Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Married couples inspire, enrich the Church by their witness
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Jan. 15, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
During the recent restructuring of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the discussion led to a more focused approach to the work of the Church in our country. The focus of one of the bishopsí future ministry goals is marriage and family life. Marriage is considered by the Church to be an extremely important part of the fabric of society.
For Catholics, the sacrament of marriage points to this valuable sign of a man and woman who dedicate their lives to each other as husband and wife, mother and father. In recent years, the Church has placed increasing emphasis on thorough preparation for marriage. Most if not all dioceses require that a couple contemplating marriage participate in a preparation program. A couple is to contact their parish at least six months ahead of time to provide ample time for the necessary preparation and arrangements.
Itís a sad fact that about half of all marriages in our country fail. The Church is attempting to assist couples in preparing together well for this demanding life journey, so that the relationship can be permanent and life-giving. No one should have any doubt that the marriage relationship is indeed daunting and challenging. It is also grace-filled, and though oftentimes a bit messy and painful, it is always hopeful. The warm fuzzies of courtship donít last very long in marriage unless the couple is grounded in the reality of the decision to love, to sacrifice, to be vulnerable to failure and disappointment, all within a God-centered relationship.
More recently I have noticed articles that are critical of the Church and how it approaches married life. Many suggest that we need to do more to support married couples. As with preparation for marriage, when peer ministry by married couples assists those who are preparing for marriage, so the same is true as married couples sort out their lives with the assistance of those who have had similar experiences.
For over 25 years I have been involved as a team priest for World Wide Marriage Encounter (WWME). This movement is a peer-to-peer ministry of married couples that has spread all over the world. The WWME weekend experience attempts to assist married couples, helping them appreciate their own goodness, improve communication skills, and be realistic about married life with its challenges, hopes, and dreams.
For marriage relationships that are under considerable stress, perhaps even in danger of breaking up, there is another program, the Retrouvaille Weekend. This tool is also a peer-to-peer ministry, with a priest present. Again and again, I have witnessed married lives transformed and changed through this ministry.
I feel humbled as I listen to couples share their journeys of faith and love. In one way or another, those journeys involve the cross, but they also include profound joy and loving commitment. Sometimes, painfully, the reality has to be accepted that a community of life has not developed between the couple and the potentially life-giving bond has turned into a destructive relationship that is dehumanizing and in no way models what a sacramental relationship should be.
We all need to be grateful to married couples who live their lives in a sacramental way. Their holiness of life inspires me, and it enriches our Church and our society. I encourage couples to work at their relationships, just as I must continuously work at my priesthood, trying to improve, trying every day to answer faithfully Godís call to fullness of life. May we as Church continue to look for ways of being even more supportive and affirming of marriage in our Church and in our society.