Faith and Life

Family is the Permanent Catechumenate that the Sacrament of Marriage Needs

Pope Francis, in union with the overwhelming majority of Catholic bishops, priests, deacons, and lay faithful, has a deeply pastoral concern about the current state of marriage. In a recent address to students at a marriage and family life course in Rome, the Holy Father called for a permanent catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage, noting that “marriage is not just a ‘social’ event, but a true sacrament that involves an adequate preparation and a conscious celebration…the marriage bond, in fact, requires an engaged choice on the part of the engaged couple, which focuses on the will to build together something that must never be betrayed or abandoned.”

By calling for a permanent catechumenate, Pope Francis rightly recognizes that, for whatever reasons, couples are not being adequately prepared for marriage. In the short weeks or months that couples are required to meet with their pastor and take the required marriage preparation program, they receive crash courses in Sacramental Theology, practical “adulting” habits (basic finances and interpersonal skills, for example), and the moral and mechanical aspects of the human reproductive system. This is a lot to expect two people to understand and permanently incorporate into their worldview during a brief period of instruction.

It is interesting to note that the Holy Father appears to emphasize the instructional nature of a potentially permanent catechumenate on marriage:

So many times the ultimate root of the problems that come to light after the celebration of the sacrament of marriage is to be found not only in a hidden and remote immaturity suddenly exploded, but above all in the weakness of the Christian faith…the more the journey of preparation is deepened and extended in time, the sooner the couples will learn to correspond to the grace and strength of God and will also develop the ‘antibodies’ to face the inevitable moments of difficulty and fatigue of married and family life.

Taking his words at face value it is reasonable to conclude that the Pope’s vision for a permanent catechumenate of the sacrament of marriage would look something like a subject-specific RCIA program: robust pre-sacramental instruction and a period of post-sacramental mystagogia.

If that is the intention, it is, in all charity, a misguided solution. In the US, the general consensus among lay faithful about the Church’s marriage preparation programs is one of aggravated tolerance: bureaucratic red-tape and hoop-jumping are common descriptors. Certain outside-the-box initiatives, such as pairing engaged couples with long-time married couples for formation, seem to meet with some success, but have the double effect of accentuating the deficiencies of the predominant programmatic models.

But his use of the word “catechumenate” is curious, and worth careful consideration. In Church history, the catechumenate was an extended period of formation before admittance to the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Once initiated, the faithful supported each other in living out their witness to the faith they were formed in. Following that model, a catechumenate for the Sacrament of Marriage would include the same elements: a long period of formation before admittance to the sacrament, and post-sacramental communal support to live in witness to the theological, pastoral, and practical realities of the initiated.

That sounds a lot like the role of family.  holyfamily

Family is the primary formative environment. Our earliest and deepest impressions of marriage come from watching our parents, our aunts and uncles, and our grandparents. The significant theological connections between marriage, Christ and the Church, and the communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity are either cemented or contradicted in our sub-conscious depending on how early and often these things are spoken of and embodied in family life.

In Familiaris consortio, Saint John Paul II contemplated the immense value of the family to the Church and a life of faith. Calling it the “Domestic Church,” the saint expanded on his own profound declaration to the Church in Australia that “as the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Whether intentional or not, Pope Francis’ call for a permanent catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage circles back to the unique role of the family in the life of the Church and her long tradition of defending and articulating that irreplaceable value.

That brings us to the reality of the current crisis in marriage. The Church does have a long and beautifully articulated tradition in regards to marriage and the family, but somewhere along the line the natural family unit drifted from the larger parish family, and ceased to authentically imitate the divine image. In short, what is preached ceased to be practiced. We could call it a spiritual divorce of sorts; the mutual gifts of natural- and community-family ceased to reciprocate in imitation of God himself. The family, at every Christian level, is not acting in conformity with the truth of Divine Revelation.

What can the Church do to reconcile herself as a family and address the crisis surrounding the Sacrament of Marriage? She can prioritize the following:

Consistency of theological instruction: For those involved in marriage preparation, does the program or personal counsel prioritize the theological richness of marriage? Is the majority of a participant’s time spent contemplating how his or her participation in the sacrament will manifest the truth about God himself? Is the joy and excitement of this reality consistently infused into the formal preparations?

