OK, I promised to tell you about the marriage preparation course that we did two weeks ago...
It was a one day course by an organisation called Marriage Care, which lasted from 10 am to 4 pm on a Sunday. The first thing that surprised me about this, given that it purported to be a Catholic marriage preparation course, was that the start time was too early to allow us to go to Mass beforehand at the nearest church. It was also too early to allow us to go to Mass in our own parishes before travelling there. New Man is more charitable than I am, and said maybe they expected us to go to Mass on Saturday evening. I said maybe they didn't expect us to go to Mass at all.
In the introduction to the day, they made a big play of the fact that although this was a Catholic course, they wouldn't be "shoving Catholicism down our throats". This turned out to be a very accurate prediction. In fact, far from shoving Catholicism down our throats, they made a number of statements which were directly opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church. They spoke with approval of contraception and of living together before marriage. One of the presenters made a big deal of the fact that although he got married in the 1960s, when living together before marriage was much less common, he and his wife had slept together before marriage.
There were 17 couples there, and for most of the day the format was listen to a presentation, divide into groups of three couples to discuss the issue presented, then present back to the whole room using notes made on a flipchart. Most of the discussion was around the subject of communication, and the day had quite a corporate feel to it - in fact, some of the ground which we covered was identical to the material covered in a corporate communication skills course that I went on at work a couple of years ago.
The other couples in our group were very friendly, very pleasant, and very different from us. Both couples were already living together, and both were mixed - the woman Catholic, the man not. One of the men already had a child from an earlier relationship which had broken down. The other couple already had a child between them.
Some of the issues raised were quite interesting, and New Man and I would have loved the opportunity to discuss them on our own. Unfortunately, the other two men were more interested in joking around, while the women desperately tried to drag the conversation back to a serious level. We also felt constrained by the fact that we had to get stuff written on our flipchart page and be ready to report back to the whole group. Of course, we could have discussed the questions together ourselves afterwards - if we could have remembered what all the questions were. The pack we were given to take away at the end didn't include a copy of the questions.
I was hugely disappointed that the organisers were so desperate not to offend people who don't follow the Church's teaching that they ignored that teaching altogether and actually went out of their way in some cases to indicate that they didn't follow it either. I truly believe that a course which purports to be Catholic should actually be Catholic. Where you have a mixed marriage, I think that the non-Catholic spouse should know what it means to be married to a Catholic. If they don't hear it on a Catholic marriage preparation course, where else are they going to hear it?
And since most people have heard about the Church's stance on issues like contraception and sex before marriage, why not educate them properly and explain what the Church says and why it says it, rather than pretend that it's old-fashioned and unimportant, and that nobody follows it anyway? It's precisely because of woolly liberalism and fear of causing offence on courses like this that so few people know what the Church actually teaches, and even fewer follow that teaching.
So was it a total waste of time? Well, no. The fact that we were going on the course gave New Man and me a focus and a reason specifically to look beyond our wedding day to our life together. We've been doing that anyway quite often, but we really discussed a lot of bigger issues before and after the course (though not during it, because of the format). The discussions that we had on our own over the whole of that weekend brought us closer together, and we did learn more about each other.
Oh, and we did learn one interesting thing on the course itself. Pretty much the only thing we did as couples rather than in groups was to complete a questionnaire - first individually, then comparing our answers with our partner. We had to consider various issues and say how important we thought they were, and how important we thought our partner thought they were.
Our assumptions about each other's ideas turned out to be absolutely spot on, except for one thing - one of the questions was "How important is it to keep to a budget?" I said I thought it was very important; New Man said he thought I didn't consider it important at all. We discussed why he had that impression (when paying a big bill, I often say, "Oh well, it's only money"), and I explained what my attitude really is (I only say that after I've worked out that I can afford to spend the money, and the only debt I have ever allowed myself to have is my mortgage). So now hopefully he realises that he's not marrying a spendthrift, and the moths in his wallet can rest a little easier!