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Events bring special focus to importance of marriage and family life in the world

During his time serving as our holy father, Pope Francis has given special attention to the central importance of married life and love in the church and in the world. He has spoken powerfully of the “joy of love” experienced in marriage and family life in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” At the same time, he highlights the sad truth that many do not experience peace and joy in their own families.

As we reflect together in the church about how to receive and understand all that the Holy Father’s teaching offers us, I draw your attention to two upcoming observances that can help us honor the vocation of marriage and the life of the family that flows from it.

National Marriage Week is celebrated Feb. 7-14. In its eighth year, this is a collaborative effort by faith communities, business, media, education and non-profit groups to speak in our culture about the meaning and importance of marriage. It promotes the vocation of marriage as a benefit to husbands and wives, as well as recalling the benefit to society of the stable homes where children are loved and formed. Information and resources are available at nationalmarriageweekusa.org.

Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a movement that has involved many Catholic couples, is inviting us to observe Sunday, Feb. 12, as World Marriage Day. This is the 35th year for this celebration, and you can find resources at wmd.wwme.org.

For many years, the bishops of the United States have made support for Christian marriage one of our central pastoral priorities. This should not be surprising, because we come to understand the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church when we understand the relationship of husband and wife in marriage. The Lord has raised the natural institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament for the salvation of the spouses and for the good of the whole community of believers.

The church’s pastors also wish to make Christian marriage a pastoral priority because we see the forces that undermine this vocation that God himself has designed. Efforts to redefine marriage in custom and in law disregard the divine plan for marriage and attempt to remake it according to human desires. It is a modern day example of pushing back against the first commandment, a failure to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in every aspect of life.

We are all aware, too, of the pressures of modern society and of human weakness that work to undermine happy, healthy marriages, despite the spouses’ best intentions. A happy, stable marriage, for the sake of the spouses and their children, should be the concern of all of us in the community. While we cannot intrude rudely into the lives of others, we can be conscientious about praying, speaking and acting in ways that show respect and support for our married friends.

Sometimes, we need help in articulating and demonstrating this support for the vocation of marriage. Along with the resources mentioned above, you can go to the website of the U.S. bishops (usccb.org) to find video and print presentations of the rich Catholic understanding of marriage.  Our own archdiocesan Center for Family Life Formation offers materials and programs in English and Spanish, which you can access via their website (family.archomaha.org/) or by calling them direct (402-551-9003).

It is the responsibility of all of us in the church to prepare children and young adults for the vocation of marriage, in formal and informal ways. The Lord himself will then reveal to them whether this is his plan for them. We should not hesitate to ask them to think and pray about a possible vocation to marriage, just as we should encourage them to think and pray about a possible vocation to religious life or priesthood.

Whether young persons will discern a call to any of these vocations, he or she will be called by the Lord to a life of mature discipleship. A wholehearted response to the Lord’s call to marriage can only be possible if one has been given the fullest appreciation possible for this vocation.

As they witness marriages in the church, our priests and deacons are making use of a new translation of the marriage ceremony. The marriage ritual expresses in prayer and action age-old truths about Christian marriage. I will be praying for all who are called to this sacramental vocation and I invite you to join me in the words of the final blessing of the celebration of matrimony:

    May God the eternal Father
    keep you of one heart in love for one another,
    that the peace of Christ may dwell in you
    and abide always in your home.

    May you be blessed in your children,
    have solace in your friends    
    and enjoy true peace with everyone.

    May you be witnesses in the world to God’s charity,
    so that the afflicted and needy who have known your kindness
    may one day receive you thankfully
    into the eternal dwelling of God.
                                                                                     Amen.

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