Pastor’s Perspective – July 5, 2020

* Prayer for Our Country on This Independence Day Weekend

The distrust and rancor within our nation, added to all the differences about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Black Lives Matter” protests surrounding police violence, and the upcoming presidential election need to be countered with hearts that prayerfully place our nation in God’s care without any agenda attached. We should not presume we know God’s will for this nation. I will begin a series of articles next week on “Faithful Citizenship,” the name the bishops of the United States give to their document on forming our conscience as we prepare to vote. At the heart of faithful citizenship for Catholics is a willingness to work for justice and peace but always with hearts that are open to repentance and change. Let us pray for this nation, its elected leaders and those seeking office, and for those raising awareness of issues such as racism, economic hardship, immigration, respect for life from the very first moment, health care and more. But let us do so with peaceful, not angry hearts.

* New Marriage Preparation Process in the Archdiocese. The Need for Mentor Couples

The Archdiocese of Detroit has updated its guidelines for all who are preparing for marriage at any parish in the diocese.  If someone’s preparation is already in process, it will not affect them, unless in discussion with the priest or pastoral minister who is working with them some component of the new guidelines would be beneficial to them. The new guidelines will affect all new marriage preparation couples at St. Regis moving forward from this week. More details and links can be found on the stregis.org website under our marriage preparation information.

In evaluating current marriage preparation models, asking pastors and couples what was working and what were the difficulties, a few key issues emerged. The most critical area is that of faith formation and the need to strengthen an understanding of just what it means to embrace a Christian understanding of marriage. That affects not just how and why one celebrates a marriage in the Church but also the choice of who one marries and how one lives out a marriage in an ongoing way within the Church community. In many ways, by the time a person has become engaged, there is very little that the marriage preparation process can do if a couple sees it as simply a requirement or hoop to jump through so that they can have a wedding in the Catholic Church. Instead of raising significant questions leading to deeper conversations, and even at times re-evaluation of whether this is the right person or time for marriage, marriage preparation becomes a series of checking the boxes so that the “most important” thing can be focused on—the wedding celebration being done in a certain way (notice the huge increase in ‘destination weddings’). Quite often a partner has been chosen not so much because he/she fits into the total picture of life-long family, faith, and friendship, but because they fulfill certain needs, desires and hopes for intimacy at a particular moment in one’s life. On the other hand, when couples view their relationship through the lens of a life-long faith journey, of the importance of sharing faith and prayer as a couple, of realizing that a life-long relationship of shared communication and intimacy means not only physical intimacy and some common goals, but a vocation from God to make their relationship the core priority with everything else flowing from that core—the choice of why one chooses a partner can shift and marriage preparation can become an opportunity to grow in faith and solidify the foundations that will last the entire marriage.

Two other key issues emerged as well. One is the need for more interaction between the engaged couple and mentor couples who are living successful Catholic Christian marriages. And the need to maintain or even strengthen the interaction between the engaged couple and the priest/deacon and the parish who will be witnessing their marriage so that the connection between marriage and the Church is made more solid. This includes an ongoing connection to and integration of newly married couples into the life of the community, especially during the first few years of marriage.

To re-energize and deepen the journey of engaged couples, the new marriage preparation process uses the model of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as its guide. Any adult entering into full initiation with the Catholic Church goes through four stages of preparation: 1) An inquiry stage where they learn about the core vision of the Catholic faith and how it responds and lives out the big questions of life. 2) A learning or catechumenate phase where a deeper look at the rich Tradition of the Church and a weekly connection to the parish community occurs. 3) A celebration stage where they are named as the Elect and then brought into the Church through a celebration of the sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, First Eucharist). 4) And a post-initiation phase (called mystagogy, meaning “exploring the mystery of faith”) where the newly initiated become integrated into the prayer, worship, formation, and service life of the community.

We realize that couples do not necessarily have the ability to prepare for marriage over a two or more year period, but these four stages can be enfleshed in even a several month marriage preparation process, with the help of online resources and mentor couples. For marriage preparation the four stages are 1) Discover, 2) Form, 3) Celebrate, and 4) Live. The “Discover” stage includes an initial meeting with the priest or deacon as well as online interaction with some video content provided by the Archdiocese, gaining an insight into the life and faith journey that has happened for each partner, why they want to be married, how they currently view marriage, whether there are any obvious obstacles to proceeding with marriage preparation, an overview of the Catholic understanding of marriage, and choosing a mentor couple (a successfully married couple) to meet with during the next stage. This stage takes anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. The “Form” stage then is a series of six sessions with a mentor couple exploring all aspects of marriage—communication, finances, sexuality, faith, expectations, in-laws, etc.,–along with presenting the couple to the parish community and blessing them, a retreat for engaged couples, a course on Natural Family Planning, and a meeting or two with the priest/deacon. These sessions can usually be completed in four-six months.

The third stage, “Celebrate” is the direct preparation for and celebration of the Marriage Rite. Couples are given some resources for prayer, encouraged to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation (if they did not do so at the engaged couples retreat), view some online resources for how the Church envisions celebrating the wedding liturgy and why, meeting with the priest/deacon to finalize plans, going through a rehearsal evening, and then the wedding itself. The final stage, “Live” includes at least one follow-up meeting with the couple about six months into marriage and yearly thereafter for the first few years, invitations to gather with other recently married couples and, when appropriate, an invitation to become a mentor couple themselves.

Given the above, the key to this new marriage preparation will be finding mentor couples to walk with the engaged couple through a series of six conversations on married life. Any such couples will be given resources to guide them. Such couples find their own relationship strengthened through the series of conversations with the engaged couple. We have successful marriages here at St. Regis. I need some of you to pray about this opportunity and come forward to be a Mentor Couple. You would mentor one or at most two couples in a year. All conversations with the couple are confidential and not shared with even me as pastor, unless there is a situation that is clearly contrary to the couple being married in the Church. Please pray about becoming such a Mentor Couple or even share with me the name of a couple you think would be good for this ministry and I can contact them. Thank you.

Fr. Buersmeyer

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