Monday, May 24, 2021

The Catholic marriage dilemma

 Whenever I prepare couples for marriage, I am more often than not befuddled at how so many of them (and I mean a vast majority) seem to be oblivious of what a sacramental marriage is. When I was a young, newly ordained priest, I was of the opinion that all couples who approach the priest to get married were highly aware of the grace that every Sacrament extends to Catholics whenever they celebrate them. And when it comes to the Sacrament of Marriage, I was of the initial opinion that they are fully aware of the power that they become as a couple from the moment they publicly declare their wedding vows before the Church’s minister.  I was such a greenhorn.

As the years progressed, the wetness behind my ears dried. I was seeing the reality that the level of the catechetical understanding of the Church’s fundamental teachings of its doctrine was both pallid and paltry for many, and it didn’t surprise me that a vast majority of the marriages that were conducted required the dispensation of the bishop for the baptized Catholic to marry a person who was not baptized, or a person who was not of the Catholic faith.  Requiring a dispensation for anything means that one is in fact doing something that is out of the ordinary or norm, where one is ‘dispensed’ from doing that which is in fact, normative.  


This means that according to Canon Law, it is normative that a baptized Catholic is, by Canon Law, to marry another baptized Catholic.  This is what makes a Catholic marriage one that is Sacramental.  


Those who do remember their Catechesis well will know that every of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church is an outward sign of God’s real grace (or love) in a specific way.  When a baptized couple make their covenant to love each other for the rest of their lives, their sacrament is their marriage (not just their wedding).  They are a living sacrament of the Church. 


Their entire lives as husband and wife is a living sign, an outward manifestation to the world of how God’s grace and love is powerfully charging the world with their demonstration of life-giving love.  This life-giving love is evident in so many ways that the members in this marital union show to each other mercy, unconditional love, selfless love, disinterested love, egolessness, generosity, faithfulness, patience, charity, tenderness and forbearance.  Imagine how powerful a parish that is filled with such strong marriages will be when it is filled with hundreds of couples who are vibrant manifestations of Christ’s love – couples who each in their individual selves are fully aware that each is doing their very best to do the will of God in flourishing what was a spark that was ignited at the day of their baptisms?  


Now imagine two such souls who are on fire with the Holy Spirit join their fired-up hearts as one in marriage now becoming a joint-mission to embark on God’s mission for them as a couple who become co-partners to show Christ’ face to the world.  In local cooking parlance, if one’s life has great wok-hei is combined with another whose wok-hei is highly charged, the result would be something akin to a rocket engine, capable of soaring to the heavens. (for the uninitiated, the term ‘wok-hei’ is a Cantonese culinary term used to describe the smoky aroma and fragrance of wok-fried food that is distinctive in Chinese cuisine).


That is the dream of the church. This is the dream that God has for each baptized person who joins another baptized person in marriage to become a powerhouse of God’s presence for the world. And it’s such a beautiful dream. 


But I am not all that confident that the couples I guide toward their marriages understand what God is giving them the power to attain.  In fact, I am not even sure if many of them are at all interested in God’s divine project for them.  When marriage is only viewed from the perspective of what each party primarily wants, much more than that marriage is God’s plan to sanctify the world, it is very easy to jettison any notion of the divine will in favour of what best suits or delights the individual alone.  


When it is not God’s holy transformation of the world that is of prime importance in life, it is not surprising that many Catholics end up marrying partners who are not baptized, and as a result, have marriages that are not sacramental.   With more and more mixed marriages, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the strength of the faith in the world ends up becoming more and more diluted and the fight against evil and sin making such little progress.


When I raise this lament to people, I often get the response that even when a Catholic who is fervent in faith is actively looking for an equally fervent Catholic of the opposite sex for marriage, the pickings are as rare as finding good sized truffles.  


The reality is that the Church suffers from a very patchy Catechesis at a young age, which results in young adults who not only are hardly on fire with faith and God’s love, but are also ignorant of what their baptisms have chartered their life-courses for.  Heaven and all that it promises falls off the radar of many a post-confirmation young adult, as many are far more intent on pursuing what they deem to be the more important tangibles in life – an academic education that gives them a foot in the door at the employment of their dreams so that they can be financially self-sufficient to pursue what they would call their perfect vision of life.  


While it is not that such life dreams are bad in themselves (most are not), not seeking primarily God’s plan and purposes in life first but relegating it to only when things start falling apart will reveal that we have put the proverbial cart before the horse.


Now I know that because the majority of marriages in the Church are of mixed faith, there is a good chance that those who are reading this reflection have some bone to pick with my thoughts this week.  Let me be clear that I am not saying that I have issues with any baptized Catholic who has married someone who isn’t a baptized Catholic.  Neither am I saying that your marriage is in any way a weak one. God knows that there have been many instances where a Catholic who married a non- Catholic partner ended up many years later with the non-Catholic getting baptized, thereby sacramentalizing their marriage and have turned on their marriage rocket-booster jets to live their married love at a much higher level than before.  They are amazing stories to witness and to know.


Mine is not so much a complaint as it is a heartfelt lament.  Perhaps it is because I have been made the new Spiritual Director of the Archdiocesan Marriage Preparation Course.  The vast majority of the couples who sign up for the preparation course are not sacramental marriages.  I have heard some say that this is the way the Church can increase its presence in the world, but just at a glance at the questions that I have received from the sexuality weekend alone gives me little confidence that the Catholic parties are going to be the source of their partners’ interest in the faith.  


I have on record that even from those couples who are both Catholic parties, there is a belief that pre-marital sex, living together and the use of pornography is not sinful and is compatible with Catholicism. It’s more than incredulous that what is sin is now no longer believed to be sinful and toxic to the soul.  If this is not a result of subjectivism, individualism and utilitarianism, I don't know what is.


It does not surprise me that the church today is in such an enervated and almost anemic state.  We certainly have our work cut out for us at every level – from early childhood catechesis, to teenage catechesis and perhaps most importantly, to post-confirmation on-going life catechesis.  


The problem is that even when these catecheses are given, it is those who need the catechesis who never turn up.  

No comments:

Post a Comment