My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Three: Marriage and Family Spirituality

synodmarriagefamily

Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

See? I really don’t give up on things I care about, even if it takes me over two weeks to get back to them.

Most of the news I’ve heard about the Synod has been upsetting. I knew it would be, so I’ve tried to sit tight until an official document is released. Besides, this synod is just preparation for the next synod is 2015. This is like the exam review session; finals aren’t until tomorrow, so to speak.

Cardinal Wuerl gave me hope again, though. I’m still subscribed to his e-letters from the Archdiocese of Washington, my home diocese. (I wish we had something similar in Austin.) Cardinal Wuerl sent one out today reflecting on what is actually happening inside the Synod. He’s there. He sits right next to Pope Francis. He even speaks Latin. Cardinal Wuerl knows what’s what.

His letter was so gracious and clear that you should read the whole thing, but here’s the key quotation:

It was pointed out that, in addition to teaching, the Church has to approach marriages today, particularly for those people who were married, divorced and/or remarried, with a sense of healing and find a way to bring people to experience the love and mercy of God.

Here it was pointed out that mercy is not opposed to truth but follows on it. In fact mercy flows from the truth. It is the truth that brings freedom.

Yes. Pray for the work of the Synod. In the meantime, let’s get back to the questions being raised for discussion in those meetings right now.

The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

Longer periods of research-based marriage preparation seem to be working. I used to direct RCIA; when I tried to explain that job responsibility to my mom, she asked if that was “the classes she and Dad had to take so they could get married.” They got married in 1982, but my dad didn’t become a Catholic until 2005, so I’m pretty sure she was talking about a marriage prep program rather than RCIA. Her ability to mix up those very different programs is not a great testament to the curricula of the 80’s, but from what I saw in my own marriage prep work (for other couples, not for myself!), there has been much improvement.

Marriage prep is still seen by many as red tape, but those couples are cutting through it anyway. In particular, Catholic/Catholic couples and Catholic brides with non-Catholic grooms have the bride’s support, however weak, to complete the preparation. Those meetings, classes, and retreats could be teachable moments. I used them that way, but I was already an outlier as a layperson, let alone one with an education degree.

I believed in the work I was doing, and I did my best to get some buy-in from the couples I prepared, but I am not married to any of them. The couples themselves have to realize the gravity of their decision and actions. For the family to be a domestic Church, there must be involvement of the spouses in the larger church. You can’t bring home what you don’t get outside of the home. Despite my best efforts and those of others working in marriage prep, too many couples see a Catholic wedding as more of a pretty celebration than a life-changing sacrament and a Catholic marriage as nothing special.

How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

I haven’t done any “prayer proposals” in my family because I am not married and have never been, so I don’t have a family of my own. My family of birth is no longer practicing the faith. The only prayers we’ve ever said are before Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. When my dad was in RCIA, he led prayer. When I’m home, I lead. Everyone else awkwardly joins in, and it’s just for show… but I guess it’s better than nothing.

In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?

Parish and Catholic school religious education programs take the place of many domestic churches. Designated teachers outside of the family are seen as the ones primarily responsible for teaching religion. Parent involvement is largely only by requirement. These parents see faith the same way they see like math: send the children to school, expect that they will learn it there from those teachers, and never put in any effort at home beyond helping with homework.

In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

I wasn’t involved myself, but I know that Couples for Christ and its affiliated groups (Singles for Christ, CFC Youth, and Kids for Christ) are almost the standard for Filipino Catholics. At least that was true for many of the Filipino Catholics I know. I don’t personally know any others that have been particularly strong concerning family spirituality.

What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

If parents seek to live out the Church’s teachings as best and honestly as they can, then their children will follow. This is especially true of fathers, who are supposed to be the spiritual heads of their families. Mom will drag the children kicking and screaming to church, but if Dad doesn’t go, church doesn’t seem important. It seems less important than football. If Mom and Dad don’t go to Confession, how can we wonder why the kids don’t want to go? My Catholic friends don’t cohabit and they go to church, so I am encouraged. Iron sharpens iron.

What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

Care for couples in crisis seems to be good and improving. The problem is that there is little for couples who are NOT in crisis. Marriage preparation has grown exponentially and seems to be helping. Ongoing support for married couples is almost nonexistent. One of my friends here in Austin just released an advertisement for a local, one-day, low-cost couple enrichment session. That’s a solid start, but it’s an outlier. Parishes would do well to offer ongoing support to couples who are thriving, just surviving, or on the brink of crisis. Prevention is going to be the key.


That’s the third section! As a single woman, I don’t have much to contribute from my own experience. It hasn’t been long since I was a diocese-approved marriage packet filer, though, so I know way more about marriage than any never-married layperson ought to.

How about you? Do you feel like you were prepared well for marriage? What are you looking for in a couple or family enrichment effort in your parish? Pope Francis asked for your opinion, too!



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