Before my husband and I can have our marriage made official in the Church, we need to take a marriage preparation classes. Our parish’s marriage course is a relationship-strengthening series of classes both for engaged couples and those already married. It’s held at a romantic Italian restaurant, and for each class we watch the official course video and then do workbook exercises as a couple. There’s no Q&A or interactivity with anyone else, just time alone together. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s taken it simply raves about it and can’t say enough about how much my husband and I are going to love it.
Unfortunately, we don’t love it. It’s so positive and peppy and upbeat that we feel like schmoes for not thinking it’s just fantastic. But, while we love spending the time together, we’re just not fond of the message.
Here are my issues with this course:
- Though the course creators (who are the presenters on all the videos) consider themselves Christian and throw some Bible verses into each lecture, they always go out of their way to assure viewers that they do not have to be Christian for this program to work.
- The lectures often veer into politically correct territory, such as when one of the presenters balefully told the example of a couple with young children who realized that their big problem was that the husband [gasp!] secretly didn’t want his wife to work (though luckily he was able to overcome this problem).
- A lot of the advice is the feel-good, touchy-feely “let’s work on our love language!” type of message. Think: Joel Osteen talking about marriage. That’s not all bad, but concepts like humility or selflessness are only touched on in a round about way, e.g. “Your love life will improve if you forgive one another!” or “You’ll understand your spouse better if you listen more!”
- We haven’t gotten to the class titled “Good Sex” yet, but based on the fact that contraception was mentioned as something for you to debate amongst yourselves in a previous lecture, I don’t think it’s going to be a Theology of the Body type experience. I looked ahead in our workbook and found this listed as God’s Truth on Sex: “[Sex is] a gift from God for our pleasure and enjoyment within a marriage relationship.” Really? A few other bullet points follow about how it’s a deep way of communicating, adds intimacy your relationship, etc. but there’s not a single mention of the connection of sex to the creation of life in the whole section. Not to be nitpicky, but this is not in line with Church teaching, right?
So those are my complaints. I understand the appeal because the presenters are so positive and they do offer some solid advice and interesting relationship-building exercises. There is definitely a place for their peppy “God Lite” message, but I don’t think that that place is in a Catholic church. Couples can find plenty of this type of secular, you-don’t-have-to-be-a-Christian advice out in the world.
On a personal note, my husband and I had most of this stuff down even before we were married. We’re both pretty open, calm people who generally communicate well. We’ve always had a good relationship. But what our relationship has become since embracing Catholic teaching is something completely different. We’ve been transformed as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. In particular, the understanding of Church teaching on openness to life in a marriage has taken our relationship to a level which we could not have previously imagined. It’s been a beautiful experience.
That’s why I hate to see our parish offering a course with such a bland message. The more Catholic churches shy away from upfrontness about Church teaching regarding things like suffering, selflessness, humility, the purpose of sex and marriage, etc. the more it reinforces the impression that this is bad news, a burdensome message that you want to hesitate before delivering. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s surprising to me that the marriage ministry directors have received seemingly nothing but rave reviews about this course. Are we the only ones who notice that, umm, this is isn’t very Catholic? As I listen to these lectures and see the nods and smiles amongst our fellow participants, I often wonder how a more serious, orthodox Catholic course would go over (like one of Christopher West’s programs). I tend to think that people are starving for the truth, for orthodoxy. But, in cases like this, and with the recent popularity of the “God Lite” message, I sometimes think that the time-tested technique of watering down the message to make it more palatable is as popular as ever.
UPDATE: I emailed our RCIA director and found out that we will be taking a Theology of the Body course at some point before we’re married in the Church. I’m glad to hear this. Although, since a lot of folks turn to my current marriage course when in times of trouble, I’d really like to see a program with a Catholic message.