Friday, June 25, 2010

I Do: A Reflection on Marriage

    The other day my attention was called to a Newsweek (June 21, 2010) article entitled, I Don't: the case against Marriage, by Jesssica Bennett and Jesse Ellison. Their principal tenet is that "40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, at least—no longer necessary." They cite some interesting facts and theories in favor of their position. For example, "It often pays to stay single," or "If you're going to wait, why get married?" Then there was the 28 year old man quoted as, "If I had to be married to have sex, I would probably be married, as would every guy I know." They also mention things like women no longer needing to depend on men for financial security, or that studies show that marrying a man means that a woman takes on seven hours a week more of housework, even though husbands and fathers these days do more of that than they did years ago. One interesting point made is that marriage has become so idealized and filled with expectations that it is almost impossible to maintain. They cite many other statistics and opinions as well and point out that most young people believe in monogamy, but just not necessarily a life long one or one that includes a wedding ceremony.

    Articles like this certainly present a challenge to Christians and others who do believe in marriage. The question is "How do we respond to that challenge?" a challenge which has been there for a while and is not all of a sudden put on us by this article. There are some who would get angry and condemnatory and go pound on their pulpits. That may bring a certain satisfaction to those in the pew who already believe in, and are in fact married, but I don't think it would go far to alter the landscape. I think a different approach is needed.

    First of all I don't think that we can bury our heads in the sand regarding the whole context, socially and economically, in which marriage is lived out. Most of us don't live on the farm, and even those that do live on a much different kind of farm. In addition the industrial revolution is over and we're in a new phase of a hi-tech, twittering, blogging, facebook and texting world where women have a lot more independence, and a try to juggle careers with child-rearing. They're not going to entertain any notion of marriage where he's the boss and she demurely follows hid commands, and like it or not the sexual revolution has taken place. All of this and more shapes the ideas that young people bring to the possibility of marriage for them. On top of this they have seen their parents generation have not too great a track record on staying married. This creates a certain skepticism regarding permanent commitment. We in the priesthood and religious life see the same trend for our lives.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that I like or agree with all of the above. Some of the thinking is appalling, some of it interesting, but all of it needs to be taken into consideration. Simply going to young people of a marriageable age with "Thou shall or shall not…" will not cut it. So, what can we do?

    Certainly as a celibate priest I tread lightly in saying anything about marriage. That having been said I offer a few thoughts. I think the first thing that we can do is look to the many happily married couples that there are and find out the keys to their success, and there are several. One of the blessings of my life as a friar and priest is the friendship I have with several couples that I met in my days of working with the Marriage encounter. What I have discovered from them is that faith and hard work are the two things that keep things going in a marriage. By faith I don't mean just showing up at Church on Sunday, but a firm conviction that the grace of God is needed to meet the challenges of marriage and a willingness to seek that grace when needed. By hard work I mean the realization that you don't just get married and hang on for dear life, but the day by day struggle to communicate with each other and realize that no matter how long you are together you never fully know and understand each other. Also included in hard work if the struggle to keep marriage and family as a priority over work, especially now when both the man and the woman may be working outside the home.

    In one parish that I visited to preach a mission young couples were invited to draw on the wisdom of a "mentoring couple" from the parish that they could turn to for advice and wisdom. Many took up the suggestion and were happy with the results. W

    I also think that in preparing couples for marriage we need to challenge both the man and the woman but in different ways. With the much diuscussed "bridezilla" phenomenon in planning for the wedding day I think that brides need to be challenged to realize that a marriage is more than the wedding ceremony. With the above mentioned stat that marriage means seven more hours of housework for the woman men need to be challenged to step up to the plate even more. They're doing better than their dads in this respect, but more is called for.

    That's my two cents worth. It's not the whole answer. Much prayer and thought needs to go into this subject. I welcome your response, dear reader of this blog, via direct comments below or by e-mails to me.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Summer in the Northwoods

The wandering friar has just finished a week of heavy wandering. I arrived in Eagle River for weekend Masses on June 11, and flew to Syracuse, NY on June 13 to preach a retreat to the priests of that diocese, returning back to Wisconsin on June 18 to resume my ministry here for the rest of the summer.

The experience with the priests was wonderful. Though I am a veteran preacher this was only my third retreat for priests, a task which I approach with a great deal of anxiety, and also the realization that much prayer is needed to perform that task well. Many of you provided that prayer, and for that I am grateful. The priests were largely older and seasoned priests whose dedication and zeal was an inspiration to me. It struck me that with priests getting so much bad press the stories of so many who have worked hard in parishes, schools, hospitals, jails and foreign missions over the years needs to be told.

My arrival in Eagle River last week and in Phelps and Land O'Lakes this weekend was deeply touching. I was welcomed with a lot of "glad your backs" and "great to see you agains" which made me realize that the people here are such a gift to me. I travel around and me great people in so many different parishes, but I have been coming back to Wisconsin almost every year since 1995. I feel deeply a part of so many of the joys and blessings, but also the sorrows and losses of so many people here. I will never foget the prayerful support I received from then in 2006 when I could not come here due to prostate cancer. I look forward to another summer of ministering to people here, of singing in the ecumenical choir at Prince of peace Lutheran Church, walking in the Northwoods Relay for Life to fight cancer, and offering an adult faith formation program entitled Revisitng Vatican II. It should be a great summer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Corpus Christi: A Reflection

Today is one of my favorite feasts in the Church's liturgical calendar, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. This feast was established in the 13th century to affirm our belief in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, because that belief was under attack. The Liturgy for the feast was composed by the great Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas.

Now in the early 21st century we still find a need to reaffirm this belief that Christ is present, body & soul, humanity and divinity, in this great Sacrament. I have for a long time however thought the we must do more than merely affirm our faith in this belief. We need to ask not only, "Is the Lord truly present to us?", but also, "What's He doing? How does it involve me, us?"

Bishop Robert Lynch, bishop of the St. Petersburg,FL diocese where I reside, has been conducting a wonderful program of Eucharistic awareness over the past few years, that nicely answers that question. He is gathering, nourishing and sending us,according to that program.

I think that many Catholics believe in the Eucharist, but keep themselves outside of the mystery, even though since Vatican II they have been participating more in the prayers of the Mass. I think that many people understand that the Lord is truly present and they receive Him with devotion, and that's it. Now that alone is wonderful, but there is so much more to it.

He gathers us, draws us each Sunday out of our daily lives, and invites us to bring the bread and wine of our own joys and sorrows to the celebration at His table.

He nourishes us--with His Word first of all, and then by not only feeding us with His Body and Blood, but drawing us anew into the mystery of His death and Resurrection, so that the bread of our daily lives is united to Him and we find healing and renewal. In nourishing us in this way He also unites to to Him and to one another so that in the words of Eucharistic Prayer III "we become one body, one Spirit, in Christ. Body of Christ then is the host, the consecrated Bread, but it is also us, the Church, united with Him.

To complete the process we are sent, to "Go in Peace" to bring to the world what the Lord has given us. The Eucharist then is not just a static ritual, as many critics say, but an ongoing drama in which God's love, given to us in Christ, is over and over again poured out in us so that we might pour it out on everyone we meet.

What a wonderful gift. Let's cherish it and renew our dedication to living out this gift in our lives.

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly