Thursday, March 1, 2012

Good Cheer followup: Catholic Marriage

Jennifer Eidt speaks to the crowd at Good Cheer on Feb. 29, 2012.

Last night at Good Cheer, we were fortunate to have Jennifer Eidt, from the Jackson Diocese's Office of Family Ministry. She and her husband have been directing marriage preparation efforts and retreats for the past six years. Jennifer's talk was funny and light-hearted but also honest and eye-opening. In all, the evening was lots of fun and very informative.

Here's a quick synopsis of what we covered last night. Most of the info is aimed at the majority of college-aged women and men who will one day enter into marriage. Jennifer was very upfront about wanting to answer some of their questions and clear up some of their misconceptions about marriage and the Catholic Church.

Drawn from Jennifer's Good Cheer talk last night, I present to you top three most common Catholic Marriage Myths:

Catholic Marriage Myth #1: Catholics are supposed to marry another Catholic.

It's wonderful when two faithful Catholics fall in love and are eventually married and able to start a family together. But it doesn't always work out that way and it doesn't have to. Jennifer noted that in our diocese, only about 25% of young Catholic men and women who go through Church-sponsored premarital counseling are marrying another Catholic. That of course means that roughly 75% of Catholic men and women each year in the Diocese of Jackson entering into marriage are marrying a non-Catholic. Statistically, Catholics only make up about 2.5% of our state's population, so those numbers shouldn't be all that surprising. 

If you are a Catholic and you are able to marry another Catholic, that's great - but statically, in our state (Mississippi), it's unlikely. But seriously dating (and perhaps eventually marrying) a person who is not a Catholic need not be an obstacle to a happy, faith-filled and lifelong marriage. What you cannot afford to do, Jennifer stressed, is to sweep the topic of religion under the rug. Faith is not a small issue in a marriage and spouses (or future spouses) need to do their very best to address differences in this area and to get on the same page. If you are in a serious relationship with a significant other who is of a different faith from your own, you need to have some serious discussions with each other about faith and prayerfully seek common ground if at all possible. Also, honestly discuss the situation with your priest and seek his guidance. 

Jennifer's tip: Catholics who are contemplating marriage should make sure that they have a faith to share. In other words, live your Catholicism fully and faithfully - the Catholic faith fully lived out is ridiculously attractive.

Let me be clear here: we're not talking about one party making a half-hearted conversion or (even worse) being compelled to accept a faith that is not their own. This can do more harm than good. But the reality is that inter-faith marriages are difficult, so you if you're serious about your marriage lasting, have some honest and pointed conversations about faith. And if you're Catholic, be a strong and faith-filled one. A Catholic who faithfully lives out their faith (and understands it, too, so that they can answer questions when asked), is one of the strongest magnets to the Church. 

Catholic Marriage Myth #2: When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, both spouses have to agree to raise their children as Catholic.

According to Jennifer, there was a time when both potential spouses entering into a mixed-faith marriage (the Catholic and the non-Catholic) were required to make a promise to raise their children as Catholic. In modern times, passing on the Faith is certainly still important, but now only the Catholic spouse in a potential mixed-faith marriage must promise to do all that he or she can to raise their children as Catholics. The non-Catholic spouse is not expected to make any such promise.

Nor should they. Faith is a personal matter and adults should not be forced to do things, in the realm of faith and religion, with which they disagree. A disgruntled, non-Catholic parent who feels forced to take his or her children to Mass will only sow ill will and discord and these are not ingredients for a happy, holy and lasting marriage.

If you are a faithful Catholic who enters into a mixed-faith marriage, however, you are expected to try (to the best of your ability) to raise your children as Catholics. If you are true to faith, this is no imposition - how could want to do anything else? Remember - if you are Catholic, you don't leave your beliefs and the teachings of your Church at the door each time you enter the room with your spouse of significant other. This applies to dating, too. One touchy subject Jennifer mentioned in her talk bears mentioning again: cohabitation; living with your boyfriend or girlfriend outside of marriage. Beside the fact that non-married couples who decide to live together for the longterm are doing something that specifically goes against Church teaching, there are some other facts to consider.

Jennifer's tip: Living long-term with your "significant other" before getting married (AKA: cohabitating) can cause many more problems than it solves and can lay the foundation for a failed marriage.

Some couples argue that they should live together to "work things out" before they make a commitment in marriage. But, according to Jennifer and contrary to popular belief, couples who live together before they marry actually significantly raise their chances of their marriage ending in divorce. In fact, research shows that couples that cohabitate tend to be more reluctant to make long-term commitments and are much more likely to call the relationship quits when serious problems arise. Cohabitating is nothing close to a "trial run" for marriage because the entire relationship for a cohabitating couple is built upon a premise of being able to leave in the face of difficulties - a premise which fosters attitudes and mindsets that actually make a lifelong and successful marriage more difficult. Cohabitating couples, then, may be less motivated to develop support and conflict resolution skills.

Catholic Marriage Myth #3: Catholics don't have to be married in a church - they can be married anywhere. 

Short answer: False. And Jennifer's answer really makes sense, when you think about it. In the Catholic understanding, marriage is a sacrament of the Church. Sacraments, whenever possible, should be celebrated in a church.

Again, it's really important that Catholic couples contact their local priest and the priest of the parish in which they hope to marry soon after they get engaged. This is a huge help in scheduling necessary appointments for premarital counseling and even in helping to reserve use of the church for the wedding.

For Catholics who are marrying a non-Catholic in a non-Catholic ceremony, the Catholic party should also contact his or her priest as soon as possible after being engaged. This is really important (and often overlooked) because the priest can help to provide important guidance to the Catholic bride- or groom-to-be on how to have their marriage blessed and remain in good standing with the Church.

Jennifer's tip: Your priest should be among the top five people that you call after you get engaged - whether or not you plan to be married in a Catholic church.

For more information and/or for help in registering for an Engaged Encounter retreat weekend in the Diocese of Jackson, visit the Office of Family Ministry.