Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 19, 2004
Think, before you wed
Priests reflect on potential pitfalls for young couples
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
We aren't Wal-Mart, "said Father Paul Moret. "The Church stands for something more than just dispensing services."
Moret, the archdiocese's vocation director, expressed his concern with the attitudes of some about-to-be-married couples regarding marriage and their responsibilities both to God and each other.
Along with Assumption Parish pastor Father Clement Gauthier and Father Jack Gallagher, president of Newman College, Moret told the WCR about his observations of couples taking the marriage preparation course as well as some of the tell-tale signs that a marriage is destined to thrive or be doomed to fail.
"I find that the two areas of most concern are the couples who come to get married aren't practising their faith by going to Church and that they are living together," Moret said. "I've tried to talk to the couples about these issues but it's an uphill battle.
Sure, some couples have responded well, but most have a worldly idea of marriage and they don't budge very much."
Moret attempts to make the couples aware that they don't just go to Church to get married and then head home and abandon the Church connection.
But he finds it difficult to convince some because they have been conditioned by other influences that looking after themselves first and foremost is the key to a successful marriage.
"It's a general attitude of society that people can have whatever they want," Moret said. "It's a consumerism thing where some couples think they can come to Church and I will provide them with a service on their terms, like the customer's always right."
Moret says statistics show that people who live together before marriage have a higher divorce rate. Couples who choose to do so may think they are preparing themselves, while in fact, they are undermining the prospect of their success.
"I don't pretend to know all the answers, but I try to impress upon the couples that if one of them becomes attracted to someone else while within the marriage - and they haven't prepared themselves by remaining chaste before marriage - how are they going to be chaste within marriage?" he said.
"When a couple lives chastely before marriage then there is a confidence the partners will live chastely when certain difficulties arise.
"They will be able to resist temptations to stray."
Dr. Janet Smith, professor at the University of Dallas and noted author on natural family planning, tells her students she'll give them $1,000 if they follow four steps and then wind up divorced.
First, there is to be no sex before marriage or if the couple is having sex, stop for at least a year. Then, get married in the Church and go to Church. Third, don't use contraception and, fourth, give some of what you have to the Church.
"She says if you get God and money in the right order, then the chance of divorce is basically zero," Moret said.
Father Gauthier believes the main goal of any priest is for a couple to be happy together after they are married.
"When a young couple comes in, I tell them they must take the course of preparation for marriage," Gauthier said. "They are very obedient because they know if they want to get married, they must take it.
"Generally, they say the course got them to talk about things they might not have discussed before."
From a moral point of view, Gauthier isn't certain if the course makes much difference because most of the couples are living together.
The couples are asked to take the course because if they are not mature enough, they will discover that perhaps they should postpone their marriage for a year or two. Or, if they aren't suited for each other after psychological tests, perhaps they will decide to find another partner.
"These are two things we really hope couples discover from the course about their relationship. The purpose is not to affect their morals."
Gauthier performs about 12 to 15 weddings a year. He hopes they'll be happy because there are so many who are not.
"Divorce is such a painful thing. It's like you set out on a voyage and you hit a rock and your boat sinks. There are great consequences in the couple's lives, especially if they have children. And the consequences in their lives are so painful. It breaks my heart."
Gauthier tells couples not to rush, to plan things out and see if they can detect any weaknesses. If they see that they aren't matched and continue on, the couple is asking for trouble.
"Couples must not expect their spouse to change just because they are married. People don't change like that," he said. "For example, say a man drinks too much and he says he won't after they get married. He won't quit.
"Or if he is mean to others. If you go to a restaurant, see how he treats a waitress - whatever. If he doesn't treat others any better, how is he going to treat her? Or, vice-versa for the woman," he said.
"If she is a particularly difficult person, she won't change. If it's there before, it's going to be there afterwards. Some people say they can put up with it but after awhile, it gets worse."
A couple that is absolutely truthful to each other is one which has a chance to succeed. Couples are asked if they have ever had to deal with depression, drug addiction, alcoholism or sexual abuse, for example. Gauthier will then ask them if they've had problems.
"If they have, then put it on the table tonight because they're heading for trouble if they don't level," he said.
Father Gallagher was involved with marriage preparation for two years while at St. Agnes and St. Anthony parishes.
"Nobody batted an eye about marriage being a permanent commitment," he said. "Some were frivolous but most were pretty sincere and I think that is because the average age of those getting married is older now. I think they have seen the incidence of failure."
The rate of marriage failure (about 50 per cent) is because of very little social support from the culture when things go wrong, Gallagher said.
It is a culture that says sexual attraction is the biggest success in life.
"The expectation is that all will be well by changing the situation rather than long, hard work. I think what is probably less edifying is the expectation of having children. I'm not sure how many are realistic about what that costs in terms of the human effort."
Couples, he said, are more sophisticated and realistic about the costs of keeping a husband-wife relationship going and less about what they are going to have to invest in children.