Book Review: Intercultural Marriage

Intercultural Marriage: A Pastoral Guide to the Sacrament
By Simon C. Kim and Ricky Manalo

The book Intercultural Marriage: A Pastoral Guide to the Sacrament by theologian-priests Simon C. Kim and Ricky Manalo is a timely reflection on the changing reality of the Sacrament of Marriage, particularly with regard to the rise of interracial and intercultural unions within the United States. But is the book useful only for couples who are in intercultural relationships and those ministering to them? The title of the book would suggest so. Kim and Manalo take up the task of re-examining the Catholic understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony with pastoral concerns at heart.

The core of the book, chapters two to four, contains case studies in which four couples reflect on their experience of interculturality at various stages involved in a marriage: engagement period, pastoral accompaniment of marriage preparation, and the planning for the wedding ceremony. The sample size is admittedly small. Nevertheless, the interviews and pastoral accompaniment of real couples provide concrete illustrations of how two people from different cultural backgrounds communicate, negotiate, and adopt each other’s culture as they form a mutual ground in a marital union. Liturgists and pastoral leaders, both lay and clergy, would especially benefit from these case studies that illustrate concrete and practical ways for negotiating cultural differences with respect and openness.

The real value of these studies is the insights they reveal with regard the intricate relationship between culture and the sacramental life of the Church. The authors, by listening and learning from the couples, allow a deeper understanding of interculturality to emerge, which the authors say is an intercultural process in and of itself. Interculturality is not equivalent to interraciality, and interraciality is not sort of an evolved form of multiculturalism. The issue here is the meaning of culture and how the Church might engage with the cultures in the world in light of the Church’s sacramental life.

As seen in the second chapter of the book, the immediate definition of culture in an intercultural marriage is often designated by the ethnicity of the spouses. However, defining culture by the racial and ethnic identity often results in one culture being dominant over the other, which creates an imbalance in the intercultural process. Between the spouses in an interracial marriage, this imbalance of cultural hierarchy leads to wounds where one person’s culture is seen as abnormal and therefore is silenced by the other person’s dominant culture. An intercultural marriage is more than cultural mixing of two people from different ethnicities where two “cultures” coexist in tolerance. Rather, it is a process of receiving each other’s differences in a mutual respect, which allows an unforeseen new reality to emerge.

In his reflection, Manalo states that culture is that which forms an individual as a whole person. A couple is not in an intercultural marriage only because the spouses come from different ethnicities. The process in which two people, each with their own cultural upbringing, speak, listen, practice, and adapt each other’s different cultural make-up with humility and respect is an intercultural process. There is a certain intimacy in the process of interculturality, for encountering the other in their differences and similarities cannot be done from a distance. There is also a sense of mystery in the way in which the intimate union anticipates a new, unknown reality that is yet to come. Theologically speaking, this process is revelatory of the Church’s understanding of the sacramental union, which reconciles, heals, and unites the barriers created by the differences.

This insight, which Kim and Manalo gained from listening and walking with the couples during their research, is valuable for the entire Church. That two people coming together in a marital union communicate, negotiate, adapt, learn, and accept the differences and similarities in each other’s values is an intercultural process that occurs not only between spouses of different ethnicities but for all couples who are married or are preparing for marriage. The intercultural process, which is really a continuous process of new life emerging out of a sacramental union between two individuals, is reflective of a genuine dialogue between faith and culture that leads to a living tradition that is constantly inculturating itself.

Reading this book is like seeing a movie that sets itself up for a sequel. The authors learn and adopt the intercultural process as a theological method, which is invaluable for any theological endeavor that takes the experiences of people seriously. The authors, as they state in the Preface, practice interculturality by not imposing their theological agenda to the couples’ lived experience of interculturality, nor by simply presenting the narratives of the couples as mere empirical data left open to the reader’s own interpretation. The authors themselves practice “cultural humility” by recognizing their own cultural location as celibate Roman Catholic priests of Asian American descent as they engage with the couples in their research and in their pastoral ministry. The final product is a fruitful exercise of an intercultural, methodological dialogue between theology and social sciences, presented through the narrative of the real couples’ experience of the sacrament of marriage. In this sense, the book is recommended for anyone who is interested in sacramental theology, ecclesiology, liturgical theology, and theology and culture in general.

Kim, Simon C. and Ricky Manalo. Intercultural Marriage: A Pastoral Guide to the Sacrament. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2022. 106 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 9780809154067.

REVIEWER: Hansol Goo
Hansol is a PhD candidate in Liturgical Studies at University of Notre Dame.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *