by Deacon Roger Carr-Jones
Marriage and Family Life Coordinator
The creation of an Alliance of Catholic Marriage Organisations is a timely reminder that we are at our best when we work in collaboration with one another. In adopting a mutually beneficial approach to nurturing and supporting marriage, each of these groups, in their different ways, will be better able to support the Church in its promotion of healthy and life-giving marriages. This is a good example for all of us in parish life and especially those who give of their time and talents in the marriage and family life ministry to follow.
Working together, in the service of the Lord, is a good counter to those of whom we have read of in the gospels, who, rather than being open to Jesus, spent too much time muttering about what was wrong, or what they did not like. It is always easier to identify what we feel is wrong rather than to respond by prayerfully spending time working for a better and hope-filled outcome. Therefore, St Paul’s words from the Letter to the Philippians should be on our lips as we work in new ways to serve the Lord in this ministry: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil 4:6).
In his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio St John Paul II helpfully reminds us that marriage is ‘one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time’ (FC20), and then goes further by highlighting that esteeming healthy marriages and families is essential in order that the parallel call of others to celibacy/virginity is also to have its true meaning. For John Paul II, when marriage and ‘human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the kingdom of heaven loses its meaning’ (FC16). This means that sustaining the family of the parish is vital to the health of the Church and key to encouraging marriage and in sustaining those who are married throughout their life-long journey.
As we move into another grace-filled year, we have an opportunity to create new alliances with the broad range of marriage providers in this diocese and with our sister parishes to support and promote actively the God-given nature of marriage. Of course, working together will sometimes require us to let go of our own prejudices or preferences, so that we achieve the best outcome for all. If we are not certain how to do so, then St John XXIII gives us a good pointer: ‘See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.’
If we are passionate about the family and the beauty and joy of marriage, then we can learn from this new Catholic Alliance. For it is only when we work together that we will find innovative solutions to meet the needs of this age. As those involved in advertising will tell us, no matter how good the product you always need to advertise it! Our understanding of the richness and depth of marriage has grown in the years following the Great Council.
In Sacrosanctum Concilium we are reminded of the necessity of the faith commitment in that union (SC59). This aspect is drawn out well by Richard McBrien in Catholicism where he writes: ‘Marriage is more than a ceremony: it is an act of worship, an expression of faith, a sign of the Church’s unity, a mode of Christ’s presence.’ Marriage is more than an act between two baptised Christians; it is a union between faithful Christians.
Opening up this spiritual truth for those of us who are married and for those seeking to marry in the Church will be transformative. We need to be bold in proclaiming this.
So, rather than being content with couples seeking us out to get married, perhaps now is the time for us to venture outside our comfort zone, to reach out to others and offer them the Good News, and so evangelise, both baptised and unbaptised. One way may be to hold a morning exploration of marriage with the ‘dating-not-yet-committed’ and to assess how, as a parish, we support marriage and the family at all points.
The Catholic Alliance is looking to explore how best to reflect more accurately that marriage is a journey, and, as we know with any journey, especially that of faith, being married will also involve a mixture of joy, sorrow and challenge. What we now need to do better is to help our couples to say, like St Paul, despite challenges ‘Rejoice in the Lord always again I will say, Rejoice.’
For further details about the alliance, visit rcdow.org.uk/diocese/marriage-and-family-life.