By Sister Marianne Burkhard, OSB
Sister Marianne serves as a Canon Lawyer in the Peoria diocese, helping restore sacramental life for those who are divorced. “Once people come to us, they should know that they’ve come through the worst. They’ve survived and grown and come to a better place. To visit that failed marriage again will promote more healing. We want to help them achieve that. We want to help bring them back to the sacraments.”
Looking over my 23 years of working in the marriage Tribunal, the first important lesson is a very Benedictine one: Listen!
Listen with the ear of your heart (St. Benedict), along with whatever experience you already have.
I learned to listen (and read) patiently, to look beyond what was obvious in the case before me.
Sometimes I’ve had to discern the hidden clues that would explain a marriage failure and lead to a judgment that the marriage indeed is invalid.
I learned not to make quick judgments about people and their cases.
Certainly I do have impressions, working hypotheses, but frequently they are expanded, corrected, at times even overturned during my work on a case.
This can happen either through evidence from witnesses, or through the parties’ own behavior toward myself or anyone else in the Tribunal.
The 3rd lesson is really a gift: in all the sad stories I hear – terrible childhood memories, abuse of every kind, betrayal and loss – I have been privileged to see the wondrous ways in which God works in and through great pain and darkness.
I am often asked how I can deal with all this.
Yet I am meeting these people after they have lived through the worst, have found new strength, found faith or deepened it, and very often also are now in truly loving relationships.
They may have remarried outside the Church, but they deeply desire to live fully within the Church.
Again and again I am in awe of the resilience of the human spirit.
I am in awe of its ability to hold on to true human values against great odds.
And in sensing the help of the Holy Spirit, I’m in awe of how people are able to find God, perhaps for the first time, or again after having ‘lost’ God.
It is a wonderful gift and privilege when they share with me their richer understanding of our merciful God, and the solace they now discover in the treasures that the Catholic Church has to offer.
I am grateful to be in this ministry.