COLORADO SPRINGS. The Diocese of Colorado Springs’ Office of Marriage and Family Life is implementing a new program to help parishes keep young married couples connected to parish life.
Bishop Michael Sheridan has asked that the pastor of each parish in the diocese appoint a Family Life Coordinator by the end of 2018. Family Life Coordinators will be responsible for implementing the diocese’s marriage preparation requirements, coordinating activities related to parenting and family enrichment, connecting couples with information and resources related to natural family planning and infertility, working with couples petitioning for declarations of nullity and raising awareness of resources for combatting pornography.
“While thorough preparation for marriage is essential for a successful marriage, support for couples — especially in the first years of marriage — is equally important. It is our hope that, with the help of a Marriage and Family Life Coordinator in every parish, married couples will receive the ongoing formation in married life that they need,” Bishop Sheridan said.
The goal is to help pastors, parish staff and parishioners to form relationships with couples while they are engaged that will last long after the wedding day, said Christian Meert, who directs the Office of Marriage and Family Life with his wife Christine. The Meerts also founded Agape Catholic Ministries, which provides marriage preparation programs online and through live classes.
“It is important for engaged couples to feel welcomed, valued and important, which is essential if they are to stay in touch with the parish,” Meert said. “A great way would be to involve parishioners in praying for a specific engaged couple. We offer special prayer cards for that. The parish could let the engaged couple know who is praying for them and their future marriage.”
“Probably the most important thing that needs to happen when a couple comes to church asking for the sacrament of marriage is excitement and congratulations, and continued enthusiasm for their marriage throughout the engagement,” said Justin Watson, assistant to Agape Catholic Ministries.
“So often, churches ask questions that scare away the engaged couple. The first question that is often asked is, ‘Are you a registered parishioner?’ The great fear is that church pews may be empty in the decades to come, but if we are welcoming and congratulatory to engaged and newly-married couples, they won’t be as likely to leave the church,” he said.
At the same time, parishes must deal with the fact that many engaged couples already cohabit and don’t necessarily know what the Catholic Church teaches in regards to marriage and sexuality, said Christian Meert.
“Pre-marital sex is now widespread and cohabitation is almost considered as the norm. Watching pornography is sometimes considered a social activity, along with smoking marijuana, drinking and using drugs. Contraception is considered a no-brainer,” he said. “The beautiful part is that when engaged couples are presented with the unchanging truth, they love it and want to make it their own. We explain that to have a valid sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church, couples have to agree on three important ‘goods and requirements’ as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: unity and indissolubility of marriage, fidelity of conjugal love and openness to children.” Nearly 80 percent of couples say they plan to abstain from sexual relations until their wedding after the completing Catholic Marriage Prep program, he said.
“(When couples live together before marriage), the relationship is not founded on self-giving love and sacrifice,” said Christine Meert. “They then have to learn the hard way that nobody can make them happy, that happiness is a choice and is actually found in self-giving. Having children is also a big test for these couples. When a child arrives, it completely changes their lives. Sacrifice and self-giving love will need to be learned the hard way, testing the marriage harshly sometimes.”
If a couple already has strong connections with their parish, it’s more likely they will turn to them for support when they experience problems in their marriages, she said.
“It’s easier if the couples know their priests and deacons and other parishioners,” she said. “It’s important to have a support group available at the parish, a small church community. They may be found in some ministries like That Man is You, Covenant of Love Date Nights, Bible study groups, prayer groups, Cursillo, Knights of Columbus, and so many other great organizations.”
A parish family life coordinator can also help to connect couples with ministries such as Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille, Christine Meert said. And if abortion has been a part of either spouse’s past, it is important to seek help through Project Rachel or a similar program, she said.
“Abortion is among the many circumstances that can undermine a couple deeply and for the long term,” she said.
Anyone who is interested in becoming a family life coordinator should contact their pastor. For more information on the position, contact Justin Watson at email@example.com or 719-930-4575; or Christian Meert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-900-8229.
Longest Married Couple Project
One initiative designed to support marriage and family life is Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s annual Longest Married Couple Project. Each year, couples are nominated, and winners are named for each state. To nominate a couple, send their name, wedding date and where they currently reside, as well as the phone number or email address of the person making the nomination to email@example.com or Deb and Troy Van Caster, P.O. Box 7721, Colorado Springs, 80933. Nominations must be received by midnight on Jan. 10, 2018.