Shattered Dreams

By Regina Staloch

Editor’s Note: Family ministers exert great effort to support marriage and save couples from the pain of divorce. Regretfully, neither we, nor the couples we serve, are perfect and thus we are not always successful. Because of this, family ministers are also about supporting men and women who experience divorce. It is in this spirit that we offer an article on divorce ministry.

Since 1974, Catholic Divorce Ministry of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics (CDM/NACSDC) has worked to create a network of support for families experiencing the trauma of the loss of the marital relationship by addressing the religious, emotional, and parenting issues. We strive to make Christ’s abundant love known so all might experience compassion, spiritual and emotional recovery, healing, reconciliation and new life. Our primary vehicle for this is peer support groups with trained facilitators who themselves have experienced the pain and grief of divorce. The facilitators understand the consequences and ripple effects on families from the inside.

Losing your best friend creates a major life crisis. When a couple marries, neither is planning a divorce. In time, however, many marriages are on the rocks and sometimes only one partner is aware of the dissatisfaction.

Communication skills are lacking when unhappiness is self contained. No one can read a mind. The attitude that “good Catholics don’t get divorced” exists in parishes. Divorce is not always a mutually agreed upon decision. It takes two to marry but only one to file for a civil divorce. The whole family needs healing as the children’s dreams are also broken.

The separation process, whether mutually agreed upon or not, creates a great struggle with the commitment “until death do us part.”

Can I require my partner to seek marriage counseling or talk with our pastor? No. Imagine the shock when a person learns a spouse can obtain a civil divorce by filing paperwork at the local court house stating irreconcilable differences, live apart for three months, and, if the wife is not pregnant, the sheriff will deliver divorce papers to be signed in court before a judge.

Retrouvaille and The Third Option are helpful to save marriages when both are willing participants. In fact, couples should make sure attending such a program is on their “required to do” list before finalizing a divorce. If divorce becomes unavoidable, however, and a person hopes to one day marry again, marriage enrichment and relationship skills training are just as important before entering into a serious new relationship.

Although painful, it is crucial that divorcing women and men walk through – not jump over – their divorce grief in order to obtain the life giving spirit meant for each of us. Some have found help by staying close to Jesus through Eucharistic Adoration, others get professional counseling and/or medication when necessary, still others begin and end each day with prayer while adding The Serenity Prayer hourly.

Taking off the wedding ring does not make one single again in society, in the Catholic Church, or in God’s eyes. Civil divorce is the state’s method to separate the marriage partnership legally. This civil divorce does not exclude Catholics from receiving the sacraments.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI rescinded the excommunication that had been in effect if a person remarried without first receiving an annulment. In Catholic Church law, the couple is still married unless an ecclesiastical decree of nullity (an annulment) is granted by the Diocesan Tribunal.

Completing the annulment questionnaire can be a healing experience when done with pastoral guidance. The questions go back to the wedding day to discover if full disclosure and consent had been available to each person making the covenant with each other before God and a priest or deacon. The questions surface unresolved hurts stuffed deep within the heart. Uncontrollable tears may flow again as Jesus journeys with us to share our burden and show us the way through shattered dreams.

Even if divorced people never plan to re-marry, CDM strongly encourages divorced Catholics to seek an annulment to feel God’s mercy, healing grace, peace, joy, forgiveness and closure. It’s necessary to drop the baggage from the previous marriage in order not to repeat past mistakes. Nobody wants a second marriage to fail due to incomplete homework.

CDM dedicates itself to serve as a major resource to dioceses and parish leaders for publications and facilitator training. NACFLM members are welcome to join CDM to support this vital ministry of healing. To become a member and to review resources see Every human relationship is an eternal responsibility.

Regina Staloch is president of Catholic Divorce Ministry and lives in Arnold, Mo.


The Stepfamily Journey – Not for Wimps

By Elizabeth Einstein, MA/LMFT

Smart hikers prepare well for their adventures. With a good trail map and sturdy equipment, they are ready for most mishaps that might occur. Hard hiking is not for wimps, so adults moving toward remarriage need the wisdom to prepare well for one of the toughest journeys they may ever take. Such an advance commitment will pay great rewards once you have solid skills and information to build a successful stepfamily in which children and adults can continue to heal and grow.

Like viewing a gorgeous mountain range from afar with high hopes of scaling the peaks, living in a stepfamily might appear at first look to be an interesting and exciting journey. Uninformed and unhealed divorced adults may delude themselves that with merely a new partner, marriage will be much easier this time.

That delusion gets many new stepfamilies in trouble fast – as evidenced by the nearly 60 percent remarriage divorce rate. While not all remarriages include children who can bring great challenges, most do.

Adults who plan to succeed in their stepfamily journey should prepare just as rigorously as experienced mountain hikers. Dreams, high hopes, and crossed fingers alone won’t create successful stepfamily living. Thankfully, you now have resources that weren’t available to me as I dealt with stepfamily issues personally through two marriages and divorces. A second divorce for our children had a huge negative impact on all of them as they tried to move into adulthood with serious loyalty conflicts and their own “emotional baggage.” Today there are books, workshops, and educational programs to provide the tools stepfamilies need to succeed. To not use all that’s available today is like attempting to climb a serious mountain wearing a daypack and sneakers. It’s foolhardy– and dangerous!


1. Fantasy – Like hikers with overweight backpacks, many adults enter the remarriage trailhead in the fantasy stage. They are over-loaded with unrealistic expectations, unresolved grief, and a lack of knowledge of what’s ahead, believing love can conquer all. When adults join up before they have cleared up relationships with their former spouses and resolved their own guilt and grief about how death or divorce has changed their children’s lives forever, they deny the challenges ahead.

2. Confusion about rules – Once the wedding happens, the second stage quickly occurs. There is confusion about rules, roles, and disciplining children. The couple often avoids discussions about what to do about absentee parents, and denial deepens. Communication that focuses on compromise and negotiation becomes essential, and it is vital to begin this process before serious wedding planning begins. Children who try to move between two households while their parents and stepparents continue to hash out their problems often struggle with loyalty conflicts.

3. Crisis – It doesn’t take long for many stepfamilies to fall into the third stage – crisis – which is when many remarriages end. It is important to understand, instead, that crisis is part of normal stepfamily development rather than a signal for quitting time. Instead of fearing it, you can use the crisis time to examine what’s wrong and fix it. Before marriage, if you are actively engaged in planning ahead and holding family discussions, you will probably experience and resolve major issues. This will help to prevent at least some of the crises from happening after the wedding.

4. Stability- After getting support, guidance, and new tools, stepfamilies(and potential stepfamilies) can use the lessons they learned from the crisis to make the necessary changes to move into the next stage of stability. The family finally comes together with a new understanding and a determined game plan to succeed. Even when obstacles pop up, or setbacks occur, fear of failure no longer reigns, and adults come to know they can make it to the summit. The stability gained during this part of stepfamily development strengthens everyone’s sense of security. While it is unrealistic that remarrying couples will fully reach this stage of stability prior to marriage, the goal is to establish it as much as possible.

5. Commitment – The final stage of development is commitment, signaling the stepfamily is truly committed to success. T o move through these stages after marriage takes a long time – research shows anywhere from four to seven years. This is a lot longer than most people realize; or want to believe. If a couple uses a trail map, tools, and understands how to do it safely and successfully before remarriage, the transition time after marriage should be somewhat shorter.

Having the wisdom to reach out for help is a strength of a strong family. My wish is for people to open their eyes wide to prevent stepping unconsciously onto the challenging path of remarriage. Couples need to prepare well for the stepfamily journey by healing their former relationships and improving skills that are weak – especially communication and parenting skills. Take time to examine your part in an ended marriage. Couples who can identify past mistakes will be more likely to avoid repeating them.

The stepfamily journey can be an exciting and fulfilling adventure. Indeed, many strengths come from a solid remarriage. Research shows that a new, happy family life can even ameliorate some of the negative effects of divorce for children. It provides new role models about skills, expertise, values, or a philosophy of life. This journey is best traveled by strong, healthy adults who also are prepared and are committed to an ongoing process of working the tasks the trail map provides. Stepfamily living can be rewarding and successful, but it is definitely not for wimps!

Elizabeth Einstein is a pioneer in working with remarried families and a leader in the field of stepfamily education. She is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Ithaca, NY and author of several books.

Permission to reprint granted by Marriage Transformation LLC for the publication of this edited article in Family Perspectives Journal of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers.

Resources for Military Families

By Willam Urbine

Armed with Faith for military personnel and their families. Edited by Jesuit Father Daniel R. Sweeney, chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, it contains several military-specific prayers as well as an assortment of general Catholic prayers, hymns, and devotions. Click on the title for a free PDF copy.

Separated by Duty, United in Love: A Guide to Long- Distance Relationships for Military Couples  by ShellieVanderoorde is an eye opener. The book gives a comprehensivereview of what to expect when dealing with deployments,separation, and the reuniting of couples andfamilies. There is also a well developed and valuable listof resources on her website,

Military Widow: A Survival Guide by Steen & Asaro (Naval Institute Press, 2006) delivers extraordinary insight and practical advice for widows and their families, military and civilian professionals, and all caring individuals. Joanne Steen has trained over 6000 military and civilian personnel on the best ways to respond to the families of America’s fallen warriors. Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT, FCNM is an advanced practice psychiatric nurse, who is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying, and Bereavement.

Helping Your Kids Connect: 250 Activities to Help Your Children Stay Connected to Their Long Distance Mom or Dad developed by the National Institute for BuildingLong Distance Relationships to provide guidance for militaryfamilies.

The Treasure of Staying Connected for Military Couples  by Janel Lange (Serviam Publishing, 2004). ) is a little volume of reflections on military life and one’s relationship with God and spouse. It’s a great gift for a couple where one or both is deployed. Janel and her husband Bob, a retired Navy Commander, have been presenting marriage preparation and enrichment programs for many years.


Additional Resources for Military Spouses – Recommendations by Kati Novak, a military wife

• Today’s Military Wife by Lydia Sloan Cline. This guide to everything military breaks down all the aspects of military life, from health care benefits to housing and moving for all branches of the military.

• Married to the Military by Meredith Leyva, This book is also a guide to the military lifestyle but more generic. It focuses on wives but also on female service members.

• The Air Force Wife Handbook by Ann Crossley and Carol A. Keller, This guide is specific to the Air Force. All the branches have some variation of this book that specifically outlines the lifestyle of that branch.

• Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul,  The Chicken Soup books are great to read when you’re having a rough time adjusting to military life – which is fairly common.

Military Pocket Guides. It’s a series of small pocket-sized books that cover pretty much everything, eg. The  Military Spouse’s Employment Pocket Guide and the Military Spouse’s Map Through the Maze. These are quick, readily accessible guides to help families through this big life-changing adjustment.

Learn from Military Chaplains

 by John Van Epp

It all began around ten years ago when Chaplain Colonel Bloomstrom from the Chief of Chaplains office approached my booth at a conference and ordered 50 of my relationship courses for chaplains to teach. Since that first encounter, I have had the incredible honor of personally training over 3,000 chaplains in my courses by traveling to most of the Army bases across this country and overseas. This has been a journey of inspiration as I have developed many close relationships with these chaplains and their families, listened to their stories of sacrifice, dedication, and love for fellow soldiers, and watched them care for the spiritual, personal, and relational needs of others. Let me take this opportunity to brag about them.

A typical chaplain’s closet is filled with many hats.

• The administrative hats of organizing activities, retreats and services; writing contracts, reports, and budgets; delegating to and managing their assistants and subordinates; and working under the authority of constantly changing superiors.

• The educational hats of taking annual classes, gaining certifications; teaching classes and conducting retreats related to spirituality, faith, marriage, child-rearing, dating and mate-choice; preparing devotionals and sermons, and running worship centers and services.

• The military hats of daily PT (physical training), deployments, PCS (Permanent Change of Station) every two or three years, promotions, battle wounds and deaths (chaplains conduct most of the services and family care for those who have lost their lives), and working within the chain of command.

• Finally, there is the counseling hat which deals with marriage preparation, helping service men and women with countless personal and marital struggles, healing broken trust, posttraumatic stress, and dealing with loss. Even this list hardly does credit for this most noble profession.

But what has moved me much more than their expansive work load is their expansive hearts. I have yet to meet a chaplain who was not driven by love, compassion, and sacrifice. I am sure there must be some out there who have lost this vision, but they must be few and far between because I have only come across those who genuinely care about those they serve.

One of my common experiences is to hear chaplains talk about conducting funeral services for those who lost their lives in battle, and the heart-wrenching task of caring for their spouses and families. Several months ago, I was teaching my programs to new chaplains in the Basic Course at Fort Jackson. An announcement was made that a convoy in Iraq had been attacked and among those killed was an Army Chaplain – the first lost in this war. There was an immediate hush as they interrupted our class to pray for the families involved. At lunch I spoke with numerous staff about this loss including the director of the basic course, and each one showed deep emotion as their eyes welled-up with tears.

On many other occasions I have had similar experiences with other chaplains. It usually would begin with a chaplain looking at me and saying something like, “We lost six from the 101st last week.” This comment would be followed by a long, silent stare as he fought back his emotions. I would have thought that “compassion fatigue” would have set in years earlier for some of these veteran chaplains; but for most, their hearts remain soft and receptive to the pain of those to whom they minister.

I am most familiar, though, with the Strong Bonds Program that the Army Chaplaincy initiated some ten years ago. Their mission is “to provide programs in weekend retreat settings that will strengthen relationships in marriage, family, and dating (for singles).” The Chief of Chaplains established the Strong Bonds Program and provided funding in order to improve the quality of family relationships among their soldiers.

Chaplains become trained and certified in a number of relationship courses and then take single soldiers, married couples, or entire families on weekend retreats and teach them one of these programs over the course of three days. The Strong Bonds budget provides the funding for the course materials, the lodging, any necessary childcare, and the transportation. The weekend is balanced between class time and free time for relaxing, recharging, and reflecting on what they learn.

I have listened to hundreds of chaplains as they excitedly described these retreats and the positive impact they have had on dating soldiers, married couples, and families. The common denominator between these many stories has not been the specific programs taught, or the locations of the retreats, or even the activities of the weekend.

Rather, it has been the love of the chaplains for the well-being of the soldiers and their families under their care. Chaplains long to see better dating practices, stronger marriages, and happier families and have established a new “social structure” in their military culture to facilitate preventative programs in relationship education. Our society at large can learn much from this micro-society for there is a tremendous need to create social structures where individuals and couples take relationship courses long before the need for remedial intervention.

In fact, the Church should also consider following the example of the Army Chaplains and fund classes and retreats to their communities in non-church settings that specifically address the needs of dating, marriage, and family life.

Most of the courses used in the Strong Bonds Program have secular and Christian versions which allow chaplains to teach the secular version to those who would not usually attend a religious retreat in order to both benefit their relationships and to provide a bridge of credibility for the Chaplaincy.

In the same way, Churches could provide these courses which would benefit the community by promoting Christian principles on dating and marriage in practical and non-religious ways while also providing an outreach to unchurched people. The military has been a leader in many advances that have now become normalized in our public sector – satellite systems, the Internet, and energy to name a few.

The Army Chaplaincy has now established an example for us to follow: creating new social and organizational structures where relationship classes are taught throughout the year in both Christian and secular settings in order to promote healthy dating practices, stronger marriages, and happier families.

John Van Epp is founder of Love Thinks and author of “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk.” He developed the Relationship Attachment Model and is a relationship speaker and trainer. In addition to being a husband and father, John has been a minister, adjunct university professor, and continues a private counseling practice.


Helping Children Deal With a Parent’s Deployment

by Joseph White

Deployment can be a difficult time, for both the adults being deployed and the families they are leaving behind. Children face a host of special issues when one or both of their parents are deployed. The deployment cycle is best thought of as three separate phases:

1. Pre-deployment

2. Deployment

3. Reunion

Each phase has unique issues that may require time to sort through, particularly for children. Behavioral and emotional changes in children may occur even after their parents arrive back home. Everyone will have changed during the separation, so being together again may require some adjustments.

The pre-deployment period can last several weeks to just a few hours. Children need to be told where their parent is going (even if only general locations are available), when the parent anticipates returning, and why their parent is leaving. Discussing the deployment can help children understand that parents are not leaving because of something the child did and that they will be coming home.

Educators and other caregivers play a special role in the lives of children during a parent’s deployment. When everything else is unsettled, school can serve as an oasis of stability for children. Due to the amount of time spent in school, teachers are often the first to notice behavioral or performance changes. Educators can serve as extra eyes and ears for the parent staying at home or the child’s guardian. Given the number of additional burdens placed upon caregivers, this backup can be extremely useful. Watch for any changes in a child’s behavior or school performance. This can be a scary time for children. Their feelings and concerns may be expressed in a number of ways. Encourage the courage of children.

The reunion phase actually begins a couple of weeks before the parent’s return as the child begins to anticipate the reunion. Children feel a mixture of excitement and fear during this time. They will be wondering what the reunion itself will be like and questioning: “How has Mommy/Daddy changed?” “Will he recognize me?,” “Will she know who I am?” This phase can actually be the most difficult for children, so support is especially crucial as the deployment nears its end.

Children are exposed to more now than they were even a few years ago. Media coverage of conflicts around the world allows for regular glimpses into situations faced by the military. This information is often inappropriate for children. The scenes they can see on television may themselves be a source of stress, as well as a trigger for new worries about the safety of their loved ones. Encourage adults to limit the television coverage children can see. Also encourage adults to read news articles prior to children to ensure they are appropriate for children. Both of these tips are for all of the adults in a child’s life, not just a child’s parent or guardian. If a child is exposed to something upsetting, talk about it. The news may have sparked or rekindled fears that need to be discussed.

Children may also need help dealing with anti-war sentiment. Sometimes  the opinions people have about war or a particular war may cause the children of those serving distress or worry. While one would hope that people, particularly adults, would exercise forethought in discussions of such weighty topics around children, sometimes upsetting things are said around or even to children. If a child is disturbed or upset, encourage him or her to talk it through. Also encourage adults to be thoughtful of children and the situations they are facing before they speak in front of them.

For more information on how parents, families, educators, and Church communities can assist children during a parent’s deployment, see the Military School can serve as Child Education Coalition website .

Dr. Joseph White is a Clinical Child Psychologist and is Board Certified in Sexual Abuse by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

Through the Eyes of a Military Family

 by Mike Allen

Gary and Jeanne Barnes of Gulf Breeze, FL, have seen a broad spectrum of military life. Gary spent 22 years in the Air Force and retired in 1993 with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Their daughter’s husband is an active Marine (deployed in Okinawa, Japan).

Mike: What are some of the challenges to marriage in the military?

Jeanne: First of all, just the separation. Gary was also in special ops, which meant that we didn’t know when he was going, for how long, and where he would be. The balance of power that goes back and forth was hard. When he’s home we share power, and then when he leaves, I would do it all my way (laughs). It was hard to readjust to that.

Gary: The military, for me, was exciting. I enjoyed the travel…though I don’t like to tell Jeanne that (both laugh) – but I could see the problems with the children. When I did come home, it was like “Dad’s home, he’s the #1!” And Jeanne would always feel like, “What am I, chopped liver?” I didn’t worry about dying –maybe Jeanne did – it was the uncertainty, the constant deployments, the movement, not being really a part of the kids’ lives that was hard. Now, as I look back, there were things that I didn’t do, didn’t have the time to do, or didn’t choose to take in – ball games, birthday parties, anniversaries. three years, we had three priests.

