This weekend we attended the wedding of Bob’s niece in Ohio. On the car ride home yesterday we were tired of all the radio stations and music we were listening to and tuned into Catholic Radio. Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s weekly radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, was on the air. A portion of the program was Cardinal Dolan’s homily at the ordination of the priests for the Archdiocese of New York this past weekend. What caught our attention was the statement by the priest hosting the program (unfortunately, I don’t remember his name) that when priests are ordained they are transformed. We looked at each other and said, “Does the same thing happen to couples when they are married?” We agree that it should and might make a difference if couples married in the Church knew this and took it seriously.
Then the show switched to a rebroadcast of the Cardinal’s homily. He began by recognizing the priests being ordained; six for the diocese and five for two religious orders. He spoke of what they were about to do and asked those in attendance to recognize them. There was thunderous applause for them. Again we looked at each other and thought why not do the same for couples about to be married? Many parishes wish couples well by applauding as the couple is about to exit after Mass. Perhaps there would be some value in applauding the bride and groom at the beginning the Mass or at the homily as a recognition of the commitment they are about to make. It puts a different emphasis on the importance of the ceremony as a beginning of a new life together. It also recognizes that there is a difference between being married and just living together for those couples who have been cohabitating.
The Cardinal recognized the parents of those about to be ordained and said to them that they were the persons who began all this because they were the basic teachers of faith. Another thunderous round of applause was given to the parents. I thought that perhaps the parents of the couple to be married should also be recognized as teachers of faith and undoubtedly the fundamental teachers of marriage and what it means to be a Sacrament. Perhaps at the wedding ceremony the parents should be recognized for all that they have done to support the bride and groom on their journey to becoming a Sacrament. Granted, some may have failed at maintaining their own marriage but some parents may also have failed in being teachers of faith for the priest candidates as well. At the marriage of friends of one of our children, the priest asked all the young people in attendance to stand and told them that they shared in the responsibility to help the bride and groom live what they were promising today, because they would accompany them along the journey of marriage. The parents and aunts and uncles would probably die before the couple did, so those standing would need to be there to support and help them. I found that very moving. It put a different emphasis on their role at the ceremony.
Cardinal Dolan referenced the parishes that each of the priest candidates grew up in. He said that in his interview of the priests each of them had talked about the parish they grew up in and about a priest who had influenced them. Might it make a difference to the couple getting married if someone interviewed them, perhaps even the priest or, on occasion, the bishop/cardinal and asked them about who had influenced them to marry, what couple was most responsible for them wanting to marry and what role their parish had in bringing them to marry in the Church. Unfortunately, many couples getting married have had little contact with their local church as adults and even while growing up.
Finally, he spoke to the priest candidates themselves and told them that priests bring people to Jesus. This is a significant part of their priestly education. Married couples are called to bring people to Jesus. Who better teaches others who Jesus is than married couples? We are called to live each day the qualities that Jesus lived. No marriage would be a covenant and sacrament if the husband and wife did not live with compassion, kindness, understanding, generosity, justice and forgiveness. What if newlyweds understood their call to love as Jesus loved, in the physical expression of their love, seeing it as something beyond just practicing NFP, and the need to bring love into their communication with each other? Lastly, what if they were taught the importance of forgiveness, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in working through difficulties and continuing to grow in relationship? In doing so, they would find Jesus in their marriage and make his love visible to others.
There is a lot of discussion in the Church about whom or what is destroying marriage. I think we all share in the responsibility to keep marriage sacred and holy. Perhaps it should begin by revisiting marriage preparation. Priests get at least four years of formal preparation while couples, if they are lucky, get a day. The emphases in the ceremony and in the preparation are on having children. While couples are asked to raise those children in the faith, there is almost no attention to the methods and the responsibilities that go with doing so. With so many couples living together before marriage, it seems that there should be strong preparation for the difference that should accompany their entry into a Sacramental marriage. It takes more than a passing reference in the ceremony for couples to understand how their couple love is a sign of God’s love for their children and the community, that they are teachers of faith, able to bring God to everyone they encounter. Married couples can become a powerful sign of Jesus’ love in the way they live with each other. With better preparation and emphasis in the ceremony it might become more than a hoop to jump through before the “party” begins. It just might call all to think/rethink what they say and believe about marriage. Perhaps it could help to reverse the terrible damage to marriage that is associated with rampant divorce.
Sometimes I think married couples are the last thing on bishops, priests and parish lists of important things to do. Married couples become parents to deal with at Sacrament times or when they are in trouble. Furthermore, many dioceses are starting to offer marriage preparation as an online course. We have to wonder how this welcomes couples into the Church or leads them to see their marriage as important to the Church or the world. We suspect that many couples will see it as the easiest way to meet a requirement they can check off in order to be allowed to marry in the Church. There are better programs, involving married couples, that bring couples into contact with real people who can speak from their experience and involvement about what marriage means and how to live to make it successful and fulfilling. It is unfortunate that the desire for ease of administration and uniformity in content seems to be more important.
So many priests have told us that in their meetings with couples they sense that a couple won’t make it, but, instead of speaking to them about this, they proceed with the marriage and make a note to themselves so that they have information with which to respond when one of the two returns to seek an annulment. It would be an enormous undertaking and would have to be built into the way we raise children, but for the sake of marriage, with its benefits to individuals and society, we should take the preparation for marriage as seriously as we do preparation for the priesthood.
Congratulations to Bill and Bridget. May you have a long and blessed marriage.
Thank you Cardinal Dolan for stimulating our thinking this week.
Comments? Please share with us your thoughts.