Of all the work that Our Lord entrusts to His priests, the preparation of engaged couples for marriage is among the most important - and challenging. Many of the cultural helps upon which a priest could have depended years ago have eroded or simply disappeared altogether. This is especially true in the area of sexual morality. Promiscuity is, unfortunately, the norm today, even for Catholics. Indeed, the bride and groom who approach the altar on their wedding day as virgins are not only exceptional, but also likely to be regarded by their peers as weird or unfortunate.
The wisdom of the day, so to speak, in this regard, has reached the point where a significant number of engaged couples arrive at the rectory door, for their initial meeting with the priest, already sharing an answering machine. I admit that I was prepared for that. But what continues to get my attention is this: no couples, no couples, try to hide this fact, i.e. that they are already living together, and that, in some cases, they have been doing so for a long time.
Now on the one hand, you have to admire their candor. There is no intent to deceive. The situation is what it is, and at least, the couple has reached the point where they are prepared to regularize their de facto union. Yet from a historical standpoint, however, in very little time-a few decades, to be sure-American culture, including that element which identifies itself as Catholic, has surrendered any sense of shame or stigma in what used to be called "concubinage," defined as the more or less permanent cohabitation of a man and a woman without being married. (An indication that the word "concubinage" has fallen out of our vocabulary is that its use in the written version of this homily prompts my spell-check to question it!)
Now in trying to address this situation with an engaged couple whom I am meeting for the first time, the point I try to make-in several different ways-is this: when it comes to marriage, and to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in particular, we are guided by something more than human wisdom. Let me say that again. When we enter the realm of marriage, defined as a permanent and faithful covenant blessed by God, we rely on more than simply human wisdom.
That does not seem like a very controversial statement, Father, you might say to me. But trust me (at least for a moment!): it's very controversial. The idea that God and His Church would have something specific to say, something very personal, something promoting our genuine self-interest – that God speaking through the Catholic Church wants to assist couples to prepare for what appears to be just a common human arrangement –marriage– by suggesting that the wisdom of the day is defective, even harmful... this is very controversial.
back to top | home