We’ve been lifelong friends with two of those priests; they come and visit us almost every year, and that was thirty years ago. We were lucky that we had the Church. We found out from living in Guam, that since you’re thousands of miles away, the church is family. It pulled us together, and I think we are so much stronger for that experience, because of that isolation and the Church filling the need for family.

Jeanne: Gary was gone a lot, and the priests would come by and check – I had little children at the time – to see if everything was OK. They were just friends. Growing up in a Catholic family, if my mother had the priest over for dinner, it was linens, china, fancy stuff. So when our first priest stopped by, I thought, “I’ve got to do all this.” But as we got to be friends, it was “Here’s a paper napkin, just sit down and have a glass of beer” (laughs).

Mike: What are some things that local parishes could do to be helpful of military families?

Jeanne: Our church now has a lot of retired Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, but not so much active duty. One thing I appreciate is a book we put on the altar every Sunday that has the names – anybody can write in it – of any military person or family that is deployed. It’s a symbol of how important it is to pray for our military families.

Mike: As for the ministries on military bases, how were those helpful?

Gary: Our first real experience with military chaplains was on Guam. We would have a new priest every year. In Mike: Gary said that death was not on his mind. Jeanne, how about for you?

Jeanne: Yes, I always had it in the back of my mind. Gary’s very first assignment was at Westover, Massachusetts, where there were lots of bombers shot down, so I was familiar with the official car and the chaplain coming by and telling the wives. It was always, “Thank God it’s not me,” and then, “Oh my gosh, it’s my friend,” and then the guilt of “What can I do for them, because I feel so bad that it’s them and not me.” But our church family was always very close, so we could minister to one another. I was in a women’s group where we talked about those things, so just knowing that the other wives were feeling the same thing helped a lot.

Mike: What are some of the other challenges children face when a parent is in the military?

Jeanne: It was more an issue with discipline in our family. We have three daughters, and in my eyes, they could do no wrong, and in Gary’s eyes, they could do no right, so we were a good team (laughs).

Gary: The moving all the time – every two, three, or four years – was extremely hard on the kids. In fact, our middle daughter had written that they were so scared to go to school the first day, that they went to bed together and held each other’s hands.

Jeanne: But as traumatic as it was, all three say today that it made them stronger. They are very independent, strong women, and they do credit a lot of that with having to be the new kid

Another thing is just getting the families or spouses of deployed soldiers together. When our daughter’s husband went to Iraq, it was hard for her to meet other wives whose husbands were deployed. If the Church set up coffees, little gatherings, or something where they could initially get together; then they could take it from there. You need the support of someone who is going through the same thing.

Gary: It depends on the community. If you have a lot of families of deployed, you can do a lot, but if you have five families out of 800, they tend to fall by the wayside. We pray for them every Sunday in our intentions, and the book is there; but outside of that there wasn’t anything for them.

Jeanne: Something our priest does is when soldiers attend Mass, he takes time at the end to welcome them, and the church gives them a standing ovation. Our son-in-law laughs about being embarrassed, but it is good for the family and the children to see that the community appreciates what their dad does.

Gary: We always concentrate on the deployed, and pray for them, but we really need to establish a constant prayer for the ones left behind, because they need our prayers every bit as much.

Jeanne: A lot of enlisted personnel and their families really struggle financially. They may have enough money to live month to month, but their refrigerator goes out, and they don’t have anything extra. That’s another thing the Church can do, if you get to know the families.

Gary: It’s sad in America that our young airmen, in the first five ranks, are on food stamps.

Mike: What about childcare – just watching the children for a few hours – could that be helpful?

Gary: In most daycares, there’s no room for the two hour drop-in. That’s a big deal, if our Churches could step up, just that two hour “go get groceries”

Mike Allen is the Director of Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. See for a partial list of counselors who support marriage.


Young Adults – Will They Ever Return?

 Ms. Katherine F. DeVries Last Fall, Leah Thomas, a talented, young graduate of Notre Dame, wrote a telling article for, the Paulist website aimed at young adults. She called it, “19 and Counting… How far does a girl have to go to find a spiritual home?” The article describes her quest to find a […]

Preparing Adolescents for Marriage

By Margaret Brogden

Recently, my ten year old son, Malik, had the honor of participating in a Christian marriage ceremony. As the ring bearer, Malik stood right next to the groom. From this position he was able to see and experience every aspect of the ceremony. He seemed to be totally absorbed by the ritual. Watching him, I began to reflect on how I could help him process the experience. This article is the result of my pondering as a parent and a professional youth minister. As a parent, I am glad that my son had this experience. It was a positive affirmation on love and marriage that he so rarely gets. He lives in a world where most of his friends are the children of a single parent, like himself.

