Today’s Western culture does not do enough to support motherhood. Women who become mothers by circumstance or by choice have to push back against social pressures that belittle this unique and beautiful vocation. Such pressures range from being economically productive to parenting techniques that break the natural attachment of the child to the parent, and from misguided encouragement that a woman can “do it all” to treating children as little more than an accessory.
Turning to Mary as our model to motherhood is a solution.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win. All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.
By Peter Jesserer Smith, February 14, 2017
Pope Francis has signaled his support for the Church to reform its marriage-preparation process in favor of a new “catechumenate for marriage” — an idea more than 35 years in the making — that would build healthy, holy unions and provide an “antidote” to the contemporary crisis in Catholic marriage.
Two different synods on the family have seen the Catholic Church’s bishops propose a new model of marriage formation based on the catechumenate conception, where couples would be formed for marriage within the context of the parish community, with their pastor and mentor couples working together, guiding them before the wedding and after, when they take their first steps as a new family.
And Pope Francis made explicit in his Jan. 21 address to the Roman Rota, the Church’s top jurists, that it was “urgent” for the Church to “implement practically” St. John Paul II’s plan for modeling marriage preparation on the catechumenate in Familiaris Consortio (66).
“I must repeat the need for a ‘new catechumenate’ in preparation for marriage,” he said, emphasizing that the synod fathers hoped for this change. He said the Church needed to “find valid remedies” for the crisis in marriage that would help future spouses “grasp and savor the grace, beauty and joy of true love, saved and redeemed by Jesus.”
Francis explained, “Just as for the baptism of adults the catechumenate is part of the sacramental process, also the preparation for marriage should become an integral part of all the sacramental procedure of marriage as an antidote that prevents the proliferation of null or inconsistent marriage celebrations.”
He said the Christian community “is called to announce cordially the Gospel to [engaged couples], so that their experience of love may become a sacrament,” and then help newlyweds “follow the path of faith and in the Church also after the celebration of marriage.”
The Catholic Church has been coming to grips with the fact that Catholic marriage and family outcomes have fared only marginally better compared to the rest of the culture.
In the U.S., Catholic marriages end in divorce at a lower rate than the general population. Still, close to one out of three (28%) of Catholic marriages end in divorce, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).
CARA’s surveys also show that weekly Mass attendance and church involvement correlate strongly with better family life. But only one out of five Catholic parents with children at home go to Mass weekly, and just under half of Catholic parents go to Mass once a month or more. The other half of parents go rarely or not at all.
A number of bishops at the 2015 Synod on the Family voiced their support for moving to a marriage catechumenate model as the way to form couples (and their families) in the Church’s teaching.
Some U.S. dioceses have begun, on their own, to move away from having centralized pre-Cana programs at diocesan-based sites toward a parish-based marriage-ministry model, so couples can get a catechumenal formation at the parish with the diocese providing support.
Steve Patton, associate director of Family and Respect Life Ministries at the Diocese of Sacramento, California, told the Register in an email that the diocese shut down its pre-Cana program in 2012 and embraced the catechumenal approach by shifting entirely to having parishes as the locus of marriage preparation.
“Our rationale for this move was that optimal marriage prep needs to be ‘local, relational and gradual’ — and the one-day, pack ’em in, large class at the chancery was accomplishing none of the above,” he said. “Now the principal diocesan role is forming and supporting the parish marriage-prep teams so they can do the best job at both evangelization and catechesis.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago, which is known as the birthplace of pre-Cana and still has centralized marriage ministry, is exploring with parishes and pastors how they can together reinvigorate marriage formation.
Clarissa Aljentera, senior coordinator of family ministries for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told the Register she was encouraged by Pope Francis’ remarks.
“We are looking to Pope Francis as our guide to better accompany engaged couples and newlyweds in their faith journeys,” she said. Marriage catechumenate, she added, captures the “theology of accompaniment” that Pope Francis calls for. The archdiocese, she said, wants parishes and pastors to be “really involved with the engaged and newlyweds.”
Part of the challenge, she explained, is taking all of the excellent programming and tools the archdiocese has developed over the years and training parish facilitators, pastors and communities to unpack that in a practical way. Archdiocesan officials are also looking to integrate Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) into their marriage materials and for guidance on how to build the marriage catechumenate, particularly where the Pope calls for “couples walking with other couples.” They also intend to gather parish best practices to share with other parishes.
