By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington
As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, we begin “Engagement Season!” Of course it can be an exciting time when love triumphs in a world which seems to deny true, selfless love is even possible.
When the phone calls start coming in to the parish office of couples wanting to set dates and begin the preparation for their big day, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the answer I never want to here. I try to ask the question face-to-face when I first meet with a couple, not over the phone when they call for the appointment.
I don’t think I am alone in this when it comes to my brother priests dreading the moment…the moment after we ask for the correct spelling of their names and then say as I look at the groom or the bride and ask “What is your address?” My heart slumps within me when there is only one address. I fear the couple has been duped by the deception of liars when it comes to the Sacrament of Marriage and the intimate marriage act itself.
As I write, I realize there is no way I can do justice to this topic in one column, but I trust the Holy Spirit will fill in the holes. I humbly ask those who are preparing for marriage to read what I have to say and pray for God’s guidance.
Today, I dare to say 4 out of 5 couples seeking marriage within the Church are now living together before marriage. How did we get here? Some like to blame the priests, “If only you priests would preach about sin and evil we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Where that is true, okay, but be sure such a comment isn’t simply an excuse for failure on the part of others.
I want to ask: Where are the parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family and Catholic friends of those seeking to be married in the Catholic Church? Have they not also heard the truth as to what the Church, in her wisdom, has taught? Don’t they ask “What would Christ think?” and share their concern with their child, grandchild, sibling or friend if they were concerned for their soul? Have we lost kitchen table morality where our faith and our actions are formed and rooted in the home?
It may seem to make sense on paper that living together before marriage is a wise choice. Why spend money on two different living spaces, for example? Others reduce their love for their beloved to saying “I wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive!” My skin crawls when I hear such a line. To compare a human person to a manufactured chunk of metal with four wheels completely disrespects the dignity of the human person and the gift of our sexuality, the marriage act and the Sacrament of Marriage itself! It is an insult to God, the Creator.
What if I announced I would be presiding at Mass a month before my ordination. I think all Catholics would agree that such a thing cannot happen because I am not yet a priest. A priest can’t do priest things until he is a priest! Well, why is it any different for a couple to publicly show they are doing what a married couple does when they are not a married couple? As a priest, I can’t “just try it out” and take Priesthood for a “test drive.”
Then, of course there is the simple civil reality: the divorce rate is much higher among those who live together before marriage compared to those who do not. A simple fact.
I have had the great privilege of presiding at some deeply moving weddings. Weddings, to be honest, that have made me a better priest.
When the groom is in the front of the church waiting for his bride (whom he has not yet seen that day) and she steps into the main aisle locking her leaking eyes onto his leaking eyes…it is as if time stops and we get a sliver sized peak into the love and joy of heaven.
He looks at her and she looks at him. Guests, family, and priests are nowhere on the radar. The bride and groom simply rejoice in each other while Christ, the Great Priest, smiles.
In that intimate, cherished gaze, they know they are jumping off a cliff and into the strapping arms of the Great Bridegroom of Heaven!
In that cherished gaze, they now see the clear purpose in all they have sacrificed for that moment, for their marriage.
They know with, in and through Christ they have unleashed into the world a love and light no fear or darkness can touch in good times or in bad.
It is in those moments I realize God’s love is unrelenting. Deep within each of us is a longing for that kind of love, try as we may to find it elsewhere, it is only in Christ where it can be found. It is beautiful. As beautiful as the face of Christ himself.
It is hard, as a priest, to walk the fine line of challenging a couple who have no clue why the Church says what it says about dating and marriage. I know my words (even this column) could turn them away or, I pray, invite them to see with the eyes of faith just how great their calling is and how Jesus is there to be their champion.
There still is truth in the world. It is given to us by Jesus Christ and it is rooted in love: selfless, unrelenting, life giving, death defying, unwavering, true LOVE.