Bishop Gerald Weisner, left, and marriage preparation expert Christian Meert were speakers at the “Seminar on the Family.” Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Viewing marriage with a theological lens

  • April 9, 2012

OTTAWA - Amid challenges Catholics are facing in the area of marriage and human sexuality, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) gave John Paul II’s teachings on the Theology of the Body (TOB) top billing at its third “Seminar on the Family.”

Catholic weddings have decreased 74 per cent in Canada over the past 34 years. The picture is similar in the United States and other Western countries, said Christian and Christine Meert, directors of the office of marriage and family life in the Colorado Springs diocese.

Among Catholics who choose a church wedding, 90 per cent of engaged couples are already sexually active, using artificial contraception and planning to continue using it after marriage, the couple said. They said Catholic priests and marriage preparation leaders may be reluctant to bring up the Church’s teachings on human sexuality for fear of scaring away young people.

The Meerts have developed an approach based on John Paul II’s teachings on TOB that lays a theological foundation, step by step, so couples can receive the tougher questions concerning abstinence and family planning. By the time the questions of contraception and abstinence come up, most are willing to consider natural family planning and refraining from sex until after marriage, they said.

According to Pavel Reid, the director of the archdiocese of Vancouver office of life and family, one way to give teenagers a visceral experience of TOB is to teach them swing dancing. Our culture tries to downplay sex differences. As a result modern forms of dancing involve people often dancing alone, he said. But in swing dancing men and women have to co-operate in different ways that illustrate important principles.  

The man must lead, the woman must follow. He can’t drag her around the dance floor, she cannot go limp. They both must listen to the music, he said.

“Give them an authentic experience, and then explain it in the light of the Gospel,” he said.

Reid told the seminar, which drew 110 people from across the country including several bishops, TOB teaching runs to hundreds of pages, but it has sometimes been mischaracterized as a theology of sex, or the “theology of the booty.” It is much more than that, he said. It is a theology of holiness and of the Body of Christ that is necessary to understand human sexuality.

We know that sexual desire is a source of sin and a source of much doubt shared by young people about the credibility of the Church’s message, Reid said. This can lead to doubt about the ability to participate in marriage or to make lifelong commitments, and that can develop into a kind of atheism.

Reid recounted the familiar story of Adam and Eve and highlighted the truths it contains. Where Adam failed to make a gift of himself to protect and save his bride, Christ gave Himself to save and protect mankind. He created for Himself a “bride,” and gave Himself for her in the way a husband should give himself for his wife, Reid said.

McGill University history department chair John Zucchi stressed finding faith, or passing it along to one’s children, is not going to be found in techniques, kits or programs.

Nothing guarantees our children will find faith no matter how protected they are against the influences of the outside world.

He warned against the temptation of possessiveness and said children are not a project, but a mystery that is “something so evident that we take it for granted.”

Seeing a child as a project and attempting to ensure a positive outcome prevents parents from experiencing children as gifts. Instead of stressing concepts of religious faith, Zucchi stressed the importance of beauty, of mystery and discovering Christianity in a religious sense, in community with the people around us. He said children must see that parents believe and are deeply informed by faith in the decisions they make; for example, in politics or the use of money.

Children grasp faith by the way parents cling to mystery, whether it is through commitment to a parish, a movement or true Christian friendship,  Zucchi said. He includes his four children in outings with friends, so the children don’t see their parents autonomously but as part of a network of relationships built on Christian friendship.

“When children begin to live a friendship with their parents’ friends, they develop a new, objective view of them,” he said.

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