Pope Francis puts marital substance ahead of style

Pope Francis puts marital substance ahead of style
“marriage certainly needs ongoing support, and it often seems to need more preparation”, writes Mary Kenny

In a season when there is much focus on weddings – spring brings us the ‘wedding fayres’ at which the Big Day is so lavishly marketed – it’s surely apt for Pope Francis to focus on marriage preparation, rather than the matrimonial procedure.

He recently told a group of priests that “good preparation” for marriage isn’t just limited to a few courses, but extends to the first years of marriage.

Couples should be helped to understand “the profound meaning of the step they are about to take” – and the support needs to continue.

His address was thoughtful, tolerant and inclusive of all relationships, and he used uplifting language urging priests to “bear witness to the beauty of marriage”. Where couples are living together rather than marrying it’s the Church’s role to listen, but also to lead young people towards the sacramental.


All this needs to be said: marriage certainly needs ongoing support, and it often seems to need more preparation.

We are told that domestic violence and abuse is a major problem today, with women often having to seek ‘barring orders’ to exclude violent partners from the family home.

But preparation for marriage – sometimes it was called ‘courtship’ – was supposed to be a time when you became acquainted with a potential spouse’s personality. If somebody was violent, unstable, or an alcoholic, it would emerge during that preparation.

I wonder if contemporary culture focuses too much on the style and too little on the substance?

The ‘marriage fayres’ which highlight weddings are strong on the frocks, the flowers and the food, but have little to say about the most important ingredient of all: character.


Our addiction to technology

I know what I should give up for Lent: I recently learned how to respond to messages on Twitter, and now I’m checking my tweets on the hour every hour. It is a dreadful source of temptation, which appeals to some of my worst failings – arguing with people just for the sake of it, firing off quick tweets in instant, sometimes unwise, response instead of doing what I should do – wait, reflect, deliberate.

Until recently, I only tweeted occasionally, but these days I’ve become dangerously near to emulating President Trump with the instant tweet (and it’s given me an insight into his Twitter addiction too).

A new book by Adam Alter, Irresistible – Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching, claims that our addiction to technology is growing at an alarming pace: people now say they “can’t live” without the gadgets that connect them to the internet, and real-life social skills are declining as we spend ever more time checking our electronic messages. Lenten self-denial in this department clearly beckons.


When the personal is political

There was a heated conversation on Marian Finucane’s political discussion programme last Sunday morning on RTÉ Radio 1 about how deplorable it was for newspapers to focus on the private lives of politicians.

Noel Whelan of The Irish Times waxed indignant that a picture of Leo Varadkar with his partner should have appeared in The Irish Independent. Mr Varadkar himself was present and didn’t seem to be too ruffled about the report, which was in no way scurrilous, incidentally.

I can’t see what is wrong with a politician’s partner being part of their profile. It is a normal aspect of everyday public life, and it is also something for the historical record. If or when Dr Varadkar comes to lead the Fine Gael party – he’d be an excellent candidate – the standard reference book Who’s Who will list the facts of his life, and he will be asked to nominate the name of his life partner.

Indeed, the context of a politician’s life often makes them more interesting, and more human.

I’m fascinated by Michelle O’Neill’s story: how sensible of the Belfast Sinn Féin leader to have become a mother when she was still a teenager, and to raise her kids while she was in her 20s. Now she’s 40, they’re grown and flown and she can focus on her political career, while still in her prime.

One of feminism’s slogans was ‘the personal is political’ – life experience can be something a politician brings to the table, and their family life is part of that picture.