From the Bishop - March 2017

The Joy of Family

With spring in the air, the media turns its attention to weddings. In this regard, I recently came across an article that spoke positively of the marriage workshop the author and his wife were required to take before their Catholic wedding.   The author spoke of the important things that they had learned at the workshop that had been helpful in their marriage.  Since this couple has been married 10 years, it seemed that there had been sufficient time to test out the learnings from the program. And, as such, the author would know of what he was speaking when he said that the pre-marital workshop “stands out as one of the most important wedding preparations” he and his wife did.   He also mentioned that his research had shown that such premarital counseling can lower the risk of divorce. It is, in sum, he concludes, a worthwhile undertaking (cf. Jon Gorey, Every couple can use these four lessons from pre-marriage counseling, Boston Globe, January 10, 2017).

The point of this article did not surprise me.  I have personally experienced the help couples can gain from marriage preparation.  Sometimes seen as a burden by those preparing for marriage, they come to realize that the presenters, couples themselves as well as the priest or deacon, have had some good experience, either being married themselves or in helping married couples. In the end, they find what this couple found.

The vast majority of people of the Church are married.  The Church has been living in marriage and family life for many centuries.  It has some experience in it.  Preparing people to enter into marriage is a part of the Church’s concern for the happiness of those who seek to marry. The sacrament of matrimony is a sacred and joyful reality in the Church.  In its life-giving love, it shows forth the creative love of the Trinity.

The Church, in fact, has a real concern for marriage and family life.  Family life is the domestic church.  In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and family, the Church itself is described as a “family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches” (AL 87). The Church, then, is good for the family as the family is good for the Church. In giving one example of the importance of family, the Holy Father speaks of how the relationship of brothers and sisters prepares our children for the experience of living with others. “We do not always think about this, but the family itself introduces fraternity into our world” (AL 194). Learning to live with brothers and sisters prepares us for living in society.

Last year, when Pope Francis first published The Joy of Love, I invited you to read it and reflect on what it teaches. Hopefully, you have started to do that.  The document is a very realistic one, speaking of the strengths and gifts of families but, also, discussing the contemporary challenges faced by families. With this issue of Harvest, we have decided to assist you in that reading.  We are going to take some time together over the next year or more to study this exhortation and help to apply it to concrete situations in the lives of people in our diocese. Together, we intend to discover again the Joy of the Family. Marriage and family life is being lived out beautifully by many people in our diocese.  We want to share these experiences even as we examine the rich teaching of the Church regarding marriage and family life. Experiences of others can help us to think about our own lives and what we might do to strengthen our own living out of marriage and family life.

We begin this month with an article on a couple who celebrate their 50th anniversary of marriage.  Steve and Kathy Beirne, however, have also spent a good part of those 50 years helping young couples to prepare for marriage, and married couples to find new life in their marriage. Living the joy of love, sharing it with others: it is the essence of Christian marriage.  Father Mark Nolette writes an article giving an overview of The Joy of Love.  It is a first in a series where he will guide us through a reading of the teaching of this rich document.  In it, Pope Francis tells us of the sacred and permanent character of marriage in the Church.  At the same time, he gives his simple suggestions of how marriage and family life might be lived out concretely in daily life.  Francis suggests, for example, some shared daily rituals which will enhance the closeness of young couples. “These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together, and sharing household chores.”

We hope that this series will be found helpful. Pope Francis reminds us that “no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love” (AL 325). With God’s blessing, we pray that our efforts, here in Harvest and in other activities in our parishes and diocese that lift up the beauty of marriage and family life, will strengthen our families as they grow in love.

Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
12th Bishop of Portland