Catholics Do What?,  Contraception,  Culture of Death,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  Marriage,  NFP,  Theology of the Body

An antidote for the lonely vocation of modern marriage

What if, similar to the minimum requirements for men studying for the priesthood, prospective spouses were subject to 4+ years of intensive study and training on the nitty gritty of their potential vocations? (note: I’m not advocating for 4 actual years of formation, just trying to draw a comparison between the immense disparity between preparation for receiving holy orders and preparation for receiving holy matrimony. Obviously marriage prep begins at home, and honestly? At birth.)

Instead of a spirituality year and a philosophy semester there would be courses like “conflict management 101” and “debt, debit cards, and divorce,” and “differing sexual appetites: a gender study,” and maybe a really great little Maymester class called “postpartum NFP: WTF.” (That one you’d defer and then take, like, 3 years into marriage. Babysitting provided.)

Think of how drastically improved the vocational retention rates for Christian marriages would be, if lovestruck candidates were first put through a rigorous spiritual, practical, and emotional education on the nature and meaning of the married vocation, and were then accompanied throughout their married life by additional support and available resources to continue growing in said vocation.

I’m not talking here about simply overhauling marriage prep. There are varying degrees of effective programs already out there, some of them good. But this is not merely a call for yet another program. We have lots of programs in the Church. Some of them better than others.

But what we do not seem to have is a particularly well-formed theology of marriage which is accessible to the average Catholic spouses.

But we have Theology of the Body. And we have some really incredible treatises on human love from the previous two pontificates in particular. And yet, they remain largely incomprehensible to the average layperson, because of a lack of formation and primary catechesis, yes (here’s looking at you, parents) but also because for all intents and purposes, neither the Church nor married couples themselves seem completely convinced of the necessity to do more for marriages beyond the quarterly offering of a reconciliation retreat for couples who are, you know, really in trouble.

Put more simply, many of us see marriage as just something most people can do, without any further assistance beyond some pre Cana counseling and a handy list of no-no’s to get them through the next 50 years.

I’m not suggesting this is entirely the fault of the institutional Church, any more than the general decline of morality in the culture at large is. But I am suggesting that perhaps there has been a loss of collective wisdom, shared experience and learned behaviors regarding marriage, what it means, and what it’s for. And that it’s kind of a big problem, both for the Church and for the culture.

How many marriages fail today because neither spouse was properly catechized to begin with?

How many marriages suffer and falter because one or both spouses came from broken homes themselves, and they haven’t seen a couple live through tough times and come out on the other side?

How many marriages crumble incrementally, over decades of contraceptive use until a pair of forty-something strangers wake up in the same bed and wonder what they ever saw in the other person to begin with?

What if something could be done for these couples? Not just another program that will be ignored or under attended but a real, radical overhaul of how we “do” marriage, institutionally?

Here’s what I’m thinking, and it’s not an original thought. This piece in the National Catholic Register makes reference to a kind of “marriage catechumenate” which would require a prolonged period of careful instruction and discernment before marriage, just as we ask of those who are discerning the priesthood or religious life. And not for the sake of deterring marriage, but in order to adequately prepare a couple who wish to enter into a sacramental marriage.

The culture and the Church parted ways on marriage a long time ago. It’s just that they’ve looked kind of similar up until fairly recently.

If we’re calling people to live a countercultural reality of marriage, then we ought to be able to provide countercultural resources to help them along the way.

So a marriage catechumenate, yes. And how about an assigned spiritual director or pastoral advisor of some kind (who practices faithfully and receives ongoing formation themselves – think of a Catholic educator required to sign that oath of fidelity and accrue CEUs) who works with that couple as they ease into their first year or 3 of marriage?

And what about required annual retreats for married couples, with childcare and wine and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a relaxing dinner at the end where they can talk about their insights and impressions from the day?

And maybe a small group of other families from your parish, matched to roughly the same ages as your own kids, to meet with monthly or bi-monthly for potluck dinners and Bible study?

Basically I’m advocating for a much more intense pre-marital instruction and discernment period coupled with almost exactly what my home parish offers on the tail end of the vows. And yeah, it depends upon people taking the Church up on her offer, for sure. But let’s at least make sure it’s available. 

If marriage is truly a vocation, and one to which most Christians are called, we need to start providing resources and an incredible amount of support to keep our numbers up. So that the Church looks good, right?

No. So the Church can raise saints.

Nearly every saint in history came about as the result of a Christian marriage. It’s time we start taking that to heart. We need more saints for our times, and we need heroic spouses willing to live out the vocation to marriage with a Church ready and willing to walk alongside them.



  • Deepa

    Loved the article ! So very very true . I see a lot of inter faith marraiges happening in our church . The couples get not much of anything rforce marraige other than to promise to raise their kids as Catholics , to which they all agree and afterwards fail to do so by not even getting them baptized . I wonder why the church did not follow up on those promises and commitments . Anyway, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the ever increasing inter faith marraiges ( Catholics to Hindus and Catholics to Muslim or Jew ) .
    Thanks in advance ! Once again … Very well thought out article and topic .

