1. What Makes Marriage Work?
Communication is the “indispensable ingredient for making marriages work,” according to many family life educators. And that “is good news, because effective communication can be learned.”
Those statements -- and a multitude of helpful insights -- are found on the U.S. Catholic bishops’ new Web site geared to making marriages work: www.foryourmarriage.org. This resource is an aid to your marriage ministry and serves as a resource for parishioners. It offers “information, skills, inspiration and resources” for married people and those planning to marry.
The Web site represents one dimension of the bishops’ current marriage initiative. When the initiative was launched in 2004, Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, at that time chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life, acknowledged the serious nature of cultural forces that appear to diminish the value of marriage, while also telling the bishops, “We can and we must do more for marriage than defend it against certain forces that seek to erode it."
Marriages that last “don’t work on automatic pilot -- at least not for long,” says the Web site. “Like a garden, they require constant attention: fertilizing, watering, and weeding,” it adds. “Healthy marriages, like gardens, don’t die suddenly. More often they fade away from a gradual lack of attentiveness, letting things slide, taking each other for granted.”
Marriage can bring “happiness and satisfaction,” but marriage also can bring “challenge, even heartache,” according to the bishops’ Web site. “We all want to live happily ever after,” it comments, but “we all experience bumps along the marriage road.” Then “we may start to think to think our love wasn’t real, or that we’ve fallen out of love. We may even want to give up.”
It is essential to know the “difference between a bump in the road, a boulder and an earthquake,” says www.knowyourmarriage.org. It explains: “Bumps may only require paying attention, renewed effort or talking it out. Boulders may require new skills, enrichment programs and support from family, friends and a faith community. Earthquakes usually require specialized and intensive programs of recovery and/or counseling. The challenge is to know the difference.”
The Web site shares insights on negotiating “the predictable stages of marriage from newly married to later years,” and includes valuable discussions of specific issues couples may face: infidelity, addictions, career decisions, finances, parenting, illness, intimacy, infertility and domestic violence.
2. Marriage Crisis
“The vocation of marriage is in crisis,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told pastors in the archdiocese this summer. He explained: “Over the past 20 years, there has been more than a 60 percent decline in the number of marriages recorded in the Archdiocese of Boston, down from 12,274 in 1986 to 4,519 in 2006.”
And, in another June 2007 communication, Cardinal O’Malley said: “I often tell people that part of transmitting the faith is instilling in our young people a sense of vocation. For most of our young people, their vocation is to marry and to have children. When I speak to confirmation classes, I always speak to them about vocations, particularly the vocation to marriage. People often talk about the shortage of vocations to the priesthood, but just as grave for the church is the situation with the vocation to marriage.”
The Catholic Church throughout Massachusetts has just launched a statewide program of prayer and education in support of marriage and its strengthening.
Florida diocesan assembly addresses marriage:
One of the five top goals of the Florida Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee – goals formulated during a June 15-16, 2007, diocesan assembly preceded by vast, diocesanwide consultation – is to “actively promote a healthy marriage environment that positively influences our culture.” Some other marriage-related concerns of the diocese included in the list of 50 overall goals that emerged from the assembly are:
-- To “actively promote ministry to troubled marriages.”
-- To “decrease the high level of isolation felt by those affected by separation and divorce.”
-- To “foster and nourish spiritual healing for those affected by separation and divorce.”
The diocese’s top five goals are to build communication capability; make outreach to the poor and social-justice ministries a priority in every parish; actively promote a healthy marriage environment that positively influences culture; form and train catechetical leaders and catechists; and “develop and implement a strategic advancement plan for the diocese.”
3. Evangelization’s Hospitality Dimension
Those who plan eucharistic celebrations “should consider how hospitable we are as people of faith toward strangers and visitors,” Detroit’s Cardinal Adam Maida said in a June 2007 column. That, he said, is because:
1. The Eucharist “is a principal means of evangelization” and
2. “The preaching of the good news and offering of hospitality go hand-in-hand,” a point made again and again in Luke’s Gospel.
Cardinal Maida wrote: “In the case of people who have been disenfranchised or disillusioned with the church, our gestures of hospitality – whether individually or as a parish – can often rekindle the flame of faith that has all but died out.”