Marriage catechumenate, by its nature, has to involve the whole parish community, explained Mary-Rose Verret, who with her husband, Ryan, founded the “Witness to Love: Marriage Prep Renewal Ministry,” which trains parishes in their catechumenal model for marriage formation. She told the Register that they started working on developing a framework for “marriage catechumenate” with Witness to Love approximately six years ago.
Verret said the key to Witness to Love, and the marriage catechumenate, is personal relationships and integrating the couple into the life of the parish, so that newlyweds (marriage neophytes) have a trusted mentor couple (marriage sponsors) and a supportive community (their parish) they can turn to as they take those first steps living together the Church’s vision for marriage.
Otherwise, Verret said, the best diocesan conferences, mandatory natural family planning courses and parish workshops will not achieve the evangelization couples need and can become one more “hoop” for a couple that may likely disappear after the wedding.
“If books and programs alone did the trick, everyone would be amazing Catholics living out their faith,” she said. “We need relationships” to support the Church’s plan for love and marriage.
Marriage catechumenate is also vital for civilly married couples seeking to obtain the sacrament of matrimony through a process called “convalidation,” where both spouses exchange their consent to marry each other in the presence of an authorized priest or deacon and two witnesses.
Verret said too often convalidating couples are not given marriage preparation. They are given a “quick fix” to rectify their irregular status in the Church, but this sends the message to such couples that they have a “second-class sacrament” and they do “not feel more invited into the parish.”
Such an approach also means the Church is not evangelizing a vast number of Catholics, or assisting these couples in having the best opportunity for a happy marriage by resolving any serious issues before they attempt the sacrament.
Patrick and Courtney Pourciau, who told the Register their civil marriage was convalidated in 2004, agreed.
“We really didn’t have any marriage prep,” Patrick said, noting that it was not required at the time. Both Pourciaus are Witness to Love coordinators at St. Bernard’s parish in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, and they say they would have appreciated marriage catechumenate with mentor couples, which they believe could have helped them deal with some emotional wounds and better understand the “intimacy and vulnerability required for marriage.”
However, they both have benefited from their involvement in their parish’s Witness to Love ministry, where they serve as liaisons, helping couples choose mentor couples and arranging the pre-wedding retreats and the post-wedding dinners between classes of newlyweds and mentor couples. Patrick said honestly sharing their own marriage with a couple seeking the sacrament of matrimony taught them a lot about themselves and their own marriage.
“The mentor couples really get to see the growth,” said Courtney, who said she has seen “a lot of grace” at work through this sacramental process for marriage. And they are looking at the possibility of making Witness to Love a form of marriage enrichment for sacramentally married couples who never went through a catechumenal process for marriage.
The discussion on “marriage catechumenate” has its origins in the first synod on the family held by St. John Paul II in 1980, according to Father Paul Holmes, a moral and sacramental theologian at Seton Hall University. Father Holmes told the Register that he switched his doctoral focus to dedicate his scholarship to exploring the marriage catechumenate upon reading about the idea in the reports coming out of that synod.
“The synod fathers actually looked at each phase of preparation, and when they got to the immediate preparation, they said what is needed is not just a lot of words spoken like pre-Cana — they didn’t actually condemn pre-Cana in any way — but they said what is really needed is what we have for the sacrament of baptism,” he said, “that we need to prepare couples for the sacrament of marriage in a ritual way, the way we do for baptism.”
Father Holmes said matrimony as a sacrament is rooted in a Christian’s baptism, so having a marriage catechumenate would highlight the connection between those two sacraments. The engaged could be brought to the parish church, surrounded by the ecclesial community, a number of times during the period of their engagement, to receive anointing, a blessing over them or other ritual actions that would signify their catechetical journey toward receiving the sacrament on their wedding day. And then, as newlyweds, they would have the parish helping them to deepen their growth in the sacrament.
“It lets the couple know that they are surrounded by the Church, that they are upheld by the Church and supported by the Church, rather than going for three evenings where people talk about marriage and then they have a rehearsal, and then they have a wedding, and that’s it,” Father Holmes said. In a new catechumenate for marriage, “we would have preparation for the sacrament in a ritual way, then we have the sacrament itself, and then we would have a mystagogial period, the post-sacramental period,” where the couple would have sustained guidance and support from the Christian community.
