Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I am involved in a long-distance relationship and would appreciate your advice. My girlfriend is a Filipina living and working in Hong Kong. (I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines.) We have been corresponding for four years and have now decided on marriage.

I intend to fly to the Philippines to ask her parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. (This is important in the culture of the Philippines.) If they accept, we will try to fly them to the (United) States for our wedding.

Our problem is this. We are both devout Catholics, and we want to do things properly. Our understanding is that the church requires six months of pre-Cana counseling. However, a fiancee visa requires that we marry within three months of her arrival in the (U.S.). Also, she would like to get married on her birthday, which is Dec. 15, and I am not sure how appropriate it is to get married during Advent. Please let me know your thoughts. (Columbia, S.C.)

A. I support your desire “to do things properly” and your focus on the pre-Cana sessions. I have found the pre-Cana program to be an important aid to couples as they approach marriage. It helps them assess their readiness for marriage, to identify areas of their relationship that might need extra work and to reflect on how they can bring God into their marriage as their hidden strength and “silent partner.”

I believe, though, that you may be overstating the rigor of the requirement. True, many parishes require couples to register for their marriage at least six months before their wedding date. This ensures that there will be adequate time to fill out the necessary paperwork, to register for and complete the required counseling and to select the prayers, readings and music for the ceremony.

Each bishop approves a pre-Cana program for his diocese, but typically the sessions take nowhere near six months. In our diocese, a number of parishes conduct their own pre-Cana sessions, but couples also are free to choose one of the two diocesan-sponsored programs of pre-Cana.

One is an all-day Saturday program; the other has two sessions that can each last two to three hours and is offered at various times during the week. (This second option begins with the completion of a Myers-Briggs personality profile and highlights how people of different personality types can blend harmoniously.)

I believe that if you present your situation to your local pastor, you can craft a workable plan of marriage preparation.

As for your other concern, be assured that a Catholic wedding can indeed take place during the season of Advent. Some parishes do not schedule marriages on Saturday evenings or on Sundays, so that the priest can give adequate attention to the parish’s weekend Masses.

If a wedding is allowed on an Advent Sunday, the liturgy (prayers and readings) for the Sunday Mass is used, with the vows and blessings for marriage inserted.

But there is no liturgical prohibition of weddings during Advent. (Couples may be asked to keep in mind the penitential nature of the season and to tone down the flowers and other decorations.) Again, talk with your pastor and a suitable arrangement should be easy.

Q. I have often wondered why we don’t teach our children an act of thanksgiving. I believe we often forget to thank God for all we have. As children, we learned the acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition, and I still try to say each of them daily. Why not an act of thanksgiving? (Cumming, Iowa)

A. I think you’re on to something. Of the four main types of prayer (adoration, contrition, petition and thanksgiving), probably the one that is most neglected is thanksgiving. That may be because children don’t learn a short and simple way to say “thank you” to God.

Grace at meals, of course, expresses our gratitude for food, but what about thanking the Lord also for family, friends, teachers, fun, etc.? (I’m not forgetting that the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and the Mass thanks God for the greatest gift of all, our redemption — but we need a shorter prayer, too.)

Many parents have their kids kneel at their bedside at night and thank God for the blessings of the day, which, I think, goes a long way in helping them to live with an attitude of gratitude.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.