Marriage preparation, Baptism preparation, Confirmation preparation; my vocation is full of preparatory processes. Programs, retreats, interviews; there is a whole lot that I do with others to help them enter into these events well disposed.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it all with the right approach. Everyone needs to reevaluate their approach every once in a while and lately I’ve been reevaluating my approach, especially with regard to marriage preparation.
You see, often times they come to me and we sit down to talk things over. We get to know each other, I make sure their are no obvious impediments to marriage, and then I lay out the “requirements,” the series of programs, that they “have to” attend, in order to get married in the Catholic Church. Now, obviously I present it them with words that express “opportunity” and “possibility,” and these programs are truly helpful for them, and most receive the requirements with a cooperative spirit. However, it seems so passive. It seems to simply answer the question, “What do I have to do meet the requirements;” what forms need to be filled out, what processes need to be completed to make someone else happy.
Now, I think most couples do take these programs seriously. Always trying to error on the side of the good nature of people, I think they try to be honest and cooperative. However, even from the best of them, the vision presented to them is one that is minimalistic, which is partly the fault of the guides themselves. “Do this program and you’ll have marital bliss.” What perhaps we should be saying is, “These are some programs that we provide and require that might help you in YOUR OWN PROGRAM of marriage preparation.”
My thought is this; what if we began our marriage preparation programs by helping couple create their own program of marriage preparation? What if we asked them to create a program and modify it with them? What if we could provide a template of questions that would help them make a program, resources and ideals by which they could fill in the blanks? It could be like a reform of life program which each couple makes for themselves and then one that they make together.
Ownership of my own marriage preparation: the making of a covenant with the director by which they can keep me accountable. Isn’t that how they prepared us in seminary? Isn’t that how we should be approaching marriage preparation with our couples?
But this isn’t just something for wedding preparation, but something we might apply to all the formation programs: RCIA, Confirmation, First Communion, Infant Baptism, even to annulments.
Even to Annulments, that hot topic that is all over the media in the Catholic world these days. I just find it humorous how, on one hand, the whole world is focused on what the Church will say about remarried individuals but on the other hand they could care less. They’re all sitting around waiting for the Church to affirm their conclusions, just like when they were sitting around waiting for the Church to “authorize” artificial contraceptives.
A mature Catholic should approach the annulment process as a collaborator; as a blood hound for the truth. Not a blood hound for “the results that I want,” but with a sincere desire to be true to themselves and the vows that they made. Their approach should be, “These are the vows I made, ‘till death do us part,’ and I am willing to be faithful to those vows even if we can’t live together, and I humbly ask the Church, as the primary witness of those vows, to hold me accountable and judge whether or not these vows between us were sincere and true.” In other words, it should be founded on a spirit of detachment and collaboration in the process of discernment. Matthew 19:3-6 is not the concern of some Canon Lawyers who legislate from on high but something I embraced upon my Baptism and Confirmation as the fullest expression of marriage. It is as much my responsibility to honor as any Bishop or priest.
In the end, I think we all need to reconsider how we are approaching Church programs. Too often we fall into “Parent/child” models and thus create something that is external. True transformation comes from covenant and ownership of our own preparation, our own discernment. When we desire to be challenged and pushed then beautiful things happen.