The institutional Church making an authentic reinvestment in families: Prioritize funds for family programs and activities like schools, sports, and clubs. Many families want to donate their time, talent, and treasure to support parish sports and a parochial school. A lack of personal funds are a detriment for some lay faithful, but for many, seeing the institutional Church prioritize funding for institutional needs over family-focused initiatives is a painful blow that encourages personal disengagement.

Prioritize a familial environment in small ways as well. Make it a point to highlight important milestones in the life of parish families: births, baptisms, weddings, and anniversaries (include Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders!). Welcome newcomers and visitors personally. Publicly support the presence of small children and special needs persons in all aspects of parish activity.

Co-dependent with this is a revitalization of the institutional Church to her apostolic and pastoral roots. The lay faithful yearn for shepherds who are simple, honest, joyful, and trustworthy, as Christ himself is. Be that for us.

The lay faithful making an authentic reinvestment in the Catholic faith and the Church as a second home and family: Go to Mass every Sunday. Get involved in parish groups and activities. If there is a need, fill it. Get to know the priests and fellow parishioners. Attend formation classes and Bible studies. Be the family that the larger Church family needs us to be.

Catechesis · Resources · Uncategorized

Authentic Love and Morality Courses from the O’ahu Faith Formation Conference 2018

On June 22-23, I had the privilege of participating in my first faith formation conference as a facilitator. It was a blast! I had students from high-school age to golden years, and their thoughtful questions and comments during our time together was as humbling and informative to me as I hope my courses were for them.

If you are interested in either of these topics, feel free to download the PDF for the course. It is nothing fancy, and they are designed for beginner and beginner-intermediate adult audiences, but is an excellent resource for you to use in your own formation or your particular ministry. If you are short on time, my articles on complementarity and teaching the virtues will help you get your feet wet.

I always welcome feedback, so if there is something more you’d like to see please let me know! I will give you advance warning: the Authentic Love course is a first draft of a larger project that I am partnering with the Diocese of Honolulu on, so expect that course to get a lot bigger, more in-depth, and a lot more fun!

My Beloved-Diocese of Honolulu

Moralia Course-Diocese of Honolulu

Catechesis

Questions on Sexuality? Complementarity is the Answer!

Note: This is an adapted portion of a conference session I am presenting this weekend. The session, in its entire context, will be up in the near future.

In the beginning, we were created for love, by love, and in love. How do we know this? It says so, right in the beginning of Genesis!

 …then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it…Then the Lord God said, “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Linger for a few moments on the last verse: “…this at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Consider first Adam’s words “at last.” If you read the verse correctly, the emphasis is put squarely on these two words: “this AT LAST is bone of my bones…” Up until that moment, as we read, Adam was living in Eden, alone. God knew that this was not good. But God chose to let Adam discover a few things gradually. So first, he gave Adam all of the animals as helpers. Adam came to understand each one—their nature, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and so on—and from that knowledge gave them a name. By naming each creature Adam created a relationship, a way to call on this “other” and interact. Imagine the time and care it took for him to complete this task with every single creature!

Yet as he builds this knowledge of, and relationship with, all creatures, he realizes two important things. For one, he has built up knowledge of himself by the process of knowing and naming other creatures. He knows that, unlike the elephant, he walks on two legs. He knows that, unlike the hawk, he has hands without talons. He has hair, like the gorilla and unlike the rabbit—but not as much hair as the gorilla! Secondly, he realizes that, in some way, he is still alone. He remains separated from all other creation by an unknown quality. He has no helper fit for him. This mysterious being, yet to be found, is meant to help Adam discover the unique quality within himself that he is unable to encounter alone.

Knowing this, the emphasis on Adam’s “at last” makes sense. He is overcome by a profound sense of joy and relief because, finally, there is a creature that truly fits him. AT LAST, he has a being that gives him a sense of completeness. AT LAST, he can be at peace because he is no longer alone.

The last verse also affirms that there are two sides to the human story, with both being necessary for the story to be told in its full beauty and grandeur. This is called the “complementarity” of man as male and female.

