Praised be Jesus Christ! Do you ever listen to Relevant Radio? It’s a great source of Catholic formation and has brought countless souls back to the practice of their faith. Recently Father Simon was expressing his frustration with what he calls “garden weddings.” And as a priest I could completely relate. Now before you read further, some of you are not going to like what is written and some will complain about feeling judged. Let me begin by pointing the finger of blame toward me and my brother priests. We have not done an adequate job of teaching and explaining that Catholics have a very specific and beautiful understanding of the sacrament of marriage. Some of us have not explained clearly enough that Catholics who marry outside the Church without a dispensation (i.e. permission from the Bishop) are not in a sacramental marriage. And this is a problem because if affects the communion that we share with Christ – what happens is that a Catholic marrying outside the parameters of a sacramental marriage are now in an irregular situation and should not receive Holy Communion until this is remedied. My guess is that many people do not know this (that’s why I write about it every year: repetition is the mother of learning); a deeper discouragement is that some priests do not teach this and that divides us and makes us appear uncertain. If more priests were team players and had the courage and confidence to teach the truth, more of our faithful would be receiving Jesus in Holy Communion in an efficacious way. People who receive Jesus but are in an irregular situation are simply not able to receive the grace God wants to give. Grace builds on nature, but only if our nature is humble and obedient. Getting married in a park or on the beach is not a bad thing. But it is not a Catholic thing. One of the least enjoyable aspects of being a priest is trying to explain to people when they’re not disposed to receive Holy Communion. This could be a person who went through a divorce and remarried but never had the first marriage annulled (which is important because it makes sure that the person is free to marry again). Again, a person living with someone as if they were married when in fact they are not damages communion with Christ, meaning they are not objectively in the state of grace. And Catholics that are civilly married but have never had their marriage blessed are also in spiritual limbo because their marriage is not a sacrament. Okay, by this point many reading this might be discouraged and wonder, “Now what?” The good news is that each of the aforementioned situations can be remedied. The annulment process is not difficult and can bring extraordinary healing. I’ve helped dozens of folks go through the annulment process and it has brought real hope and healing. We can also help with the financial aspect for those worried about the cost. As for the many “garden weddings” happening, if you would like to practice your Catholic faith and resume receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, having your marriage blessed is eminently possible (thus raising it to a sacrament, complete with all of the sanctifying graces). Please do not hesitate to contact me or any priest who teaches what the Church teaches. Blessing the civil marriage shows trust in the Lord and an honest awareness of our need for God’s divine assistance. For everyone reading this, please pray for those who find themselves in spiritually difficult situations – we’re all in this together and our prayers are a powerful means of loving and not judging God’s people. And while Father Simon and I might be frustrated by the widespread confusion regarding Catholic marriages, we work for a Boss who can draw straight with crooked lines – in Him we trust.
May God sanctify our love and renew the beautiful sacrament of Holy Matrimony!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin