Q. My husband and I have an issue that we really struggle with. We are often invited to the wedding of a Catholic couple who have already been living together. We understand cohabitation before marriage to be very wrong in the eyes of God and of the church.
Should we go to these weddings? It seems to us that, by attending them, we are supporting what they have been doing. (Also, by living together, they are probably in mortal sin and should not be receiving the sacrament of marriage in that state.) (Indiana)
A. Another way to see this type of Catholic wedding is as a sign of the couple's desire to reinsert themselves into the church's graces and into fidelity to its teachings. Then your presence at their ceremony would show your approval of this new decision, not your acceptance of the way they had been living.
Whenever a couple who are already living together present themselves to me to arrange a wedding, I welcome their wish for a Catholic ceremony, but I always speak with them about their present circumstance. I tell them that a Catholic wedding is meant to indicate a couple's presence in a certain community of faith with a defined body of teaching.
But by living together before marriage, before making a formal religious and civil commitment, their lifestyle is in conflict with what they are professing to believe. I encourage them strongly to go to confession (not necessarily to me, but to any priest) to ensure that they are in a position to receive the graces of the sacrament of marriage.
I would hope that the couples of your acquaintance have received similar advice and have acted upon it. I think that you might best give them the benefit of the doubt and attend the weddings.
Q. The pope will soon be visiting the United States and will speak about the treatment of the poor. Before his visit, many millions of dollars will probably be spent to pretty up the churches in three cities, as well as the surrounding areas.
Some time ago, the same thing happened in San Antonio. Whole neighborhoods were cleaned up just for the pope to drive through them. Could not this money be better spent for direct help to the poor and the homeless? (Little Rock, Arkansas)
A. No doubt there are considerable expenditures associated with papal trips -- both for the preparation of sites and for security. Those costs are shared by Catholic communities in the host areas and by municipal governments (as with welcoming any public figure or celebrity.)
The hope is that direct contact with the pope will produce notable benefits -- increased Mass attendance, growth in religious vocations, etc. -- and such results have regularly been documented with papal travel in the past (notably, during the pontificate of St. John Paul II.)
Now comes a new metric under the heading of "papal effect." A poll by Zogby Analytics has shown that one year into the papacy of Pope Francis, a fourth of American Catholics have increased their charitable donations during that 12-month period. Seventy-seven percent of those donors attribute their increased giving to the message and example of Pope Francis himself.
Concern for the poor has been a consistent highlight of the message of Pope Francis. (He said in "The Joy of the Gospel," for example, "Not to share one's wealth with the poor is to steal from them.")
Consistent with that emphasis, the pope has focused on poverty in scheduling his upcoming trip to the U.S.
In Washington he will meet with homeless people at a downtown church;in New York, he will speak with immigrant families at a school in East Harlem;in Philadelphia he will visit a prison.
The expectation of the Vatican -- and the hope of the Catholic world -- is that such visibility will be leveraged into increased concern for the poor and attention to their needs.