Love is in the Air at Newman!
In a recent Facebook post referencing the number of new couples that formed in our undergraduate community, I joked that sometimes I felt more like the captain of the Love Boat than the pastor of a parish. A recent discussion with Fr. Donald about the number of couples with whom we are journeying toward the sacrament of marriage brought that image back to mind. The Newman Center was like a wedding chapel last semester. More than any other Fall since my arrival in Tucson, this Fall Semester was wedding season at Newman. There have also been a number of recent engagements in the community. In many of these weddings and engagements, the brides and grooms have met at the Newman Center and much of their life as a couple has been in the context of our Campus Ministry community.
This phenomenon, coupling within our community, reminds me that we primarily serve a very focused population who are in the midst of defining who they will be for the rest of their lives. This includes who they are vis-a-vis love and relationship. This reality, combined with the attempted redefinition of marriage going on in our society, wherein unnatural relationships are equated with natural, temporary with permanent, and lust-filled with loving, demands a remarkable vigilance on the part of our parish community. All of us, but especially married couples who call Newman home have a particular role to play in helping our young people understand both the truth and beauty of our Catholic teaching regarding our humanity, relationships, and sex.
The more I am involved in marriage preparation, the more two concerns are raised for me: 1) The very definition of marriage and public discussions framed in terms of “marriage equality” and 2) the expense, energy, and hype put into weddings.
Young people who find issue with Church teaching very often point to the Church’s “unjust treatment of gay people” or “the Church’s stand against gay marriage” as a major tenant of their objections. When pushed to discuss the teachings logically, I find that these young people have no idea what they are talking about and advance the same tired emotional arguments rehashed every day in the press. It is distressing to me that such discussions postulate a “right” to marry without any background discussion of what a right is or where that right came from. (This has been the same tactic used by the “pro-reproductive-rights” groups for the last three decades.) We have a responsibility to challenge such notions and to help our young people distinguish between well-though-out historically-valid arguments and the latest emotion-laden opinion. We, as a church and community, must be willing to engage the conversation, but to do so honestly and dispassionately and on our terms. I am not talking about arguing with the press or local gay-rights group, I am talking about arguing with our own members to reaffirm more than 3000 years of religious understanding and multiple epochs of human reality. This must be an ongoing discussion and, yes, it must also be a part of our marriage preparation as we help young people understand the difference between the sacrament and vocation of marriage and what happens in court-houses and casinos that goes by the name “marriage.”
Equally disturbing to me is what weddings have become in our society. I don’t know any priest who loves to do weddings. Why? Because weddings have become so disconnected from the reality of our lives. Poor people ride in limousines on their wedding day. People wear rented clothing and dresses designed by someone else (one size and style fits all) on their wedding day. Because so many couples see the Church as just another “venue” they use for the afternoon. When I look out at the congregation at the typical wedding, the only parishioners I see are usually one set of parents – the wedding has little or nothing to do with the Parish, and yet brides and mothers of brides can be the most demanding people we deal with in the course of our ministerial lives. It is not good that I question on a wedding day why this couple chose to get married at this parish in the first place.
In the best of all possible worlds, a wedding should be the culmination of a time of preparation within a community. The parish of the couple should be working with them to help them grow in grace and holiness as they prepare to spend their life together. Every member of the parish should know the couple and be praying with them as they prepare. Every member of the parish should be excited about the engagement, excited about the marriage, excited about the wedding. Every member of the parish should be INVITED to the wedding. Weddings have become such a private affair that often nobody from the parish is invited – after all, we have to limit the invitations to the number we can seat at the reception. Which points to the reality that most weddings are really about the reception. Marriage is not a private reality and weddings should not be either.
I am so thankful that many of the weddings we have at Newman are not like what I described above. They really are parish celebrations. So often, the weddings that we celebrate here are for couples who met here during their university studies. Their relationships have grown up surrounded by Newman friends. Their wedding parties are populated by people they know from Newman. Such was the case of the wedding of Vince Steiner and Danielle Steinfadt on Saturday. (Congratulations, Vince and Danielle!) The Wedding of our former Campus Minister, Tanner John and his lovely bride, Brittany McCain in October brought our Fall season of Love to a beautiful crescendo and reminded me how important it is for us to see marriage prep and weddings both as PARISH CELEBRATIONS.
Between us right now, Fr. Donald and I are preparing about 20 couples for marriage. Most will get married here, a few we are preparing for other places. For all of these couples we ask your prayers. I would like to offer a special congratulations to three couples who got engaged during the winter break: Mike Mayette and Juliane Christina, Alex Gutierrez and Trisha Henry, and Kaylan Burliegh and Sean Cahill. I would also ask your prayers for the couples who have married from our community in recent months: Aidan and Brittany Garza, Sean Small and Christine Pham, Gail Gibbons and Fred Pace, Gabe and Delia Birch, Ryan and Sarah Ostberg, Michael and Lauren Simmons, and the two couples I mentions above. Pray also for the couples who are preparing for marriage: Corey Poindexter and Lucy Martinez, David Rudolf and Kelly Golden, Shelley Hubele and Ed Rubin, Barbara Colondres and Mike Davee, Mike Galeski and Ashley Hunley, Dana Stevenson and John Richards, Megan Stull and J Alexander, Noe Badillo and Elizabeth Riedel, Greg Wagner and Josie Larger. May God bless all these couples richly as they enter into a blessed life together as husbands and wives. Let us also pray for the grace to uphold the meaning of marriage in our society and to help young people who are preparing to be married to stay focused on the true meaning of the sacrament and vocation of marriage.