Pope Francis reminds us of three words that are essential in every marriage: “please,” “thanks,” and “sorry.” Also, don’t let the day end without making peace. Married couples know these truths to be self-evident, but also acknowledge that some days saying those words requires more patience, perseverance and self-sacrifice than other days and always with God’s grace.
“And it is not necessary to call the United Nations to come to one’s home to make peace. A small gesture, a caress, a hello is sufficient! And until tomorrow — and tomorrow one begins again,” the pope said. “And this is life; it must be carried forward thus, carried forward with the courage of wanting to live it together” (Vatican City, April 2, 2014).
Living in a sacramental marriage requires courage because it is counter cultural in a society that often prizes self-interest, autonomy, competition, and feeds on animosity, alienation and suspicion rather than compromise, compassion and coexistence. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recognizing this reality and the need to respond, approved a National Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in June 2021.
“Called to the Joy of Love,” the title of the pastoral framework, is the theme for National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14), which highlights ways that the Church can accompany married couples and families to live out the call of love. Digital content to inspire and educate married couples and families is available through the USCCB’s social media channels: Twitter (@USCCB), Facebook (www.facebook.com/usccb) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/usccb).
The content includes a series of videos featuring how various ministries are fortifying married couples in the midst of challenges such as infertility, grief for the loss of a child, and the stressors of daily life. You can participate in live-streamed events such as recitation of the rosary for married and engaged couples and a conversation on what it means to care for a sick spouse. Find more information and resources at ForYourMarriage.org/celebrate-national-marriage-week/.
Another resource for married couples in our diocese who are struggling is Covenant of Love Marriage Mentors ministry. Marriage mentoring is a practical, couple-to-couple process with the goal of assisting couples in their efforts to strengthen their marriage. The effectiveness of the process depends on the commitment of both spouses to follow God’s plan for marriage and to put into place the practical tools provided.
We need this ministry more than ever as the pandemic drags into its third year and exacerbates existing stressors in marriages and families. Results from the 2018 diocesan Marriage & Family Initiatives Inventory showed that approximately 136 couples annually approach priests or deacons across the diocese concerning difficulties in their marriage — and that was two years before the pandemic. Furthermore, as one survey respondent said, “I rarely get someone coming to me with difficulties in their marriage … people tend to be more private now-a-days.”
We, clergy and lay people as a family of faith, should discern how to encourage couples to seek help when they need it. We should publicize the marriage mentor ministry in parish bulletins, social media and from the pulpit. “It is such a good program. You can give and receive a renewed sense of hope for marriage,” said Tracey Jacobsen of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. She and her husband, Deacon John Jacobsen, are Marriage Mentors who assisted a couple from a different parish. Visit the diocesan website to learn more about the program. (https://davenportdiocese.org/ff-covenant-of-love) or call (563) 888-4242.
Our diocese also will participate in the National Pastoral Framework process to assess what resources are available for married couples and families and to develop long-term implementation plans. The process begins with a Diocesan Marriage and Family Life Inventory to identify services and resources available on the diocesan level, parish level or not currently offered, said Marianne Agnoli, Marriage & Family Life coordinator for our diocese.
What it takes to be “Called to the Joy of Love” is a commitment to do the homework, as couples and as a faith community, which embraces the sacrament of marriage for the future of our Church. Our youths need to witness examples of sacramental marriage that inspire them to seek it. Married or not, all of us should offer support to married couples within our ability. This could be prayer, a listening heart, or offering respite, a meal or a ride to young families or older couples and families dealing with health challenges.
“Marriage is a precious sign, for ‘when a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is, as it were, ‘mirrored’ in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love,’” Pope Francis said. “Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us” (“The Joy of Love,” “Amoris Laetitia”). That is why we are “Called to the Joy of Love.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor