Married couples told the spring assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the church needs to do a better job of evangelizing couples after they are married through the church.
“We as a church are not appropriately meeting the needs of couples in their marital journey, particularly in light of the serious challenges facing couples and families in today’s culture,” said Lucia Luzondo, who with her husband, Ricardo, spoke to the bishops Thursday.
The Luzondos were one of three couples to address the bishops on marriage and the family, discussing how the church can inspire confidence in lifelong marriage, how to accompany married couples, and the church’s teaching on marriage.
“We as a church are not focusing our efforts on ways to ensure that engaged couples who approach us to marry in our parishes actually become active members of our parish communities, thereby missing a crucial evangelization opportunity,” she said. “Moreover, once they are married, it seems that we often fail to provide them with sufficient accompaniment and appropriate resources to maintain a happy and joyful marriage.”
Alice and Jeff Heinzen, who have been married for 35 years and who were invited to speak at the October 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, encouraged the bishops to “celebrate the sacrament in every way that you can, asking God’s grace and mercy for the preservation of this wonderful sacrament and for the brave ones who are called to its mystery.”
“The way a topic is addressed sets a tone that either brings you in or drives you away. ... Assure us that taking the risk to go against the culture will bring us joy,” Jeff Heinzen said.
The Luzondos, who have been married for 15 years, said there is a “great need” for more extensive formation and training for seminarians as well as enrichment to priests on attending to the pastoral needs of couples.
“We understand the importance of the study of theology and philosophy, but we have noticed from our personal conversations with many priests and seminarians and from the many comments of couples that constantly approach them to seek their guidance and advice on how to face their marital challenges that many times, they don’t feel competent or comfortable doing so,” Ricardo Luzondo said. “And for these reasons, oftentimes they limit or avoid their pastoral care of couples or even offer spouses counseling and advice that is not in line with the many pastoral letters on marriage.”
Spouses and couples in conflict “reach out to their churches for help when they face marital conflict,” Ricardo Luzondo said, even if they have not been to church in a long time.
“This is a prime opportunity for evangelization,” he said.
Claire and John Grobowski, who have been married for 30 years, in their message to the bishops focused on the theology of the marriage teachings, noting, “It is impossible to have a strong marriage without Christian community.”
“The heart of how we grow in holiness in marriage is learning how to serve each other and ultimately to help each other get to heaven,” Claire Grobowski said.
[Pam Cohen is NCR Web editor. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]