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Catholic schoolchildren learn that marriage is one of the seven sacraments, but no one seems to understand what that really means. Yes, marriage — as a sacrament — is an outer sign of an inner grace, but that doesn’t explain much to most people. The catchphrase “free, faithful, fruitful, and forever” says more about what spouses do for a marriage than what marriage does for the spouses.
I like how my spiritual director says it best — it’s all about the graces! With a sacramental marriage come beautiful graces of state that empower us to live the life to which God called us and live it to the fullest. That’s what the Sacrament of Matrimony offers husbands and wives married in the Church, “sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father” (CCC 1642).
For anyone interested in exploring what the sacrament of marriage means and the difference it can make to husbands and wives, there are plenty of video and print resources for everyone from theology newbies to experienced catechists.
For Theology Newbies
1. Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 2009 pastoral letter from the U.S.Council of Catholic Bishops, downloadable pdf available free at the bishops’ web site (also in Spanish)
2. Saying I Do: What Happens at a Catholic Wedding, streaming video resource from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, available free at the bishops’ web site
4. Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage (Ave Maria Press, 2013). By a popular Catholic psychologist and his wife.
5. Couples in Love: Straight Talk on Dating, Respect, Commitment, Marriage, and Sexuality, by Fr. John R. Waiss (Crossroad Pub. 2003). By my former spiritual director. Structured as a conversation between a dating couple and a priest.
For Theology Buffs
6. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married (Scepter Pubs., 1996). Originally published in 1951. A spiritual classic.
7. Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: The Family in the Church and the Trinity (Random House, 2002). Who doesn’t like Scott Hahn?
8. Christopher West, Good News about Sex & Marriage: Revised Edition (Servant Books, 2004; updated 2007). Detailed, specific, and clear.
9. William May, Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family is Built, 2d ed. (Ignatius Press, 2009). Includes Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Families.
10. Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness: Love and Commitment in Marriage (Scepter Pubs., 1999). With forward by Dr. Janet E. Smith.
11. Ramón García De Haro, Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium: A Course in the Theology of Marriage, (Ignatius Press, 1993). Translated by William May. Academic and pretty heavy going. Helps if you already have familiarity with the main documents.
12. Tim Muldoon & Cynthia S. Dobrzynski, eds., Love One Another: Catholic Reflections on Sustaining Marriages Today (The Church in the 21st Century), (Crossroad Pub., 2010). A collection of essays including advice on how to rescue marriage prep from its current disastrous state.
13. Mary Amore, Helping Your Marriage Survive the Call to Ministry, Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, vol 32, no.1, (Feb. 2005). Great for any married person involved in ministry or catechesis. Call 408-286-8505 for back issues or reprints.
6th-grade catechism class naturally covers a lot of Catholic themes during its year-long trip through the Bible. One of them is marriage and children. I don’t ever stand in front of the kids and say, “marriage and babies are good, and divorce and abortion are bad,” I let them figure it out as we go, helped along with personal testimony from me. I don’t intend to form consciences; but I do intend to create the opportunity for the kids to form their own consciences themselves.
Here’s a list of Bible bits that kids learn about and discuss, my intent being to help them develop a Catholic worldview without being didactic about it. (I could give you chapter and verse, but it’s better to do that yourself):
1. Creation. God’s last and greatest creation is a man and a woman together, creating babies. But not just any man and woman, a husband and wife, a marriage: one man, one rib, one woman, one flesh.
2. After all, the first commandment is to “be fruitful and multiply,” more pithily expressed in class as “make babies.”
3. The Flood. As soon as Noah steps out of the Ark, God reminds him and his family of the first commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply.”
4. Abraham and Sarah become the parents of a nation.
5. To accomplish #4, Abraham and Sarah have a miraculous pregnancy. They’re so happy that their love has at last made a baby that they name him Laughter.
6. Pagan peoples living around Abraham kill their own firstborn children and offer them to strange gods, but God doesn’t require that of Abraham right off. But when God does ask for Isaac’s sacrifice, Abraham must feel as though he’s been asked to kill all the laughter and joy in his life.
7. Isaac and Rebecca have a miraculous pregnancy, and Rebecca bears Esau and Jacob.
8. Jacob and Rachel have a miraculous pregnancy, and Rachel bears Joseph.
9. Manoah and his wife have a miraculous pregnancy, and she bears Samson.
10. Elkhanah and Hannah have a miraculous pregnancy, and Hannah bears Samuel.
11. Psalm 78 says God “appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God.” So even kids not yet born or even conceived still matter to God.
12. In Psalm 128, David reflects on the joy of family: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”
13. Israel falls on hard times, and some parents kill their babies to appease Molech: “Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit, you who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree; who slay your children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks?”
