to terms with that fact that he was an actual abuse victim too, because his family appeared so upstanding on the outside–the best schools, classes, perfect appearing household, clothing, vacations…he bought into this desperate belief that he was from a good family. Can a 22 year old abuse victim, who has been raised with a mother who has profound antipathy to most things Catholic enter into a valid marriage with a teen bride who had one job outside of the household, had never done a load of laundry, or cooked a meal?…
            (…Haha, sounds terrible eh?) I think we *did*–I think we actually pulled it off, because despite some interference by others, Jesus. met. us. where. we. were. at. Somewhere along the line we stopped praying together as a couple. We became so busy, –my husband became a workaholic like his father etc. etc. etc. Things became strained, He also took on the *demeanor* of his father. (Don’t we all have the blueprint of our family as our first point of reference?) I would call him out on it, but he couldn’t see it. Anyhow…I could write a volume on the whole thing, and Anna, it has taught me so much about love, and mercy, and forgiveness and grace. Whatever we both needed to work out because we were lacking something essential, came to us with age and grace. It was worth the wait.

            Anna, I definitely *do not* have it all figured out, and I doubt I ever will. –But I am absolutely *positive* that the Catholic Church is the best safe haven, and source of grace, as we ALL try to figure life out.

            There is this saying by St. Josemaria Escriva about human beings only being able to see the tapestry of our lives from behind, –with all of the knots and jumble–that’s how I see marriage. Every tapestry is different, but for those who struggle for virtue, and truly love each other despite deficiencies. –Jesus fills those gaps, and helps us to mend those holes.
            Some of us have more than others to fix (sigh).

          • anna lisa

            Also, I meant to tell you thanks for catching me on that “has become a non-marriage” statement, –you are right! What was I thinking? It should have said, “has revealed the true colors of a non-marriage”. You are also correct about not submitting to pessimism/fatalism.

            Anyway, I try to not bother my spiritual director over frivolous theological quibbles, but that Monica Moore discussion really pressed my buttons. I asked him to recommend ANY scholarly papers that could help me understand the myriad reasons why marriages are annulled, as I know he has worked on them for couples…we’ll see what he directs me to,
            Have a good weekend 🙂

  • antigon

    Am hesitant to post this in light of the suffering sweepstakes exemplified by India’s post over at Aleteia, but shall endeavor to avoid such pitfalls.
    Perceptive as Mrs. Fisher tends to be, & was in the Aleteia post, men don’t seem to appear in these discussions save as monsters, even rather stereotypically so.
    Not that stereotypes are wholly without foundation. For example, outside of quiet places & a few whiskies, men won’t talk about the various abuses & pain they suffer from love; & those who do such in any public or prominent way are held in contempt by other men, & by women too we suspect, or at least by those whose good opinion we figure’s worth having.
    Of course that’s one of the things that’s wrong with men, that they need to change, women say; & but another example of male perfidy were we to suggest perhaps women ought to, if not change, at least to question the wisdom of this particular conviction (not to say of any other view they may hold).
    But since women don’t have contempt for other women’s laments, t’is possible a certain imbalance of perception accrues in the weighing of the subject. That men are often brutes need not even be stipulated, but as it were just as there have been monstrous priests that do not define either the priesthood or even imperfect priests, so ought not the generality of men be regarded as but at best brutes restrained.
    Monica More’s husband does sound like a brute, but however accurate her grim tale, there was also just a hint of Manichaeism in its portrayal of nobility at the hands of a savage. If the letters Mrs. Fisher’s been receiving all have that note, if each one is straight black & white, it could well be these women – were there any men who wrote? – are like the families betrayed by the priests, which is to say truly & savagely brutalized. As it could be that certain important notes are missing from at least some of the portrayals.
    But since men cannot expect a sympathetic ear for any comparable lamentation – would likely be but blamed for self-deception should the wimpy twerp even try – if a look at such problems is to provoke any real perception or serious fruit, one fears folk of Mrs. Fisher’s gender, as it were like Sigrid Undset, shall have to tease out masculine tales of so to say comparable worth, & explore feminine self-absorption & – were such a thing possible – even their failure to love a man, whose only complete failure was in letting himself love her.

  • simchafisher

    Everyone please note: Please do not speak as if you have any accurate information about the specifics of someone else’s marriage, and please do not offer unsolicited advice about someone else’s mental state. This kind of comment will be deleted without warning, and repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks.