Strengthening marriages and families in the Diocese of Trenton is one of Bishop O’Connell’s pastoral priorities. The diocesan Plan for Strengthening Marriage was developed by the diocesan Marriage Study Commission, approved by Bishop O’Connell and launched at the Marriage Summit in May 2015. The plan offers diocesan-wide objectives and particular strategies for the diocese and for parishes.
Building Strong Marriages requires a bold new perspective in the way we minister to married couples and families in our parishes. The marital relationship needs to be strengthened and sustained every day, in every situation and every stage of married life. The parish thus becomes the community of support for all Catholic families.
We need to bring the light of Christ into every human situation, meet all families where they are, and bring them into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Our marriage plan calls all parishes to accompany married couples and families every step of the way, and to bring them into full and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church, where they encounter Jesus most profoundly by sharing in the Eucharist.
Marriage benefits society by building and strengthening human relationships within the home (among spouses and children) and beyond (involving relatives, neighbors, and communities). For this reason, the family has long been understood as the fundamental unit of society, the foundation from which religious, civic, and legal organizations naturally develop and flourish. The weight of research supports these beliefs about marriage, demonstrating the benefits for the individual and consequently, for the society.
The relational ties and community assets forged through marriage result in many positive outcomes for society. Marriage is a “seedbed” of pro-social behavior that fosters social connections, civil and religious involvement, and charitable giving. Marriage connects men and women to the larger community and encourages personal responsibility, family commitment, community voluntarism, and social altruism.
Marriage is the greatest social educator of children. It is the institution that most effectively teaches the civic virtues of honesty, loyalty, trust, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, and respect for others. The virtues cultivated between men and women in marriage, and between parents and the children, radiate outward into civil society. They deepen in married men and women strong habits of devotion to civic life. (Marriage and the Family in the United States: Resources for Society, USCCB 2012)
The Catholic Church has a long and rich history of teaching about the meaning and importance of marriage and family life. Happy and holy marriages are a work of God’s grace combined with our human effort. Marriages are strong and enduring when they rest on three pillars: a transcendent vision, a range of skills that can lead to virtuous relationships, and a supportive community. Through theological, spiritual and pastoral resources, the Catholic faith tradition can help couples and communities put these pillars in place and thereby build strong marriages.