Thursday, December 22, 2011

Harsh words or tough love?

When my future spouse and I went to Mass over the summer, the priest spoke of how people should not expect to simply do what they want in terms of getting married in the Church or baptizing their babies (like changing key words in vows, using music not suitable, or having people who don't meet basic criteria serve as godparents). He even went as far as to say, "No, you're a narcissist," when describing the attitudes. At first, I thought he was harsh but now, while I wouldn't come out and say someone is a narcissist, I feel I understand his frustration. At a time when 2/3 of Catholics don't even know the fundamentals of their faith and most simply "go through the motions" when it comes to Sacraments, I think a bit of tough love is needed.

It's not necessarily the fault of the parishioners. They can't be blamed for a couple generations of poor Catholic education. However, I do think we have the responsibility of changing the way we handle Sacraments in most parishes. When it comes to such enormous steps as marriage and the baptism of one's child, people need to be prepared. I think that, when a couple comes to a priest with either request, a conversation about the couple's faith, motivations, and knowledge should take place. If a couple needs to work on any, I'd recommend that they take an accelerated course on Catholicism in addition to pre-marriage and pre-baptism classes. I also believe a couple should be active in the parish and develop their spiritual lives. If they're not willing to do this, they shouldn't be allowed to get married in the Catholic Church and they shouldn't raise their kids Catholic.

Of course, when you mention this, people say, "But they should be happy! It's their choice!" No one is stopping these people from "being happy." If they want to get married, they can do so in a civil ceremony. They can have kids and have whatever secular ceremony they feel appropriate (some couples do secular naming ceremonies for their kids). However, Catholic Sacraments are rites, not rights, of passage and come with responsibilities to God as well as to the community. When you commit to one person in marriage in the Catholic Church, you are promising to help that person get into heaven and you're promising to uphold Christ's command for marriage. That's not something you can take lightly. When you have your baby baptized in the Church, you're promising to keep that child away from evil and help them on their path to God (you're also making sure your child is bound to Catholic teaching). If you can't do these things or don't even believe in these things, why would you do them?

Marriage and raising families are both adult decisions. The decisions you make about either of these things need to be ones you are willing to follow through on, regardless of what others say. You need to be able to do both for the right reasons. If you don't believe in the significance behind the Sacraments of both, why would you be dishonest with yourself and go through with them? People need to be honest about what they believe and if all they see in the Church is an opportunity for a party and a pretty backdrop, as well as an excuse to avoid Grandma's guilt trips, then no, they shouldn't be allowed to go through with such an enormous step within the building. The Church will guide you if you seek it, but it won't bend over backward for you. If you can't make yourself believe in the core teachings, that's fine. Just have a little integrity when you're planning the biggest events of your life.

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