Every morning, Barb Kelley begins her routine at 4 a.m. She
lights a candle at her kitchen table, which is surrounded by images of
the Sacred Heart and Blessed Mother and a small statue of Jesus carrying
the cross. She has her prayer apps on an iPad, and begins with the
morning readings and other devotional prayers.
this morning routine over time, after her husband of 27 years left her
five years ago. “The feeling of being shattered, abandoned, blindsided,
rejected, betrayed and hurt was unbearable,” Kelley said she shared with
others on a women’s retreat earlier this year. “I thought the tears
were never going to stop. All I could do was pray, ‘My God help me.’”
grief of a legal separation seemed overwhelming, but Kelley found
healing and a new way life as she reconnected with her Catholic faith.
The parishioner at Ascension in Chesterfield also participated in the
Surviving Divorce program at her parish two years ago.
program from Ascension Press is based on the sacraments and Church
teaching. Written and co-produced by Catholic author and speaker Rose
Sweet, the parish-based program includes a support group format to help
separated and divorced Catholics find to help in the healing of the
human family. The program includes 30-minute DVD presentations each
week, covering topics of shock, denial, anger, grief, guilt, forgiveness
and others, as well as discussion opportunities.
“I began to
understand that my real identity and the identity of each and every one
of us is being a child of God first, that God needs to be the central
focus of our lives and our marriages,” she said.
Kelley filled her
life with regular therapy sessions, Christian music, more devotional
time and journaling, attending daily Mass, the Sacrament of
Reconciliation, the Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, studying lives of
saints and faith groups and seminars. It was a lot, but Kelley knew it
was exactly what she needed.
“I needed God my Father and my
Redeemer in my life,” she said. “I did not want to be a part of Satan’s
wrecking crew but a part of God’s construction team.”
that the Surviving Divorce program helped her work through the grief and
find healing, which has been centered on strengthening her relationship
with Jesus through the sacramental life. The program currently is
offered on a regular basis at Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield,
Mary Mother of the Church Parish in south St. Louis County and St.
Francis Borgia Parish in Washington, with other parishes scheduled to
offer it in 2019. (See www.archstl.org/marriage-family-life for updates.)
O’Donnell has facilitated the Surviving Divorce program for several
years. Nearly seven years ago, the member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in
St. Charles emailed the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life
as she wanted to get involved in a program for divorced Catholics. She
specifically sought something that promoted healing, with a focus on
O’Donnell also approached her then-pastor Msgr.
Robert Jovanovic, a longtime advocate for Catholics seeking annulments,
about her idea for a program to help people recover with their faith
intact or even deepen. As it turned out, the priest already had
materials for the Surviving Divorce (then called Catholic’s Divorce
Survival Guide) tucked away in a closet. He was waiting for just the
right person to lead the ministry.
The program’s DVD series
includes examples of women and men who share their “imperfect journeys
to healing,” she said. “It’s not a bunch of ‘perfect’ people checking
the boxes. It’s very real, and there are some funny moments as well as
very raw moments.”
The Office of Marriage and Family Life also is
offering training sessions for those who would like to become
facilitators for the program. The trainings are held on Saturdays
several times during the year. A licensed professional counselor also
speaks to the group about the grieving process as well as looking for
signs that someone in the group might need the services of a
O’Donnell, who has been divorced for eight
years after a 28-year marriage, said that while there is much lost in a
divorce — shared memories, intimacy, time with children, as well as
material possessions, among other things — it’s important to remember
what has not been lost. Divorce or separation also can be a time to
rearrange priorities and rebuild a spiritual life, she noted.
can be an incredible time of spiritual renewal,” she said. “When you’re
at the bottom, you look up — it’s all you can do. And you realize what
is important. Some people might become bitter and never recover, or we
can use the time to decide what’s next. How are we going to respond? And
the rebirth of spiritual life is often the result of that. We can come
through with our spiritual life intact and even deepened.”
>> Catechism of the Catholic Church on annulments
The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free
to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; “to be free”
means: not being under constraint; not impeded by any natural or
1626 The Church holds the
exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element
that “makes the marriage.” If consent is lacking there is no marriage.
The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually
give themselves to each other”: “I take you to be my wife” — “I take you
to be my husband.” This consent that binds the spouses to each other
finds its fulfillment in the two “becoming one flesh.”
The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting
parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can
substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is
1629 For this reason (or for other
reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an
examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal,
can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never
existed. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry,
provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged.
>> Catechism of the Catholic Church on divorce
The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who
willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates the accommodations
that had slipped into the old Law. Between the baptized, “a ratified and
consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any
reason other than death.”
2383 The separation of
spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain
cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only
possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children,
or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not
constitute a moral offense.
2384 Divorce is a
grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract,
to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till
death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which
sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is
recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the
remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent
If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches
another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit
adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she
has drawn another’s husband to herself.
Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family
and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted
spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and
often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which
makes it truly a plague on society.
2386 It can
happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce
decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the
moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has
sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is
unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a
canonically valid marriage.
>> Code of Canon Law on divorce and abuse
spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to
the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult,
provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of
the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even
on his or her own authority. (CIC 1153)
An evening for the divorced and separated
Sweet, Catholic author and speaker who wrote and co-produced the
Surviving Divorce series, will speak Thursday, Oct. 11, from 6-8 p.m. at
the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury.
will discuss the truth about what the Church teaches on divorce and
answer questions from those who are going through a divorce or
separation or have a loved one going through a divorce. Divorce ministry
resources for parishes also will be available.
information or to RSVP, contact Melissa Keating at (314) 792-7173 or
email firstname.lastname@example.org. The event is sponsored by the
archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life. The office receives
support from the Annual Catholic Appeal.
>> Coping with grief in a divorce or separation
The grief process generally includes stages of denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance.
1) You must grieve the loss of your marriage
by embracing each stage to fully heal and recover from your divorce. If
you don’t, you run the risk of getting stuck in one of the stages — not
2) The first time through the grief cycle is usually the longest. How long? Well, that depends on each individual. As a (very) general rule of thumb: 12 to 24 months.
3) Repeating the grief cycle is common. Fortunately, repeat cycles are typically much shorter than the first grief cycle.
4) Common triggers to the grief cycle include events and occasions such as anniversaries, holidays, music, locations and weddings.
5) You won’t necessarily go through the grief stages in order.
It is fairly common to bounce around in different stages. You may be
very sad for several weeks, experience a period of intense anger, and
then try and strike a deal with God so He will save your marriage.
6) You will experience some stages more intensely than others.
You may experience intense anger for weeks or months, yet only have a
fleeting experience with denial. Each person experiences grief
7) It is very important to work through all the stages of grief so that you don’t get stuck in a stage. This can greatly delay, or even prevent, your healing and recovery.
8) A warning sign that you are stuck in a stage is if you are experiencing one stage intensely for an especially long period of time (six months or more)
9) Intense sadness is not the same as clinical depression. According to the Mayo Clinic,
you should see a doctor if you are experiencing intense sadness along
with one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks: feelings of
sadness, angry outbursts even over small matters, loss of interest in
normal activities, sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy,
changes in appetites, anxiety, slowed thinking, speaking or body
movements, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, trouble concentrating,
frequent thoughts of death or suicide, unexplained physical problems.
10) You know you have successfully worked through the grieving process when you begin to plan for your future. When we grieve, we are consumed with the here and now. When we can begin to think about tomorrow and beyond, that is a sign of healing.
Source: Divorced Catholic (www.divorcedcatholic.com)