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“Catholic Families, Become What You Are!”
U. S. A. | NEWS | NEWS
Mike Allen, Director of Lexington’s Family Life Ministries, on how the Catholic Church can become a “marriage-building” Church

Mike Allen
“We must promote and communicate and catechize a ‘Catholic vision of marriage,'" said Mike Allen, director of Family Life Ministries for the diocese of Lexington.

LEXINGTON, KY - “Catholic families, become what you are – live the truth!”

This challenge was issued by Mike Allen, Director of Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky.  He addressed those attending the National Marriage Conference on Aug. 7, 2009, at Lexington Catholic High School. 

“We must promote and communicate and catechize a ‘Catholic vision of marriage,’” he said in his talk entitled “Becoming a Marriage-Building Church.” “We need practical, tangible measures to address this challenge,” he said.

Marriage is the sacrament that embodies the love of Christ and his Church, and the effort to support and uphold this institution is “not just a little issue.”

Allen referenced the National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage from the United States College of Catholic Bishops (USCCB.)  The effort was a multi-year initiative that began in 2005. Its goal was to go beyond the debate on same sex marriage and look at the problems grown out of a weakening of an understanding of marriage.

The USCCB suggested that the opinions of many in our culture -- that marriage is a human construct that can be defined however we like, and the belief that what others do in this respect does not affect “me and my marriage” -- are very “simplistic views.” 

But our culture’s misunderstandings about the truth of marriage and its importance are definitely affecting others, especially children.

Allen referenced a recent Time Magazine article “Unfaithfully Yours” written by Caitlin Flanagan in the July 13, 2009 issue.  In the article, she stated: “On every single significant outcome related to short term well being and long term success, children from intact, two parent families outperform those from single parent households.  Longevity, drug abuse, school performance and dropout rates, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and incarceration – if you can measure it, a sociologist has; and in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others.”

Allen points out how Flanagan’s article supports the statement by Pope John Paul II that the future of humanity passes by way of the family. (Familiaris Consortio #86.)  He also quoted #65 from the same document: “It must be emphasized once more that the pastoral intervention of the Church in support of the family is a matter of urgency…”

Allen commented that we must be aware the phrase “troubled marriage” is a misnomer, since it implies this situation is unique.  “All marriages are troubled marriages, and need support,” he said.
Quoting Bishop of Savannah GA, Kevin Boland, Allen said, “This is a pastoral moment we should seize upon.”

Below are some of the pressing social concerns and some practical suggestions Allen posed.

Questions asked by the USCCB in their 2005 Initiative:
• Why has marriage rate declined more than 40% in the past 30 years, with Catholic rate declining just as rapidly?
• What are the consequences of young adults delaying marriage until older or indefinitely?
• Why have cohabitating relationships come to be seen as preparation for marriage or an alternative to marriage?
• What have decades of high divorce rates done to children, families, and society, and to a person’s ability to make a lifetime commitment in marriage or to any vocation?
• How do we preach and teach commitment, when 35% of those who were ever married have been divorced at least once?
• What beliefs and behaviors contribute to strong, happy marriages and which ones increase divorce?

Sobering statistics on the state of marriage in United States today:
• Married couples are now in the minority of households for the first time in US history.
• In 2005, the average age for marriage is 26 for women, and 27 for men, compared to 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960.
• Between 1960 and 2005, the number of unmarried couples living together increased 1000%.
• The CDC recently reported that 39.7% of US births are to unmarried women, compared to 5% in 1960.
• In a recent Pew Research Center survey, children were ranked as the 8th most important factor for a successful marriage by 41 percent of those responding, as opposed to 3rd in 1990.
Important social benefits to marriage as defined by the USCCB’s document, “Making a Case for Marriage. ”(
• Marriage is the “seedbed” for pro-social behavior that fosters social connections, civil and religious involvement and charitable giving.
• Marriage connects men and women to the larger community and encourages personal responsibility, family commitment, community voluntarism and social altruism.
• Marriage is the greatest social educator of children.  It is the institution that most effectively teaches the civic virtues of honesty, loyalty, trust, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility and respect for others.
• Children raised in intact families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors, have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married, are less likely to become pregnant or impregnate someone as a teenager, and are less likely to be raised in poverty.
• Marriage is a wealth generating institution.  The commitment of husband and wife fosters economic specialization and economies of scale (two can live as cheaply as one.) The link between divorce and unwed childbirth and child poverty, as well as the rising government expense for welfare programs, testify to the economic benefits of marriage.
A Catholic Vision of Marriage contrasted with the views of popular culture:
• Marriage is a divinely created institution, and not a human construct open to redefinition.
• The family is fundamental to society, not the individual.
• Sex and marriage are “social” and not private realities.
• Sexual intercourse is a marital act, rather than the belief that marriage is not needed to justify sexual intimacy.
• Marriage is intrinsically oriented toward having and raising children, and not primarily about personal fulfillment.
• Marriage is permanent and indissoluble.
• Love is an act of the will, not a feeling beyond human control.
How can the Church communicate this Catholic Vision of Marriage?
• We must encourage, enrich and support reasonably healthy marriages.
• We need a marriage ministry team to lead a marriage ministry.
• We need to have a special focus on Theology of the Body, as taught in age-appropriate ways across the entire lifespan.
• Marital couples should serve the Church together in various roles.
• We must offer opportunities for married couples to attend formation classes together. We must offer classes, workshops, and enrichment events on marriage.
• Couples should be connected to one another in like to like groups for mutual support
• Married couples should act as teachers to the young and young adults about the sacrament. Parish couples need to be trained as marriage coaches and mentors.
• The parish must provide marriage preparation instruction with trained sponsor couples or pre-Cana classes.
• We must remind and equip parents for their role as primary catechists.
• Homilies must regularly focus on the Church’s theology of marriage, and connect Scripture to marital troubles and triumphs.
• Anniversaries and engagements should be recognized at Masses.
• We must offer prayers of petition for marital concerns.
• We should use bulletins inserts to offer marriage insights.
• We should promote Marriage Encounter and other opportunities in the bulletin.
• We must minister to hurting marriages with parish support and resources.
• We must have an up to date referral list for couples seeking counseling.
• We should promote Retrouvaille in bulletin.

What married couples need most:
• Ongoing conversion
• Practical instruction
• Spiritual formation
• Inspiration
• Friendship and community
• Mentoring
• Involvement in service
• Encouragement
• Counseling and mediation
• Enrichment and support offered throughout all stages of marriage: early years, birth of first child, early mid-life, late mid-life, empty nest, retirement and elderly.



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