By Bonnie Mack, NACFLM Region IV

STRENGTHENS couples to renew their commitment & grow in the skills for a happy & holy marriage.

EDUCATES all members about the nature & purposes of marriage as a natural institution & a Christian sacrament.

 Strengthing the Married Assessment

I’m sure you’ve heard the sentiment expressed many times.  We do a great job of preparing couples for marriage but unfortunately, we leave them at the altar.  There are a variety of logical reasons for this, but to become a marriage building church we need to be intentional about supporting the sacrament of marriage and the couples living out their vocation.  Strengthening marriage involves a combination of both educating and renewing/enriching couples to help them grow in their love for God, each other and their neighbor.  This entails helping couples understand the nature and purposes of marriage as a natural institution and a Christian sacrament.  But it also involves helping them renew their commitment and grow in the skills for a happy and holy marriage.  A parish leader oftentimes knows this but translating it to the folks in the pews, is difficult.

“If you build it, they will come,” may be true in the movie, “Field of Dreams,” but doesn’t necessarily translate in parish marriage enrichment.  Too often a parish feels frustrated because a great program and speaker they selected, fun activities and great food they chose, good publicity they handled for the event was done and few couples showed up.  Folks were too busy, not interested or…fill in the blank, and therefore it is determined to shelve marriage enrichment for a while.  When this happens, we suggest you take a step back and assess your approach to strengthening marriage.  Essential ingredients and therefore a strong suggestion for parishes interested in supporting and strengthening marriage is threefold:

Under gird everything you do with prayer

Gather a core group of parishioners interested and invested in marriage who together can address this building block of marriage in a holistic way

Find out the desires and needs of your targeted audience then build accordingly

Under girding your efforts with prayer seems like a no-brainer but is too often the forgotten ingredient or the afterthought.  After we make our plans, we’ll ask God to bless our efforts.  What about asking God for His wisdom, direction and help as you begin and relying on His strength and provision as you progress?  From inception to delivery depend on Him.

Use the Resource Guide’s assessment for Strengthening Marriage with a core group of parishioners who desire to promote marriage holistically.  Evaluate your parish and use the checklist to determine what you are presently doing, can realistically do and what you might want to do sometime in the future.  Begin to put the lens of marriage building and specifically, strengthening marriage, on everything.

Lastly, make sure you find out what people in your parish are interested in or see as a need.  Research tells us if people perceive a need and are invested in the process, they are more likely to attend.  Rather than “building it” and hoping they come, incorporate their ideas and needs and involve them in the process.

The thoughts of the Bishops (below) expressed eloquently in Love and Life in the Divine Plan, can be fleshed out in a myriad of ways to strengthen the married.  May God guide and bless us as we begin.

“As a couple grows in virtue, they grow in holiness.  In other words, the couple acquires, by prayer and discipline, those interior qualities that open them to God’s love and allow them to share in his love more deeply.  Couples instinctively understand this when they speak about their marriage being a means of leading each other to heaven…

“Communication and relationship skills are crucial to building such intimacy.  As spouses learn to improve their communication, they can better respond to each other’s needs for love, acceptance and appreciation.  They deepen marital intimacy and strengthen their practice of chastity.

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.


Stress and Family Life

By Tony Garascia The Nature of Stress and Trauma Stress is an everyday part of life. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, from the relatively small stress of making sure our children have their homework done to the much larger issues surrounding watching a parent who is in the military deploy to a combat […]