The Catholic Church reveres the sacrament of marriage as a sacred, serious, lifelong commitment between a husband and wife. Preparation for the ceremony includes not only reviewing the spiritual aspects associated with their free exchange of vows but also the practical, daily realities which most couples will encounter. Wedded bliss can bring wedded blisters. So making sure the bride and groom have talked over essential items before entering into this vocation will help smooth their journey toward many happy anniversary celebrations in the future.
Emma and James had completed half of the six-month engagement period required by their diocese before scheduling an appointment with the parish deacon. They did not expect to encounter any hurdles since both were Catholic high school sweethearts and neither had ever been married. They were fairly confident that this would be a routine interview and not take up much of their time. They were in for a surprise.
The deacon began by patiently listening to how they met, the highlights of their family background and religious practices, and what they expected from each other to strengthen their relationship. Then he asked to speak with them individually and in private.
James described himself as a hard-working, ambitious employee who hoped to start his own business and provide comfortably for a houseful of youngsters. He also liked to relax with a cocktail or two before dinner and consume one or two six-packs of beer over the weekend while watching his favorite teams compete. As an all-American athlete he enjoyed spending time with buddies and workmates.
The deacon asked if he had made Emma aware of the number of heirs he wanted and whether the kids would be enrolled in public or parochial school or how they would handle disciplinary problems when they arose. James admitted that these particulars still needed to be surfaced but he was sure there would be no problem since he and Emma always saw eye to eye on everything.
When Emma appeared for her personal session she seemed ill at ease. To help her relax, the deacon asked if she had ever worked closely with children. She said she earned pocket change while babysitting for the neighborhood when she was a teenager but now she was intent on furthering her education and pursuing a lucrative, professional career. Later on, the deacon asked how she felt about James’ drinking habits and the amount of time he spent with buddies and the fellas at work. Emma paused, drew a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling and in a huff announced rather dogmatically that she would change those things in him after they were married.
A priest or deacon who is counseling a man and woman before they profess their permanent loyalty to one another, is not preparing them for one wedding day but for years of sharing a lifetime together. This entails ensuring that they have discussed certain matters before they walk down the aisle.
Young, newly engaged folks are in love. As they dream of the road they want to travel arm in arm, they may be unaware of the bumps and potholes that lay ahead. Below are just a few subjects that need to be broached before fiancés say “I do.”
Intimacy and Children. Do they understand the Church’s teaching about sexual exclusivity and any intentions against having children? Are they in agreement about childrearing practices, religious education and faith formation?
Finances. Will they earn two paychecks, hold separate or shared bank accounts, live within a balanced budget, and agree to spending limits and investment strategies? How much debt will they be comfortable with? Are they familiar with liabilities, equity and financing limits? Are they like-minded about discretionary spending, vacation ventures, entertainment and charitable contributions?
Household Chores. If both spouses are working full time, will the shopping, vacuuming, laundry and lawn care be shared tasks or equally divided?
Family and Friends. Beyond holiday celebrations, have they decided how often and to what extent they will continue to be involved with parents, siblings, extended relatives and single friends?
Politics and Religion. Do they have similar convictions when it comes to government policies, candidates and social issues like the environment, capital punishment, abortion and recreational drugs? To what extent will their home make time for God, Mass attendance and family prayer?
When Emma and James left the parish office their attitude had shifted away from a fifty-fifty equitable approach toward marriage. In fact, they realized the ratio would be closer to a 90-90 proposition if their commitment was to survive. They had to sharpen their communication skills and respectfully hold their mate in high regard so that their love for one another could deepen and flourish and last.
What are some other topics that can easily be added to the nuptial preparation list above? What would you consider the top three categories which must not only be brought up but also agreed upon by the bride and groom before they exchange vows and rings at the altar?
Father Pagliari's monthly Holy Homework column can be found at https://www.cny.org.
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