He suggested that the Latin Church should look at reviving the “Rite of Betrothal,” which went by the wayside after the Council of Trent, and try to examine also how it used to ritualize the various stages of engagement leading to the wedding. He said that the Latin Church could draw ideas from the Eastern Churches about how to revive the imagery needed for these rituals. One Eastern practice, he said, involves bringing the couple to church to have their wedding garments blessed in a ritual before the community.
Father Holmes said if Pope Francis wants marriage catechumenate to become a reality, he should direct the Congregation for Divine Worship, currently led by Cardinal Robert Sarah, to begin the process of developing a ritual for marriage catechumenate, which will take both hard work and imagination.
As a priest who marries 10-15 couples a year, he said he would greatly appreciate having the intended bride and groom go through a marriage catechumenate, rather than leaving all of the catechesis in the sacrament up to him.
“I do my best, but I send them off to pre-Cana, they come back, we fill out forms, and I can only hope and pray that they’re going to become the living symbols of Christ’s love for his Church and Christ’s unity with his Church,” Father Holmes said. “I can only pray that that’s going to happen. I would feel a lot stronger about that if there were a marriage catechumenate.”
God treats you as sons. (Hebrews 12:7)
“Relationship.” The dictionary defines this word as “the way in which two or more people talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other.” Relationships can be formal, as in a business relationship, or they can be personal and intimate, as in a father’s relationship with his children. While we often think of our relationship with God in the first way, he wants it to be more like the second.
Do you know that you are cherished by God? Do you know that he enjoys spending time with you, showing you his love, and providing for you? This is who God is; he loves treating you as his child—so much so that he makes it a point to try to teach you and form you so that you can “grow up” to be just like him.
As with any other parent, part of God’s parenting involves discipline. It only makes sense that he would want to correct us when we stray—he loves us too much to ignore us. So often, when we think of discipline, we think of punishment and pain. But God’s discipline is life-giving. It doesn’t cause shame, it brings hope. It brings the promise of greater peace and contentment because it helps us become more of the person God has created us to be.
How does our Father discipline us? He may prompt us to ask a friend for forgiveness. He may give us a conscience twinge when we consider watching an inappropriate movie or wasting time surfing the Internet. He may allow difficult circumstances that cause us to look to him for grace instead of relying on our own strength. He may also allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin as a way of teaching us and forming us. In all these ways, our heavenly Father seeks to love us and teach us.
Lord, if it is you . . . (Matthew 14:28)
A contemporary poet once wrote, “A good love is one that casts you into the wind, sets you ablaze, makes you burn through the skies and ignite the night like a phoenix; the kind that cuts you loose like a wildfire, and you can’t stop running simply because you keep on burning everything that you touch.”
Peter might agree with this description because this is the kind of love that he had for Jesus. From the moment he abandoned his fishing nets, he cast himself “into the wind” with Jesus, following him wherever he went and trying to imitate him. He even tried to walk on water for him! Though Jesus had to rescue him, it is inspiring that Peter got out of the boat in the first place. He couldn’t help himself; he just had to be where Jesus was.
In the same bold manner in which he stepped out onto the water, Peter promised at the Last Supper that he would never deny Jesus. But just as he foundered in the water, Peter gave into fear a few hours later—three times. But again, just as he did when Peter was sinking, Jesus rescued him, this time with a single glance (Luke 22:61). While that look made Peter aware of his sin, it also led him to repentance. According to Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, it was a look of “kindness that offers forgiveness.” “Gentle and silent,” it helped Peter remember Jesus’ love and gave him the courage not to give in to hopelessness but to keep trying to follow the Lord.
Peter knew he wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t focus on his failings. Instead, he kept his eyes on Jesus and persisted in taking the next step toward him, whether that meant trying to walk on water or repenting for his lack of faith. Jesus’ love for Peter had set his heart ablaze, and his heart continued to burn precisely because Peter didn’t give up.
Today, picture yourself looking into Jesus’ eyes, and try to receive his gentle look of love. As Pope Francis likes to say, Dejàte misericordiar, “Let yourself be ‘mercy’d.’” Surely your heart can burn with love as well.
