Love is in the air this week, not only because of Valentine’s Day, but also because we are in full swing of National Marriage Week. I can’t think of a better time to advocate for a topic of great passion for me and my staff.
In 2005, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops started a “National Pastoral Initiative For Marriage” to urge each parish to “become a community of hope and help for marriages and to join others in building a culture of marriage.” You can walk into many parishes around the country and see a banner, sign or brochure promoting marriage.
As a result of this effort, ForYourMarriage.org is available to all those who are seeking resources and support to strengthen their marriages. Not only does this site provide great content, but it also has a clean and inviting layout so it is easy to browse and find the tools you need. ForYourMarriage is a great platform that I hope will expand, so more Catholics can take advantage of it.
I am thrilled that the USCCB has highlighted this marriage initiative. I admit that I am not familiar with every aspect of the marriage initiative or how every parish is executing this plan. But I believe there is a missing piece that the initiative should explicitly include—helping unmarried Catholics “get to the altar.”
There is no question that there are more demands on the Catholic Church than ever before and you can see this in every administrative office and ministry function. Thus with so many priests, religious and staff stretched thin, it is always dicey when trying to advocate for a certain issue or program. Everything needs to be prioritized and not everyone will always agree with those priorities.
That is why I find what the bishops are trying to do with the marriage initiative so exciting. I believe the bishops’ plan is already structured to help unmarried people. With a few language additions, the bishops’ marriage initiative can be easily applied to single Catholics discerning marriage. How do we accomplish this? Let’s first look at the goals of the marriage initiative in the Catholic community:
Bishops’ Goal #1: “Demonstrate pastoral concern for strengthening marriage at all its stages and in its many circumstances, particularly through listening to the experience of the Christian faithful.”
Although it is important to help married couples have a deeper understanding of their vocation, we must also help those who desire the sacrament of marriage answer their call. Many single Catholics—although well intentioned—get in their own way when seeking a spouse. The fact is many single Catholics lack the proper skills for the courtship process due to poor dating approaches, flawed understanding of what to look for in a spouse, cultural influences, or even pain from past relationships (including previous marriages).
Bishops’ Goal #2: “Offer authoritative teaching and pastoral guidance about marriage as a sacrament, a vocation, and a human institution.”
While the terminology of this goal is applicable to a married couple, objectively, the teaching can apply to all different states of life. Married couples desire and need to grow in understanding of the sacrament of marriage they are currently living. Single people desire that same understanding, but they are anticipating the vocation of marriage. During this state of anticipation, unmarried people should vigorously live out their Christian life, rather than passively wait for marriage to happen.
Bishops’ Goal #3: “Connect authentic Catholic belief and teaching with the major issues present in marriage today.”
Many of the common issues that married couples struggle with—finances, sex, the idea that love and marriage entails daily self-sacrifice and must develop and endure at times independent of a warm feeling of “love”—are the same issues that unmarried Catholics will face when they find themselves in the sacrament of marriage. It is important that these realities are communicated to single Catholics not only during the Pre-cana experience, but also during the dating and discernment process.
At the parish and diocesan level, married couples, through mentoring, can help prepare their unmarried friends by portraying married life in a realistic light. God willing, there will be fewer difficulties and fewer broken marriages because single Catholics will have a better understanding of what marriage really is. Unfortunately most engaged couples are hearing these concepts for the first time at marriage prep. Ideally the lessons learned at Pre-Cana will serve to reinforce the understanding they already have of themselves and the relationship they have to their future spouse and to God
Bishops’ Goal #4: Promote more extensive and effective ministries to marriage, particularly in parishes.
Singles ministries tend to focus on “meet-up” activities, but I think parish and diocesan programs can better prepare single Catholics by focusing on activities that promote learning and spiritual development. The Church can better prepare Catholics for married life while also providing the indirect benefit of a natural and healthy environment for single to be introduced—and for friendships and romantic relationships to blossom.
Despite being the founder of an online service that introduces singles I’ve always believed that CatholicMatch.com should complement the actives that you are already doing. There are many ways for singles to meet: through churches, friends and other events. The more pathways God has to help us carry out His will—in this case, meeting our spouse—the more Catholics will answer His call faithfully.
Recently, Relevant Radio host Wendy Wiese commented that we spend so much time talking about the sacrament of marriage and not enough time helping people “get there.” It is extremely refreshing to hear someone on national radio not just “get it,” but actually choose to do something about it. Wendy decided to dedicate a regular spot on her show highlighting and discussing the issues faced by single Catholics. I hope her efforts will serve as an inspiration to others in the Catholic media to actively support and advance marriage and family life through the often overlooked view of the single Catholic.
Strengthening marriages is important not only for the benefit of marriage itself, but also for religious vocations and for our culture. The Bishops have laid a road map to supporting and strengthening marriages especially among Catholics. Why not aggressively apply this plan to the 27 million single Catholics in this country? Many are choosing not to pursue marriage, but many others believe marriage is their vocation and need the support during their discernment process.
I realize things can’t happen overnight. While I don’t have all the answers and some of my suggestions may seem unlikely to become reality, I think a serious discussion is long overdue.
I can tell you that CatholicMatch is here to do it’s part to assist the Bishops, parishes and diocese in any way we can. We will also continue to be a leading advocate for single Catholics in order to help this growing and important population.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day & National Marriage Week, let us pray that St. Raphael guides many couples to holy marriages and helps heal those that are suffering or broken.
You can follow Brian on Twitter: @brianbarcaro