Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Institute’s New Director on Speaking Truth in Understandable Ways

By Kathleen Naab

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, JAN. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A Philadelphia-based educational institute focused on promoting Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body has named a new executive director.

The 7-year-old Theology of the Body Institute picked Damon Owens, a successful businessman turned marriage promoter. Included on his extensive resume is his work as the Archdiocese of Newark’s Natural Family Planning and Marriage Preparation Coordinator, and leadership with the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), the largest African-American, pro-life ministry in the country.

Owens is himself a certified Natural Family Planning instructor who has counseled more than 20,000 couples over the last 16 years. He often appears on Catholic television and radio, sharing various aspects of the theology of the body, as well as commentating on topics related to marriage and family. He and his wife, Melanie, have been married for 18 years and have eight children.

ZENIT spoke with Owens about the Theology of the Body Institute and its work, and the difficulties facing those who promote Blessed John Paul’s message.

ZENIT: The Theology of the Body Institute exists to promote John Paul II’s theology at the secular level, too. Is that truly possible and if so how?

Owens: Our mission is to train and educate men and women to understand, live and promote Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body. While most of the individuals who come in contact with our programs are Catholic, our on-site and Certification courses regularly draw non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is not only possible, but it is critical that we evangelize the broader culture. Our preparation as believers for the “springtime of the new evangelization” includes a deeper grounding not only in the “what’s” of our faith, but the “why’s” behind them.

As believers, we accept even what we cannot fully understand about God’s revelation, because we love and trust him. Still, our faith is reasonable. There is a tremendous amount of truth that can be encountered before an assent of faith. There is a tremendous amount of beautiful and compelling meaning that can be successfully proposed even to a darkened intellect and hardened heart.

Rooted in objective truth, the theology of the body provides a personalistic approach that is well-suited for evangelizing in the modern culture. Our sexuality — masculinity and femininity — carries deep meaning for the identity and vocation of every human person. It is also the place of deep wounds for so many. The Theology of the Body Institute desires to help persons in every state of life gain an understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image and to live out their call to love as he loves. Only from this foundation can an authentic culture of life and love take root and flourish.

ZENIT: Linked to the previous question, statistics about Catholic married couple’s use of artificial contraception seem to indicate there is plenty need for Catholics as well to hear and accept John Paul’s theology. What are your thoughts in this regard? Must we first clean up our own camp before engaging the secular world?

Owens: Beginning with your last question, evangelization is, of course, intimately connected with catechesis (the head) and conversion (the heart). It is always a messy, personal, and inefficient work! Our witness is hurt by our own sin, ignorance, and lack of faith. On one hand, our ongoing conversion strengthens our witness. On the other hand, we have to be careful about setting too high a standard of personal perfection before witnessing to perfection. Without question, contraception is a tap-root of nearly every modern evil. Moreover, the prevalence of Christians contracepting is both a cause and an effect of the rise of other grave evils such as pornography, divorce, violence against women, abortion, fornication and homosexuality. These were the predicted consequences of their widespread use, and the subsequent result of their widespread acceptance.

The question remains, however: How do we reach people’s heads and hearts to reject the evil of contraception? It cannot just be emphatic instruction on the mortal sin of contraception (the head). It must include a compelling invitation to a true conversion of heart. Their hearts must “see” how contraception is a withholding of themselves that deforms the marital act and stifles the very love they long for. Theology of the body is a means to illumine the immutable meaning of things (natural law) in the heart of the person.

Fortunately, the great majority truly desire love. Whether they are in a pew or at the mall on Sunday, they deserve to hear the truth in a way that they can understand it. It is in our heart — or inner life — that we as unique and unrepeatable persons encounter the One True God. While we certainly wish there were a more authentic faith witness from Catholic married couples today, we at the Theology of the Body Institute have been just as awed by conversions in the Faith as by those to the Faith. We remain passionately committed to the simple mission of educating and training men and women to understand, live, and promote the Theology of the Body.

ZENIT: Tell us about the institute and plans you have for it as the new executive director.