As his parent, I recognize that I have the primary responsibility for my son’s faith formation, which includes his understanding of the sacrament of marriage. It is my responsibility to teach him that marriage is sacred and echoes Christ’s love for the Church. His experience as a member of a wedding party certainly aided my attempts to teach him about this sacred union. I try to model healthy relationships so that Malik can learn how to relate to others. Children learn from what they see and experience. Parents need to be aware that everything they do, especially how they relate to their spouse, is seen and processed by their children.

As the Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry states, “Parents need to make sure they spend time with and caring for one another, not only for the sake of their own marriage but also to model a healthy marriage relationship for their children.”

I am limited by the fact that I am a single parent, therefore, it is important that I partner with the church and, in particular, youth ministry in teaching my son about relationships and marriage. A good youth ministry program provides resources for parents that help them speak to their children about dating, love and marriage. Youth ministry should be family friendly, working with single parents, as well as married couples, to show the sacramentality of Christian marriage.

Good youth ministry encourages and supports Christian marriage in several ways:

1. By promoting Catholic sexual values and attitudes and the importance of valuing chastity and sexual restraint.

2. By helping young people recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives and discern their particular Christian vocation in the world – the workplace, in marriage or single life, in the priesthood or consecrated life, or in the permanent diaconate.

3. Modeling and teaching healthy relationships.

4. Partnering with parents in supporting Christian marriage.

Most youth ministry programs offer some sort of human sexuality or abstinence program. In these programs adolescents are taught that love and sex are not interchangeable words. They participate in discussions on love, dating and intimacy. They get the opportunity to examine their lived experiences of intimacy through the lens of the Gospel message.

A good youth ministry program clarifies the difference between true love as defined by Jesus in the Gospels and the version of love that is part of popular culture today. Challenging what young people are seeing, hearing and reading is important and helps the young person to form his or her Christian conscience.

Young people in dating relationships are in need of guidance. Not just guidance on how to deal with sexual tension; they also need help in understanding how to communicate with the opposite sex and how to handle the joys and pains of love. Working to build self esteem, youth ministers run programs that help young people come to know and love themselves better. It is especially important that the youth minister helps young people to know what Jesus meant when he said “love one another as I love you.”

“Effective ministry with young people who are in dating relationships works at encouraging young people to recognize that their own “hearts burning” experiences are mere hints of the love that God has for them.” See http:// youngchurch/tlw/whatyou- can-do.cfm for full text.

Everything that happens in youth ministry is geared to help young people love God, themselves and others. Every catechetical session, lock-in, retreat and social outing can be and should be used to teach young people how to relate to others. There is no magic formula to prepare adolescents for marriage. Everything that happens in the life of a young person can be used to teach him or her about healthy relationships.

As a parent, I will continue to use my son’s experience as a catechetical tool. This, I hope, will be just one opportunity for him to witness the joys of love. As a mother and youth minister, I pray that he will always remember and try to imitate what he experienced.


Margaret Brogden is Coordinator for Youth Ministry Formation for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and has one son.

How to Make a Counseling Referral

by Anthony J. Garascia, M.A., M.S., LCSW

Couples who are experiencing difficulties in their marriage often look to the church for help. Although most pastoral ministers are not professional marriage counselors, you may be the first person to whom a couple turns. Problems emerge in any loving relationship. Most of the time a couple takes these problems in stride. When a couple faces a problem beyond their ability to solve, however, as a helping professional you are in a unique position to make a referral to a competent marriage counselor. When a couple approaches you with questions about their marriage, they want someone who will look at both sides and serve as a mediator, coach, therapist, and offer genuine and concrete suggestions. Of course, in asking for a referral, a couple places an enormous trust in your recommendations.


Most states have some form of licensure for counselors. This means that counselors must have a degree that meets certain standards on theory, practice, and ethics. Counselors should be licensed in their particular state and have a Ph.D. or Masters degree in counseling or clinical psychology, or a Masters in Social Work from an accredited university. Here are some criteria to consider when making your list.

Experience. Couples want to know that the person they see has “been around the block” and will be comfortable talking about issues like finances, conflict, communication, sex, and just about any other issue that gets raised in the course of a marriage.

Skill. When someone approaches a counselor they assume that he/she hasthe skill necessary to help them solve their problems. The best way to find the most skilled therapists is to listen to the evaluations from people you have referred in the past. Don’t be afraid to ask a couple to let you know how the experience went. This will assist you in refining your own list of counselors.

Areas of expertise. Some therapists are great at communication and conflict, others are more helpful at dealing with anger; some won’t deal with issues like domestic violence, others will. Some counselors are great at dealing with adolescents. When a couple approaches you for a referral, it is best to know a little about the problem so you know who on your referral list can best help them solve the problem.

Faith and Spirituality.

A therapist who is “pro-marriage” will do everything possible to keep a marriage intact while at the same time recognizing that marriages do indeed fail. Many couples today want someone who views spirituality as an important part of the overall process of being successfully married.


Once you have developed a referral list of qualified counselors, you may assist the couple in discerning a “good fit” for this particular couple. For example,

Consider age and life experience. If the couple seeking counseling has children or is middle aged, they may not have confidence in a counselor who is young and single.

