Listen. Respect. Encourage people to follow their conscience. Be sensitive to the financial cost of children and allow birth control. Prepare people for marriage with professional counselors, not just priests or volunteers – and with the idea that couples should “love the other so much that they would each give their life to save the other.” Prayer works – when it’s truly felt.
Pope Francis says he’s looking for feedback, and you’ve got it.
Below are some responses from the first round of a feature we’re running to mark the pope’s one-year anniversary on March 13. Francis floored a lot of Catholics recently by putting out a questionnaire asking for their views on areas of controversy, including cohabitation and birth control. He said he’s doing it to prepare for a rare, church-wide meeting this fall on hot-button family issues.
In the week leading up to his anniversary, we’ll be lobbing some of his questions – slightly edited – and posting some of your responses. You can follow the series, called The Pope Asks, here. This first batch focused mostly on how to foster faith in a traditional family context:
Pope Francis: In your experience how should a faith organization help couples just coming together, or couples in crisis?
“It should invite couples to look at the big picture – the wider ethical universe in which they have formed their bond. At the same time, it should respect and promote respect for the power of emotions to both distort relationships and provide the lifeblood of relationships, without jumping in and judging actions performed in the heat of those emotions,” Linda Brigham, 60, from Arizona.
“As a psychologist, I think the best approach is to help them explore the depth and meaning of their own relationship, rather than holding out an ideal against which they ether pass or fail. A stated theology/philosophy can provide a framework for discussion, but I have rarely found it helpful to try to shoehorn live people into a doctrine that is absolute,” Steven Kirn, 67, Florida.
“Issues of intimacy should not be handled by any Catholic priest. Catholic priests have never been in sexual relationships. They don’t know about sex,” said Tucker Moore, 22, Minnesota.
Pope Francis: How does your faith organization prepare couples for marriage, if at all?
Many expressed disappointment in their church’s programs.
“Not well. The [Catholic pre-marital program] is so rigid there is no real chance for a realistic discussion of life issues, birth control. We are ‘a la carte’ Catholics. We take what we need from the church and give the rest back. Our children had wonderful Catholic educations, and take comfort in the Eucharist. They have gay friends and use contraception,” Victoria Neihigh,55, Pennsylvania.
Laura Dziadzio, 44, of Virginia, remembered a priest taking her and her “nominally Hindu” fiancé out for lunch. “To be honest (as part of a mixed faith couple), the fact that he told us that we should follow our conscience when raising our children..was quite encouraging. I’m trying to raise the kids Catholic now, as it wasn’t mandated.”
Pope Francis: Should parents pass their faith to their children? If so, how?
“Children need to be taught basics and taught to think with both their minds and their hearts. But eventually, parents must prepare their children to grow up and accept responsibility for themselves. One of the problems with the monarchical church is in demands for unthinking obedience and the structure of teachings as absolutes,” someone who called themselves “amelia45” wrote in the comments section of The Post’s Web site. The author said their goal is to pass on Jesus’s teaching, which can be different from the church institution. “Many situations in life are not answered by absolutes, but by searching out the good in bad situations. And, as a woman raising a daughter, the church was of little help in envisioning a grown-up woman with many valid options and with a value equal to males.”
“If their faith is important to them, parents should definitely pass it along, as fully as they can.. It should be treated as any other treasure or legacy which a parent would want to gift to a child,” Jim Masini, 65, Chicago.
“I think they should ‘live’ their faith rather than ‘preach’ it. My mother and father were both terrific examples, practicing the [Catholic] rituals (which I no longer do, but certainly did!) but more importantly, putting their religion into practice through church and community work, absolute dedication to raising their children well, and treating each other with respect and love. Pretty damn good, eh?” Steven Kirn, 67, Florida.
“Yes and no. I don’t think they should pass to their children their specific religious rituals and conventions, but rather their perspectives on God, the world we live in, and how religious choices mattered in their own lives. The awareness that their parents seek after God with their whole heart is all that kids MUST know,” Bill Mech, 59, Iowa.
“Yes. Research proves that merely putting children through the rituals of faith has basically no effect on their values and habits. It has to be a real reasoned discussion so that the children can understand that faith is not superstition, but rather is the most rational life plan..We used to debrief the kids after [Catholic education classes], disabusing them of any nonsense they were taught and walking through the logic of Catholic belief,” Matthew Lyken, 54, Texas.
“I believe that parents should share their faith with their children in much the same way that they teach children about their heritage and culture. Religion is just as much a part of people’s identity as are their backgrounds. Sharing of religion should be as natural as cooking a Mexican dish was for my Mexican mother. I didn’t learn to cook that dish because she gave me a recipe to memorize by heart and repeat 53 times on a string of beads. I learned that recipe and the feel of it in my hands, on my tongue and in my heart by sharing in it with her,” Catherine McMillan, 27, Michigan.
Your most detailed and emphatic answers came around the issue of prayer. Some praised combining traditional Catholic prayer with meditation. All said prayer is personal.
Pope Francis: “How well does prayer help families withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?”
“Prayer will do a lot if taken seriously. Reciting rote prayers is fine, and probably necessary, but praying spontaneously, out loud, and teaching children to pray that way will take a family far,” John Patrick Grace, 72, of West Virginia.
“Religious visions are beliefs about how one can be bound to the world through stories. For instance, we certainly see this during the recent Ukraine crisis in Independence Square when, during and after the fighting, priests and Ukrainians would not only pray for God’s blessings upon the souls, but also read scripture passages which suggest a better future ahead,” said Daniel Golebiewski, 24, from New York.
“Prayer centers family. While growing up, I knew there was one time each day when the entire family was focused on one objective: praying. My mother and father made such a strong initiative to not only eat together, but pray before that meal. I even considered the meals we shared as a ‘prayer’ – a meditative time together to share stories, ask for advice, and share in the joys and pains of everyday life,” Moore of Minnesota.
“I find that prayer is an important way to be present spiritually. While it might not always feel like it’s ‘working,’ there are similarities with athletes and bad workouts, or journalists and bad articles; it’s probably not going to feel good every time. It’s a process,” said Tommy Campbell, 25, of Massachusetts.
We’ll keep asking more of the pope’s questions and sharing your responses.