US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Pre-Cana: Reach out or kick out?

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With a new bishops' document and Catechetical Sunday focusing on marriage this fall, a young adult asks who pre-Cana is serving and how well it's doing.

Guest blog by Shaun Gallagher

A few years ago, I was driving to work and listening to a segment on Philly's Q102 Morning Show in which one of the co-hosts was complaining about having to do pre-Cana to get married in a Catholic church.

A bunch of callers chimed in and basically said, "Yeah, we just B.S.ed our way through it because we wanted to get married in a pretty church."

That made me feel extremely sad, not only for their sake--that they didn't think pre-Cana was an important part of preparing for their marriage--but also because I felt taken advantage of.

The church isn't just a building with pretty stained-glass windows--the church is people, too. So when someone takes advantage of the church, they're also taking advantage of me and all the other people who actually care about marriage as a sacrament.

At the time, my visceral response was, "If your faith doesn't matter to you, then grow a backbone, tell your parents you have to spoil their vision of a nice Catholic wedding, and go fly off to Vegas."

But later, after going through pre-Cana myself, and then becoming involved in the Catholic Engaged Encounter marriage preparation retreats as a presenting couple with my wife, I began to see another side of the issue.

Pre-Cana classes might just be the only chance the church has of reaching out to young-adult Catholics who are not regular churchgoers--at least until they start having kids and (hopefully) look into baptism. That might mean that in, say, a 10-year period of inactive Catholicism, this is the church's single opportunity to try to dispel some of the misconceptions that may have led to their becoming inactive Catholics and to welcome--sincerely, warmly welcome--them to return.

Yet while I recognize this important pastoral opportunity, I have to admit, I remain ambivalent. I, of course, would love to see inactive Catholics return to their faith. But I also realize that there are plenty of people who, as much as we might try to help them reconnect with their faith, simply aren't interested in the offer--yet still think it is their right to be married in a Catholic church.

What is the best way to balance a desire to be welcoming to inactive young Catholics and also to safeguard the sanctity of the sacrament? By getting to know engaged couples in sufficient depth to be able to determine the sincerity of their wish to be married in the church. Even then, striking a delicate balance can only be done if those responsible for their marriage formation are committed to both of these goals as well.

Guest blogger Shaun Gallagher is the creator of Catholics Amassed, a news and blog aggregation site, and ParishNetwork, a Facebook application that allows parishioners to get to know one another.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.