    • Katie

      I have thought all this about parenting! What if we had lots and lots of skills taught to us before the little people came along? What if we had generations of kids raised without some of the baggage that past generations carried? But marriage skills would be awesome. Maybe they could merge the two classes?
      Love this!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I think it’s really, really tricky to navigate the waters of an interfaith marriage. Not impossible! But how to achieve a sacramental union with a partner who doesn’t believe in Sacraments, or who doesn’t intend to practice the faith, or any faith, or a radically opposing faith? I think once the high wears off, those relationships are immensely difficult to sustain. But as people become less and less convinced of the need for and the significance of religion in their own lives, I think marriages that would once have been inconceivable have become more and more commonplace. The Church does need to have an answer for this, especially considering the fastest growing of all religions currently is the “Nones,” who will probably be marrying plenty of Catholic spouses especially as Millenials come of age. So how to minister to couples in these mixed marriages, and how to encourage singles to discern very, very carefully whether entering into an unequally-yoked marriage, as it were, is worth the years of uphill struggle that may result.

      • Jean

        My parents were an example of a mixed marriage, R.C. dad to Anglican mom. Neither went to church. I attended public school and was confirmed in the R.C. Church as an adult. I “caught” my faith through those R.C. families in our neighbourhood who lived their faith through concrete day to day actions, who took the time to explain Catholic customs, traditions i.e. crucifix on the wall, icons, nativity sets at Christmas, meatless Fridays, more babies, etc.

        As difficult as it may be to support interfaith couples, as perilous as it is for their children’s faith development, the hands-on example of faithful Catholics does more to further God’s kingdom than all the programs and manuals we could ever come up with. I’m not against the implementation of programs, don’t get me wrong, but I would encourage every Catholic to evangelize through word and action wherever the opportunity arises. Through those good people in my childhood community my conversion led to my Protestant husband’s conversion, our children are R.C. and now our grandchildren are Catholic as well.

        • Susie

          I agree, Jean. I was raised protestant and have had a close relationship with God since I was a young child. I cannot say the same for a lot of my Catholic friends. Almost all of them went through a time where they really rebelled against their faith and didn’t understand the big picture. My husband was raised Catholic and we were married in a Protestant church because neither of us was ready to convert and abandon what we were taught as children. It was important for me to discern this, however, before we had our own children. I was the one who converted before we had our first child. My Catholic conversion was beautiful; I knew I was home. I know without a shred of doubt in my mind that this is where I was meant to be. I cannot get enough of the Catholic faith and its teachings.

          The Catholic teachings do not completely contradict what I learned as a Protestant, however. In fact, they mostly enhance what I learned as a child. I think many Catholics have misperceptions about what some Protestant churches teachings are. There are some obvious differences, but big picture are quite similar. This ignorance leads to divisions among believers who actually have quite a bit in common.

          For me I am happy it worked out the way it did. On our ten-year anniversary, we renewed our vows and went through all of the marriage prep again. This time in our lives we were truly able to appreciate the Catholic teachings in a way we would not have otherwise been able to. I appreciate what is being considered, and do not want to downplay the importance of the marriage vocation but do not believe this would slow people from being married. Though this seems to be a good idea for vocational retention rates, (as the author puts it) I believe it will drive more of our younger generation away from the Church if they are seeking marriage.

          So I agree with Jean that words and actions speak more than implementing new programs. Catholics need to be examples of their faith and more accepting and welcoming of people who don’t fit the ‘box’. In the broken world we live in, most situations are not the Catholic ideal. We should be welcoming our Protestant friends and meeting them where they are. We should be more accepting of people who have been through hard times. We should be providing more education and resources to families to close the gap on the recent dark time in Catholic church history where so many have left. Welcoming new families with open arms in all of their brokenness and providing them more resources will help to foster marriage prep and family life from birth, I also believe this would have an impact on renewing our Church. ☺

  • Camille Kunde

    Hear hear! In a Australia every parish has a youth worker position. We need a dedicated “family worker” position who could organize retreats and resources for families.

    • Cami

      I wish this was happening, Camille. My friend out in So Cal (we used to live there too) now attends a Catholic Family Camp in the summer. I also know the family that started it. They bought a lovely retreat center (with an awesome stations of the cross walk) in the canyon and renovated. Now they hold these camps and I hear they are fantastic. I wish we all had access to such programs. I’ve seen a lot of marriage ministry couples in the Denver area which is also wonderful. We need more and we need it everywhere!

  • Michelle DePizzol

    There is a great resource called Beloved in the Symbolon series. It is long, but well worth it. My husband and I went on a Beloved retreat this summer with Tim Gray and decided every engaged couple should watch the series before getting married. Check it out!
    I think it is offered through the Augustine Institute. It gets a little long, but it is so full of great information. I think it would be great to present in small group discussions.