Consider counselor gender. Although a good counselor should be free of gender bias, the client may not always be. Check out if either spouse would feel uncomfortable with a counselor of the same or opposite gender.

Match the couple’s presenting problem with the expertise of the counselor when possible.

How important is faith? For many couples seeking a referral from a religious source, faith is important to them and having a counselor who can draw on faith and spirituality as a resource can be helpful. On the other hand, some couples would not be receptive to a heavy handed faith approach.

Consider practicalities such as cost, location, and urgency of appointment. For those who don’t have insurance that covers counseling, marriage counseling can range from $50- 150 per hour. Short term counseling often takes the form of weekly sessions for three to six months. Some social agencies and churches offer a sliding scale adjusted according to the couple’s income. Fees may also vary according to the cost of living in your geographic area. It may be helpful to have sources available that can help with co-pays or financial assistance, especially when insurance is not available.

Always offer more than one name as a referral.



Many marriage counselors will take a short term, problem solving approach to marriage counseling. This means that a couple will be in counseling anywhere between 6 to 12 sessions. Knowing this information can also help a couple estimate how costly the counseling process will be to them. Some tips to pass on to couples seeking counseling for the first time are:

• Before the first session, spouses should ask themselves, “What is the end goal of counseling for me?” Encourage couples to be as specific as possible. In order for both to trust the counselor, both spouses should give themselves permission to ask questions.

• The counselor is there to listen to their story and will ask questions that assist in the listening process. At the end of the first session the counselor may give suggestions or homework for the next session. It is important that a couple gives the process some time to work. A couple should be realistic about instant results and be prepared to give the process some time.

• A client usually knows counseling is working when the original problem is solved or at least significantly improved. At that point the therapist may ask if there are other issues to be solved or whether the counseling process is finished. Often, a couple will move on to other significant issues.

• The most effective counseling is done when a couple fully participates by saying what they both want to see happen. The counselor guides them to solve their problem and improve their relationship satisfaction. 


Sometimes a spouse confides that there are deeply serious problems present. Perhaps there is drinking, substance abuse, or domestic violence. Here, it is important to have not only counselors who specialize in these areas but also a list of resources that offer a safe place for a spouse and children when violence is occurring; agencies that offer anger management courses, or treatment programs for substance and alcohol abuse. Your role as a Family Life minister is to help sort through the options. This can often be a moment of grace for someone who is anxious about his/her future.

In addition to counselors in private practice, several national counseling agencies that, when desired, take one’s faith into consideration are:

Diocesan Catholic Charities provides counseling to people of any faith and usually have a sliding scale according to income.

Samaritan Centers provide cost-efficient counseling emphasizing the interrelatedness of mind, body, spirit, and community.


Tony Garascia is Clinical Director, Samaritan Counseling Center, South Bend, Indiana. Adapted from “When to Seek Counseling”

The Theology of the Body

Joann Heaney-Hunter, Ph.D.

In recent years, Pope John Paul II’s collection of addresses known as the Theology of the Body (hereafter TOB) has been studied, praised and critiqued.  As a major work from a much celebrated and beloved head of the Church, TOB lays the groundwork for ongoing reflection on marriage and family life and the pastoral ministry that the Church undertakes on behalf of couples and families. As an extended treatment of the Church’s official teaching on the necessary connection between life and love, it serves as a valuable tool for scholars and ministers alike, and can be used as a foundation for current and future marriage and family ministry efforts. Some purposes of TOB are to explore the dignity of marriage and sex in a world that often devalues them, to highlight spousal love as a key ingredient of God’s plan for humanity, and to reaffirm the intrinsic connections between life and love.

How should we read and interpret TOB? To begin, we must first articulate what it is and what it is not. In terms of Church documents, catechesis to the church from the Pope carries considerable weight, and is a part of the magesterium. It must be recognized, however, that it is less weighty than a papal pronouncement made excathedra, (from the chair of Peter) for example, or a Dogmatic Constitution resulting from a Council. TOB, therefore, represents an authoritative teaching of Pope John Paul II on a subject that was dear to his heart, human love and marriage. Just as St. Paul wrote letters to specific communities and articulated theologies that addressed the needs and issues of a particular group, Pope John Paul has presented TOB to the Church as a series of addresses from the perspectives of his teaching role and his understanding of contemporary culture.

TOB also reflects John Paul’s theological and philosophical background, and must be read through those lenses as well. Just as it is not usually helpful to take Paul or other biblical texts out of their context, it is not useful to take the addresses that comprise TOB out of their context – which includes a view of the human person as the crowning achievement of God’s creation, a sense of the need to preserve the sanctity of sex, marriage and family life, and a desire to further develop the theology of sexuality presented in Humanae Vitae. (TOB 118-133) Furthermore, TOB must be read in light of John Paul’s understanding that the inseparability of love and life is a principle of natural law and an articulation of God’s divine plan for humanity. (TOB 118, 119, 121, 123, 127, 131,132).

