By Becky Aubut
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — In the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Marriage is the “covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life.” According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Marriage is “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by Him with its own proper laws — God Himself is the Author of Marriage. The vocation to Marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.”
For Msgr. John J. Oliveira, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford, hearing the word Marriage evokes the image of “a man and woman in front of me, in the church, committing themselves for life,” he said. “I also realize more and more, and stress, that a wedding is a day and a Marriage is for life.
“I think people today who get married, it’s more ceremony than a long-lasting commitment, at times. They’re so focused on the moment of getting ready — bachelor and bachelorette showers, the flowers, music — that I think they lose that the wedding is a day and a Marriage is a lifetime, so they don’t necessarily see the import and value of the Sacrament that they receive; for some, not for all, it’s a just a gathering of friends and family.”
The Office of Faith Formation of the Diocese of Fall River is trying to counter that idea of minimalizing the Sacrament of Marriage by offering comprehensive Marriage ministry programs, including an upcoming Marriage Enrichment Day to be held October 25 and led by Doug and Deb Sousa, parishioners of St. John of God Parish in Somerset.
“When we hear the word ‘Marriage,’” said Deb, “we think back to the Creation story in Genesis when Adam first saw Eve and shouted with joy, ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!’ Marriage is the realization of that desire in each of us to be connected in one flesh to another person for the rest of our lives. It’s also connected to God’s Creation of the world because new life comes from the love of man and woman.”
The couple have been involved in Marriage ministry in the diocese for just over year, a volunteer effort inspired by their participation in a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend in March of last year.
“That really was the answer to our prayer to be involved in Marriage ministry,” said Doug. “It’s something we always talked about but never really had the opportunity or invitation to do so. Since our Marriage Encounter, we have been involved with that movement but we’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to Marriage prep and even re-Marriage prep in the diocese. We really found this to be a blessing for our Marriage.”
The definition of Marriage has been somewhat controversial of late, but regardless of what has been playing out in the media, the Sousas haven’t lost sight of what the Sacrament stands for: “There’s no doubt that our society’s idea of Marriage and how it is lived out has changed over the past 40 to 50 years,” said Deb. “We’re all painfully aware of the statistics including the prevalence of divorce and single-parent homes. However, at the same time, human nature hasn’t changed. We all desire love, a happy home and children to share it with.”
Doug added, “The Sacrament of Marriage hasn’t changed either. It still remains God’s privileged way of uniting a man and a woman in a lasting bond that welcomes and nurtures children. As a Sacrament, it empowers us to overcome all the obstacles to living married love fully in today’s world as God intended. That is the Good News we want to extend to others in today’s society. That is what we hope and pray to achieve through our involvement in Marriage ministry, and in particular, through this Marriage enrichment.”
Priests have had a front row seat to the evolution of Marriage. Sometimes a person’s background may influence his or her choice to make a commitment to another person before God, said Msgr. Oliveira, who also witnesses family and friends skip the church celebration altogether and simply attend the reception. For his part, Msgr. Oliveira focuses on the couple who is before him saying their vows, and emphasizes the act of celebrating the union of the couple.
“I tell them that they should always remember this day, to remember this day that they’re kneeling in front of the altar and kneeling in front of the crucifix in love and sacrifice, and they should always remember that; Jesus’ Sacrament is giving, and they don’t get married just to be happy only, but to ‘make happy,’” he said. “I think it’s sad that basically today the young people do not value Marriage, so many are living together without the benefit of the Sacrament of Marriage.”
Father Patrick Killilea, SS.CC., pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii, may not be celebrating a lot of weddings at the historic site of St. Damien’s leper colony, but he does acknowledge that “Marriage is a Sacred bond between man and woman, calling them to companionship and partnership in a loving relationship blessed by God while their intimate union enables them to participate in God’s plan for procreation,” he said, adding that those getting married today face more worries than Marriages from decades ago. “Marriage has evolved in the sense that mothers today find themselves in the workforce more than before, which places more of a burden on mothers and calls for increased responsibility on fathers. In many ways Marriages face more obstacles than before. May the Lord help all couples to live up to the promises of their Marriage.”
That’s why parishes stress that couples participate in Marriage prep programs before celebrating the Sacrament of Marriage to build a foundation for the couple, and then follow that up with attending Marriage ministry events to help each couple to continue to work out issues and create a solid partnership for the future.
“A Marriage prep program is necessary in helping couples bring to the surface some questions they might not otherwise have asked each other and in grasping the Sacramental meaning of Marriage,” said Deb. “But the real work of Marriage prep comes from good homes and, after the wedding day, from the community of faith at large in supporting them by offering opportunities to reflect on their Sacrament.”
“Marriage takes an awful lot of work,” said Msgr. Oliveira. “I feel so sad that the young people are not willing to make a commitment, and do not know the benefits of the Sacrament of Marriage and how God’s grace is there. Oftentimes people who are married don’t realize the gift of the Sacrament it brings to them, and the reason I feel so bad is that they often end up lonely and bitter, and very alienated. You see people who are married at these wedding anniversaries, and they’re just a great example. We seem to stress those who are divorced or living together, and don’t stress enough those who are living out the Sacrament day-by-day.”
Go to www.wwme.org to find the closest Worldwide Marriage Encounter being held in your area. The Office of Faith Formation in Fall River also has upcoming events celebrating Marriage.
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will celebrate a special Mass of Thanksgiving for couples celebrating a significant wedding anniversary, including one year, on October 18 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River. If you would like an invitation, please let your pastor know as soon as possible.
“Staying Engaged after ‘I Do,’” a Marriage Enrichment Day will be held on October 25 at St. John of God Parish in Somerset. Registration is free though they ask couples to register in advance as lunch is being provided; go to www.FallRiverFaithFormation.org or call Rose Mary Saraiva at the Office of Faith Formation at 508-678-2828, extension 27.