  • Becky

    I have been thinking along the same lines too. A friend even mentioned having people in video state some stuff about the indissolubility of their marriage so they feel a bit more responsible for their vows.

  • Sarah

    Great article jenny. As someone who instructs an online marriage prep, which is actually the best I have ever seen, it isn’t enough. Its a good start but some of the topics (NFP, reasons why contraception isn’t moral, forgiveness, most importantly that marriage MUST be free, total, faithful, and fruitful, always!) Are so foreign that it is overwhelming and then its over. Unless the couples really seek more, life goes on just as before. I know I have worked with couples who have been completely altered by their marriage prep, but increasing that number is imperative.

  • Kelly

    There is an awesome couple in Kansas City with ideas similar to yours, and a few years ago they started an organization with the support of our Archbishop called School of Love. Check out their website to see what they’ve done! They have a really cool tool called the Catholic Marriage and Family Plan that provides meditations and discussion questions for spouses via email, so you can experience a bit of their ministry even if you’re not in KC!

  • Tara

    Ooh good post. You mention that your parish does a pretty good job of post-marriage formation – do you use a formalized program? We’d love to bring something like this to our parish!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      They don’t really have a formalized program that I’m aware of, but their entire approach to ministry is very family-based. We’re staffed by a Spanish religious order called the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and they have a special devotion to St. John Paul II and to the Holy Family, so all their efforts tend to be directed towards building up marriages and family life. It’s really, really beautiful.

  • Ellen

    So many thoughts coming from your words! I think you are right on saying we don’t need another program. Rather, it’s a cultural wisdom and support that we are losing that really helps pass on knowledge of what marriage is. I think some places have retained the cultural supports even today. My own area is a prime example. Small town, mostly rural, families who’ve lived here for generations. Buliding up the culture through the family seems like a good though huge task. Our parish helps this effort by having lots and lots of festivals and social hours. Seems silly, but it works. People come, families come, and married couples are given little shots of joy. In a very natural, non-programed way, we make friendships with families of all ages and are taught about this awesome vocation. We also have a great system of older couples who work through Teams of Our Lady to help younger married folks. And a wise pastor who teaches us from the pulpit. Hmmm, maybe we don’t need a new national push of one particular movement, but can spread the million little different things that are happening and working in parishes all over the country. I’m sure not every town and parish would find a parish-wide birthday dinner for the pastor to be as uplifting to families as we do here. One thing I’m sure of, more requirements, more scolding and shaming of failures, will do about as much lasting good as such practices do for our children, which is none at all.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Yeah, that’s a great point, and for a lot of suburban or urban dwellers, it seems like the isolation and the lack of community or deep (or any!) roots is really a stumbling block to creating a support network. But there are little things we can all do in our parishes, it’s true, and more than that in our own neighborhoods and families and circles of friends! I want my neighbors all to have amazing marriages and healthy, holy families too, regardless of their religious practices. And a big piece of that can be my willingness to open my door to them for drinks or dinner or a birthday party (which I’m admittedly not great at doing – I like my comfortable autonomy sometimes)

  • Ally

    I have been married for a little over a year and a half. While dating, my husband and I (both cradle Catholics) started becoming much stronger in our faith, I feel like the holy spirit used our relationship to ignite a fire in building a relationship with God. I was so excited to start our marriage prep! I couldn’t wait for tools and conversations on ways to build our vocation. Oh, but I was so disappointed! Only a one hour meeting with another married couple who were not both Catholic (and negative comments were made regarding Pope Benedict, grrr). I felt like it was just a meeting to make sure there was no red flags in our relationship (“great, you’re not abusive”). Than maybe 30 minute meeting with our priest who mostly talked about the importance of communication during marriage. Important topics, like NFP were never discussed.

    I feel such a burning to help others in this journey, but I feel like I’m so new in this journey myself, I don’t feel adequate to do anything right now except to be the best example of a true Catholic marriage as we can be. Love this article, it inspires me, but I just feel at such a lose as to where my role is. Thank you for sharing wonderful writings on the beauty of marriage and family.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      so frustrating! And I think you’re spot on – what you can do is be a lived example for what marriage can be, and reach out to other couples both for support for your own marriage and to offer fellowship and encouragement to them. Even if you can find one or two other couples to get together with regularly and form a fellowship of dinner parties and sharing life together, it can become a powerful source of grace and an opportunity to “do” ministry just by being present in someone’s life.

    • Cami

      I hear you, Ally! My husband and I chose to do our marriage prep at our old cathedral thinking it would be more beneficial than our actual parish program, only to find our mentor couple was a practicing Catholic wife and a non- practicing Jewish husband who had a “problem with organized religion”… His words. Heartbreak. We were determined to one day rewrite the whole program ourselves based on Theology of the Body to be used universally. I now hear Augustine Institute may be working on something along these lines. So I’m very excited about that!

