Lasting Faithfulness


I think this syn­od is mak­ing me think too much about mar­riage and the fam­i­ly! But I’ve want­ed to write this stuff for a while and the syn­od has giv­en me a  con­text for my ram­bling thoughts about this sub­ject. It’s also been a good kick to get me restart­ed on the blog!

Father Michael once wrote me an email say­ing that he’d love to talk to me about mar­riage some­time. Well, we had talked about it in our appointments…several times. I’d been sur­prised by what he said and even more by what he didn’t say. I think, from his lack of response to many of my state­ments, that I sur­prised him with my being some­what con­ser­v­a­tive. At that point, he def­i­nite­ly want­ed to avoid any dis­agree­ments with me. One thing that stood out for me from those talks was Father M’s stat­ing “Well, you know they’re all liv­ing togeth­er”. Of course that was old news . But Father talked about how some of the engaged were grand­chil­dren of ‘long-time’ parish­ioners, or devout par­ents, and talked about not want­i­ng to their hurt the relative’s feel­ings, etc.In oth­er words Father treat­ed them with care  and cour­tesy, no mat­ter what their liv­ing arrange­ment. I asked “Do you say any­thing about cohab­it­ing to them? I know they are with you to do the ‘right thing’, but do you say any­thing ?”  Father Michael said ” Because they have already ‘shared inti­ma­cy’, I tell them that after they are mar­ried, God will now bless what they have.” I looked at him and said “That’s it?”  And he nod­ded.

I’m not stu­pid. I know that scold­ing is not the way to go and that these engaged peo­ple are aware of their actions. But I have to say, even now, that I was so dis­ap­point­ed in what Father M said.It real­ly kind of shut me up and our appoint­ment end­ed. I was dis­turbed by our talk and after­ward kept think­ing about it. A few days lat­er I sent Father an email. Here’s part of it:

Off and on I have been think­ing about our talk the oth­er day. Remem­ber­ing what you said about engaged cou­ples, almost all liv­ing togeth­er , com­ing to you to pre­pare for mar­riage made me kind of sad.I know no one wants to alien­ate them, since they are at last doing “what they should do”. I’m sure that nei­ther you, nor their par­ents, nor any­one involved with them wants to rock the boat by say­ing some­thing to make them feel uncom­fort­able or chas­tised in any way. But what struck me was how say­ing “God will now bless what you are already doing” or ” already have” (I’m sure I’m mis­quot­ing you crude­ly, sor­ry) though absolute­ly true, seems so want­i­ng.

I guess I think of the sit­u­a­tion as a par­ent would, hop­ing that some­how all I hoped I’d taught my child and all the tra­di­tions and beliefs I’d tried to con­vey in rear­ing them Catholic would still be sup­port­ed by the church. Almost like anoth­er type of seam­less gar­ment? Kind of like the trust you have in your spouse that he/she will project the same val­ues to your child that you your­self do. It just seems to me that there should be reminders of these things even if the par­tic­u­lar cou­ple doesn’t reflect the ide­al. Some­thing should be said. Of course it should nev­er be done in a nasty way and I don’t know how I would even attempt it. Eas­i­er said than done, for sure. But I feel like our tra­di­tion­al beliefs should still be held up as worth­while and as what is real­ly pleas­ing to God. And then, I think it seems in real­i­ty all we are offend­ed about is pre­mar­i­tal sex. But sex can be such a pro­found expe­ri­ence of God; it shouldn’t ever be min­i­mized or over­looked. Glad YOU  are the priest , Father Michael. I’d be freak­ing out.”

Father Michael’s email response was “You wouldn’t believe some of the things the engaged tell me”. I  didn’t answer him, but thought ‘Oh yes I would’. He nev­er elab­o­rat­ed or dis­cussed this fur­ther with me. I have an added under­stand­ing now since Father’s can­cer fight.I learned that he real­ly abhorred and feared crit­i­cism — and I’m sure he saw crit­i­cism in my email. So he ignored it. I do wish he would have been will­ing to dis­cuss it.

