Marriage and Lisa Marie: Once a Catholic . . .

Attending a pre-marriage conference can be a good way to learn how lucky you are.

The Catholic Church has a unfavorable reputation among brides-to-be concerning the measures it requires to sanction a marriage. But thanks to Father Chuck, our progressive priest with a modern view on the sacrament of marriage, our personal experience has been rather smooth. This weekend, we glimpsed the other side of Catholic-marriage preparation, and I have to say the grass is certainly not greener over there.

One of the crucial requirements during marriage preparation is the Pre-Cana conference. We had the choice of a one-day, two-day, or three-day excursion to immerse ourselves in the Church’s teachings about marriage. Andrew and I chose the one-day conference; after 13 years of Catholic school, I figured that was all I needed to soak up the rules. We weren’t sure what to expect or what other couples were going to be like at the conference, but we woke up early on a rainy Saturday morning and headed to Vienna with open minds.

About 150 people gathered in a large auditorium, looking sleepy and unsure of what the day would bring. As we chatted with the couples at our table, I learned that we were fortunate to be working with such a wonderful and understanding priest. The local diocese mandates that you meet with your priest five times between your initial contact and the wedding date. This is to go over the teachings of the Church and how they relate to your lives together; it’s also where priests can get stern about certain life choices you may have made up until that point. While Father Chuck didn’t hesitate for a moment when he discovered Andrew and I had been living together for four years, there were couples we spoke with who had encountered priests who wouldn’t perform the ceremony if they had lived together at all. These couples seemed to feel either ashamed of their lifestyles or jaded with the process, and they made me appreciate our experience thus far.

Instead of setting up meetings with us every couple of months, our priest had paired us with a “sponsor” couple from the Good Shepherd community. While Father Chuck was happy to discuss anything we wanted to before our ceremony, he said, “I’ve never been married, so how can I tell you the real deal?” While we were initially hesitant, thinking that our sponsor couple might be not so forgiving about our less-than-perfect Catholicism, we ended up being paired with two people who embodied what we wanted for our future lives. Chris and Roz didn’t judge us and were incredibly honest with the struggles they’d encountered in their many years of marriage. Andrew and I found ourselves looking forward to our meetings with them, which is certainly a better scenario than some of the couples we met at the conference were dealing with.

While an entire day of lectures would be trying regardless of the topic, we learned some interesting things while attending the conference. But with Catholic doctrine such a big part of my childhood, I didn’t find anything to be utterly shocking in the day’s teaching. The most enlightening information was from the couples we met: It reaffirmed how lucky we were to have a connection with the religious leader who would be declaring us husband and wife.

Lisa Marie, a local bride-to-be, writes every Friday about planning her wedding, which will be in Washington in July. To follow her adventures from the beginning, click here.