Before my husband and I could have a Catholic wedding, we had to attend Pre-Cana. It’s like Driver’s Ed. for engaged Catholic couples. In theory, it’s a great idea. Couples are counseled en masse on a wide-range of topics, including compatibility and conflict resolution within marriage, the theological meaning of marriage, and Catholic rules couples might like to follow (like those regarding birth control). But we weren’t too excited about the prospect of our Pre-Cana. Were we going to be lectured at? Would we have to pretend we hadn’t shared so much as a hotel room during our five-year relationship? One couple told us their Pre-Cana session was led by a pair of married little people who appeared to be headed for divorce even as they guided the session. That sounded entertaining. Still, we weren’t banking on having a great time. As it turns out, Pre-Cana’s a mixed blessing.
The Rhythm Method
Our session was led by a kindly, middle-aged married couple: Bob and Mrs. Bob. Mr. Bob pushed natural family planning. Mrs. Bob didn’t say much. Last year, a friend of mine got pregnant using the rhythm method. I don’t exactly consider it the soundest form of birth control. While I was willing to listen to someone explain why and how to do it, I wasn’t expecting it would be a person with a penis. The rhythm method is all about the female biological rhythm. So why was Bob the one telling us what a fulfilling method of birth control it was? Bob explained: “Our kids use it. Right now, our daughter and her husband are in Hawaii trying for kid number two.” We didn’t need to know that, Bob, and, frankly, neither should you.
There’s No Need to Lie
Steve and I were in the midst of house-hunting when we attended Pre-Cana. We weren’t sure how that fact would look to our fellow Pre-Canaans. In case you haven’t heard, the Church isn’t a big fan of co-habitation. Every single one of the other unmarried couples at our table were already living under the same roof. Other people at Pre-Cana: They’re just like you!
Talking About Yourself Is Fun
We did a few exercises that were geared towards getting to know each other better before entering into marriage. Who are the three most significant people in your life? How do you describe yourself? What do you you expect from a marriage? It’s like eHarmony for the engaged.
Pre-Cana Can Be Boring
Mr. Bob lectured at us at length on various topics. Some doodles Steve and I added to our “A Marriage in the Lord: Your Bond and Beyond” workbook as he talked:
1) A fish swimming after a worm.
2) A guy wearing a chef’s hat.
3) An ice-cream cone.
4) A dog saying, “Bark?”
5) Steve, saying, “I love Claire.” (I did that one.)
It’s Not a Complete Waste of Time
At one point, all the couples were sent to separate corners of the room to discuss various issues in their relationships. It might sound like a big eavesdropping fest, but Steve and I curled up in a doorway far away from anyone else. At first, Steve wasn’t feeling it. “Let’s just talk about this on the way home, in the car,” he said. “No,” I said. “I think we should actually talk about this stuff. That’s what we’re here for. Besides, we have 20 minutes to kill.” We’d already doodled all over our workbooks, and there wasn’t much else to do, other than eat packets of Sweet’N Low. We actually talked about our relationship.
In the end, it felt good to have to work to get closer to the actual rite of marriage. Despite any disagreements I might have had with them, Mr. and Mrs. Bob were helpful. But the best part of Pre-Cana is asking your soon-to-be spouse on the way home, “What the hell was that all about?”