FAMILY MATTERS: A BIBLE STUDY IN

Marriage and Family by Michaelann and Curtis Martin Emmaus Road Publishing, 2002 105 pages, $8.95 To order: (800) 398-5470 or http://www.emmausroad.org

Sometimes a good casserole is just as satisfying as a multi-course meal. Think of this book as the family-enrichment equivalent of a good casserole.

The Martins use personal experience, Scripture and the Magisterium to help couples study and discuss 10 major areas of Catholic married life. Each chapter frames an issue, explains the Catholic perspective on it, gets couples to read the Bible together by asking them what specific passages say about that issue (“Personal Applications”), offers points for discussion (“Talk Tips”) and ends with one or two resolutions the couple could apply in their lives (“Action Points”). The subjects run the gamut of married life: mutual prayer, time and communications, sex, child rearing, money matters and the marital vocation.

What sets the book apart is its personal, couple-to-couple style. The Martins liberally refer to their own successes and failures in married life, using this lived perspective as the launching point for talking about what the Church teaches. One unexpected benefit of this approach: its ability to trump the oft-heard charge that ecclesiastical teaching on marriage and family is suspect because it's formulated by celibate priests devoid of experience in what they're talking about.

“We have learned that it is so important to keep our marriage alive and well,” the Martins write. “Just as we feed our souls with prayer and our bodies with food, we need to feed our marriage. The type of food is what's different. We had a good friend tell us that the best way to spell love is t-i-m-e.”

The Martins always manage to reconnect their own experience with the Word of God. Their “Personal Applications” invite couples to read the Bible together, seeing how Scripture can light their way. What does the Bible say about lovers wanting to spend time together (Song of Songs 2:8-10)? What does it say about the good wife (Proverbs 31)? What about women who experienced problems with infertility (1 Samuel 1-2)?

A certain type of modern biblical scholar might disapprove of such a way of reading Scripture, but the Bible is not just a time-bound book primarily to be grammatically dissected. It is primarily to be where “the Father, who is in heaven, comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them” (Dei Verbum, No. 21). The Martins are simply inviting us to listen with ears trained specifically on what God says about marriage and family.

Given the range of topics and the brevity of the book, the Martins are, on the whole, smashingly successful. The only disappointment, for the Grondelskis at least, was the chapter on “Money Matters.” In it, the Martins urge families to live debt-free. They talk about the hidden costs of mortgages and car loans. They rightly note that most cars depreciate faster than buyers can pay off car-loan creditors. They even tell how to save more than $26,000 in five years. But they spend much time considering how much work you'll need to do to avoid borrowing money at—pardon the pun—all costs.

Two supplementary chapters round out the book. “A Leader's Guide” provides answers to biblical questions commonly raised to leaders of Bible-study groups. “Additional Resources” is a useful guide to materials for further reading, arranged topically.

Few books can give as much to chew on in 100 pages as this one. The conversations it should stimulate can be even more enriching. A meaty, recommended meal of a book.

John M. Grondelski writes

from Warsaw, Poland.