“Lord, enkindle in me a desire to follow you and remain close to you my whole life.”
“Hear this, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, and you have raised false confidence in this people.” (Jeremiah 28:15)
Imagine you’re walking into a performance evaluation. This evaluation is unique because you can choose what feedback you’ll be hearing. On the one hand, you can choose an honest review. Your hard work will be recognized. But your weaknesses will also be identified, and strategies for improvement will be outlined. On the other hand, you can choose to hear only glowing praise of your work, with no insights on how you can do better or hold onto your job.
You know you probably should opt for an honest review, right?
Today’s first reading offers us a dramatic example of contrasting spiritual evaluations. Hananiah probably wanted to boost morale among his countrymen, who were facing a threat from the Babylonian army. So he prophesied that they would triumph, and very soon. But because his “prophetic” words didn’t really come from the Lord, they didn’t help. By contrast, Jeremiah offered God’s honest assessment of the situation in the hopes of preparing the people for the challenges to come.
How about you? How have you experienced the Holy Spirit’s “honest assessments”? Maybe you’ve discovered that more than any supervisor, he appreciates and values you even when your “performance” isn’t stellar. He sees the potential in you and wants to help you reach it. And whether or not you always feel it, he honors you for all the ways you are serving him—even if they seem small and imperfect to you.
Of course, the Spirit is no stranger to your weaknesses. Even as he honors you, he also calls attention to your thought patterns and attitudes that don’t represent him well. But he’s careful not to condemn. Neither does he leave you feeling mired in your weaknesses. Instead, he offers grace to change and encouragement every step of the way.
So try to be extra aware of the Spirit’s helpful convictions today, both the positive and the negative. Try to look on them as divine opportunities for advancement and transformation.
“Holy Spirit, help me hear your voice today.”
I’m enjoying a Bourbon Pecan Tart on a late Saturday morning in Gangnam, Seoul. A tiny cup of bitter espresso sits finished on its plate, satisfied to have accompanied the sweet tart to its end.
I’m pondering why it’s taken me so long to write, again. One month turned into a year, and now… what? Two years or more? I don’t know for sure and I’m too lazy to go check.
It doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that I start, again. With a shot of espresso in my tummy, I feel animated to take a few minutes to reflect: where am I in my spiritual life?
Lent, my favorite liturgical session, started out well but ended in sin. How ironic… having gone into Easter as soiled and broken as I was seven years ago, when I first entered the Church. That condition was fitting, though, since it was a sharp reminder of my spiritual pride. I had believed my increase in piety, my growth in charity and my goodness was intrinsic to my own efforts. My fall corrected me of that notion. The subsequent Sacraments (yes, plural) of Reconciliation were a merciful ladder dropped down by God, and I was able to climb out of my own stinking pit of sin. I wager my Guardian Angel gave my soul a helpful push or two during my escape. Now, I’m still not far from the pit I escaped, but the healing has begun and I feel more resolved to continue on my journey towards holiness.
Are you curious about the nature of my fall? Don’t be embarrassed; it’s only natural to be curious. That curiosity, at its best, helps us relate to one another. So, let’s say the fall was murder, adultery and theft. All of the above. Imagine the most damning sin and I committed it because all mortal sin cuts us off from God.
However, let’s not dwell on sin. There is no evil that God cannot forgive. That is the hope that Christ’s death on the Cross gives all humankind: He already paid our debts. He already suffered our punishment that rightfully should’ve been borne by us. This hope is all the more magnified by the fact that Jesus only needed a single drop of His Precious Blood to redeem the whole universe, but He was gratuitous with His Love and endured the Crucifixion.
A moment’s reflection on that thought is bittersweet. I avoided punishment because He bore it for me; but, I have done little to show my gratitude.
You may have felt the same. The gravity of our sins, and the just punishment we deserve, have been forgiven and forgotten. We are happy, but do we just walk away from Jesus like those lepers who were healed? Or do we come back and learn more about this Healer who saved us? He asks us to follow Him, take up our daily challenges and walk with Him. How well are we doing that?
Let us resolve to love Christ better. Let us pray for each other. Ask the Holy Spirit to give us greater grace to carry our crosses so that, step by step, we gradually understand what it means to be a child of God.