Owens: The Theology of the Body Institute was formed in 2004 with the simple mission to educate and train men and women to understand, live and promote the theology of the body. Each of the founders experienced a profound conversion through Blessed John Paul II’s great work and continue to be animated by the desire to make it accessible to the world — Christian and secular — in an understandable, engaging and attractive manner. Ours is an integrated educational approach that presents the rich intellectual theology in an environment that encourages a real encounter with Our Lord. As we often say, it is an immersion of the head and the heart!

Our certification program with its retreat-format courses is the heart of our mission. These courses include Theology of the Body I, II, & III, Love & Responsibility, Catholic Sexual Ethics, Writings of John Paul II on Gender, Marriage, & Family, The Thought of Karol Wojtyla, and Theology of the Body & the Interior Life. Our on-site events at schools, parishes, seminaries and conferences around the world complement these courses and have grown in number and size every year.

We have a world-class faculty that includes Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Michael Waldstein, Christopher West, Bill Donaghy, Dr. John Haas, and beginning for 2012-2013, Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. To date, more than 1,600 individuals have come to Pennsylvania for our week-long certification courses, and thousands have attended our on-site events around the world. We also held the first Theology of the Body Congress in 2010 bringing together leaders from around the world to explore the diverse applications of TOB. So, I begin with an organization that I consider successful in its mission.

My plans are to build on this success with an enhanced Clergy Enrichment Program for priests and seminarians that enriches both their priestly identity and vocation as fathers. We also plan to expand both our faculty and our Certification course offerings to reach even more lay and clerical leaders. The fact remains that only a small percentage of people in the world are familiar with this profound teaching. I see my role as expanding this success, as opposed to any real change in direction.

ZENIT: You are taking over leadership of the institute when the push for same-sex marriage and adoption is unprecedented. What do you hope to contribute to this battle?

Owens: We are an educational apostolate, so our contribution to social issues such as these is teaching the meaning of things. What is marriage? What does our sexuality mean? What is love, truth, freedom, or joy? What does it mean to be a human person? How do I choose, act, and live in accord with these truths and meanings? These cultural issues ultimately represent a critical loss of the meaning and dignity of human personhood. God bless those who are taking up these issues in the public square. I did that for years and deeply appreciate the need for, and difficulty of, these urgent defenses. It is abundantly clear, however, that these issues incubated long-term in a culture steeped in a disintegrated concept of human personhood. Sexual complementarity devolved into sexual difference, now sexual difference has been denied all together. Equality is argued as sameness. So, the argument continues, since men and women are the same, there is no difference between a husband and a wife or a mother and a father.

This is an identity crisis that requires long-term reformation and restoration. If we don’t know who — and whose — we are, we won’t know how to behave in a way that is in accord with our dignity and brings us true joy. Sexuality, sexual morality, love, marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, family, and life itself are integrated realities that flow from who God has revealed himself to be — a Trinitarian Communio: Three Divine Persons in such union that they are truly One.

The Gospel is “good news” precisely because it reveals to us the deepest truths of our identity created in the “image and likeness” of God, and subsequently our vocation to love. The language, approach, and appeal of the theology of the body gives us a means to understand and embrace the Gospel by rereading the language of the body. Simply put, as the body reveals the person, masculinity and femininity reveal the original, enduring, and eternal meaning of personhood as a call to communion. Love is self-gift. By rereading the language of the body in truth, we see love as not simply something we do, but as a universal human vocation that flows from who we are.

With regard to the specific question of redefining marriage, students of theology of the body are equipped to articulate not mere disagreement, but why it is simply not possible.

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Witnessing the Show in New York’s Own Colosseum

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JAN. 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On a recent trip to New York City, I was struck once again by the intense and dramatic contrasts that live side by side in this cosmopolitan mecca. The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that one witnesses there brings to mind some of the most dramatic moments in history.

Sometimes I can glimpse what it must have been like to be in Rome during the first years of legalized Christianity, when the pagans were desperately fighting the oncoming tide of conversion (a win for the Christians,) or in Paris during the Enlightenment when the secularists were mounting the offense against an established Church (things went badly for the Church on that one). Today it feels like another epic battle is raging over the soul of yet another city, and, as in the case of Paris and Rome, the result will have implications for the world.

