“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37
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.”
By Kathy Schiffer, February 18, 2017
Norma McCorvey, whose infamous Roe v. Wade case reached the Supreme Court and resulted in the legalization of abortion across America, died Feb. 18 at the age of 69. Journalist Joshua Prager, who has been working on a book about the Roe v. Wade decision, told The Washington Post that McCorvey died of heart disease at an assisted-care facility in Texas.
McCorvey — known by abortion proponents under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” — was only 21 years old, a high-school dropout and “street kid” who had lived in a Catholic boarding school and a reform school for delinquents, facing drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, when she found herself expecting a child. She had already given birth to two children: a daughter Melissa, who was conceived during her brief marriage to sheet-metal worker Elwood “Woody” McCorvey and who was being raised by Norma’s parents, and another whom she had put up for adoption. She was desperate to obtain an abortion this time, although the procedure was illegal in her home state of Texas.
Enter Sarah Weddington, a pro-abortion feminist attorney who saw Norma’s pregnancy as an opportunity to challenge the Texas abortion law and advance abortion as a choice available to all women. Weddington, who had aborted her own child, did not help Norma to obtain an abortion; rather, she used her to build a class-action suit defining abortion as a “right.” Roe v. Wade eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court; and on Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to choose abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The “right to privacy” named in the Supreme Court decision is not found specifically but is, according to Roe v. Wade, to be implied in the “penumbra” of the Constitution.
Norma McCorvey might have continued on the trajectory of support for abortion rights, but in the 1980s, she became a born-again Christian, being baptized by evangelical pastor Philip “Flip” Benham.
Lynn Mills, a pro-life activist from Detroit, talked with the Register about the moment she saw Norma on television, accepting Christ in her life and bending her head back to be baptized in a swimming pool. Lynn remembered,
“I said to my daughter, ‘Look at the difference! Look at her face!’ The difference in Norma as a born-again Christian, when Christ was in her life, was remarkable. She looked so happy!”
She admitted publicly that she had lied: that her pregnancy was caused, not by a rape, but by an affair that she believed was “love.” She came to understand that it was pro-life Christians, not abortion advocates, who extended a hand of friendship; and Norma became a spokesperson for the pro-life cause.
But God wasn’t finished with her. On Aug. 17, 1998, McCorvey took the next step: She was received into the Catholic Church at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dallas, Texas. Lynn Mills told the Register about her joy as a new Catholic: “I wish everyone would convert the way Norma converted.”
Norma herself wrote about her conversion on the website of Priests for Life, explaining:
“My mom was a Roman Catholic, and she would often take me to Catholic churches and leave me at Mass alone. There aren’t many good memories from my childhood, but this is one of them. I liked it so much and was often moved to tears. I felt the presence of God. There was something very moving about the Catholic ritual and symbolism — the procession, with the priest and altar boys, the incense, cross and candles, the statues and the music. I knew God was everywhere, but in Catholic churches I always felt especially close to him. When I asked my mom why she would take me there, she said, “Remember, the Catholic Church was the first Church.” I knew I couldn’t take communion, but I was content.
“The thing that I found out about church is that no one bothers you — you’re just praying and being with God, his Son and the Blessed Virgin Mary. There’s nothing else on your mind. I find peace in that. Mass is a time for cleansing your soul. You’re in his house, and everything is quiet except for the priest saying the Mass. It’s a time to spend only with God.
“The practice of going to Mass occasionally continued into my adult life. After my baptism, my friend Connie Gonzales and I would worship regularly at Hillcrest Bible Church on three Sundays out of the month. There was one Sunday each month, though, that we called “God’s Sunday,” on which we would go to Catholic Mass.
“So the Catholic Church, and the idea of formally joining it, was never that far from my mind. Several events and the answers to a few key questions brought me to the definite decision to do so.”
When Norma McCorvey entered the Catholic Church in 1998, Lynn Mills served as her sponsor. Mills talked with the Register about how she came to be Norma’s friend and, eventually, her sponsor: “I was just in the right place at the right time. I simply met her at Joe Scheidler’s trial. We became fast friends and email buddies. And as she was explaining how she was coming into the Church, I asked who was her sponsor. She didn’t have one — and so I stepped in.”
Five priests concelebrated the Mass, including Father Ed Robinson, Frank Pavone and Jonathan Austin, who was assigned to St. Monica’s parish. Looking back on the day, Norma wrote:
“I made my profession of faith standing before these five priests, and Father Frank placed the oil upon my forehead, signifying the strength of the Holy Spirit and imparting the Spirit’s gifts that come in confirmation. Then the Eucharistic Sacrifice was offered.
“… I started getting cold chills right before I went up for my first holy Communion. I knew somehow that it was Holy Spirit. Then when I received the flesh of Christ’s body and his blood, I felt a real sense of inner peace.”
But Norma’s entry into the Catholic Church was not her first step away from pro-abortion activism. Even before that, she accepted Christ in her life and was baptized. Lynn Mills remembered watching on TV as Norma dipped her head back in a swimming pool, to be baptized by evangelical minister Flip Benham.
