Note: this series is based on a talk given by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at a conference for Catholic marriage and family life ministers in July 2013. It is divided into five sections.
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Practical tools to promote and defend marriage: Marriage: Unique for a Reason
Doing your ministry well
The current challenges we face in regards to marriage, as evidenced by the June 2013 Supreme Court decisions on two marriage cases (regarding DOMA and Proposition 8), does not mean that you have to fundamentally shift gears in your ministry or – worse – start several new programs to address these issues! That’s not what we’re suggesting, although we are going to tell you about what resources the USCCB has to offer that you may find helpful.
Instead, we encourage you to think about how the ministry you are doing right now can more effectively combat the growing sense that gender is irrelevant to marriage, and all the faulty anthropology that goes with that.
For example, perhaps a marriage preparation program could more intentionally teach the engaged couples about the distinct gifts of men and women, mothers and fathers. It could help them see the uniqueness of their roles as husbands and wives. Or perhaps in programs for young adults or even high school students, you could integrate more teaching on chastity and Christian anthropology, especially the theology of the body. We know many of you have been doing this yet so much more needs to be done.
We know you are abundantly aware that the people you serve are not coming to you as a “blank slate,” as it were, and have already been heavily influenced by the ideas we spoke about earlier, that the Supreme Court put so clearly for us. Being “neutral” toward marriage redefinition is no longer an option; being proactive is. Defending and promoting marriage go hand in hand, and while not everyone is called to engage in public policy advocacy work, all of us can intentionally promote and defend the uniqueness of marriage and help people see and articulate alternative responses to the dominant cultural messages on marriage.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason
One specific resource that may be of help to you in your ministry is the bishops’ initiative Marriage: Unique for a Reason. I imagine that many of you are somewhat familiar with this resource already, and may have already used it in your ministries.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason has four themes: sexual difference and complementarity, the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers, marriage and the common good, and marriage and religious liberty. The order is important. The series starts with sexual difference because that is the most fundamental component – and the one most often overlooked – of marriage’s meaning. Starting with sexual difference helps to get at the roots of the issue and address the often unspoken assumptions. It also provides a solid anthropological grounding for the other three themes.
The second theme is about children and the need for fathers and mothers. This theme includes examining what fruitfulness is and why it’s at the heart of marriage. It considers the often overlooked justice issue in the marriage debate: justice for children, to have the best chance at having a mom and a dad. It also addresses the issues of infertility and single parents (see FAQs #3 and #5). The video for this theme is called “Made for Life.” It also comes with a Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet.
The third theme, marriage and the common good, relies heavily on Catholic Social Teaching about marriage and the family and their contribution to society (see FAQ #5). It also aims to reframe the debate about equality, rights, and so on, by reinforcing the inherent goodness of marriage for everyone in society (see FAQ #13). The video in this theme is forthcoming, but there are already FAQs available at Marriage Unique for a Reason.org.
The fourth and final theme, marriage and religious liberty, addresses the fact that redefining marriage in the law directly affects religious liberty (see FAQ #3). This video is also forthcoming, but FAQs are available.
And lastly, there is one video in Spanish – to be released later in 2013 – that incorporates all four themes in a longer, dramatic style. It’s called “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life) The final version will be subtitled in English, and the accompanying Study Guide will be bilingual, so these resources will be suitable for mixed-language audiences.
I already mentioned the website: Marriage: Unique for a Reason.org. On that site are many FAQs about marriage, a regularly updated blog, a library of Church teaching, and more. We are in the process of updating the website to be more user-friendly and easy to navigate.
How to use Marriage: Unique for a Reason
The audience that the bishops have in mind for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project is Catholic young adults. The bishops reasoned that young adults are most bombarded and most susceptible to faulty messages about marriage, but the materials could certainly be used for older audiences too. The materials do not assume much in the way of prior catechesis, but they are written for a Catholic audience, not a generic or secular one.
The end-goal of the resources is inculcating a renewed understanding and appreciation of what the Church teaches in regards to marriage, and a sense of its reasonableness. The hope is that learning the Church’s timeless teaching can build confidence to promote and defend it.
The videos themselves are meant as a kind of “artistic introduction” to the topic that can spark questions and comments from the viewers. The written guides that accompany the videos can help “train the trainers” to get the right content to be confident in facilitating and answering questions. For example, the comment in Made for Each Other – “It’s not just about biology…” could open the discussion to talking about sexual difference as greater than just anatomy, about the spousal meaning of the body, about the role of science, etc. Or the line in Made for Life – “My husband plays in a way I don’t” – could lead into talking about the unique gifts of fathers and mothers and how sexual difference is more than different “roles.”
There are many settings in which to implement the Marriage: Unique for a Reason resources. Here are a few:
Host a small-group event where you show one or more of the videos and lead a discussion.The videos also work well in a classroom setting, and are something that high school teachers or college professors could use with the same aim in mind. They can be used in RCIA as well.In the marriage preparation or enrichment setting, the videos could be used to help the participants gain a better understanding of their own marriage and how sexual difference matters to them. The leader might guide the discussion in that direction.The videos could also be helpful when you are training volunteers, for marriage prep or NFP, etc., to help them become more confident in what the Church teaches so that they can best help others.
Fundamentally, the videos and their companion resources are meant to “break open” the questions that need to be asked in the marriage debate: what is marriage? Why does sexual difference matter? What does marriage bring to society? And they aim to do that in a non-confrontational, invitational way.
Other ways you could use the Marriage: Unique for a Reason materials is to include one FAQ from the website in your newsletters or other communications. Or compile several for a simple bulletin insert or handout, and direct people to the website for more information.
The final “tip” we’d like to offer is something that we’ve learned over the past year in our work at the USCCB, and that is the importance of collaboration and the key importance of prayer. Specifically, we’ve helped to develop and promote the Bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty, which began in December 2012 and is ongoing. The bishops urge Catholics to pray and fast for the causes of building a culture of life and marriage, and gaining religious protections. In particular, they encourage praying a daily rosary, attending adoration monthly, fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, and there are special petitions that can be read at mass, in English and in Spanish. The second annual Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 – July 4, 2013) was the 5th component of the Call to Prayer.
We’ve collaborated with several offices in furthering the Call to Prayer, particularly the pro-life office and religious liberty office. This was important not just because it shared the workload, but because these issues are tied together. Marriage is the “sanctuary of life,” and a pro-life society is a strong marriage society and vice versa. And as we’ve already talked about, marriage and religious liberty are strongly linked together.
We encourage you to reach out to others in your diocese or region who are doing pro-life or religious liberty work and find ways to collaborate together. There is strength in numbers, and it’s so important, for example, to encourage pro-life folks to promote and defend marriage, and vice versa. (This would include your State Catholic Conference, particularly with regard to policy issues and aiding in communicating it to the faithful.) One idea is to host a seminar with the relevant offices – marriage and family life, pro-life, State Catholic Conference, etc. – on how catechesis and policy/advocacy work together.
The Call to Prayer also witnesses to the fact that prayer is key. Fundamentally, the battle is spiritual, and it’s a battle for souls. Prayer and fasting are essential, not optional. That is the vision behind the Call to Prayer – that we do what we can, but it is God who changes hearts and minds. We encourage you to check out the Call to Prayer website: www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty. There you can read about the five ways to participate and can sign up to receive weekly reminders to fast on Fridays, along with a different intention and reflection each week. There are also web banners to put up on your own website.
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Please visit www.marriageuniqueforareason.org for more resources on promoting and defending marriage, including videos, study guides, FAQs, and more. This site is a project of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. For more information, please email [email protected]