  • Ally | The Speckled Goat

    There are many places where the Catholic church has it right (Theology of the Body, hello), but I do think Protestants do this one better. My little Bible Camp provides a marriage retreat weekend- with speakers who talk about the hard stuff and work to prepare couples for the next step of marriage. We also have a “Pre-Marriage” retreat- which talks about conflict resolution, budgeting, the importance of marriage to society… and many of our pre-marriage couples end up coming back to the marriage retreat the next year.

    It’s so important to support and encourage couples in marriage- it’s one of the most foundational relationships in society, and it can be so challenging!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      that sounds awesome! I think the Catholic church is playing catch-up because of how much of a sacramental worldview, if you will, has been lost over the past generation or two. It’s no longer safe to assume people are learning how to “do” marriage and family life at home, because so many of us, Christian or not, are coming out of broken homes or homes where the nuclear family’s home life was lived very much in isolation, so we lack that collective sense of “this is what life with a wife and kids looks like” and “this is how you keep a marriage together in this culture.” I’m not sure why this is the case, but I sense that it is, and that things that used to be obvious or taken for granted are almost extraordinary now. People are often amazed at the size of my husband’s and my families and that our parents are still married, both sides. And that’s really sad.

  • Maureen Donnelly

    Spot on!

    My husband and I were blessed by our families sending us to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The aunties offered to watch our three children with special needs and our youngest child so we could go. Our older children were able to stay at home and be independent while were gone. The entire time we were there I kept thinking, “this is exactly what young couples need.!” You can go to their Facebook page, and they will be posting all the keynote speakers, and some of the breakout sessions. Every single speaker’s topic was about family. The next one is in 2018 in Dublin. This past Congress was so filled with the beautiful teachings of our Catholic faith applied to married life. I really think the reason there is a Congress only once every three years is because there was enough presented there to feed us all until the next Congress! If you get sometime, check it out! Holy mother church is so vibrantly alive in her reaching out to families to help them grow in holiness!

    thanks for such a wonderful post!

  • Mollie Baker

    Great ideas in this article, and in the comments. I would add that the marriage preparation needs to begin long before a couple approaches the Church and says, “We want to get married.” Perhaps an ongoing vocation training, not just for marriage but also for discerning the religious life, should be offered as part of the high school religious ed curriculum. I think it’s better to start it while they’re single, because once they show up ready to get married, any delay will just be an annoyance and a hindrance, and may lead an impatient couple to cohabitate. Of course, the best place to learn marriage skills is from one’s own parents; but sadly, too many don’t have this solid training ground available to them.

    • liz

      Mollie, you raise a really interesting point, about training for one’s vocation needing to begin before a formal engagement. I have often observed that many of the best, most exemplary Catholic marriages between couples I know seem to have originated from solid relationships formed on the campuses of good Catholic colleges. I think there are a couple handfuls of terrific colleges in this country that are indirectly leading a Matrimony revival of sorts– familiarizing the students with the rich theological, moral, and spiritual traditions of the Church, thus leading to better character formation and a deeper understanding of what marriage is really supposed to be. Furthermore, some studies have indicated that the experiences and learning acquired during the college years can really shape the ideology that a person will carry with him throughout his life. So, while many of these students might be instructed in these tenets a good 5-10 years before they even marry, I imagine that many of them internalize these values during such a formative phase of life– sort of filing them away in their soul– until such time that they have the opportunity to put them into practice. This could theoretically lead to better marriages. In fact, I’m a strong believer that all Catholic colleges should require each of their students, regardless of major, to take at least a couple Theology courses (one of which should be moral theology). Oh, and while they’re at it, they should make a course in Personal Finance a requirement as well– it would be better for twenty-somethings just starting out in general, and young newlyweds in particular, if they have the tools to avoid making disastrous fiscal choices (which can also really take a toll on a marriage). But I’m starting to digress….

    • MargoB

      Mollie, Darika – I enjoyed your comments! 🙂 I have for many years been pondering how to help Catholics understand the general idea of their baptismal vocation (our call to holiness and to evangelize); the basics of one’s personal vocation (a la’ Germain Grisez/Russell Shaw ‘s marvelous book, *Personal Vocation*, ); and the idea that each of us (baptized folks) is expected to discern and live their personal vocation.

      I got to attend a grad school which shared a campus and some classes with both a major and a minor seminary. One day, I casually remarked to an undergrad woman that I had never seen so many good-hearted men all in one place before; their kindness, generosity, manly character, and strong faith were obvious. She replied, wistfully, “Well, you know how it goes: God gets the best, and we get the rest!!” She laughed, and continued on her way, but I was taken aback. Not by her or by her expressing what she felt/perceived; simply, I’d never heard that idea before. It got me thinking. Lots.!

      I had understood by that point in my life that good character is the result (yes, of grace; of course!), in the temporal sphere, of good formation. As I pondered what the young woman had said to me, it seemed clear that there was a connection between her term “the best”, my observation of the good character of these minor seminarians, and the formation they had received/were receiving.

