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The Joy-Filled Marriage program ensures that engaged couples in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. — and beyond — get the Church’s full and true teaching on the sacrament of matrimony prior to saying “I do.”
BY Joseph Pronechen
“Damon has an
amazing ability to relate to a young generation and stick to his guns at the
same time,” wrote one engaged adult in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., after
attending Joy-Filled Marriage NJ, a program founded by
Wrote another, “The most helpful
part was about waiting to [be intimate] until after you get married and how it
can effect and help the bond you have after being married.”
Greg Molochnick, who attended with
his fiancée (and now wife), Sue, even signed his evaluation. (Most prefer to
remain anonymous.) “Damon handled tough topics that are faced every day,” he
said. “His own experiences and struggles really brought home the Church’s
the last three years, in the Metuchen Diocese alone, upwards of 600 couples
have attended Joy-Filled Marriage NJ annually as the program spreads across the
many of our couples say, ‘I never knew what the Church’s teaching was — how
much God wanted for our marriages,’” adds Metuchen’s family-life director,
Judith Psota. She finds their transformations remarkable. “The teaching
resonates in their heart and soul,” she says. “I know this is of God. The whole
experience is to step aside from the world’s view of marriage and into what
God’s vision of marriage is, then living it out.”
In July, Joy-Filled Marriage NJ also
became a regular part of Newark’s archdiocesan program for all engaged couples.
The archdiocese’s average 2,648 Catholic couples married annually will be
getting God’s plan according to Scripture, from Genesis to Jesus’ teaching on
“It’s a perfect complement to
pre-Cana and Engaged Encounter,” finds Father Marc Vicari, archdiocesan vicar
of family-life ministries. “While pre-Cana very much focuses on practical
aspects like finances, communicating well
and responsible parenthood, Joy-Filled Marriage focuses on the faith and
sacramental aspects of marriage.”
didn’t institute Joy-Filled Marriage NJ overnight. In 1993, he and his wife,
Melanie, were so enthusiastic about their own pre-Cana class they quickly
became pre-Cana teachers themselves in the Newark Archdiocese. They made this
move while studying the Catechism, Humanae
Vitae (The Regulation of Birth)
and natural family planning (NFP), which they’ve taught at Seton Hall
University and throughout New Jersey since 1993. In 1996 they expanded to the
Archdiocese of New York, teaching an average of 125 pre-Cana couples weekly.
were challenged. It was a tough environment,” says Owens of the responses from
many skeptical, modern Manhattan couples. In 2000 he was introduced to theology
of the body through a Christopher West tape.
knew what he was doing would work with what we were doing in New York,”
explains Owens. “When I tried some of his approaches, they were home runs —
intelligent, challenging, orthodox. Couples were responding.”
the Owens’ fifth daughter was born (they now have seven girls, one adopted),
Melanie gave up traveling and encouraged Damon to go from the corporate world
to full-time speaking. He became head of the Newark Archdiocese’s NFP office
and started speaking nationally on marriage preparation and enrichment while
developing his own course on the theology of the body. In 2003 he talked with
West, who told Owens he was readying a similar program for Ascension Press
called God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage.
trio dovetailed. Owens explains Joy-Filled Marriage NJ is really the fruit of
God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage, West and Ascension.
had not yet launched the program nationally,” he says, “and now they had one of
the biggest states in the country with someone who could run it.” With a few
tweaks, Owens had Joy-Filled Marriage NJ ready for a state that’s home to more
than 3.5 million Catholics.
task of reaching everyone still is not easy. Owens says most couples are poorly
catechized at best or nonbelievers at worst, their consciences malformed by the
culture’s distorted view of human sexuality.
“Their whole concept of God, the Church and
marriage is skewed, disoriented,” he says. “The first battle to present the
Church’s beautiful teaching on marriage is to provide a language to show them
that what the Church teaches is what they want.”
couples look at the Church as a lawgiver. With Joy-Filled Marriage, he shows
them that what they think are rules imposed from outside end up being truth
that wells up from their own hearts.
Church is the bride of Christ,” he teaches, “and she understands our human
heart better than we understand our own. So God’s plan for a joy-filled
marriage is better than any one they could craft.”
you see what it takes to pierce the shield of the modern couple,” says Owens,
“you see why Joy-Filled Marriage is such a home run.” Statistics from more than
2,000 couples surveyed from the parent program, God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled
Marriage, discovered turnarounds like these: 91% were sexually active before
the program, while after it 48% said they’d save sex for marriage; 31% would
definitely use NFP and 45% might; 78% had a better grasp of the Catholic vision
for marriage; and 61% made a deeper commitment to Christ.
wonder Owens is “convinced the language and approach of theology of the body is
what God has given the Church at this time.”
Marriage also introduces couples to NFP. “The hope is it will encourage couples
to learn the practice,” says Father Vicari. There has even been a ripple effect
in places like LifeNet Education, a pro-life and chastity program in Montclair.
Its director, Christine Flaherty, relates how one of their speakers and her
husband had Owens as their instructor and now they’re living life with NFP.
goal of Joy-Filled Marriage NJ also extends beyond engaged couples. Owens sees
it expanding to speaking of the universal goods of authentic marriage in the
public square. “It will have social and political impact, helping people
understand why marriage is so good, and equip them with a language to speak in
confidence,” he says.
nationwide, beginning in January, Owens’s new 13-part series on NFP for marital
holiness is scheduled to air on Eternal Word Television Network.
Spur to Social Change
considers the timing providential. With New Jersey a battleground for marriage,
the state’s bishops asked him to provide marriage education for all five
dioceses leading up to a December vote (which was postponed) on same-sex
“marriage,” with many lectures in parishes and universities.
a man who not only is able to teach the Church’s teachings and John Paul II’s
theology of the body,” says Psota, “but Damon and his wife, Melanie, are living
it. They’re such life-giving, loving parents, as well. They are an example of
what the ideal marriage can be. They’re certainly trying to live up to that
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull,
ON THE WEB JoyFilledMarriageNJ.org