Q: Reader #1 writes: "I
was married in a government office and divorced four years
later. My present marriage of 18 years was also conducted
in a government office. I am Catholic; however, my husband
has no faith association at all. Is there any hope for my
marriage situation? Is there a procedure whereby I can become
right with the Church?"
Reader #2 writes: "I am interested
in finding out how to re-enter the Catholic Church. I was
baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. When I married my
husband, however, the ceremony was performed by a justice
of the peace.
"My husband was baptized and received
his First Communion but was never confirmed as a Catholic.
We have not attended church for roughly 10 years; our three
children have not been baptized. I would like to know the
steps I need to take to have my children baptized and for
my family to begin attending Mass and receiving the sacraments."
A: Thanks to both of you for writing and
for seeking to re-establish yourselves as Catholics. A religious
identity that might not seem terribly important at the time
of a wedding can later matter greatly to a spouse.
Convalidation is the name for the process by which
the Catholic Church officially recognizes a marriage valid
only in civil law or recognized there and by some non-Catholic
religion. Convalidation is a new act of marriage consent,
one now officially recognized by the Catholic Church. The
consent must be exchanged before a priest or deacon, with
at least two other witnesses.
Reader #1, you probably did not have a sacramental
marriage prior to your divorce. As a Catholic, you were
bound by "canonical form" (to marry before a priest, deacon
or someone previously designated by the Catholic Church
to be the official witness of that marriage).
Assuming that you have been married only twice,
it should be possible for a diocesan tribunal, which handles
marriage cases, to issue a declaration of nullity because
of "lack of canonical form." This will require official
copies of your baptismal record, your marriage record (not
the marriage license) and your divorce decree.
You must arrange for this declaration of nullity through
a parish. Once it has been given, then you and your parish
priest or deacon can prepare for this convalidation—assuming
that the Catholic Church would consider your present husband
free to marry. For example, that he has no ex-wife living,
is not your first cousin or is prevented by some other marriage
If your present husband has never been baptized,
you will need a dispensation called "disparity of cult."
If he was baptized a Christian, you will need a dispensation
called "mixed religions." Your parish priest may obtain
either one quite easily.
Reader #2, you have a simple case—assuming that
neither you nor your husband was ever married before and
is prevented by some other impediment from marrying each
Both you and your husband were bound by "canonical
form" and probably did not have the Church's permission
to be married by a justice of the peace. After you approach
a parish priest and explain your situation, you need to
obtain copies of your respective baptismal records and an
official copy of your marriage record. Then you can prepare
for a convalidation.
Reader #2, your husband should make arrangements
to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Depending on the
ages of your children, they may be baptized immediately
or after receiving appropriate instruction.
On this Web site, readers can find our February 2004 article,
the Church Convalidates Civil Marriages." Sister
Victoria Vondenberger's new book, Catholics,
Marriage and Divorce: Real People, Real Questions
(St. Anthony Messenger Press), explains declarations
of nullity and other tribunal processes that may be needed
to arrange for a convalidation.
Q: I have three children and think
that they should give up their video games for Lent. Can
I dictate what my kids give up or should I let them choose?
A: If you impose this penance
on them, they may endure it but probably will not believe
that it makes any sense beyond making you happy for a few
If you want to communicate the idea that doing
some penance is a good thing, you might be better off trying
to link less video (perhaps not giving it up "cold turkey")
with something new and generous on their part.
They could, for example, visit sick neighbors
or relatives, call them on the phone or do something for
them—any action that easily gets left undone because "There
simply isn't time."
You might want to identify for them what your
own Lenten penance is; this can help mutual accountability
and will convey that penance is not simply something that
children can be pressured to do.
Penance should help all of us see what is genuinely
important in our lives and help us make sure that there
is always time and energy for those things.
No matter how old we are, a Lenten penance is
a small way of saying that everything that I want does not
have to be satisfied immediately. Without such an admission,
there can be no self-sacrifice, which is extremely important
to discipleship and to love.
Accepted for a short time in a usually small
matter, a Lenten penance says that I can engage in self-sacrifice.
Penance is part of our living in the full truth
about our relationship to God, to ourselves and to others.
Those who cannot deny themselves anything will eventually
become extremely selfish—whether they intend that or not.
Love and self-sacrifice are companions, not opponents.
Q: At my Confirmation class, I
was assigned to find the symbol that represents each Gospel.
I cannot find anything. What are these symbols?
A: The symbols for the Gospels
are Matthew (human face), Mark (lion), Luke (ox) and John
(eagle). These are sometimes placed on the four supports
for a dome in a basilica, cathedral or some large church.
How is each symbol linked to that Gospel? The
Gospel of Matthew is very clear that Jesus is both fully
human and fully divine. Over the centuries, more people
have doubted Jesus' humanity than have challenged his divinity.
Quoting Isaiah 40:3, the Gospel of Mark (1:3)
speaks of John the Baptist as crying out in the desert,
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."
When these symbolic links were made, some Christians associated
lions with the desert; Psalm 22:14 refers to the roar of
Luke is the only Gospel writer to speak of Jesus
as being born in the place where animals are kept (cave
or stable) and then placed in a manger, the feeding trough
of animals. An ox could well have been present at the birth
The Gospel of John gives a strong emphasis to
the divinity of Jesus and to the preexistence of the Word
of God (the Son of God). Because this Gospel's language
soars like an eagle, that became its symbol.
These four symbols are present in the inaugural
vision of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:5) with its "four living
creatures." Each creature had these four faces (Ezekiel
1:10). St. Irenaeus of Lyons (martyred in 220) applied Ezekiel's
symbols to the four Gospels.
Q: I have been intermittently
going to the Catholic Church for approximately 15 years.
My wife, a lifelong Catholic, and I have been married for
three years. I am now a catechumen in the RCIA (Rite of
Christian Initiation of Adults) program.
I still question my faith a great
deal. I know that St. Anselm said something about faith
and questioning. Does my questioning certain things prevent
me from becoming a Catholic?
A: Questions do not destroy
faith; indifference destroys faith. God is not fragile and
can withstand any questions that we ask. We, however, are
not always ready to deal with God's response as it comes
to us from Scripture and through the life of the faith community.
St. Anselm of Canterbury (died 1109) famously described
theology as "faith seeking understanding." Questions are
part of the understanding process.
Perhaps you should identify your most serious
questions about the Catholic Church. If you cannot accept
the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, you are not
ready to be baptized. If you question whether violet vestments
should be worn on the Sundays of Lent, you can be baptized.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be
mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.