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How marriage prep is failing Catholics, and what we can do about it

The Church needs to seriously consider changing the way it approaches marriage preparation say John and Claire Grabowski, a couple who serve on the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The Grabowskis are one of only two couples from the United States to serve on the council, which assists the Pope by focusing on issues related to marriage and the family.

As a couple, they have been helping young people with marriage preparation for about 20 years, including their own son and his wife, recently.

John Grabowski, PhD, has also been teaching classes on marriage and family at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for the past 24 years to “mixed” classes – meaning he teaches lay people alongside seminarians and those in various stages of religious life.

He likes to point out to his classes the disparity in formation between those entering the priesthood and religious life, compared to those entering the vocation of marriage, he said.
“The people in seminary formation or entering religious life are going to go through 6-10 years of formation to enter into a lifelong vocation, and then they’re going to receive ongoing regular formation after that,” John said.

“Marriage is also a lifelong vocation, yet we give couples six weeks at the most, or six evenings, or maybe a weekend or a Saturday afternoon, and we say, ‘Go have a great life together,’” he said. “That’s not enough.”

Currently, marriage preparation for Catholics in the United States is handled at the parish or diocesan level and the basic requirements vary. Claire said that as members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, they are working to deepen and strengthen marriage preparation across the board in the United States, and are hoping to move toward ongoing formation.

“There’s not a lot of great stuff out there at the parish level, at least not that we’ve seen, and this is something that we’re working on,” Claire said. “Not only for engaged couples, but all married couples need to continue with their formation.”

“This is something the universal Church is really waking up to,” John added. “We need ongoing formation for married couples. We can’t stop with the wedding. We can’t just have pre-Cana, we need post-Cana formation.”

When asked about the state of marriage in the nation, the Grabowskis said there are several reasons for concern, though they may not be the first things that Catholics think of.

“A lot of people point to the recent Supreme Court decision on … same-sex marriage. And we’ll say ‘Oh the court redefined marriage’; but actually marriage got redefined 60-70 years ago when we as a culture embraced widespread contraception,” John said.

“So we took fertility out of marriage, and then we embraced no-fault divorce, so we took permanence out of marriage … marriage has been redefined for a while,” he added.
Despite these reasons for concern, the Grabowskis said, they have also seen in their work preparing young people for the sacrament plenty of reasons to hope.

“Because of what’s going on in the country, people are seeing that there’s something wrong, and they’re choosing to use natural family planning, they’re choosing to have big families, they’re choosing to get involved in church,” Claire said.

“And maybe we needed this wake-up call to get back to the foundation of our lives, the truth, and the sacraments,” she said. “We need to support each other, because families can’t make it on their own. We need the help of the Church, the priests, the couples who’ve been married for a while, we need to support each other, and grow together.”

The Grabowskis will both be attending the World Meeting of Families next week, where John will give a talk on Wednesday, Sept. 23 to the Adult Congress entitled “The Other Side of Mount Sinai: Growing in Virtue.”

John has also been appointed by Pope Francis to attend the 2015 Synod on the Family as an expert. The Synod of Bishops scheduled is for Oct. 4-25, and the theme is “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.”

Photo credit:

By Mary Rezac


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