The cardinal said: “Christian hospitality is one of the most powerful ways to help people come in touch with the Lord Jesus, who himself was both guest and host during his days of earth.”
Further reflections on hospitality
“There are countless ways to express hospitality as the result of life choices. … We can choose: to be fully present to others; to make room for others in our lives; to set aside our own agendas and tend to the needs of others; to look for the good in others instead of being consumed by their faults; to forgive; to see Christ in the faces of those we see every day.” (Jane Tomaine in “St. Benedict’s Toolbox”; Morehouse Publishing, 2005)
Is it essential?
“What is the quality of our [liturgical] gathering? Are we warm and welcoming? The issue here is not about being backslapping friendly. Rather, what is required is for us to live out the rich biblical virtue of hospitality? … In the New Testament we see in Jesus' ministry a great concern for those on the margins: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the outcast and especially sinners. Jesus identifies himself with those who need to be welcomed: ‘Who welcomes you welcomes me.’ … So important was the issue of hospitality in the early Christian community that it was listed as one of the requirements for becoming a bishop!” (Paulist Father Robert Rivers in a June 2005 speech) – End.
4. Evangelization Resource:
Questions Inactive Catholics Ask
The reasons some Catholics stop participating in the church and the questions they ask are addressed on a Web site that you may want to point out to others: www.oncecatholic.org. The site’s mission is to put inactive Catholics “back in touch with a face-to-face community of Catholics.” The site is sponsored by the Franciscan friars of St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati and is a “sister site” of www.americancatholic.org, a ministry of St. Anthony Messenger Press and Franciscan Communications.
Seven reasons people distance themselves from the church and become, to one degree or another, nonpracticing Catholics are addressed by oncecatholic.org. A series of questions related to each of these reasons, along with a brief, readable article responding to each question, is an important feature of the Web site.
1. Marriage issues are a reason some Catholics stop participating in the church. 2. Some nonpracticing Catholics say they didn’t feel “fed” by the church in terms of developing an adult faith. 3. Some Catholics just “drifted away.” 4. Others, for a variety of reasons, felt excluded. 5. Some who procured abortions felt this made them outsiders to the church. 6. Some had issues related to church teaching on matters such as birth control, roles for women in the church, homosexuality, etc. 7. And unique reasons that don’t fit into any of the first six categories and that involve true-life stories people may wish to share represent the seventh reason for becoming a nonpracticing Catholic.
Oncecatholic.org invites people to share their unique stories and to participate in a moderated online discussion. In the process, these people can see “who else has dropped in [to the site], seeking a listening ear.”
What kinds of questions are discussed by oncecatholic.org? Take the third reason given for distancing oneself from the church: “drifted away.” Here, the questions asked are:
-- “I’m thinking of returning to the church, but I’m not sure where to begin. Can you help?”
-- “What exactly do Catholics believe?”
-- “Why can’t I incorporate other religious traditions into my spiritual search? Can people from other faiths be saved?”
-- “Why should I be Catholic? Isn’t it enough to be a spiritual and moral person?”
A simple click of the mouse will lead the nonpracticing Catholic to a discussion of each of those questions.
Words Worth Pondering
Approaches to priesthood. “You [newly ordained priests] will be completely involved in the human situation; bound up with human beings in the bundle of life; bearing with people without getting irritated, not losing your temper when they are appear to be senselessly blind. At the end of the day, you must have the attitude which spends itself in a gentle yet powerful sympathy, patiently molding people back to the right way. No priest can deal with another in this manner unless he has a God-given sense of wisdom and understanding.” (Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse, N.Y., in a June 2, 2007, ordination homily)
Fighting poverty strategically. “The fight against poverty and extreme poverty in particular is rightly spoken of as a battle. But just knowing that you have the means needed to win does not ensure victory in any battle. Winning a battle requires the means, but also effective strategies. … We talk of a preferential option for the poor. It is a term which refers to the action of God who through the history of salvation has addressed his care in a special way toward the poor. Social policy requires a similar principle which focuses of the special causes of disadvantage of any group and addresses them strategically.” (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, in a homily June 25, 2007)