Today is our wedding anniversary. Eight years ago The Man and I exchanged our vows and spent the day with our friends and family celebrating life and love. We've been through so much in our 8 years...really in our 14 years together (4 dating, 2 engaged, 8 married for those of you doing the math).
Yet, in the last year or so something had been eating away at me. You know, in that place where the question sneaks in when you're not looking and you quickly try to forget that you had the question in the first place. You can't really forget it, but you put it away until the next time.
Having learned more about sacraments, specifically matrimony, my question was becoming: Is our marriage valid? Or do we need to have it convalidated?
Now, most people would look at me like I was crazy for even thinking this. I mean we wanted so much for the sacramental part of our wedding day to be a focus that we renewed our baptismal promises at the start of our wedding liturgy as a symbol of our understanding of the sacramental nature of our union. On the surface, of course our marriage is valid.
But here was what I'd learned: the sexual act of a married couple must be open to life; contraception is an intrinsic evil; what we say in our vows on the altar must be matched in our behavior - free, faithful, forever, and fruitful love. Every time we'd teach NFP and get to Class #3 and go over this, the question would sneak in...is our marriage valid since we were contracepting for the first 5 years?
I was scared to death of the answer. I was so afraid it would be "no." Which then meant on top of our sins of contraception we were now adding to that by having sex outside of a valid marriage. And I'm sure you can see how healthy this was added in with all that goes with IF.
There was also the sense that deep down, while the question was there, I didn't feel that our marriage was invalid. I genuinely was sickened that someone could say it was not valid and that end just did not resonate as true for me. While I certainly know what we feel can be wrong in regards to objective truth, in this case I felt strongly that in the past 3 years our marriage had healed and we were certainly validly, sacramentally, and indissolubly married.
And I was just starting to feel confident enough to email a wonderful priest I met at the TOB Institute to ask - I was feeling ready to mention my worries to The Man - and I was feeling ready to accept the answer, whatever it was.
But I didn't. I just couldn't.
And then, in April, I went to the Orientation for new Family Life Ministers in Washington, DC and one of our speakers was a Canon Lawyer who serves on the Tribunal in her Diocese in the role of "Defender of the Bond." (Oh and she is a Sister - how awesome is that?!?!) As I listened to her, and the questions were asked, my question was burning inside me, but my arms felt like 50 pound weights and I was physically unable to raise my hand. So I listened.
And the question came up regarding consent and intention and I got my answer:
If a couple approaches the church for marriage and the form is correct (both are able to marry, 2 witnesses, etc.) and the intent is not fully formed the marriage can be considered invalid. BUT, if the couple matures and develops a true intent to live a sacramental marriage, then the marriage is considered valid, sacramental, and, with consummation, indissoluble. Sister's exact words were "the sacramental grace, while unable to be infused at the moment of the exchange of vows, can be retroactive and heal the bond all the way back to the moment of the exchange of vows."
To say I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief is an understatement. BUT, as I let the reality of what she had said sink in, it was as if my gut feeling had been affirmed AND my experience and sense of our marriage validating. I have described it like this:
On our wedding day, June 12, 2004, we approached the Catholic Church for the Sacrament of Matrimony. While we wanted and intended our marriage to be sacrament, our understanding of the sacrament was limited, thus our intent was limited. So, while the form of our marriage was correct, the grace that was supposed to infuse our marriage wasn't able to penetrate it...almost as if there was an invisible barrier around us blocking the grace from getting in. In our case, contraception formed that barrier. By the mercy of God the barrier we put up had just enough holes in it to allow just enough grace in to keep us together and determined to work through our struggles together. Then, 5 years later, we removed the barrier, our understanding of sacrament matured, and our intent became what it was meant to be. And the grace that had just been sitting there, outside the barrier, was allowed to fully penetrate and surround us. And it healed us. God's grace poured over our entire marriage from the moment of our vows until today, healing and sealing our bond.
This was our very real experience, and in the past I've written about it from the point of view of removing intrinsic evil, but I realize now that removing the intrinsic evil - the barrier - wasn't the end of the story. The story continues because of the healing grace of God that we invited into our marriage on June 12, 2004; it continues because God is Love, and He is patient and kind and he knew, long before we could ever imagine it, that we would want that grace; we would need that grace. Like a loving parent, He placed what He knew we needed within our reach. When we chose to accept it, He gave us our wedding gift of His Healing Grace without punishment, without conditions, and without barriers of time.
This year, as we celebrate 8 years and the pain of our IF is more than I can bear most days, I choose to rejoice and celebrate this gift of healing grace; this gift of sacramental marriage. I choose to be grateful for God's mercy and love. I choose to be grateful for The Man - for his love, his patience, and the life he has laid down for me.