AUSTIN, Texas, MAY 28, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The writings of John Paul II have inspired a number of Church apostolates dedicated to strengthening the institution of marriage.
Once such apostolate is the Alexander House of Austin. ZENIT interviewed program co-founder Greg Alexander about the state of marriage today and how troubled marriages can be transformed.
Q: Why did you create the Alexander House and what is its mission?
Alexander: The Alexander House of Austin was created as a result of my wife Julie and me bouncing back from the brink of divorce and discovering the power of the sacrament of marriage. We felt called to create a vehicle to assist other couples in discovering the true joy and happiness that God intended for us in our marriages. We do this through marriage workshops, individual speaking engagements and marriage coaching.
The mission of the Alexander House of Austin is to provide programs to effectively prepare the engaged for marriage, enrich the good marriages and to help save the troubled marriages by helping them discover the beauty and truth of God s plan for marriage and chastity.
Q: What is the state of marriage today? Is it improving or declining?
Alexander: The state of marriage is not that great; the divorce rate is steadily approaching the 60% mark and the sad part is that the divorce rate within the Catholic Church is no different than that of society.
Marriage, in our opinion, continues to decline because we have moved so far away from God’s original intention for marriage. We have traded in God’s plan for something more [in] vogue, more modern or more politically correct. We are bombarded with messages from society that degrade the beauty of the marriage covenant.
Our society continues to preach a message that is all about self and totally contrary to the message of Christ. He said, “I came to serve not to be served,” but in our lives and especially in our marriages we are always looking to be served.
We always hear that couples feel that they are not in love anymore. The feelings for each other have gone away. Our problem is that we have been brought up to believe that love is a feeling. Instead, love is a decision.
Q: What are some of the main problems you encounter in your work with troubled marriages?
Alexander: Unfortunately, we see many marriages that are in great despair, and the pain stems from many causes. Two of the most common problems that we see evolve from sex and communication. It isn’t a coincidence that this is the case because sex and communication are so closely linked together.
The issues in 90% of the couples that we’ve coached in the past three years have stemmed from a sexual nature. A large percentage of those couples are either contracepting or one of the spouses has undergone a sterilization procedure.
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, stated in his “Theology of the Body” that the ultimate way that God communicates his life and love to mankind is through the conjugal union between husband and wife.
Therefore, if we are contracepting or sterilizing the very act that allows God to communicate his love and life to us as a couple, then how can we verbally communicate as husband and wife? This is our own hypothesis and not anything that the Church teaches specifically.
Q: How have Church teachings helped you develop your programs at the Alexander House? For instance, do you use the catechism?
Alexander: Church teachings are critical in all of the work that we do. In fact, it is the foundation for all of our programs. We feel that part of the problem in marriages today, as well as life as a whole, is that we have allowed ourselves to be duped by the many messages of society. God left us his Church as a means to keep us on path, but for some reason we deny those teachings and try to satisfy ourselves by other means.
If one can conceive of God as creator, then it is only logical to understand that he has all the answers, and many of those answers can be found in the “life-giving” teachings of the Catholic Church.
Q: How can troubled marriages be transformed? What are some practical methods you use?
Alexander: Transformation is possible through the power of the cross. In order to understand the true definition of love and relationships, all we have to do is look to Christ crucified. This is where the beams of sacrifice and forgiveness intersect. These are the two most important qualities that are needed for a holy marriage.
Transformation is needed in all marriages, but especially in troubled marriages. A lot of times couples have turned away from the will of God. Therefore, the solution is simple: Return to God! Sounds simple, but people just don’t know how to do this. It is also unfortunate that many have never been told about the will of God for their lives, not to mention their marriage.
The first hurdle for the couple to jump over is to have faith that their marriage can be restored through Christ. In the Bible we find that whenever Christ performed a miracle, the one thing in common to all of those in need of healing was the faith that Christ could heal them.
Next comes the need to educate the couple on God’s plan for marriage and chastity. Again, we utilize the various resources and teachings of the Church such as John Paul II’s “Familiaris Consortio,” his “Letter to Families” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In virtually all of the marriages that we’ve worked with, we find the need to teach a way to communicate and resolve conflict as well as foster healing and forgiveness, which we use as an opportunity to explain the sacrament of reconciliation. You would be amazed at the amount of couples we coach who haven’t been to the sacrament of reconciliation in 10, 15, even 20-plus years. When we invite them to go to confession, their lives and relationships begin to be transformed.
Last, but not least, we emphasize the importance of prayer in the marriage, not just individually but as a couple. It is in prayer that we create the conduit that allows God the opportunity to speak to us and guide us in his ways.
We as a people must come to the understanding that Christ desires to be intimately involved in our lives and our marriages in order for them to be successful.