For a recovering political junkie like myself, it was fascinating to watch the 2014 and 2015 assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, each of which focused on family life in the 21st century. I followed every development, story, and twist closely, and I, like many, am eagerly waiting to see what Pope Francis will decide to do in its wake.
The need for the Church to do a better job in marriage preparation was a frequent theme throughout the assemblies. This intuitively made sense. If we do a better job preparing couples before they get married, we will eventually solve the much larger and more challenging issue about what to do when some of those marriages break down and end in divorce. More and better marriage preparation seemed to be an obvious solution.
A funny thing happened a few weeks after the most recent assembly closed, however. I got engaged, and suddenly more marriage preparation classes sounded like a terrible idea. My girlfriend and I want a short engagement and a spring wedding, which means ski season falls right in between when I asked if she would and when I will promise that I do. Being from San Diego she could not care less, but I’ve been doing my snow dance for weeks now. The idea of giving up long awaited lift tickets to attend marriage prep courses was not an appealing proposition.
When I told my girlfriend, who is not Catholic, that we would have to attend, her first reaction was to ask if “they are going to teach us how to have sex.” I replied that I’ve never been married before so I didn’t know for certain. I suspected, though, that while they will explain to us what the Church teaches on the matter, I don’t think anyone is going to need instruction on the mechanics.
That was, if you can call it a complaint, the last time she complained about giving up two long Sundays in the Archdiocese’s Pastoral Center. I, on the other hand, made it clear several times that I didn’t want to attend, ski season or not.
It is important to me to be married in the Church. My girlfriend, on the other hand, has no desire to be married in a Catholic church and is only doing so for my sake. I am attending the classes because this is what my church asks of me, and she is attending solely because she loves me, yet somehow I am the only one making my displeasure known.
We attended our first class last Sunday—while my friends were on the slopes—and the gentleman who was running the program began by welcoming everyone, and especially the non-Catholics present. I squeezed my girlfriend’s leg under the table at this comment, and think it meant more to me than it did to her.
Knowing that many of us were there only because we were required to be, he asked us to keep an open mind. For the most part I did, although at one point I did flat out refuse to participate in a one-on-one exercise with my girlfriend. It wasn’t bad information they were teaching us, and for some people it may be very helpful, but I knew that I wasn’t ever going to feel comfortable doing it. I would feel ridiculous even pretending, so I allowed myself that one moment of dissent.
Much of the first day was spent discussing relationship tools, with things like communication and managing expectations prominent. Again it wasn’t bad information, but as an educated, occasionally reflective, more-or-less balanced, professional adult, I don’t think I gained much by taking a full day seminar on it.
For the most part, though, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the program. It was not nearly as awful as I was fearing, and I think my girlfriend and I each took something different away from it. We even went out to dinner with another couple after the day ended, and I hope they are going to become good friends.
We have one more day of classes to go through, and it is on the second day where the birds-and-the-bees, or more hopefully Theology of the Body, is going to be discussed. We are even going to have to cut short a family vacation, a ski trip, to attend.
I am reserving final judgement on the program until we finish. I still don’t want to go, but I recognize that even if it is a powder day, it is still just one day of my life. My girlfriend, on the other hand, has to spend all the rest of hers with me. I think we all know who is making the greater sacrifice.