A Daunting But Blessed Challenge
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
©Catholic Online 2005
Once when I was attending a prayer-reflection group for Catholic high-school students, a question was posed by the leader to the youth: “What was the most difficult thing that you ever had to do?”
I noted the young people grinning; they knew that I, too, had to take a stab at answering the intriguing query. When my turn came, I admitted that right then I couldn’t think of the most difficult thing that I had ever done. But I added that I could think of a difficult thing that I have done frequently as a parish priest: prepare young couples for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
A lively discussion ensued. I tried to explain that, for me as a priest, helping engaged couples make ready for their lives together in Christ is a great joy. Yet, the society that forms these young men and women is openly hostile to Catholic—really, traditional Christian—teaching regarding marriage, procreation, fidelity, permanence and a host of other time-honored truths, verities that were once respected and followed by most persons.
Having spoken with other priests, some much more experienced than I, I discovered that my opinion is shared: Marriage preparation can often be frustrating, not because of the young couples themselves, who are usually well-intentioned, but because of the erroneous ideas which they have accumulated, thanks in part to the media, faulty instruction and the like.
A priest for 50 years once remarked to me that when he was ordained in the mid-1950s, preparing young couples for marriage was truly enjoyable.
Predictably, the young man and woman (generally both were Catholics) came from strong, supportive homes with two parents present. Mass attendance every Sunday was a given as was the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance. Both were well-catechized, knowing the basics of their Catholic faith. And both were willing to strive for purity before marriage and happily bring forth an abundance of children.
How times have changed! Now, few couples know even the very basic elements of Church teaching. Many come from one-parent homes. Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation is often hit-or-miss. (Forget about Confession!) The vast majority are already sexually active. Many cohabitate. The women quite often are using the Pill or some other abortion-inducing or conception-preventing drug or device and are frequently encouraged, if not demanded, to do so by their spouse-to-be. Any notion of child-bearing is stifled until “after a few years.”
What can be done aout this widespread phenomenon? Talk is cheap: action is required.
Father Robert Joseph Fox and I wrote a little guide for marriage preparation entitled Until Death Do Us Part. This text analyzes the Church’s wise doctrines regarding marriage and family life and quotes extensively from two watershed papal documents: Humanae Vitae (Concerning Human Life), published in 1968 by Pope Paul VI, and Familiaris Consortio (The Christian Family in the Modern World), released by Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Our work is small (around 100 pages), inexpensive, written for even those with little Catholic education and takes into account couples in which only one party is Catholic. The book has received the ecclesiastical approbation of the Most Reverend Paul Vincent Dudley, the Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
Our book frankly presents the main themes of marriage and family, all with a view toward assisting the couple to live as husband and wife as the Church intends. The couple’s marriage is the important thing, not wedding “peripherals” such as flowers, dresses, the reception, etc. Unfortunately, with so much focus frequently being placed on the one-time externals of the wedding day, the lifelong marriage can be lost from view.
As a Catholic wife and mother of five children once told me: “Father, make sure you tell those couples to plan also for the marriage and not just the wedding. The dresses and flowers will last for only so long.”
Although the prognosis for marriage may seem bleak, there are beautiful young men and women willing to accept the daunting challenge. Couples can live Christ-centered, happy unions. Many want to abide by God’s plan for marriage and family.
Our duty—as parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, friends, clergy and Religious—is to help these precious youth, our brothers and sisters in Jesus, to know fully the “splendor of truth” contained in the cherished tenets of the Church regarding marriage and family. God willing, Until Death Do Us Part (available from the Fatima Family Apostolate, 1-800-213-5541) will be a means to that end.
(Adapted from an article, “Preparing Couples for Matrimony,” which appeared in the April 24, 1994 issue of Catholic Twin Circle [page eighteen].)
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Holy Matrimony: Marriage Preparation
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