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Guest Column: Saying ‘yes’ to God’s plan

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

By Father Earl Fernandes

I was delighted to read, “Local Ruah Woods to offer Theology of the Body programs,” in The Catholic Telegraph. The establishment of such a center is timely and necessary.

Last November, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics in Culture sponsored a conference on the family. My own family gave a presentation on the moral challenges facing the family in the 21st century. In the presentation, I made the claim that to have a strong family and a strong church, we need to have strong marriages.

In providing pastoral care for couples seeking marriage, a threat to successful marriage is the vulnerable state of families of origin. When couples approach a priest for marriage preparation, we are already in what Pope John Paul II called the “immediate preparation for marriage.” Priests and catechists may exercise some role in what our late pope called “proximate preparation for marriage.” In this stage, catechesis is directed toward young people and presents marriage as an interpersonal relationship of a man and a woman that has to be continually developed; it encourages young people to study the nature of marital sexuality and responsible parenthood.

Despite the call for such catechetical programs, many priests say, “By the time I get the couple, the train wreck has already happened.” Here priests and those involved in proximate and immediate preparation are referring to what occurs during the remote preparation for marriage. In Familiaris Consortio John Paul II wrote: “Remote preparation begins in early childhood, in that wise family training … It is the period when esteem for all authentic human values is instilled, both in interpersonal and in social relationships, with all that this signifies for the formation of character, for the control and right use of one’s inclinations, for the manner of regarding and meeting people of the opposite sex, and so on. Also necessary, especially for Christians, is solid spiritual and catechetical formation that will show that marriage is a true vocation and mission, without excluding the possibility of the total gift of self to God in the vocation to the priestly or religious life.”

From a pastoral point of view, strong marriages depend upon having excellent remote preparation. A lifetime’s worth of bad habits, poor catechesis, lack of prayer and spiritual formation, cannot be undone in a few months. It is here that a center like Ruah Woods has much to offer to families and the whole church.

Ruah Woods (www.ruahwoods.org) assists in remote and even proximate preparation by providing Theology of the Body courses for teens (Sundays, 7-9 p.m., through May 17). It addresses the need for immediate preparation by providing courses for engaged couples; and finally, it reaches adults, young and old, single or married, through its basic catechetical programs (offered on Tuesdays and Thursday nights). Ruah Woods addresses the different stages of preparation for marriage and married people with some tools to help live out their vocation.

I spent five years in the seminary receiving immediate preparation to be priest. After ordination, the archdiocese provides programs for ongoing formation for priests. But what do we as a Church provide for the vast majority of Catholics — married couples and the young — to live out their vocations? There are many excellent programs (www.foryourmarriage.org) that help engaged and married couples. Ruah Woods is a local, lay initiative which aims to do just that — to help people experience the joy of living one’s sexuality in an authentic way.

Many think the church only says “no” when it comes to sex and marriage. Those open enough to learn about the Theology of the Body and those generous enough to teach it know that the church says “yes” to sexuality and marriage — according to God’s plan.

Father Earl Fernandes is academic dean of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary and is an assistant professor of moral theology.

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