Complementarity means forming a balanced whole. Everything in the world functions on this principle. Nature is complementary: land and sea, earth and sky, animals and plants. Our bodies are complementary: ears, eyes, nose, lungs, heart, hands, feet, legs, stomach, liver, nerves, and brain all working together. Even math contains the principle of complementarity in its logic: it means mutually exclusive and exhaustive. Generally, complements are meant to be functional: land is dry and barren without bodies of water feeding it, and when a body part fails, the whole body suffers and cannot function.

The creation story in Genesis recounts the gradual buildup of complementarity in the natural world. Man, who is the last and highest of God’s creation, marks a shift in the dynamics of complementarity. Before man, all of creation had equal dignity. The land was not lord of the sea, the sky was not lord of the earth, and animals were not lords of the plants. But man? Man was created with a unique dignity, designed to govern and care for the earth, the sea, the sky, and every thing in between. And while man is a perfect complement to nature, nature is an imperfect complement to man. This is expressed in Adam’s ability to name every creature, and his simultaneous realization that he is alone in the world. His unique dignity—being made in the image and likeness of God—requires a unique complement.

What do I mean by “man is a perfect complement to nature, but nature is an imperfect complement to man?” In Adam, we see a creature that shares the same functional characteristics as other creatures: working physical parts, a need to feed and hydrate, the ability to reproduce, and a basic, sensory awareness of “others.” Everything that the created world has, Adam also has. This makes him a perfect complement to nature, because Adam’s characteristics bring balance to the whole of creation. On the other hand, nature cannot bring balance to the whole of Adam’s being.

We understand that man is created in God’s image and likeness, and has the purpose of reflecting and imitating the mysterious communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity, but what is it specifically about man that uniquely expresses this reality?

It is in the ability to reason. No other created thing can reason as we do. And reason, used rightly, elevates every aspect of our person. With reason we don’t merely function—we live. We are the only creatures that walk with a spring in our step when we are happy, as if joy could make us fly. We are the only creatures who make sense of the world, and who can give names and meanings to the things we see and feel.

No thing in nature can match man’s ability to reason. This is why woman became the perfect complement to Adam, as his “AT LAST” testifies. Adam wasn’t looking for someone to simply work with, and have sex with, and to eat with. He wanted an “other” who would join him hand-in-hand to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary. Beginning with his self.

But—why female? Why not another male? From what we read in Genesis, Eve seems almost exactly the same as Adam. And the modern world has made great strides in testifying to the fact that there is much more commonality between the sexes than not. Misguided gender stereotypes are rightly being shown false. For example, men aren’t supposed to show emotion. Or girls can’t be good at math. Or that grace and meekness are “feminine” qualities and strength and intelligence are “masculine.” These are human qualities. Everyone, male and female, has the ability to do these things, and be these things.

So what is left to “being female” that complements Adam’s “being male?” The obvious answer is sex; the ability to unite and reproduce. But this answer is reductionist. This answer says that we are God’s creature, not God’s created image and likeness. It explains the way to make humans, but not the ways to be human. It does not tell us how we make the ordinary, extraordinary.

To do that, we need to look again at the impact that the ability to reason has on human nature. Our intellect gives us our less obvious, but more accurate answer to the complementarity of male and female. Earlier, I briefly pointed out that the first two chapters of Genesis present the same creation story using different narrative styles. I made the suggestion that this was done to exemplify the complementarity of man as male and female. Let’s dig into this, and see what we find.

Genesis 1 is very structured. The story follows a chronological pattern: “in the beginning…on the first day…on the second day…” and so forth. We find many sentences are repeated, over and over: God said something, God did something or God “called” something, God found something good, “and there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day.” The descriptions of creation are also noticeably…functional. This thing goes here so it can do that; that thing goes there so it can do that thing.

Genesis 2 takes the very last part of Genesis 1 and gives it context, character, and color. Here’s a perfect example: in Chapter 1 it says, “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” In Chapter 2, it says, “God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Each version (and the chapters they represent) has a commonality: both explain what is happening. Each also brings a unique quality to the story: one explains how what is happening, is happening, and the other explains why what is happening matters. If you notice, neither version suffers because it doesn’t have one of the unique qualities. Chapter 1 is not lacking as a story because it doesn’t tell us why creation matters. Neither is Chapter 2 lacking because it skimps on the details of how creation progressed. The chapters do not complement each other to correct a deficiency. Each takes the entirety of the other, and elevates it.