      Jenny, here’s where I get what you’re saying about a “marriage catechumenate,” but only because I’ve thought the same thing about vocations *in general*; i.e., about God’s call to every baptized person/Catholic. I realized that those young men needed formation for the priesthood. When I connected the fact that not all minor seminarians go on to major seminary with the fact that every minor seminarian is being formed until he discerns (if such is the case) that he is not called to Holy Orders, it hit me that those young men took all the formation they’d received into whatever state of life they did go into…for most, probably marriage. And that those marriages were strengthened by the formation which those young men had received (it didn’t just disappear just because they discerned out of the seminary!). Heyyyyyy….. wait a minute! Why wasn’t there a way for this kind of formation to get to women, then?! Yes, it came to some of the men “by default,” as they entered, and then left, minor seminary; and women do not go through this situation (and I’m not advocating that they should/should be allowed to). But did that mean women should not be offered some sort of formation so that they could grow in character, holiness, human goodness, etc? I mean — if some formation for a state-in-life decision is good, this is a case where more is, indeed, better! (Understand, I am not a “women’s rights” advocate in the least; I merely saw a discrepancy that I thought, if remedied, many people would benefit from.) Hmmm….I pondered this throughout grad school, and eventually found a term for it: lay formation.

      Although I am job-hunting in a slightly different direction (basically, the secular version of this, as a remedy for wounds inflicted in the workplace), I would still love to be able to do this in some capacity, for lay Catholics. Show them what God has created the human person for; show them that He created them to undertake a specific work of love; show them that it is possible to discern what this is and live it out; and I’d love to be able to walk with them on their journeys (or: be accessible to assist, at least).

      Anyhow….this is rather a tangent to your post, Jenny, but I got so excited when I read Mollie’s and Darika’s comments, I just….jumped down the rabbit hole and kept running. #callmeAlice? Kinda sorry. Kinda not 🙂

  • Ari

    This is SO badly needed. We have the truth, but it’s not being shared, distilled, lived in community. I’m a newly-ish-wed…barely over a year now. Our marriage prep was abysmal. If it weren’t for my husband’s mother being a psychologist, who pointed us to good secular resources, and if it weren’t for our OWN discovery and faith formation using Theology of the Body, etc., we would be another divorce statistic, I’m sure. We have no marriage formation after the fact in our parish, we’re just trying to stalk/befriend other young married couples and do it ourselves. This is so frustrating, and it does make me/us feel very alone.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      gosh that’s so crazy, and I think it’s so typical, unfortunately. I think you’re on the right track to be stalking potential couple friends – it’s SO important to have other people walking alongside you. Even if you can’t get together in person a whole lot, it’s still just so comforting to know that there are other people like you and that you’re not alone.

  • Cat W.

    There is a parish in our diocese that does something called “SALT” (Savoring a Lifetime Together) date nights for married couples (and childcare is provided!). It’s once every other month, and open to any married couple. I was poking around on the parish website and something called The Third Option also kicked up: For the SALT ministry, I can’t find any more info than what is on the homepage

    It seems like we’re starting to get on the right track. But for what it’s worth, I actually HAVE taken classes in conflict management, family finances, and human relationships as part of a Human Development university curriculum, and it was pretty good. The issue was that my SPOUSE did not take them…and like in many marriages, we are unequally yoked, so I’m still praying my husband will consent to one of the SALT date nights (he will be out of town for the one this weekend). Sometimes it is like pulling teeth with certain kinds of poorly-catechized cradle Catholics. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

  • Tia

    You have pinpointed a problem but can I just say that, as a non-Catholic, I think all the programs and classes in the world may not be sufficient. To see what marriage is made of really takes an experiential element that many people no longer have access to. My parents are married 47 years and counting. My mom describes my dad as her best friend and the best person she knows. But growing up I remember many angry fights and my mother threatening divorce. What keeps me going in my marriage is knowing in a visceral level that it is possible, and even surprisingly common, to go from that dark place to one of intense happiness. Popular culture teaches that once a marriage is dead there’s no resurrecting it; breaking up a marriage is simply issuing the death notice. without some firsthand knowledge that that’s not the case, I know I wouldn’t have the fortitude to stick things out. So I think, in order to have an impact on marriage institutions like the Cstholic Church should focus more on the broader culture. Not sure how, but perhaps creating resonant and high quality media or art that shows what marriage really is, which can then somehow enter the popular culture

    • Jenny Uebbing

      that’s such a great point. And I love the idea of art and media communicating those truths, because you’re right, a lot of us haven’t seen that lived example in our own lives, so it’s almost impossible to believe. Someone else mention the “Beloved” series by the Augustine Institute, which I’ve heard is really really great.

  • Darika

    Great article. How about addressing the single population? I’d propose mandatory catechesis, before single people are involved, engaged, or even committed to the vocation of marriage? They may come to understand that marriage is the harder road and be more selective of both their vocation and their lifetime spouse. I am all for pre-Cana, parish counseling, etc. But a preparatory course for singles would go a long way toward hearing God’s call on their life and giving them the confidence to respond wholeheartedly.