14. But God still loves his children in both fatherly and motherly ways: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands.”
15. God knew Jeremiah, and had a job for him before his mom was even pregnant: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
16. Baby-killing continues in Jeremiah’s day: “Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,”I will let you dwell in this place if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt. The people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by burning incense in it to other gods; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal.” The kids figure out on their own how such passages relate to abortion.
17. Zechariah and Elizabeth have a miraculous pregnancy, and Elizabeth bears John.
18. Mary has the most miraculous pregnancy, and bears Jesus.
This is not an exhaustive list, just the things we have time for in catechism class. By the time we get to Mary, the children can place her at the end of a line of mothers that stretches all the way back to Eve; and have acquired a holistic Scriptural basis for a pro-life conscience.
Looking for ways to make your marriage stronger?
Join me this February 3, 4, 10, or 11 in an online marriage enrichment retreat. Spend an hour or two, just in time for Valentine’s Day, to make your marriage stronger! Similar to an interactive webinar, the retreat offers talks illustrated by sacred artwork with a background of Gregorian chant.
If you’ve never attended an online retreat before, don’t worry — the technology is easy. All you need is high-speed Internet and speakers for your computer. You can ask and answer questions simply by typing in a chatbox. But if you wish, you can purchase low-cost earbuds with a computer mike and speak directly with me and the other participants. You’ll receive a link by email to enter the online environment and a friendly tech will help you get used to all the features.
You can participate as an individual or a couple, during the early afternoon or in the evening — whatever works for you. And if you can’t join live, you’ll have access to the recorded session through a link we’ll send you. Watch it just like you’d watch an online video.
We’ll have sessions on two different topics and would love to see you at both. To register for either session, click here. For more info on the great folks producing this retreat, click here and here.
I. Life-giving Unity: Becoming One with Your Spouse and Your Children
The marital relationship is the bedrock of any family. Reignite your appreciation for your spouse, and let your renewed unity strengthen your relationship with your children as well. Learn how to communicate better, pray more together, and grow closer to God together.
Mid-day Session: Monday, Feb. 3, at 12:30-1:30 pm EST
Evening Session: Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30-8:30 pm EST
II. Holy Stewards: Making the Most of Your Time and Your Money
We all struggle to find enough time for work, family, and God. We might also sometimes let worries over money and professional advancement affect our marital relationship. Maintaining a good balance is difficult, but not impossible. Explore useful ways to make the most of what you have.
Mid-day Session: Monday, Feb. 10, at 12:30-1:30 pm EST
Evening Session: Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7:30-8:30 pm EST
Cost: $ 10 for one session, $15 for both.
The French proverb, “The more things change the more they stay the same,” seems to be very appropriate for the hugely popular show on PBS of the post-Edwardian era in England, Downton Abbey. Something that struck me about a recent episode is that the quest for happiness can often lead one away from the very thing one is searching for. Lady Edith Crawley allows herself to be swept up into a romance with Michael Gregson, whose wife is considered insane, but British law will not allow him to divorce (presuming he has every right to do so). He’s going to great lengths to prove his love to Lady Edith by becoming a German citizen so he can divorce his wife and marry her. This example is just one among so many others of how we can distort truth. The world back then and now too often sees fidelity in marriage to be good so long as your wife is not, as in the case of Mrs. Gregson, insane (or a number of other reasons).
3 catechetical points that are vital to catechesis in the Third Millennium:
1. Proclaiming the truth (whether on the issue of marriage or another aspect of life) is essential to the freedom of God’s children. Sometimes the truth is seen as judgmental because it challenges one’s freedom and what is often socially acceptable (although not morally acceptable).
2. Keep in mind that catechesis on “Life in Christ” is not merely “morality” but about life with God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1691, says:
“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” [St. Leo the Great Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3: PL 54, 192C] 
3. Let your message be clear. Paragraph 1697 of the Catechism goes onto say that “Catechesis has to reveal in all clarity the joy and the demands of the way of Christ.” The demands of being a doctor, a professional sports player, or a renowned scientist are quite high and so also are the demands of the Christian life (which so often we can resist because it is perceived that a loving God should help make our lives good and happy). The Christian life, although having its challenges, is filled with abundant joy, peace beyond understanding, transforming grace, and total charity, which brings authentic freedom and true happiness.
The life we’ve been given is a true gift even with all it’s demands. May our eyes and heart always look to Christ for the ultimate answers that allow us to respond according to the truth of the Gospel and all that entails.
On December 2, 2012, I started the Can We Cana? blog on a wing and a prayer, hoping to provide support for Catholic marriages and families. Thanks to you wonderful readers, the blog reached its 1000th pageview in less than two months. By its one-year anniversary, the blog has attracted more than 30,000 pageviews from readers in all 50 states and in countries around the globe.