Catholic radio host and author Al Kresta interviewed Norma McCorvey numerous times on his show, which is broadcast on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN stations nationwide. Kresta included a transcript from one interview in a book he co-authored with Nick Thomm, titled Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories From Well-Known Catholics. Norma, who had worked for five years at an abortion facility, talked candidly about an incident that was important in changing her mind about abortion:
“I remember one lady came into the abortion mill. She said she was pregnant with a little girl. Well, she wanted a little boy. She told me: ‘If you can’t have what you want, then why have anything at all?’ I thought, ‘You are just too weird for me, and I’m strange, you know?’ I didn’t know that the abortionist was in the back lab listening to the whole conversation. He sent me home. I said, ‘Far out’ and stopped at the Beer Barn, where I could just drive through and get me a case of Corona and then pulled the biggest ‘yahoo drunk’ of my entire life.
“When I got home, I started ripping things down off my apartment walls, newspaper clippings, t-shirts, buttons, banners, posters, pro-abortion stuff, and I made a fire in the middle of July. I mean, I was just burning all that stuff to a crisp. When the firemen came up to the apartment, I said, ‘I’m drunk as Ole Cooter Brown, and I’m burning all this junk.’ They asked, ‘Well, why are you burning it now? It’s in the middle of summer.’ I said, ‘When a person has an awakening, um, you just do it on impulse.’ Then the abortionist called and asked me if I had ‘corrected my attitude,’ and I don’t think I have to tell you, Al, what I told him.”
Kresta asked Norma to describe what had prompted her to continue her faith journey to enter the Catholic Church, after accepting an evangelical altar call. She responded:
“To put it simply, Al, I saw all the Catholics coming out to the abortion mill, after I was with Operation Rescue, and they were in such reverence. They just glowed. It just really won my heart. One night on the way to an Operation Rescue rally, I asked that ‘radical’ Father Frank Pavone, ‘Father Frank, is there such a thing as a born-again Catholic?’ He said: ‘Absolutely, Miss Norma. Are you thinking about joining the Catholic Church?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Father, I think I am.’ So he gave me my first rosary and my first book on how to say my prayers. I was truly blessed. Eventually, I just decided: I want to join the Catholic Church. I want to join the largest and the biggest and the best Church in the whole world. I’m sorry; I’m just hard-core Catholic.”
Later, after her entry into the Catholic Church, Norma found the peace that had eluded her. Her sponsor, Lynn Mills, talked about the conversion and its effect on her life. “I wish everyone would convert the way Norma did,” Mills said. “She loved her Catholic faith with all her heart. She was so happy to be Catholic, so happy to not be pro-abortion any more. All of that was real.”
In recent years, McCorvey has had harsh words for the abortion industry, which championed her case in 1973. “I think it’s safe to say,” she wrote, “that the entire abortion industry is based on a lie. I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.”
Norma McCorvey was a troubled woman whose life was characterized by missteps, although she never had the abortion she once sought. Her heart was sincere, though; and when God revealed himself to her, she embraced the faith enthusiastically. May she know the love and mercy of God for all eternity.
By Janet Morana, February 18, 2017
A Remembrance of Norma McCorvey (1947-2017)
Norma McCorvey called me “The Woman of the East.”
I called Norma my friend.
Norma was the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. But for the last 22 years, Norma has been an advocate for life. And although she never had an abortion, she deeply regretted that millions of babies have died because of an unjust decision rendered in her name.
Norma was a character. Once when I stayed in her home during a visit to Dallas, we went shopping and she insisted that I needed a cowboy hat. We laughed ourselves silly that day, but I did buy a hat. I still have it.
Once, during a visit to our office on Staten Island — this time I had the chance to host Norma at my home — she discovered New York bagels. She insisted the Texas variety couldn’t hold a candle to them so when she went home, I started overnighting some fresh-out-of-the oven New York bagels to her. Onion was her favorite.
I met Norma in 1995, after she had already been baptized a Christian by Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Rescue. She now declared herself “pro-life clear across the board.” Soon after she started hanging around with us Catholics, Norma decided the Catholic Church was a better fit for her.
I had the privilege of sitting next to her at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dallas church where she was received into the Catholic Church in 1998. Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, concelebrated the Mass and placed the oil on her forehead to call down the Holy Spirit in confirmation. It was an awe-inspiring moment for everyone in that church.
Norma later asked me to accompany her on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat because she needed healing from the experience she went through as the poster child for abortion rights.
In 1969, Norma, then pregnant for a third time, had been working with an adoption lawyer when two young abortion-rights lawyers — Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffey — came into her life. Norma was basically homeless when the two attorneys learned of her situation. They treated her to a pizza lunch and Norma signed the documents that allowed them to exploit her as a way to legalize abortion. She became “Jane Roe” because she didn’t want her name in the papers. Little did she know how famous, or infamous, Jane Roe would one day become. But Jane Roe was a construct; Norma McCorvey was a flesh-and-blood woman who needed healing. It was my honor to pray, and cry, and heal with her at Rachel’s Vineyard.
Many of the women from the Silent No More Awareness Campaign had a chance to meet Norma at the March for Life over the years. I know she felt a pang for every woman hurt by abortion, and she told them so.
Norma did not attend oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and she learned of the decision by reading it in the Dallas Morning News. The unexpected pregnancy that led to Roe v. Wade had long since been adopted. That unexpected pregnancy didn’t end in abortion; she gave birth to her third child.
Norma was a feisty, energetic, outspoken convert for life. She, like many of us had flaws, but she will be missed by many people who saw her journey of redemption as proof that grace is available to all of us.
As for me, I will miss my friend.
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.