  • MG

    This is a wonderful idea, but it seems difficult to put into practice.
    In our parish, we did have a group similar to the one you were describing – monthly potluck dinner, childcare provided, speaker on some aspect of marriage/parenting. I didn’t start the group but did run it for the last few years. Done right, it is a lot of work and requires recruiting as well as organizing. After having another baby this year, I absolutely needed to step down. While everyone agreed it was a great source of support, no one was willing to take over organizing. And this is the essential problem — implementing programs of this kind will put a burden on the people who are already contributing in other ways to the parish, possibly at the expense of their home life. I don’t see new people coming out of the woodwork to take this on, really.
    And please, let’s not rely on Catholic educators for this!!! My husband is one, and believe me, he and every other Catholic educator I know is overworked and underpaid. They are already contributing greatly to the Church, often at personal sacrifice! Don’t put another burden on them.
    I don’t mean to be so discouraging…these seem like wonderful ideas but they require real, living people to put them into practice, and those people are already feeling stretched thin! Unless the parish could afford to afford to hire a part-time family minister, it seems tough to ask more of married people who, by definition, have families to put first.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      good point, it definitely requires resources and tremendous effort. I’m just thinking of existing resources that would perhaps be better allocated towards serving and stabilizing marriages, since they really are foundational to the overall health of the parish.
      (And I meant that people assigned to work with couples would be required to meet the same high standards as Catholic educators, not that the educators themselves would have to take on more work! I get it, my mother in law is a special ed director in a Catholic grade school – they do so much already.)

  • Karyn

    I was thinking the same as Deepa….most marriages seem to be interfaith or even one of faith and one without. My husband was a wayward Catholic and I grew up with nothing. I think it’s very, very hard to have a “mixed” marriage like that… just think of something like birth control. We all know NFP is hard but imagine if one spouse is coming from a faith or just a mindset that believes birth control is fine (or even the more responsible thing to do).

    I know we would probably never go to a group/retreat thing — my husband and I are too introverted, lol. But I think the idea of a spiritual director would be fantastic. Of course, I wish we already had such things in our parish — people always mention them but I’ve never come across one in real life?

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Karyn I think some places do spiritual direction as a service, like Opus Dei centers or retreat centers or some religious orders? It might be possible to dig around in your area and see if you turn up any extra-parish resources like that, if your own pastor doesn’t offer spiritual direction. My director is a priest, but he’s not our parish priest, he’s a priest in a religious order in our town.

      And I totally get your introvert vibe. Hence the need for wine 😉

      • Karyn

        No wine…I would be passed out in minutes, I’m so tired, lol. I think the reason we don’t have directors is because there are so few Catholics here (we’re in Baptist land). My priest is awesome but the poor man is the only one in an hour radius! So unless I have a dire need, I try to only “bother” him with confession time. Hence my reliance on blogs for support 🙂 ….well, that and prayers and saints and my husband, etc.

  • Jean

    I must confess I’m a dinosaur among you. God willing, my husband and I will celebrate our 42nd anniversary this December. We had no marriage prep, were married in a courthouse (first time marriage for both of us but family disagreements overshadowed our plans), had a church blessing twelve years later. We’ve worked through differences, difficulties, had our share of good times and tragedies. We are still each others best friends.

    How did we ever survive marriage thus far? Chalk it up to the workings of the Holy Spirit. That said, I do believe a pre-marriage novitiate would have been helpful as we wouldn’t have had to re-invent the wheel, but then again no two marriages are the same, it’s a vocation that has to be lived over time to fully grasp. The more positive input from other successfully married couples sure enlightened us.

    If anyone asked my advice, I’d say go for the prep, take part in any ongoing retreats, keep God at the center of your marriages.

  • Sarah

    I know I already commented, but I keep thinking about this. One of the commenters said something about this starting MUCH before the couple approaches the Church to be married. This is precisely what I was coming back to say. There is such struggle for couples and priests at this point. Some couples rally drag their feet about preparation, even after date is set and then what is the priest to do, not marry them? Obviously an option and there can be good debate about what is the right choice (though not being a priest I am fortunate to not have to grapple with this daily) but denying the sacrament is tricky for sure. Ultimately marriage prep starts with all the marriages (most especially that of ones parents) a person is exposed to and it has to go from there. Good programs are wonderful but not enough i dont think. Great topic jenny!

  • AthenaC

    “But I am suggesting that perhaps there has been a loss of collective wisdom, shared experience and learned behaviors regarding marriage, what it means, and what it’s for.”

    I would submit that we never had this collective wisdom in the first place, simply because we never had to. Marriage had to be for life because there weren’t really many other options; so it wasn’t that people a few generations ago were so much better at marriage than we are, they just had no choice but to put up with all the abuse, infidelity, and the many other horrible things people do to their spouses. I don’t think it’s the case that people today “don’t know” that marriage is supposed to be permanent – I think that they simply have no idea how to build a relationship that will be permanent.

