Editor’s note: The information in this article was provided by Megan Noll, diocesan director of marriage, family and youth ministry, to Bishop Peter Christensen.
The Diocese of Superior has reviewed and submitted the findings of a survey on marriage and family life that was part of the Vatican’s effort to prepare for an Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family which will be held in October.
Last December, the Holy See asked dioceses to examine the pastoral challenges of marriage and family life in the context of the new evangelization. As Archbishop Bruno Forte, special secretary and an advocate for the new evangelization, explained, “addressing the challenges of contemporary family life is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, which have in any case been clarified by the Magisterium,” rather it is time for the “entire Church [and its leaders] to listen to the problems and expectations of many families today, manifesting Her closeness and credibly proposing God’s mercy and the beauty of responding to His call.”
At Pope Francis’ request, a synod of bishops will convene to discuss how pastors can reach out to families in this time of social and spiritual crisis.
Parishes were surveyed worldwide as a prelude to the gathering; parishioners’ responses were collected and sent to the Vatican for review. In the Diocese of Superior, Megan Noll, director of marriage, family and youth ministry, compiled and condensed the data. Survey respondents included clergy, religious, married and single persons.
Homilies key to formation
Overall, respondents feel homilies are the primary way they get their theological and human formation from the church. The results showed that clergy relate biblical readings to some life issues, but seem timid to discuss areas relating to the family, sexual morality and the sanctity of marriage. For instance, the teachings on marriage and family found in documents of the Second Vatican Council, e.g., “Gaudium et spes,” and recent encyclicals and papal exhortations, e.g., “Familiaris consortio,” were unfamiliar to lay respondents and are not often mentioned in homilies.
To strengthen understanding of Catholic teachings, respondents suggested the church provide earlier formation about marriage and family life. Immediate marriage preparation was regarded as too little, too late.
However, many respondents noted the recent training and curriculum on the Theology of the Body for middle school and high school students has been a positive way to understand the beauty of marriage and family life. Others suggested the church be more intentional by using secular media as an outlet to share the Good News with a wider audience. They included internet, TV, radio and phone as outlets to evangelize more fully on marriage and family life.
Pastoral ministry inspired by marriage, family life
Many feel that church teachings on marriage and family are frequently perceived as old fashioned, rigid, or too difficult to practice. Catholics are looking for authentic witnesses of faith to validate the truth and beauty of love and marriage. The church’s pastoral ministry finds inspiration in the truth of marriage and family viewed as part of the plan of God, who created man and woman to be one flesh and fill the earth.
Christian marriage is a natural good and a supernatural gift. Endowed with its own effects, such as the goods and duties of the spouses, marriage can be a sacrament of healing.
At the same time, marriage is not immune from the effects of sin, which can cause deep wounds and resentment when disordered in any way. More efforts need to be made to assist singles, including those who are separated, divorced or widowed.
Pray, weekly Mass keys
Despite the growing difficulties to live marriage and family life, Christian families that are succeeding in transmitting the faith share some common characteristics. They pray together and learn various methods of prayer; they go to Mass together every week; spouses live out their vocation of husband/father or wife/mother; and they identify and talk through cultural challenges to faith by equipping their children to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Grandparents have also been instrumental in transmitting the faith to grandchildren.
This is one way Christian families continue to flourish. Most agree that the family is seen as the place where moral values are transmitted. Therefore, families should be recognized as the first evangelizers, Noll noted.
To help married and engaged couples embrace this responsibility — as well as their vows and their vocation — the diocese is hosting a couples retreat April 5 in Ladysmith. The daylong event features food, presentations and Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Christensen. In the coming year, the diocese plans to promote pastoral care of the family through a series of events, including a July 12 anniversary Mass.
For information about the couples retreat or programs related to marriage and family life, call Noll at 715-234-5044, ext. 4403.