Blogpost topics have included everything from sexuality and the Theology of the Body to staying married through sickness and health, unexpected pregnancies, first-year disillusionment, and the pressures of raising a big family. There are parenting tips, household tips, and reviews of awesome Catholic family resources. I’ve even included discussions of difficult issues like marital abandonment, abortion, annulment, virginity, and rape. Thanks to the support of some amazing on-line friends I’ve made, Can We Cana? posts have also appeared on CatholicMom.com, CatholicLane.com, AmazingCatechists.com, MercatorNet.com (Australia), and MyYearofFaith.com.
Here’s a run-down of the posts you liked the best, and a request — tell me what else you’d most like to read about here!
Top 5 Most Popular Posts
1. Chaste Sex: Not What You Think It Is (more than 1200 views)
Most Popular Guest Post
Post with Highest Critical Acclaim
Post with the Most Comments
Many blessings on all of you for helping this Catholic marriage support community grow. If there are any topics you’d like to hear more about, please let me know in the comments!
Not every engaged couple has a traditional work schedule or even lives on the same continent before getting married, so in-person marriage preparation isn’t always possible. Enter the age of Skype, where videoconferencing technology can make engaged couples feel as if they are sitting in a pre-Cana teacher’s living room even when each person is actually thousands of miles away.
Peter McFadden of Creative Marriages Inc. in New York City offers an online option for couples in difficult logistical situations. Through this program, Peter has taught actors on location in Australia and soldiers about to be deployed to Afghanistan. He has even given online marriage preparation to two Yosemite park rangers who were working almost round-the-clock hours far away from the nearest Catholic parish. “A park ranger’s not a 9 to 5 job,” Peter remarked. Neither are a lot of other careers, which is why it’s good to have an online option available.
The online sessions are more than just videoconferences with three people speaking face to face via computer screens. Peter’s system allows him to share photographs, Power Point presentations, and even short videos on the couple’s computer screens during the session.
To make sure the shortened program delivers the necessary practical and theological content, Peter asks the online students to do some work on their own beforehand. A few weeks in advance, couples fill out the FOCCUS questionnaire, which identifies areas of agreement or disagreement on issues like communication styles, parenting, and sexuality. Couples are also asked to read a few short essays summarizing talks that Peter gives in his small-group sessions. “99% of people do the homework,” Peter reported, and many also talk to each other about the FOCCUS questions and the readings before meeting him online.
The main difference between the Creative Marriages online program and the in-person program is thus not the content but the method. “There’s more small talk when you meet in person,” explained Peter. “The Net does promote more of a ‘let’s get down to business’ atmosphere.” In addition, Peter has found it easier to mediate fights when he sees couples in person. “Believe it or not, some couples will fight” during marriage preparation instruction, and it’s easier to see the danger signals expressed in body language when the participants aren’t sitting in front of a video camera, he stated.
Only about 10% of Peter’s students take advantage of the online option. Most of the other students meet in small groups at the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue in Manhattan, where my husband and I began teaching the pre-Cana curriculum we developed many years ago.
Because of a strong preference for in-person instruction, the Archdiocese of New York requires that couples who want to take online pre-Cana receive special permission from the Family Life Office. “Technology is a gift,” acknowledged Marga Regina, Marriage Preparation Coordinator for the Archdiocese, “but we can’t use it to alienate us from the community.”
Most people who ask to take online pre-Cana are already disconnected from the Church community, Marga noted. “They say they can’t make the time, but then many find out they can, and they love” taking pre-Cana in-person, she added. Catechists have to remember that they are teaching souls who ideally should be learning in community with an opportunity for confession “in a real church with a real tabernacle,” she stressed.
For couples who do have a legitimate scheduling problem, not just reluctance to make the time, Marga will recommend them either to Peter or to CatholicMarriagePrep.com. Catholic Marriage Prep gives couples a series of worksheets to download and complete, then instructors review the worksheets and offer personalized instruction and advice.
Peter echoes the Archdiocese’s preference for in-person rather than online pre-Cana programs. “I understand why people would be concerned about online education. There’s a right way to do it, and there’s a wrong way to do it,” noted Peter. Some types of online education have little or no real interaction with the students, and there’s a danger that students will take the program without paying full attention. An automated program with a pre-recorded voice and computer-generated alerts and quizzes would not fully implement the Church’s goal to prepare couples for the sacred and sacramental aspects of marriage, he cautioned.
Peter’s video-conferencing style of online pre-Cana instruction is full of personal interaction, but it only reaches one couple at a time. “The problem is that it’s not scalable, it’s not a solution for reaching out to 100,000 couples a year,” Peter explained. But if your focus is forming souls and not increasing the bottom line, maximizing personal interaction is the only way to go, online or off.