    In fact, when I made it a personal project a few years ago to teach myself what a healthy marriage looks like and what it would likely look like for me and what part I could / needed to play to create a healthy marriage, I found actual help and info from secular sources and little to no useful info from sources grounded in theology of any stripe. The theology-based sources emphasized communication (which is important to be sure) and the fact that divorce is bad. Great – except: 1) I already knew that; and 2) that doesn’t tell me anything useful. What I found useful about the more secular sources was actual discussion of relationship dynamics, including what toxic relationships look like. The down side, of course, is that divorce and separation seemed to be accepted as an option way WAY too easily.

    So, TL/DR: If we could combine the values of a Catholic understanding of marriage with all the secular wisdom, understanding, and guidance about how to create a good marriage and how to recognize when a marriage is toxic and how to recognize when a marriage is irreparably toxic (i.e. go get divorced. Go directly to divorce. Do not pass GO; do not collect $200) …. if we could do that, and look at marriage as a lifelong building project with ongoing support rather than “just don’t divorce”, I think we might make some progress.

    • Tia

      AthenaC, this is an interesting point. I do think the mechanics of communication care often better dissected by secular materials and there are a lot of good books and techniques out there. But in some ways these modalities can do more harm than good because they put divorce on the table as an ever-present option, which changes peoples’ behaviors and reactions to adversity in ways that make divorce likelier. I’ve found the advice that “the way you stay married is by not getting divorced” has really been the most helpful for me being happy in my marriage. That’s because I change how I respond to conflicts depending on whether there’s an “out” or not. For instance, if I’m angry at my husband for doing something jerky, if I think “I’m in it for the long haul,” my response is to figure out how I contributed to the situation and ways I can change to either avoid a future conflict or simply not let it upset me. But if I think divorce is an option, then that incident is going into my secret mental tally. Once he hits some nebulous “jerk limit,” I may be convinced our marriage is unsave-able. Also, studies suggest that marital therapy is very ineffective, so there’s that.
      As for irreparably toxic marriages, I agree some marriages are so harrowing and awful that to call them marriages is a disservice to the term. People in those situations need help and concrete support getting out quickly and as safely as possible. I’ve even counseled a few friends to seek divorce when it became clear the relationship was trending towards physical abuse. But I’ve also seen some really surprising things, like couples who hated each other and even abused each other somehow come out on the other side of 40 and find love again. So I guess all I’m saying is that we on the outside don’t always know which marriages can be repaired, and so even when offering advice to people in these “irreparably toxic” marriages we should recognize we’re really just dealing playing the odds: X percent of people in a similar situation go on to face horrible levels of abuse, or less than Y percent of addicts will clean up on their own in time to save their marriage.

  • Gemma

    Yes! As a single 20-something Catholic, I love the idea of spending this time preparing for marriage as a priest goes through seminary before priesthood. Who knows how far off marriage is for me, but I am confident using this time to educate myself can only be beneficial.

    My parents are not the prime example of marriage. They got pregnant beforehand, which makes me wonder what their motivation really was. Both sets of grandparents have been married 50+ years, but don’t talk about marriage much.

    Reading blogs like yours, Jenny, and so many others has helped me create what I see as a fairly realistic picture of marriage. I know it’s not all frolicking through daisies practicing NFP, and that finances and parenthood and communication can kind of suck sometimes. But I also know that marriage is sanctifying. It’s a challenge that I’m arming myself for now before the time comes.

    And it’s not through Church programs. I’m reading books such as Three to Get Married (Fulton Sheen), TOB for Beginners (Christopher West), and Love & Responsibility (JPII). And then I’m meeting with a young-ish Catholic Mom going through the books and helping her in her home with her kids. I’ve been a mother’s helper and regular babysitter for years, which I think has also helped me see families for what they truly are.

    I’m so thankful for the faithful witness of families I’ve helped and all the bloggers out there. You guys give me hope, and you show me how awesomely hard marriage is. Keep spreading more ideas like this, because I would love if more young people could feel so prepared. It’s truly empowering, and I so look forward to sharing in the beauty of a Catholic marriage one day.

  • Philippa O'Neill

    Well for this to happen there would need to be two Catholics in the marriage – most married people I know only have one! Great ideas though. Love your blog. 🙂

  • Suzi Whitford

    This is so important! And also I believe a strong reason why so few Catholics are practicing NFP. It’s tremendously hard if you do not have a community of like minded families who support the idea of a family larger than 2 children! I just recently came back from a trip visiting my non Catholic family where everyone has a 4,000 square foot house with two children maximum. Does that even make sense? Why is the idea of sharing a room or having multiple children so foreign? We have drifted so far from living a sacrificial life that we wonder why everyone feels so entitled. Thank you for posting this! I pray God uses my little family to help others live the Faith faithfully!

