The following is a talk given recently at Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Easthampton. The author is featured in the May/June issue of The Catholic Mirror.
By Alice Charland
Hi, I’m Alice Charland — a “cradle Catholic,” having been born into a close-knit very devout, Catholic family, more than a few years ago. I was engaged at age eighteen and married at nineteen, ten days after my fiancée returned from his first tour in Viet Nam. Do you see any red flags popping up?
But I was a good Catholic, and did the best I could. By the time I was 21, I had birthed two children and a marriage that was heading south. My husband asked first for a separation, and then for a divorce. There was no easy way out of this. I had been raised to believe that once you had “made your bed,” you had to lie in it. Divorce was not an option, but divorce was what I had, and at age 27 I had two young children to raise by myself.
At that point I was very involved in Parish life at Notre Dame Parish, having taught CCD for many years, was a member of the Parish Council and Spiritual Life Committee. Despite my love for the Church, though, I couldn’t see any future for me there. I couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to not remarrying for my own sake and my children’s sake, and I believed that the fee for an annulment was thousands of dollars, which was not available to me, so I did not pursue it.
Over the next three years I began a process of detaching myself from the Church, and my children from Catholic education. It didn’t take long before I became influenced by friends and family members who had also left the Church and were enamored of the New Age spirituality, where one was “spiritual,” but not “religious,” and Jesus was an Ascended Master, among many others.
It was the 70’s and I was still young. Eventually I started dating, and let it suffice to say, that I did a number of things I should not have done.
As I became involved in the whole New Age scene, I thought myself very progressive for having freed myself from what I perceived as the pitfalls of organized religion.
I thought I had freed myself, but somehow I didn’t feel free. An emptiness pervaded my life, and I tried to fill the Christ-sized hole in my heart with many other things. I remarried and gave birth to three more children. My husband was not Catholic and was not at all interested in exploring Catholicism. And although I was beginning to feel Jesus calling me back, I still believed that the fee for annulment was way out of my reach, and return to the Church impossible.
After 30 years of marriage Jesus began calling me in earnest, but I felt it was kind of mean to be called back to Catholicism without the means open to me to return. That’s when my friend Debbie, newly converted, asked me why I didn’t return. She told me that her friend had just gotten an annulment and it only cost her a few hundred dollars.
Shortly after, I contacted Fr. Tom at Notre Dame Parish and decided to apply for an annulment. My husband told me he thought I was less than sane, but I was determined. I can’t tell you how I longed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, or how painful it was to watch fellow parishioners at Our Lady of the Valley Parish go up to receive Communion, some reverently, some not so reverently.
For 60 weeks I watched, waited and prayed — not knowing if my application would be approved. I prayed to God in front of Jesus in the tomb that Lent, that my application for annulment would be approved, fully knowing how my pride had led me far from Him and the Church for so long. I told Him, “I have nothing to offer you but your Son.” I felt Him speak deeply in my heart, “It is enough.” Three and a half months later, my annulment was approved.
So I have been asked to speak about how I moved from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus.” This is my answer: I desired Him. I acknowledged His love for me, and am doing my best to love Him back. But how?
It is only through a committed relationship that this can take place, and it takes time to build intimacy. Like all loving relationships, it is also based on good communication, mutual trust and a strong desire to sacrifice for the good of the other. This doesn’t happen overnight – for most of us, at least – it is an on-going process.
My relationship began with learning about Jesus through scripture readings, homilies and Bible Study. But that could be likened to reading a biography about someone, without ever having had a conversation with him.
For me, the most meaningful conversations that I share with Him are before and after having received Holy Eucharist, and during Eucharistic Adoration. Of course, I can speak with Him anywhere.
What do I say? I tell Jesus what is on my mind at the time. Sometimes I ask for strength, clarity, forgiveness or healing. In return I pledge my love to Him, and I seek His will for me because I desire to please Him.
He continues to call me to come closer to Him, and I am challenged to prove my love, by my willingness to move out of my comfort zone, and into the greater expanse of His image of me.
I feel Him willing me to come to Daily Mass whenever I can, and although I sometimes resist along the way, I know that our union is blessed and deepened every time I receive Our Lord in Holy Eucharist. Why wouldn’t it be? It is the place where I am in Communion with Him. And as weeks and months go by, I realize that some of my “go to” sins no longer have a hold on me. Jesus is transforming me from the inside out.
I’d like to share a brief excerpt from a Lenten booklet, “Five Minutes with the Word.” … “If we want to know the freedom of a living relationship with God, we have to put aside any stubborn self-reliance and place our faith in Jesus and the atonement He has won for us.”
This faith in Jesus has grown in me as I began to realize that every good thing I am and have ever received, comes from Him. He alone is the source of my good.
Still, the world is constantly telling us that we need to be “in control” – all the while, becoming immersed in greater and greater demands on our time and resources.
It isn’t easy to let go of the sense that we need to try harder and harder to maintain control and succeed. Yet our greatest lessons often come when we have reached the end of our proverbial rope, and have no one to rely on but God. It is then that we come to understand that He is always there, waiting for us … so patiently … so lovingly.
Jesus truly thirsts for us – He desires to be in intimate relationship with you and me. I invite you to take a leap of faith into His loving arms. I can only tell you, from my own experience, that you will not regret it, and that He will welcome you home with great joy.
For more information about annulments contact the Marriage Tribunal at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 413 452-0664.