BUILDING Leadership

By Chris Codden, NACFLM Region X, Past President

BUILDS and forms a team who minister to those called to the vocation of marriage and family.

Building_Leadership Assessment

Building leadership is the first of the building blocks for a reason.  Like any other building project, if you do not a have strong foundation, the building crumbles.  Leadership is that key component.  If the leadership does not have a strong underpinning; a strong vision for marriage, the work of strengthening marriage will not last.

The first step may be obvious, but is essential.  The diocese and/or parish needs to make strengthening marriage a priority.  This means viewing each ministry of the parish from the lens of how this affects the marriage of the couple sitting in the pew which will build a culture that bears witness, in all areas of life and society, to the truth and beauty of marriage.

For any type of intentional ministry, our clergy are key.  Having our priests on board and excited about the Sacrament of Marriage is vital to the success.  That excitement and commitment needs to extend past marriage preparation and the wedding, and look at marriage from womb to tomb.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz has commented on how he used to return to the rectory after a Saturday wedding, write the couples names in the parish registry and close the book thinking, “I’m glad that’s done.”  If we treat a couple as a finished product on the day of their wedding, no wonder we don’t see them again.  Archbishop Kurtz then challenged us to look beyond the wedding and seek ways to help the marriage, throughout the lifecycle, particularly at those pivotal moments.

To assist our clergy in understanding the importance of their role and vision, a diocesan day including a variety of speakers, the local ordinary and time for discussion on key topics would be helpful.  Many dioceses have done this with great success.  Not only does this impart valuable information, but the camaraderie and solidarity can be a good source of support.  On a parish level, the first step is identifying potential leaders.  While the support and vision of the pastor is essential, he needs a team to assist him.  Drawing from those who are already working in some form of marriage ministry, such as, current Sponsor or Mentor Couples, couples who have attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend, or couples who are catechists in the parish is a good place to start.  Asking those persons mentioned above for recommendations can also be helpful.

Step two is to train those potential leaders.  Just as you wouldn’t go to a building site without the proper tools, leaders need adequate formation to do the work.  If this is a diocesan effort, regional trainings could be held to assist the parishes.  Or a parish may offer a series of Saturday or Sunday afternoons focused on the steps toward becoming a MarriageBuilding Parish.  This could include time assessing the current details already in place, developing a plan of action, gathering of potential resources, developing a timeline and budget for events and initiatives, etc.  Many of these ideas can be found in this resource guide.

As the U.S. Bishops expressed their thanks for this important role we undertake, “We are grateful, too, for all those who work with young people and engaged couples to establish good marriages, who help married couples to grow in love and strengthen their union, and who help those in crisis to resolve their problems and bring healing to their lives.  (Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan)

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..