Marriage Preparation and Gospel Proclamation
Now let us dive into the actual teaching of a sacramental preparation class with the Gospel at the center. Marriage is a great time to win back young adults to the faith. Many of the couples seeking a Catholic marriage have been away from the Church, are cohabiting, have a distorted caricature of Church teaching, and do not have a living faith in Jesus Christ. The programs that I have been a part of in the past may address some of the moral issues (cohabitation), relationship issues (compatibility tests) and the sacramental needs (wedding planning), but rarely address the faith component. This is what I do.
My parish’s Engaged Couples ministry is built around prayer, community and testimony. Each component is given through personal testimony. I was invited to share the opening Theology of the Body talk to frame the subsequent discussions on NFP, the sacrament of matrimony, communication, couple prayer, etc. Another bonus: at our parish the leaders of the Engaged Couples ministry are joyful disciples of Jesus Christ that radiate warmth in and through their marriage.
First, we build bridges. I acknowledge and confront misconceptions about the Church’s teaching on sex. This involves a lot of pre-evangelization and apologetics. When it comes to sex, most Millennials have an amalgamation of cultural presuppositions. They know nothing of what the Church teaches and think they are going to get lectured to on all the sexual rules. You need to acknowledge this in a non-judgmental way right out of the gate. This puts people at ease and lowers their defenses. I use a line from a Christian singer who once said, “We were raised to think that sex is dirty and disgusting, so save it for someone you love.” Point out the hypocrisy of this statement. It’ll get you some laughs.
Then I confront the moralism that Christianity has become in their eyes, which I talked about in previous posts. The kerygma is the only solution to this, so I spend the majority of my time presenting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the center point of everything going forward. This grounds the Church’s fundamental affirmation of the body and human sexuality within the narrative of redemption. Against this caricature I preach our incarnational spirituality, viewing the body and sex as “good” from the very beginning (Gen. 1:26-28) and how Jesus did not despise the body, but took on our human nature (Heb 10:5), “became flesh” (John 1:14), for the sake of our salvation (Jn 3:16-17).
Following Pope John Paul II, it is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Paschal Mystery that unlocks the beauty of Christian marriage, as St Paul bears witness to in Ephesians 5:21-33. Marriage is impossible without grace and grace is impossible without faith.
Matrimony isn’t just a Christian version of natural marriage, but is a radical reorientation of marriage. It places the cross firmly in the center of a couple’s union and says, “You” and “Always.” It prevents what so often plagues modern unions- the mutual use of one another to achieve personal fulfillment. It is now Self-Gift, the central theme of the Theology of the Body and the Paschal Mystery. This allows them to start challenging their own cultural presuppositions to marriage, sex and the like.
As I’ve said before, everyone wants redemption, yet no other sexual morality can give this, which is why we have to make clear that Christianity is not just a moralism. When I get to the Theology of the Body proper and unfold “the logic of the gift,” they begin to see the beautiful symmetry of Church teaching, and (hopefully) they discover the love they long for is Christ himself, which is given to them in the cross and resurrection, and also through their future spouse, and that this is precisely its sacramental power.
God love you!