  • Jeanette

    It will be interesting to see what comes out of this Synod, and it is helpful to hear different thoughts from the laity, such as happen in this terrific blog. So, I want to reflect on one thing stated here which seems to echo much of what is the focus of the Synod:

    “But what we do not seem to have is a particularly well-formed theology of marriage which is accessible to the average Catholic spouses.”

    The problem in the Catholic Church is not just availability of an accessible theology on marriage. I think the greater problem is spiritual sloth. While some people do take their faith life very seriously and do seek out answers and listen to the Church, there are a lot more people who hardly have a clue about anything that the Church teaches, not because the Church fails to teach them, but because they don’t make the most basic effort to learn what the Church teaches and then apply it to their life (though at a local level in actual practice the basic catechesis going on in parishes can by a failure of incompetence).

    The next problem is going to the right resources. People have the internet, which makes authentic teaching very readily available, yet they have all kinds of misconceptions because they are informed (if informed at all) by the wrong sources. If the mainstream media, their usual source for information, says something about the Catholic Church’s teaching on anything, that is it. They look no further to even find out if it is true (which most often it is not) and to discern what the Church really did say. So, they are NOT listening to MAGISTERIAL teachings (and probably don’t even know what that word means).

    Time is a factor. People don’t make time for their faith. They are often bare minimum (go to mass on Sunday, if even that) Catholics. You aren’t going to take to heart the teachings of the Church if you don’t even make time to be part of the life of the Church. It just isn’t a priority.

    Then there is the problem of thinking one knows more than the Church, has better answers, understands life better, doesn’t really need to listen because they are following their (ill-formed) conscience. In other words, pride. And it becomes a huge barrier to their spiritual life, and consequently the living out of their marriage vocation.

    As for what marriage is about, yes, a lot can be learned in a directed manner as a deep sacramental preparation, but the most basic thing that anyone can know about marriage is that it is at its simplest level a perfect context for the living out of the Christian virtues in one of the most intimate and vulnerable human relationships we have in this life. What makes for a good, lasting marriage? The answering of the call to holiness. If you do that, you are on the right path. Living each day for God puts life in a whole different perspective. Then, when difficulties arise in marriage and family life, you will have the right disposition for addressing them. You cannot directly perfect your family, but you can work towards perfecting yourself and this will directly impact family life. Daily examination of conscience, for instance, keeps you active in the conversion of your life. Prayer in your heart keeps you connected to God, prayer in your family keeps you together as a faith community working towards the same goal of holiness. Not all marriages are composed of 2 Catholics (I can speak to that one from my own experience), so you have additional challenges. As kids grow and mature, they go through their own stages of acceptance or rejection of the faith and you cannot control that. But graces are given to us if we seek them and receive them as they are given, then act upon them. We can be the light of Christ for one another, reflecting that symbol of our baptismal candle.

    I could go on and on. I don’t think the problem is necessarily that the Church is failing to meet the needs of her people, or not supplying enough information or support, as much as people are failing to live out their faith with vigor and commitment. Anyone who takes an active role in the life of their parish knows that what I’m saying is reflective of what is happening. It’s great if the Church comes through with MORE for us, but if we don’t do our part, it will be inconsequential. And if we aren’t even working very hard at living the Christian life, we won’t benefit from anything further. To quote the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”

  • Betsy

    I haven’t read through all the comments, so forgive me if someone has already mentioned this but my husband and I recently started a group through Teams of Our Lady. The teams groups do much of what you suggested – meet once a month without kids for food and good discussion/catechesis, a yearly retreat as a couple is highly encouraged, and we have a priest at (almost) every meeting to help guide us spiritually.
    You should definitely check it out!

  • Jeanette

    My last comment was very long, I’ll try to keep this one very short.

    A lot of ideas were thrown out in this post as examples of things that could be done, and they were good ideas and I’m sure if people were brainstorming, they could come up with a long list of good ideas. But rather than just come up with ideas, they need to be put into action, and that is ultimately what is hoped for. So, a word of advice: any pastor will be more receptive to a person OFFERING to start something for the parish rather than hear, “The Church/parish ought to do XYZ.” In other words, WE are the Church, and the laity have the ability to gain support for initiatives from their pastor. A well-thought out idea that is presented to a pastor with a solid plan for implementing the idea will be well-received. If you are good at coming up with ideas, but don’t have the time to carry them out yourself, that is when you need to enlist a team of like-minded people to work together to share the vision with others until a leader emerges who can launch the new idea. It takes organization and commitment (which is sacrificial and will undoubtedly be rewarded without measure).

    This is what the laity is called to do, and I suspect that is the direction of what will come out of the Synod’s desire to “accompany” people in their marriage vocation. Unless we get a truckload of new priests with loads of time on their hands… : )

  • Carolyn

    “And what about required annual retreats for married couples, with childcare and wine and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a relaxing dinner at the end where they can talk about their insights and impressions from the day?”

    This please.

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