By Lorrie Gramer, NACFLM Region VII

FORMS young people in the beliefs and virtues necessary for healthy relationships, including marriage.

Forming Youth Assessment

I was asked a little while back to speak to a group of Junior High and High School youth from our home parish about the Sacrament of Marriage.  I had been told they were a quiet group, so not to expect much.  I tried to wow them with my best thoughts and insights, and I also let them watch “Made for Each Other,” the video produced by the USCCB on the complementarity of marriage.

I introduced the film by telling them it has some grown up information in it, but its good grown up information, and I’m sure they have gotten plenty of not so good grown up information, so here goes.  After the film, I made a few comments and then opened it up for questions.  I took the risk, and to my surprise, I couldn’t of picked four better questions than I was asked.

The first young fellow to my right raised his hand, “When two people of the same sex want to get married, is it a marriage?” he asked.  “No,” I answered, “not in the definition God gave to marriage when he created us male and female from the beginning.  God alone is the author of marriage….”  I went on, offering a few more thoughts on the matter.

Then a young fellow to my left raised his hand and asked “Is Divorce a sin?”  I couldn’t help but think that he was asking the question for someone he cared very much about.  “No” I answered, “at least not in and of itself.”  There may well be plenty of sinful acts that lead to a divorce, and sometimes there isn’t another option.  If someone chooses to remarry without the benefit of a declaration of nullity…that the marriage was invalid, then the Church considers that a sin.

The next question was from one of the girls…  “I want to get married on the beach,” she said, “is that okay?”  “Not exactly,” was my response, and I began telling her why the Church asks that we marry inside a Church.  She came up to me after the session was over and said: “I really wanted to get married on the beach, can I make the Church look like a beach?”  Can’t you see the sand trucks arriving already?  “What if you had the party, the reception on the beach” was my answer.  She thought that sounded good enough and off she went.  “Wasn’t it better that she learned the reasons at 14,” I thought, “rather than 22 when she’s dreamed about it all these years and now doesn’t understand why she can’t.

Finally, one of the High School girls in the back of the room raised her hand.  “How will you know when it’s the right person to marry” she asked.  “Wow, what a great question” I answered.  “Why don’t we start by asking your teachers here tonight that are married, how they knew…”  This lead to a wonderful discussion and a great way for the adults to be involved.  I added how important good dating is in the process.  I also told them that my own mother would remind me when she was pointing out something about my behavior she didn’t like, “I’m just helping to make it possible for someone to live with you someday,” I remembered.  It’s important that our young people understand that their relationships at home and their dating those of the opposite sex.  “You see, it’s about learning how to form relationships and how to discern relationships…what you like in the other, what it means to send and receive messages, and how you relate to the opposite sex To make the right decision, you have to know what a good husband, or wife, is like.  You have to understand what God’s plan for marriage is, and find someone who shares your beliefs.

I came away from the evening confirmed in my belief that our young people have lots of questions, but don’t always have a place to ask them and to get the correct answers.

Shortly after, I walked in to Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.  I had been invited onto the set of the movie COURAGEOUS.  This same Church produced FIREPROOF.  (Both of these movies would be great for a youth or young adult evening to watch and discuss).  There on one of the walls was a huge sign that said: “Whoever wants the next generation the most are going to get them.”  I’ve thought about that statement a lot, and I’m asking you to consider it as well.  What are we doing to help the next generation know what’s right, what’s true, what’s pure?  How are we helping parents in the ever increasing importance of this task?  I believe we are literally in a battle for the minds, the hearts, the faith of our young Catholics?  Do we have the courage to sit with them?  To teach them well?  To answer their questions?

FORMING our Youth and Young Adults about Marriage begins in the home and continues through adolescence and into young adulthood.  It’s what we learned when we didn’t know we were learning.  Pope John Paul in Familiars Consortio spoke of these times as Remote and Proximate preparation for the Sacraments of Marriage and Orders.  And, not only are we as parents preparing our children for marriage, but others are preparing their future spouses.  A MarriageBuilding Parish knows this and helps families see that we have a stake in one another’s understanding of marriage and in the health and holiness of marriage in general.

The National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers (NACFLM) has teamed up with the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) to produce materials called Strong Catholic Families, Strong Catholic Youth.

During the year of MarriageBuilding our Diocese recently undertook, we asked parishes to have couples and individuals celebrating wedding anniversaries in that particular month to stand and receive a Blessing and the Prayers of their faith community.  The Parish also sent an Anniversary Card prior to this MarriageBuilding Sunday.  One mother shared with me about the wonderful conversations her husband and she had with their children about marriage because of these simple gestures.  In the past, she said, our anniversary came and went relatively unnoticed by our family.  But this time, the kids asked questions about how we met, what was it like, and more.

What else can a MarriageBuilding Parish do?  Offer programs for adolescents and teens with effective Catechesis that will help them discuss, understand and defend the unique meaning of marriage in the face of the many contemporary challenges that exist today.  Find a relationship program like Matrimony, Jesus Invites Us to Live in Love, a 14 week relationship class taught by married couples.  PAIRS for Peers is a great skills program for Teens.  You can offer PAIRS Essential to the parents and they can use the skills effectively with one another.  The Archdiocese of Phoenix has created C.A.L.L., an effort for Life Leadership for your Youth and are making their materials available for use elsewhere.  Theology of the Body for Teens is another great resource.  The Dibble Foundation has some great resources filled with activities to discuss relationship topics with teens.

The USCCB Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth has given permission to reproduce MADE FOR EACH OTHER to distribute widely.  At least one parish in my home Diocese of Rockford has given copies to every family with the encourage them to watch it with their youth and talk about what it means.

I sit on the Advisory Council for NCYAMA (National Conference of Young Adults Ministry Association) and we are looking at developing a quality Relationships & Marriage curricula for young adults.  Include Marriage, Relationship, Theology of the Body, and other topics at Theology on Tap or any other effort in your area.  What about a day for the Young Adults of your parish, and consider inviting neighboring parish young adults.  Have a great speaker on Relationships, Marriage and other relevant topics, and have a Social to follow.  Catholic young adults are looking to meet other young adults who share their faith and their beliefs on marriage and family life.

And don’t forget, the strongest Young Adult program on Marriage happening today is the Marriage Preparation they will receive prior to their Marriage.  Consider it a time of Evangelization.  A MarriageBuilding Parish welcomes and guides these young adults on this journey of love.

In the 30 years Don and I have been doing Family Life Ministry, we have helped to prepare over 25,000 young adults for marriage.  We tell them that after their wedding, the caterer and florist will disappear once the bills are paid, unless they need another big party.  But the Church won’t.  A MarriageBuilding Parish understands this, too, and provides opportunities to support these couples in their early marriage.  Use some of the resources found under STRENGTHENING the Married and offer them specifically for couples married less then five years.

A MarriageBuilding Parish vigorously addresses the remote, the proximate and the immediate preparation for marriage by working with parents, by offering classes for our youth, and by supporting young adults through their dating and engagements.