We see this same complementarity in Adam and woman. In his solitude Adam names all the creatures, based on his knowledge of them and how they work. The creation of woman completes Adam’s knowledge of his self, and gives it purpose. Both have a commonality (being human), and each brings the unique quality of how and why to the meaning of being human.

Human complementarity means forming a balanced, whole picture of man: what we are, how we are the way we are, and why we matter. And as creatures created in the image and likeness of God, that whole picture includes a semblance of our creator. Male and female, given in the reciprocal gift of self, allows us to imitate and glimpse the most intimate aspect of God: the Father who eternally gives Love, the Son who eternally receives Love, and the Spirit, who is Love itself—that which is given and received forever. This is the front line of evangelization, the first encounter with who God is and who he will be to us, possibly for the rest of our lives.

 

Uncategorized

The Banal Evil of the Broken Love Story

Imagine my great surprise when, a few years ago, I was told that my marriage was an anomaly. I don’t remember much of the exact wording, but I think the phrases “not normal” and “freakishly harmonious” sum it up well. I was frankly dumbfounded that the love my husband and I have for each other was being summarily dismissed as an aberrant example of a untenable ideal.

I hadn’t thought of my marriage that way before. I was blessed to grow up in a family filled with strong, happy marriages. I never thought that marriage was effortless. Neither did I have the illusion that a happy marriage required perfect people. The examples that I grew up with taught me that marriage is supposed to be an easy union between two people who are perfect together. I just thought that’s how it was supposed to be.

Hence my marriage never felt like something strange. Even as I came to know people who had difficult relationships and failed marriages, I didn’t consider my experience of marriage anything other than normal. I was moved for the broken-hearted because they were getting less than my normal, and I knew they deserved, at the very least, what I had. I still believe this. I’m very vocal in this belief, too. One of the few things I will run my mouth off about, actually.

I’ve come to find that I am a part of a very small minority who holds this belief. Most people believe that there is no such thing as the “perfect-for-me” soulmate. There is no “happily-ever-after.” A relationship that doesn’t involve at least a weekly fight isn’t a healthy one. The best people expect is “good-enough” and “happy-ish.” Forever is replaced with “for now.” Is this really what normal is supposed to look like? Is this all happiness amounts to?

Frowny-face-Agnes-reverse-small

I don’t think so. An “ideal” marriage, like the one I describe above, should not be dismissed because not everybody has one. In fact, why do we call this an “ideal” and not a “norm?” I argue that difficult “norms” have been relabeled as “ideals” to ease the sting of our failures. Kind of a I couldn’t do it, so it’s an unreasonable standard type of mentality. You could apply this argument to many other topics. The Christian faith is a classic victim of this line of thinking.

I don’t mean to impugn any of the suffering that is experienced by a bad situation. Whether its in love, politics, religion, or what-have-you, the infliction of pain and suffering is disgusting and wrong. But is it fair to say that a singularity of failure, or even many singularities, proves the failure of an entire “norm” or “ideal?”

I think it’s exactly the opposite. A norm or ideal wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t proof that it can and does exist. In the case of marriage, a freakishly harmonious marriage can also be called a complete one. There is nothing that is missing in the marriage. There is nothing you could add to make it better. Anything less means that there is something missing. Depending on how dysfunctional, maybe many things are missing. The point is, less-than-whole is a ridiculous standard to start with.

Think about it in terms of faith. Adam and Eve started out whole. They were in complete harmony with each other, God, and nature. Then they broke. Pieces fell away, and the rest of human existence has been about picking up our missing pieces. Humans didn’t start broken. We aren’t meant to stay broken. That is why we have Christian norms and ideals, like the 10 Commandments and the reality of the Incarnation. These norms and ideals were created to fix our brokenness. Do these lose their fundamental purpose and power because people failed to get it right the first time and twisted these creations into their own personal Frankenstein?

Let me ask another question. Is your worth as a person lessened by those who treat you badly? The answer, to both questions, is NO.