By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Clarion Herald – 1/21/17
One of the pastoral priorities of the U.S. bishops is to strengthen families and enrich marriages. Can you talk about National Marriage Week, which is coming up Feb. 7-14, and World Marriage Day, which will be celebrated Feb. 12?
Bishops around the country have been encouraged to promote, celebrate and strengthen marriage, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to focus on that vocation. When we conducted our archdiocesan synod, the topic of strengthening marriage and family life repeatedly came to the forefront as something we should make a goal for our local church. We already are doing a lot to promote marriage, but the clear message from Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” is that we can always do more to walk with couples and families in support of the gift and blessing of marriage. Married life is challenged by many of our secular values.
What has the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said about marriage?
Promoting and strengthening marriage is a pastoral priority included in our strategic plan for the next five years. Marriage is both a natural institution and sacrament of the church, and it is an irreplaceable good for society. When Pope Francis offered his reflections on marriage and family life in “Amoris Laetitia,” he pulled together the discernment of two worldwide synods that reflected carefully on the strengths and challenges of today’s married couples and families. In our own archdiocese, our Family Life Apostolate began the work of breaking open the Holy Father’s document by hosting seminars. A lot of attention was given to the document on the pastoral challenges of walking with couples who have been divorced and civilly remarried. Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage has not changed; the Holy Father is asking us to accompany couples who have been divorced and civilly remarried in a pastoral way to show them the love and care of the church. We can also discuss with them ways they can share in the life of the church and form their lives in faith.
The U.S. bishops also recently approved a revised translation of “The Order of Celebrating Matrimony.” What impact will that have on local Catholics?
The goal of the new translation is to emphasize the sacred beauty of Catholic weddings and encourage engaged couples in their preparations, as the Holy Father says, to make the liturgical celebration of their wedding “a profound personal experience” and help them “appreciate the meaning of each of its signs.” The Order also includes a blessing of engaged couples and of married couples on their anniversary.
Where can Catholics find some of the newest resources on marriage and family life?
One of the best places to start is www.ForYour Marriage.org, which is also
available in Spanish (www.PorTuMatrimonio.org). The website has an extensive collection of resources for couples who are married or preparing for marriage. Each website also has an associated Facebook page that will post updated content during National Marriage Week. The bishops have video and print materials available at www.MarriageUniqueforaReason.org that explain the uniqueness of marriage as the union of one man and one woman – a true call from God, a vocation.
What are we doing locally to strengthen marriage and family life?
There are some wonderful initiatives being undertaken by David Dawson Jr. and his staff at the Family Life Apostolate. We’ve already brought in Dr. Joseph White of Our Sunday Visitor to do workshops for parishioners and clergy on the beauty and the practical aspects of “Amoris Laetitia.” We also are the first archdiocese in the country to offer something called the “Domestic Church,” which encourages small groups of couples to gather once a month in someone’s home to discuss the basics of the faith and make them a part of their family life on a long-term basis. Many of the discussions are specific to marriage and family life. The domestic Church initiative start in Poland under St. John Paul II, and now it has spread around the world. We are also engaged in a tremendously important anti-pornography initiative because we realize the devastating effects of pornography on the family. We are promoting very strongly the idea of having mentor couples in every parish to provide one-on-one marriage preparation to engaged couples. And one of our big synod goals is being reached by having more than 50 parishes name a family life coordinator to serve as liaisons between the Family Life Apostolate and pastors on marriage and family issues. Our marriage preparation continues to improve. There has been a focus on providing a more spiritual formation in the Days for the Engaged. Engaged Encounter continues to be strong and a great way to prepare for married life. Many parishes offer “Evenings for the Engaged” whereby couples preparing for marriage meet with a couple trained to walk with them. And for those who may be in struggling marriages, we offer Retrouvaille and the Catholic Counseling Service. For those who are divorced, we offer the Catholic Divorce Survival Guide, which is a seminar combined with support groups. We are doing a lot, and the Holy Spirit is moving in this incredibly important area. May the prayers and example of the Holy Family give encouragement to all families.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.