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April 24, 2012
A reader replies
By Father Rocky Hoffman *

By Father Rocky Hoffman *

I am writing in response to the “Marriage outside the Church.”

I am appalled and disgusted that you would recommend that “all of his Catholic relatives protest and refuse to attend his wedding, unless he gets married in the Catholic Church.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME . . . who do you think you are?

 You apparently don’t have any idea how stressful weddings are (I’m in the middle of planning a big one right now) and then you want to heap all of this stress on the poor guy. My biggest problem with this scenario is that your family is supposed to be your support and your soft place to fall and then you go and tell his family to turn against him in what is supposed to be a joyous time in his life. The question doesn’t mention if they are getting married in a church or by a JP or what but nevertheless you should attend the wedding no matter what.

Instead of using intimation and ultimatums, why not use mentoring and support, even if it’s after the wedding. He is not going to come asking for advice or guidance from people that decided it wasn’t important to even come to his wedding.

This kind of thinking is what sends Catholics running, screaming away from the Catholic Church. My husband and I are Catholic. I was not Catholic when we got married and we got married in my protestant church. We are coming up on our 30th wedding anniversary and if his family refused to attend our wedding that would have been devastating to him and it probably would have created a failed marriage. We have attended wedding ceremonies in different religions to support our friends.

Catholics need to get a grip . . . it’s not your way or the highway. There are other fabulous churches out there and I think we all need to work together to spread the word of God. If all Catholics were more accepting and open minded, and worked to get along with other protestant religions and other religions in general, the world would be a better place to live.


I think you and I agree on the basics and want strong marriages that will last. Having joined the Catholic Church, I’ll bet you’re also eager for everyone to become a Catholic.  But some of your big-hearted statements raise concerns.

You should “attend the marriage no matter what?”  What if one of them is already married?  What if both are men?  No matter what?

The vehemence of your emotion regarding my answer to the marriage question is something I have learned to weather after 20 years in the priesthood.  People don’t like to be told no.  I know from personal experience that it can be dangerous business defending the clear teachings of Christ and the Church about marriage.  St. John the Baptist learned that too.
 
I regret that you did not read my answer carefully.  What I advised all depends on the word “if.”  Such a small word, I know, but it has great meaning.  For the record, I wrote: “If all of his Catholic relatives protest and refuse to attend his wedding, unless he gets married in the Catholic Church after having received adequate preparation, I’ll bet THAT will get his attention.  More likely, his Catholic relatives are split on the issue, and so the confusion just continues.”
 
I know of cases where a Catholic was going to get married outside of the Church and almost all of his relatives protested.  Because of the unanimous reaction of the family members, that young man came to his senses and chose to be sacramentally and validly married in the Church.   However, that rarely happens.  Usually most of the relatives acquiesce, and we go from confusion to confusion.

Nearly 70 percent of Catholics do not attend weekly Mass, rarely if ever go to confession, and remain quite uneducated about the faith and Church requirements about marriage.  If they knew that spouses who get married in the Church, and make their best effort to practice as Catholics – attending Sunday Mass, confessing at least once a year, avoiding artificial birth control – were 10 times more likely to have a successful marriage, they would do their best to encourage their relatives to get married in the Church.

I am happy that you and your husband are happily married after 30 years.  It’s possible he received a proper dispensation at the time to get married to you in a protestant Church ceremony.  That can be allowed.  It’s wonderful that you became a Catholic, but you can not be a Catholic on your own terms.

Back to the original question: should you attend the wedding when the Catholic gets married outside of the Catholic church?  That all depends on the circumstances.  In no way can you foster a Catholic’s defection from the Church.  If your attendance will serve to keep open the lines of communication with the hope of bringing him/her back to the Catholic Church, then the answer could be yes.  But if everyone refuses to acquiesce, I’ll bet he’ll change his mind.

Finally, as to your remark that “Catholics need to get a grip,” while not altogether theological, it certainly manifests a common attitude today.  We do have a grip, and what we grip is the cross of Christ, sometimes known as Truth. 

If Catholics were interested in a popularity contest, then we would mimic the mega-Church approach with Starbucks and big screens, and never, ever, say a word about divorce, abortion, homosexuality, or gay marriage.  But Jesus challenges us to be more courageous than that.  If he were interested in being popular, he would have changed his teaching on the Holy Eucharist.  As it was, he issued an ultimatum to his followers:  “Do you also wish to go away?”  He did not need them.  He does not need us.  We need him.  We need his Church.  We need his truth.  It’s the only thing that will set us free our selfishness and fear.
 

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.  Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University.  His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.

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