Pope Francis recently commented that many marriages today may be invalid, causing ripples of concern among Catholic couples everywhere. As a PreCana teacher, RCIA coordinator and someone trained in the area of annulment case sponsorship, I understand what the pope was trying to convey.
In PreCana, we often meet couples who have no real idea of the elements that make up a sacramental marriage. Although educating them in this area is part of their PreCana experience, we can only instruct so much in the span of a weekend and a few meetings.
In many ways, I think that the young people we encounter are not truly to blame for their lack of understanding in the areas of permanence, free will, fidelity and openness to life, as our culture is opposed on a grand level to most of those values. Instant gratification, constant texting, lack of intimacy and a focus on self rather than sacrifice, permeates our media and impacts society. Employers hire and fire at will without any sense of responsibility to their employees; working people do not have security in their future at any company. Families live apart from each other, communities are often not supportive and few situations are perceived as permanent.
Therein lies the problem. How can anyone understand values that are no longer reflected as the norm in society? I think that is what the pope was expressing concern over. So how do we know if our own marriages are truly valid? Maybe that is the wrong question. Maybe, we can take a leap of faith to begin truly sacramental marriages right here, right now, whether we are engaged or have been married for twenty years!
First, clear the clutter. If there are things in the way of having a truly sacramental marriage, move them away. If you are in an irregular marriage situation (married outside the Catholic Church, remarried without annulment, etc.) speak to a priest about rectifying that situation. If you need to go to confession, do it. Go to Mass as frequently as you are able. Find all the avenues of grace available to you as a couple.
Get educated. If you need to take a refresher class on the elements that make up a marriage as the Church views it, then do that. Marriage retreats, marriage encounter programs, having speakers come to your church or viewing Catholic webinars, these are all ways to increase your own understanding of Catholic Marriage.
Renew your commitment. Once you feel that you are fully educated and in a state of grace, consider having a priest bless your marriage or renew your vows. Often at Catholic retreat centers or Catholic family vacation centers, they offer talks on marriage and a recommitment ceremony at the end.
Begin living the life of a sacramental marriage now! It is never too late to improve our spiritual lives and enrich our marriages. Putting things like attending Mass as a family, praying a family rosary or frequenting confession on a once-a-month basis at the forefront of our relationships will increase in those relationships the grace we need to stand firm when the stresses of the world invade our homes.
There is so much grace in the sacrament of marriage; we need only to ask God for that grace. Praying together will strengthen our covenants with God and each other. When my husband and I give marriage retreats we remind people that a wonderful recipe to protect your marriage is one Saturday a month to go to Confession, stay for Mass, go out to dinner or a date together and then go home and renew your marriage covenant with your bodies. It is an almost fool-proof plan to improving even the most troubled unions. God bless.
Copyright 2016 Mary Lou Rosien