A little while ago St. Monica sponsored the “Living in Love” retreat weekend for a number of couples. I was impressed with the feedback that I received from several husbands and wives and I was glad to hear that they had a positive experience.
I had the opportunity to take part in some aspects of the retreat and, at one point, stopped by to listen in on one of the talks. The topic was intimacy and sexuality (Great. Of all of the topics discussed over the weekend, I just happen to show up for THAT one. A lot of help that talk will have for me personally. But I digress …..).
A pair of handouts were provided to the couples for the talk which have several “talking points” about the topic. What was interesting was that, over the years, “Living in Love” has prepared a second handout specifically targeting priests who assist during the weekend. “Living in Love” believes that strong marriages involve understanding and cooperation between couples and their priests. Since each has a significant part to play in supporting the others vocation, it is also critical that each understand the intricacies and nuances of each vocation to determine where they are different, and where they intersect. From that point of departure, I shall examine four themes:
- Treating Priesthood as a Job / Sex as Recreation;
- Seeing Mass / Sex as an Activity;
- Looking for Masculinity/Femininity Outside of Proper Relationships;
- Seeing Sex/Sexuality Negatively.
I will cover themes 1 and 2 this week and themes 3 and 4 next week.
1. Treating Priesthood as a Job / Sex as Recreation
The challenges that face couples in marriage is that men have a tendency to see the woman more as a “mother” than as a “wife” while women can see the husband more as “father/provider” than “husband.” Thus, the relationship can become fixated on the “job” of raising a family with chores and responsibilities taking on the primary focus, rather than the couple investing in the “marriage” first. Another factor adding a level of complexity is a tendency of both spouses to wait until “everything is in order and all is ‘right’ between the couple” before any intimacy is initiated.
A parallel is seen in the relationship of the priest and his “Bride – The Church.” Primarily, a priest is called “to preach, teach, sanctify and govern.” Please note that “govern” is intended more in the sense of “shepherding and stewarding” – not “managing and administrating.” Nevertheless, more and more, priests find themselves in treating their priesthood has a “job” rather than a “call/vocation.” Parishioners also see the priest more as an administrator than a “bridegroom” as parish complexities and resources (or lack thereof) push priests to focus primarily on the job and not on the people.
This leads to a tendency among priests to value people for their skills and professionalism rather than for their holiness. Tasks, chores and responsibilities come before relationship. Finally this “de-coupling” of the relational aspect between priest and people can lead to an unhealthy “independent” attitude on the part of the priest in terms of how he sees, and allots, his time.
2. Seeing Mass/Sex as an Activity
Intimacy and sex can become something that couples “do.” This can lead to a performance attitude where the focus shifts to mechanics, technique, doing it right, doing it well, etc… Another issue can involve the amount and quality of communication before- and after – intimacy. Finally, using sex as a reward or a weapon or withholding intimacy as a form of punishment is an issue that priests commonly see especially when priests counsel couples who are struggling in their relationship.
If Worship and the Mass are the “source and summit” of an intimate relationship with Christ, Mass cannot be seen merely as an activity for the people in the pews. Is Mass something that you “do.” Check your language when you talk to others about our parish liturgy. What word-choice do you use? Does it reflect mysticism and love or something that is functional, obligatory and performed? Some examples perhaps: “We ‘have to’ go to Mass” or “You can at least give God an hour each week” or “Loved the homily, Father. Nice and short.”
Priests can also fall into certain unfavorable behaviors in this area. Saying Mass can become something that “I do” as a priest and thus can take on a sense of “a task that I must complete” rather than something mysterious that I get to celebrate. Saying Mass well is important but it cannot slip into a practice where the focus can be on performance and “the show” (or even worse – on me). Priests can also become materialistic and spend an inordinate amount of money on trappings such as vestments, church accoutrements, etc… Instead liturgy should be more about “communication” rather than “performance.” For priests, this manifests itself positively with the informal conversations enjoyed before and after liturgy, for example.
Next week we will look at the other two items where the vocations of married life and priesthood intersect in terms of worship, intimacy and sexuality:
3. Looking for Masculinity/Femininity Outside of Proper Relationships;
4. Seeing Sex/Sexuality Negatively.