April 1, 2015
My son wants to get married, but wants to know why all the class work and all? Who are they [the Church] to judge? The harder he tries to get married in the Catholic Church, the more he is pushed away to another religion. What do I do to keep him in the Catholic Church?
First of all, I would say congratulations to this man on his engagement. Marriage is a good and holy thing, and those called to it by God are truly a blessing for their spouses, to any children that come about through their union, and to society as a whole. We need good, solid, and holy marriages in our society and Church.
But why all the class work? First of all, let’s be honest. The Church doesn’t require all that much work on the part of couples preparing for marriage. It normally involves a few meetings, some paperwork, a weekend, and some instruction in natural family planning. All of this can be accomplished in a few months.
Consider how, when we feel drawn to a particular career, we’re willing to devote years of our lives to obtain the knowledge and degrees required for our chosen career. Why? It’s because we must, if we are to be successful. So it is with marriage. Marriage is beautiful, but our culture is very confused about it. I’m not sure that people who “pop the question” really know what they are proposing. What are the terms of the marriage covenant that is being proposed? What graces does the sacrament of marriage bestow? What does God require of spouses? What are they, in fact, saying, “I do” to? A couple should know before they tie the knot.
To the question, “Who are they [the Catholic Church] to judge,” I would respond that marriage preparation work is not about judging the couple. It’s about helping the couple to understand what they are doing, and to prepare well. The Catholic Church really does have incredible wisdom about marriage, sexuality, and family life, to share with us. It has seen countless marriages succeed and, sadly, fail. We can all learn from that collective experience, and from the teachings of Jesus, which the Church offers us.
The question suggested that the Church, through its marriage preparation programs, is pushing people away. Sadly, some Catholics do leave the Church when challenged by its teachings. This situation brings to my mind Jesus’ efforts to teach people about the Eucharist: “… many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ ” Jesus was teaching them something that was challenging, but he did not soften the teaching because what he had told them was true. The Gospel continued, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ ” (John 6:60-68).
There is an objective reality and truth about marriage, and the Church has been entrusted with preserving and passing on this truth. It is, like the truth of the Eucharist, challenging to many people. When faced with this challenge, couples can do two things: they can walk away from the truth proposed by Jesus, or they can follow him—difficult (and rewarding) as that can be. Somewhat like Peter, we might say, “To whom shall we go? The Catholic Church has the sacrament of marriage.”
Lastly, the one asking this question wondered what might be done to keep this man from walking away from his Catholic faith. First and foremost, of course, we should pray for him and those preparing for marriage. I would also urge him to have patience and trust in Jesus’ Church. It knows something about marriage. I’d urge him to be docile to the preparation process and learn what he can. I’d remind him that receiving the sacrament of marriage validly bestows great, and very real, blessings on the couple that will help them for the rest of their lives together. I’d urge him, as a Catholic bound to the rules of the Church, not to forfeit all the blessings God wants to bestow upon him and his fiancé.
The sacrament of marriage, as I said, is a good and holy thing. It’s worth the effort to prepare well to receive it. Those who prepare well will not regret it!
Signalness is pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Strasburg, St. Michael in rural Linton and St. Mary in Hague.