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The Most Confusing Sacrament--This Was A Surprise!

I haven’t written too much about my 7th grade CCD class this year. It is actually going pretty well. The joint sessions with the parents have gone great. The kids have been a bit rebellious at times, but nothing unexpected for middle schoolers.

Yet, the last two weeks have weighed heavily on me.We just finished covering the seven sacraments in detail. Which sacrament do you think was the most confusing for my students? About which sacrament do you think they had the most erroneous ideas? It wasn’t the Eucharist. They really didn’t blink an eye when I told them about the True Presence. They had no questions about how what appears to be bread could actually be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. There were no problems with Confession either. In fact, several of them enthusiastically witnessed to the great feeling of relief and joy following the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No. The sacrament that caused the most consternation was Holy Matrimony.

The students had a very hard time understanding the difference between the civil legal concept of marriage and the sacramental concept of marriage. The picture of marriage that the Church is offering them is not what they are seeing and hearing. For each of the sacraments we have covered the proper form, matter, and minister. For Holy Matrimony the proper matter is a baptized Christian man and a baptized Christian woman who each have the proper disposition and intent for married life. Part of that proper intent includes being open to the gift of life. The complete self-giving love of marriage should mirror the love of Christ for His Church. This is a lifelong commitment.

Of course one of my students asks, “What about gay marriage?” I explain there cannot be such a thing. “Oh yes there can. Not in Virginia but Massachusetts has gay marriage”. Then the other objections and challenges to the holy image of marriage come pouring forth:
“My aunt has been married and divorced three times. Marriage doesn’t’ have to be for your whole life.”

“My sister lives with her boyfriend. You don’t have to get married.”

“You don’t really have to have children. You can if you want to.”

“My teacher at school said homosexual relationships are just as important as heterosexual relationships so it isn’t fair to discriminate and treat them differently.”

“Lots of famous people have babies and don’t get married so I don’t see what the big deal is.”

The school “family life education” classes (school district euphemism for sex ed), the celebrity tabloids, movies, television, and the experiences of family and friends have already formed a grossly disordered image of marriage for these twelve and thirteen year olds. In two short class periods, I cannot peel back all of these misperceptions. I sent the following email to the parents:

Last night we covered the second sacrament of service, Holy Matrimony. Actually, I think the class discussion went very well. However, I did see there was more confusion about this sacrament than any other we have studied. It is very clear that our secular culture's view of marriage has strongly influenced your children's perceptions of marriage. We are going to continue discussing this topic next week as we cover the lesson on chastity. I strongly encourage you to carefully review last night's lesson with your child. It is summarized on our class web site. I also urge you to read paragraphs 1638-1666 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This will greatly help you answer your child's questions.

Next month my parents will celebrate fifty years of marriage. The month after that my husband’s parents will celebrate fifty years of marriage. I am very grateful that we each are blessed with a strong model of marriage to guide us. I hope we can be equally effective mentors for our own children. After teaching this class it is clear that many children do not have strong role models for marriage.


Argent said…
The adults that I have taught who are now having to have previous marriages annulled all say to me that they wished that somewhere along the way someone had spoken the truth to them. But cultural influences are so very difficult to overthrow.

In retrospect, it's particularly painful for them, now that they've decided to become Catholic, how their former choices impinge on their receiving the Sacraments. It's heartbreaking to hear them say, "If only I had known...."

So we await on word from the Metropolitan how each of their case is proceeding. This is not the way I wanted to become familiar with canon law.
Barb, sfo said…
When you think about all that the kids have seen and experienced so far, it's no wonder that marriage is the "most confusing sacrament" for them. This may well be the most countercultural sacrament we have.

Thank you for going the extra mile with your class to make sure they get a good understanding of marriage.
frival said…
Wow. Just wow. It's amazing how confused kids can get when they have mixed messages. I'm most impressed that they were willing to have that open discussion with you - at that age most of the kids I know would have been willing to give you the answer you wanted and go on thinking whatever they wanted just to get the discussion over with faster.

We have much work to do. Thank you for taking up this discussion head-on and giving them an honest and truthful presentation of the Truth. A second thank you for the stroke of brilliance to write a note to their parents - they too need to be catechized, as you have written so often!
Rosemary Bogdan said…
Denise, thanks be to God for catechists like you teaching the truth. it's very sad, but not surprising, that these students are confused. Teach them the truth. God bless your efforts.
Amber said…
Yes, God bless your efforts!

I'm trying to deal with the whole marriage issue right now with my daughter - she's only 6, but we've come across several penetrating scripture passages recently on the subject of marriage. It wouldn't be so confusing if it wasn't for the fact that my parents are divorced and remarried. They aren't Catholic (and one isn't even Christian) but trying to figure out how to discuss it without appearing to condemn her beloved Grandparents overmuch is rather challenging. I'm sure it will just get even more interesting as she gets older and can understand more and ask more difficult questions!
Sarah said…
Denise, I can see how this would be. Though I am a faithful Catholic now, I was raised by parents who did not model for me that marriage was anything other than an outdated notion. I think, in fact, that one of the things that drew me into the Catholic Church is her unwavering stance and the comfort she offers through affirming that YES, in fact, marriage is IMPORTANT in more ways than we are EVER led to believe in the culture/media/etc.

Those parents are truly blessed to have you in their children's lives, to counter-balance the influence around them. Your parish is also blessed by your catechesis, I am sure.

I know that you feel a strong pull for adult catechesis; I can't help but think that with your class website and by catechizing their children, you are, in fact, catechizing the parents too. It's not as straightforward, but it's there. God bless you for it!

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