A crucial element for understanding TOB is John Paul’s use of scripture. Throughout the addresses, he makes use of selected texts to illustrate his points about human love and sexual relationship. He does not claim to be a biblical scholar making exhaustive exegeses of every scriptural text on marriage and family life, but serves as a master teacher reflecting on deep scriptural truths about human relationships (TOB 93) and God’s plan for sex and love (TOB 25, 34, 35 among others). Like any other writer, John Paul makes choices about the scriptural texts he uses, reflecting on and interpreting texts that highlight human love as an embodiment of God’s love, and demonstrate the radically life-giving dimensions of sex.

On a practical note, we must remember that as unified as the addresses are, TOB is a series of catechesis, delivered over the course of a number of years. Throughout, we find some repetition, which is to be expected, and careful attention to detail on every point John Paul makes. I see the repetition as a way to help readers focus on important points of previous addresses in the series, or to give them the opportunity to catch up if they missed something, similar to the way television writers sometimes synopsize a previous episode of a multi-part show. The level of detail provides much food for thought on John Paul’s key points of TOB.

Having laid out some helps for reading TOB, let’s consider some of its strengths.


1. TOB emphasizes sexuality as a gift from God and as a total gift of self. (TOB 10, 17, 59, 73, 87, 111, 114, for example). In a world where sex is all too often regarded as a commodity, TOB insists that it is a precious sharing of love and life that cannot be treated lightly. One caveat: it is important to remember that although the ideal of TOB is profoundly beautiful, sexual encounters sometimes reflect imperfect or flawed gifts. Sexual intercourse, for example, may represent the mixed motives and brokenness of individuals trying to live God’s plan for their lives. As long as the lofty vision of TOB is presented as ideal and aspiration, it can help people strive to follow its call to holiness. If people begin to see it as unrealistic and unreasonable, however, they may write it off completely or become discouraged about their inability to realize its vision.


2. TOB consistently highlights that from the beginning, each person has been created as a child of God, in God’s image (TOB 100). This message can never be forgotten, and as marriage and family ministers, we are called to share it with all who cross our paths. When we are tempted to treat some people as inferior to others, we are reminded by TOB that every person is a sacrament of God’s love. TOB also assumes that male and female have been created to share in God’s creative power as fathers and mothers. (TOB 22.6) As marriage and family ministers, however, we must be aware that while biological motherhood and fatherhood are important elements of participating in God’s creativity, they certainly are not the only ones. Part of our task in using TOB is to help those who are not biological parents explore the creative force within them. In individuality and in relationships, in biological generativity and spiritual generativity, we are called to make Christ present in the midst of the world.


3. TOB continues to remind us that the fullest image of God is found in loving human relationships (TOB 9, 10, 12, 67, 69, 71, 77 among others), and that the perfect community, the Trinity, can be embodied by the life of a loving couple. (TOB 95, 100, 103, 104, 105, for example). While we certainly do not image the Trinity perfectly, the person in loving communion stands as a symbol of the love between the persons of God and the love of God that reaches out in generosity to others.

In such a short space, one can only scratch the surface of TOB, highlight key elements of John Paul’s thought, and raise some issues about its use by marriage and family life ministers. TOB is an excellent but challenging resource for those invited to articulate the Church’s vision of love and life presented in Gaudium et Spes, expanded inHumanae Vitae, and reiterated throughout the writings on marriage and family life that spanned John Paul II’s entire papacy. If presented in a way that reduces jargon and dense philosophical constructs, it can be used effectively to educate families of all ages about the Church’s official teaching on the dignity and beauty of their sexuality. Its main points also can be employed effectively as a way to introduce teens to a positive perspective on their sexuality as a gift from God, rather than as a commodity.

Like any tool, however, TOB has limitations. One of the most daunting is its length and complexity. For use in parishes or dioceses, I strongly recommend breaking it down into shorter, more manageable segments, much as John Paul did in his weekly addresses. For local use, it might be best to focus on a few key themes of TOB such as “spousal love,” “sacramentality,” and “inseparability of life and love.” A helpful article summarizing the key points of TOB is Mary Shivanandan’s “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” in Living Light 37 (Spring 2001), livlghtspr2001.shtml#Shivanandan. Another balanced, scholarly, and comprehensive resource is Michael Waldstein’s Man and Woman He Created Them (Boston: Pauline Media, 2006), which provides extensive background on the philosophical and theological framework of TOB.

As did Paul’s communities in the early church, we recognize that while TOB presents an extraordinary vision of the meaning of sexuality and human relationship, its impact will continue to spread only in its use and further development. Pope John Paul addressed the pressing concerns regarding sexuality and marriage in the last 20 years of the 20th century. Since then, our challenges have grown and changed as society has moved in new (and often not so positive) directions. Theologians and pastoral ministers alike will continue to plumb the depths of TOB, extend its theological vision, and build on its solid foundation in future work with couples and families.


Joann Heaney-Hunter teaches theology at St. John’s University, New York, and works as a psychotherapist for Catholic Charities in Rockville Centre, New York..