Pope Francis wants every family to be a beacon of the joy of [God’s] love in our world.
Working towards achieving that will be a huge contribution to evangelising our diocese. Each of us can find a way to contribute to creating those beacons. Not just in how we each live our own family lives as Catholics but also supporting others as they try to live out their family lives.
Within our diocese our Director of Marriage and family life works with parishes and external organisations to promote and support marriage and family life as a key part of the mission of our church. https://www.dioceseofbrentwood.net/departments/marriage-family-life/ Fr Mathew can help you find opportunities for you to get involved.
Diocesan Marriage Conference
After the experience of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin last Summer, the Marriage and Family Life department began planning a conference on marriage, to encourage all those who support the vocation to marriage either in parishes or as members of the various national and international organisations active in the diocese. It was hoped such an event would raise awareness of all that is already happening and also lead to some new initiatives as part of the ‘family’ strand of diocesan renewal. And so, on Saturday 6th July we welcomed representatives of Marriage Care, Teams of Our Lady. Two in One Flesh (members of the Alliance of Catholic Marriage Organisations), the Association of Interchurch Families, and Beginning Experience as well as parishioners from across the diocese.
Fr Matthew, the Director and Chaplain for Marriage and Family Life introduced the day by explaining the focus on marriage: for marriage is the communion of life and love that is the starting point for the family. Introducing the discussion on the family as a strand for renewal he quoted Archbishop Eamon Martin, from an address at the World Meeting of Families: “we have the joy and challenge of communicating a clear and positive vision of family and marriage… We proclaim the Gospel of the Family because we believe in it, and we also believe and firmly hope that, with the help of God, it is attainable.”
The highlight of the day was a workshop led by Brenden and Laura Thompson, a young married couple expecting their first child, who are part of the organisation Catholic Voices. After discussing some alarming headlines about marriage from the secular media, they gave an overview of the ‘Reframe’ technique for responding to those who are sceptical or hostile about the church’s teaching. Rather than respond in a defensive way, we should look for points of agreement which enable us to present the good news of marriage and the family in a positive way. We need to get across that marriage is a great gift, something that is good for people. Seeing marriage as a gift helps us to see that even the more challenging aspects of church teaching are also gifts The permanence of marriage as a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union of the couple, gives husband and wife the freedom to flourish as human beings, made out of love and made for love, and to help each other become the best version of themselves. We also recognise the intrinsic connection between marriage and childrearing and see this as a gift from God, acknowledging the enormous privilege in cooperating with God in the creation of a new life. In this context we can even see the church’s teaching on family planning as a gift: rather than supress the natural functioning of our reproductive systems we can reach a deeper appreciation of the gift of our bodies and learn to work with rather than against what God has willed as good for us.
A recurring theme during the day was the need to make sure the vocation to marriage is visible in our parishes. This is somewhat ironic, given that marriage is the most common vocation about our parish communities; nevertheless we can easily overlook the fact that it is a vocation and a path to holiness and should therefore be encouraged. This can be as simple as having married couples read together at mass or carry out other parish ministries as a couple. Celebrating anniversaries and welcoming newly-engaged couples during Mass is another opportunity to do this. It was also suggested that a prayer for married couples could be used at every celebration of Mass, like the prayer we had for the Diocesan Centenary and for the appointment of a new bishop. Giving space in the newsletter for the weekly ‘Two in One Flesh’ scripture reflection is a way of normalising the idea of marriage as a vocation with particular spiritual needs. The witness of married couples in school is also important and it was noted that one school in the diocese strives to be a workplace that supports married couples on its staff.
Looking to the future, the Marriage and Family Life department is looking at ways to support parents as the first educators and evangelisers of their children, especially during the years after first holy communion which coincide with the transition to secondary school and the beginning of adolescence – the department’s project officer Anna McCormick is developing a series of talks in this area which we hope to offer later in the year. We are also beginning a collaboration with the Education Department and Youth Service to develop resources, training and support for teachers and school chaplains in the increasingly complex area of identity and relationships, that presents church teaching in a positive way whilst also ensuring a safe and compassionate space is created for young people to discuss their own struggles.
It is important not to neglect those who we may find it difficult to minister to, sometimes simply because we do not know what to say. It was helpful in this regard to hear testimony from those who have become involved in Beginning Experience, who support those who are adjusting to life after being widowed or separated. Fr Matthew spoke of a growing chaplaincy role, having been approached by a number of people going through particular difficulties, though he emphasised this role was not meant to (and in practice could not) replace the pastoral ministry of the parishes.
The renewal of marriage and family life in our diocese is a vital part of the work of evangelisation, and it is a task that will involve lay people and clergy, parishes and organisations, working alongside each other, and the role of the diocese is to encourage this, not to take over.