The fifth annual celebration of National Marriage Week USA ends on Valentine’s Day. The weeklong campaign was developed to promote the benefits of traditional marriage. In 21 countries, events are being organized to support and encourage happy, healthy marriages.
In 1996, the founders of National Marriage Week International, Richard and Maria Kane, started the annual celebration of marriage in the United Kingdom to encourage couples to nurture their marriages and to inform people of the value of marriage, as corroborated by research.
A report titled "Why Marriage Matters, Third Edition: Thirty Conclusions From the Social Sciences," sponsored by the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, came to these five conclusions, among others, about the important of marriage: Children are less likely to thrive in cohabiting households, compared to intact, married families; marriage increases the likelihood that fathers and mothers have good relationships with their children; married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or cohabiting couples; marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness and disability for both men and women; and married women appear to have a lower risk of experiencing domestic violence than do cohabiting or dating women.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., who serves on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said that National Marriage Week "gives us a chance to highlight the truth and beauty of the vocation to marriage, and it’s an opportunity to teach the truth about marriage."
Added Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week USA, "There is a shocking decline in the practice of marriage. In 1970, 79% of all adults in this country were married, and that’s dropped down to 52% today. Back in 1960, less than 5% of mothers were unwed; and, today, 41% of all U.S. babies are born outside of wedlock."
Changing the negative tide of marriage starts with married couples, emphasized Bishop Rhoades. "It begins with every married person living their vocation with fidelity, witnessing to the truth and beauty of marriage. We need to teach and proclaim the dignity of conjugal love, the dignity of marriage and the family, recognizing that the love of spouses makes them cooperators with the love of God the Creator."
"We have an urgent task of vigorously affirming that marriage is a great human value, a vocation to the service of life, an intimate communion of life and love that is willed by God himself," he said.
Experts suggest that parishes promote marriage-enriching activities and events.
Lorrie Gramer of MarriageBuilding USA offers these recommendations: "Parishes could host a speaker with a dynamic talk on marriage, hold a dinner dance or some other fun and enriching event for the married couples of the parish." She also suggested "inviting the parish youth to sponsor a ‘Senior Prom’ for the long-married couples of the parish. Couples could also have renewal of marriage vows at the weekend Masses."
Weber shared one of the most creative and successful National Marriage Week events, which took place in Illinois in 2012. Eight churches came together to provide free marriage counseling to married couples that week.
"They put up a big booth at the largest shopping mall, and the booth said: ‘National Marriage Week: Free Marriage Counseling All Week.’ They found six professional counselors that were all faith-based, and those six counselors offered their services for free that week. Each church took a turn manning the booth and directing couples to the counselors. It was a way to reach out to the community and to meet people walking through the mall that might never darken the doors of any church."
Weber hopes that such events will extend beyond National Marriage Week. (NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org has a calendar listing marriage classes, conferences and events; the site also offers tips on affordable weddings.)
Married couples can also find Catholic advice in Marriage Insurance: 12 Rules to Live by, authored by Father Francis "Rocky" Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio. According to the book, Rule No. 1 is: "Go on a weekly date," and Rule No. 2 is: "Go to Sunday Mass together. Every week."
After reading the book, Steve G. of Chicago told the radio station, "Even someone who has been happily married for 18 years can pick up a few pointers; thank you. This should be mandatory reading for everyone before they start dating."
Preparation for Singles
The Catholic Church is also concerned about those seeking to get married. The U.S. bishops offer support to marriage-minded dating and engaged couples through their website ForYourMarriage.org.
Brian Barcaro of the CatholicMatch Institute, an arm of the singles dating site CatholicMatch.com, said, "There are 27 million single Catholics in the United States, and many of them are convinced of the good of marriage and desire to get married."
He sees a great good in National Marriage Week.
"CatholicMatch Institute is trying to bring attention to National Marriage Week by amplifying what other organizations are doing to support married couples and the marriage-minded," he said.
The institute is also stressing how important it is to minister to single Catholics who want to be married.
Robyn Lee, managing editor of the CatholicMatch Institute website, said, "If we can help more singles better understand and prepare for marriage, then the end result should be healthier marriages. This in turn could reduce the number of divorces and hurting marriages and provide a better environment for God to call men and women to the religious life."
New from the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., Office of Family Ministry is "The Third Option," a program designed to help discouraged married couples learn anger management, conflict resolution and effective communication skills. Free sessions in Bismarck are held at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month (beginning Feb. 11-Aug. 26; for more information, contact Patty Teagle at email@example.com).
Supporting and strengthening marriage has been one of the top five concerns for the U.S. bishops’ conference and will continue to be a priority, according to Bishop Rhoades.
One example of how the bishops are trying to help married couples can be seen in the 59-page pastoral letter called "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan," which can be accessed at USCCB.org: "Marriage is … the foundation for the family, where children learn the values and virtues that will make good Christians as well as good citizens. The importance of marriage for children and for the upbringing of the next generation highlights the importance of marriage for all society."
Lori Chaplin writes from Idaho.