  Father Michael often men­tioned how he helped peo­ple with their annul­ments. He always had paper­work to do for them. Lat­er in the two years I knew him, he would men­tion going out to a cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner with cou­ples who had been wait­ing for an annul­ment to mar­ry. It was very clear that he felt peo­ple should explore the annul­ment process -if they were divorced or sep­a­rat­ed. I think it was a great joy for him to deliv­er the news that the annul­ment had been grant­ed. I remem­ber that in the lat­er months of his ill­ness he always made the time to meet with these peo­ple. He admired their courage and their desire to make things right with the Church-and their love for each oth­er.

Father Michael  had dif­fi­cul­ty in see­ing the com­mit­ment of engaged cou­ples. He also said that many peo­ple real­ly just want­ed the church build­ing for their wed­ding, but not the Church, not the sacra­ment. He had a hard time offi­ci­at­ing at most mar­riages for this rea­son. He often spoke in won­der of the sac­ri­fice and evi­dent love shown by old­er cou­ples, par­tic­u­lar­ly if one part­ner was ill and the oth­er was a care­tak­er. He would always say he was awed by this. Father Michael felt that most of the cou­ples he saw had no clue as to what ‘for bet­ter or worse, in sick­ness or in health’ might mean for them down the line.

On the oth­er hand, I recall Father Michael talk­ing about the sto­ries of how some cou­ples met and how God’s hand was so evi­dent. He was very excit­ed one time about a cou­ple who both had chil­dren from pre­vi­ous mar­riages-and they had found each oth­er. He said they had a won­der­ful story—and Father Michael loved those sto­ries.  He said “so they will be a blend­ed fam­i­ly”. I said ” Oh like that old movie ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’.” Father Michael  laughed and said “No ‘Ours’ yet!”  He paused and thought a sec­ond and then said “well .…MAYBE!”

I did get a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on Father M’s beliefs on mar­riage from oth­er expe­ri­ences and things he’d say. Once we were on Ash­land Avenue by St Pius, wait­ing to cross. Father was well into his can­cer treat­ment and was very weak. I was about to dri­ve him to St Vincent’s. We were talk­ing about Thomas Peters’ recov­ery (see ‘The Won­der­ment of God’).  I men­tioned that there was still so much online vit­ri­ol toward Thomas regard­ing his uphold­ing the church’s teach­ings on mar­riage. Father Michael said “You mean the tra­di­tion­al church teach­ing on mar­riage?” I said “Yes, of course”.  Father Michael got vis­i­bly agi­tat­ed and said “Hey, he has it easy. Any­one who upholds the estab­lished posi­tion has it much eas­i­er than those who ques­tion it.”  The light changed and Father rushed ahead into the street. I caught up with him. I said I dis­agreed– that it real­ly depend­ed on the cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions— that ALL  sides would find it dif­fi­cult in some cir­cum­stances. He didn’t answer me. I decid­ed that I would not pur­sue it as I sel­dom had an unin­ter­rupt­ed time with Father. I didn’t want to waste the nice ride in the car on an argu­ment .

Once, short­ly after Pope Fran­cis was elect­ed, Father Michael called me. Unusu­al for us, we had a real con­ver­sa­tion as opposed to the typ­i­cal talk about chemo, the weath­er and the lot­tery. Father was agog at the “Who am I to judge?” Fran­cis quote.  I remem­ber being com­fort­able enough to dis­agree and expound on dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions where I felt ‘who am I to judge’ was not applic­a­ble. I had no sense that I was both­er­ing Father Michael. I remem­ber talk­ing about some peo­ple expect­ing this would pave the way to same-sex mar­riage. At that point Father inter­rupt­ed me and said force­ful­ly ” I know some­thing has to change.…..I’ve known too many peo­ple who suf­fer”. I start­ed to respond,then he said “Oh, I’m here at the clin­ic, talk to you lat­er”.  That was kind of a pat­tern: Father would say some­thing con­tro­ver­sial, then cut off the conversation.….at least with me.

So my gut tells me that, despite Father Michael’s rev­er­ent and awe-filled view of the sacra­ment of Mat­ri­mo­ny, he might have been open to oth­er non-tra­di­tion­al views of it. I have so many mov­ing impres­sions of how a tru­ly holy priest per­ceived and admired the voca­tion of marriage.Yet I have addi­tion­al mem­o­ries of things that he said hint­ing at a very lib­er­al and non-tra­di­tion­al per­spec­tive, at odds with church teach­ing.  What was the truth ?  I’ll always won­der.

All this from that darn syn­od !

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