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Being ‘in Communion’ with the church; seeking forgiveness for arrogance: Q&A with Father Kenneth Doyle

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Q. My cousin was married 40 years ago in a civil ceremony when she was only 17. After eight years, that marriage ended in divorce. She has now been remarried for some 25 years — once again, not in the Catholic Church. All these years later, she still attends Mass regularly but never receives holy Communion. Is this right? (I feel terrible for her.) What are the rules of the Catholic Church on this? (City and state withheld)

Father Kenneth Doyle writes the Catholic News Service column “Question Corner.” He is based in Albany, N.Y. (CNS)

A. Your cousin is correct in not receiving holy Communion when she attends Mass. In the church’s view, those eligible to take the Eucharist are those who are living “in communion with” Catholic teaching. For a married person, this would mean having been married in a ceremony with the church’s approval.

I, too, feel badly for your cousin, and I admire her honesty in choosing not to take Communion. The solution, though, might be a fairly easy one. Because her first marriage was a civil ceremony (and presumably without church approval), and since your cousin (I’m assuming) was a Catholic at the time, that marriage “did not count” in the church’s eyes and could be dismissed with some simple paperwork. It’s called, technically, a “declaration of nullity for absence of canonical form.”

That would leave her present marriage (which seems to be a stable one, since it has lasted 25 years!). And assuming that her present husband had not been married before, this marriage could then be “convalidated” or “blessed” in the Catholic Church by having the couple repeat their vows in the presence of a Catholic priest or deacon. Following that, of course, your cousin would be eligible to receive the Eucharist — and probably thrilled to do so.

Q. I am a Christian, although not much of a religious person at heart, but I could use your advice. I have a wife and a 5-year-old daughter whom I love very much, but I have hurt them a lot — not by any means physically, but instead through my complete arrogance. I have seldom considered their own feelings and always just pushed ahead with my own selfish wants.

Now, thanks to a wake-up call in my life, I have asked for forgiveness directly, and my wife has offered me the chance. But the feeling of guilt still haunts me; I have a deep-seated sadness for what I have done to damage the relationships within my family. What should I do, Father? (Las Vegas)

A. The first thing I think you should do is thank God for the “wake-up call.” Then, in quick succession, thank God for your wife — for her willingness to forgive and to move forward in your marriage. But there is more: You surely could profit by speaking with a counselor.

The guilt and sadness you now feel are understandable, but your marriage will be healthier and happier if you can give yourself a second chance. A counselor may well think it wise to include your wife in some parts of that counseling.

This leaves your daughter — who is old enough to have been hurt by your selfishness and may need, herself, some time to recover. A counselor may be able to suggest what you might say to your daughter by way of an apology and a pledge to do better.

And finally, I would recommend prayer — speaking with God in your own words, sharing with the Lord your wishes and your worries. You don’t have to be a “religious person” to know that each of us is weak and needs some help from above.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.