The New York skirmishes and victories range from the sublime to the ridiculous. And while the political arena may seem to be the best place to watch the battle for America’s soul, I was actually more struck by stories from the contemporary Colosseum: the entertainment world. Amid the theaters and sound stages of New York, I saw innocents thrown to the lions of dance and music, the emergence of a new Ben Hur, and a quiet witness that has prayerfully watched the comings and goings for decades.

Lady Gaga gags the Gospel

Last Thanksgiving, while Americans were thanking God (or some unspecified, unseen benefactor) for their blessings, pop singer Lady Gaga, baptized Stephanie Germanotta, was offering thanks to herself for the gift of herself at her former high school, the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Manhattan.

Sacred Heart School was founded in 1881 by the French congregation of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and is the oldest private school for girls in New York. Ms. Germanotta filmed her “holiday” special at the school reflecting on the events and experiences of her 29 years.

Granted, Sacred Heart isn’t known for producing Nobel prize winners — most of the celebrity alumnae are actresses — but one wonders what alumna Eunice Kennedy-Shriver would have made of Ms. Germanotta crooning her hit “Born This Way” (the tired genetic excuse for unbridled sexual license) after Kennedy-Shriver’s lifetime crusade to help people born with disabilities to lead a life of dignity.

Ms. Germanotta is less known for her formidable singing talent than for her provocative get-ups and tawdry music videos, which are usually one step shy of pornography. Taking a page from her predecessor Madonna, Gaga has a penchant for using Christian imagery in her exhibitions, from wearing an upside down cross over her genitals to donning a parody of a religious habit in red latex and eating rosary beads. With this in mind one wonders whether she is truly the best role model for a K-12 audience in a “Catholic” school. As Catholics, do we honor anyone who achieves notoriety, or those who provide a model of Christian virtue?

More pointedly still, Ms. Germanotta is an active supporter of contraceptive and abortion providers, and a very determined proponent of gay “marriage.” Curious that this gave no pause to school leaders and parents who permitted 8-year-olds in their Catholic school uniforms to sing her anthems before a television camera.

This situation bears more than a passing resemblance to Notre Dame University’s 2009 decision to confer an honorary degree on the openly pro-abortion President Barack Obama. If we are going to offer platforms to those who denigrate our teaching, how can we be surprised if the faithful are confused?

But what is most striking to me, in the present climate of sex abuse and scandal, is that no one questioned Ms. Germanotta’s performance of her song “Bad Romance” in front of the high school students singing into a phallic-shaped microphone. Were a priest or a religious sister to do something of the sort, the law suits would (rightly) accumulate faster than Lady Gaga’s costume changes. As it stands, parents, children and teaching faculty proudly stood by and applauded. The New York notion of protecting youth and setting a good example for young women seems oddly contradictory.

This is not the first time Ms. Germanotta has returned to her old school. In 2010, she attended her sister’s graduation wearing a transparent lace bodysuit and black veiled hat, eclipsing the achievement of the graduates by drawing attention to herself. Even media sympathetic to the singer recognized that she was “getting even” with a school where she had felt “bullied.” Not unlike Lord Voldemort and Hogwart’s, Lady Gaga too got her revenge, unfortunately with the full support of the director of Sacred Heart School.

Book of Mormon vs. The Joy of Sex

Lady Gaga’s adolescent antics are minor compared to the expletive extravaganza set to music in the Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon,” which I saw together with a Mormon friend. Written by the authors of “South Park,” it opened in March 2011 to constantly sold out audiences. Critics heaped praise and awards on the musical, while detractors mutter that the teachings of the Church of the Latter Day Saints have been taken out of context. Yet most commentators suggest that it’s all fun and games set to catchy music.

I admit, I was an erstwhile fan of South Park and its equal opportunity satire, but Book of Mormon seemed less democratic in its jabs. The story is ostensibly about two young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to share their scripture. The villagers are uninterested as their lives are consumed by poverty, famine and AIDS. When the local warlord plots to mutilate the women of the village, however, the villagers decide to feign conversion so as to flee. When they go for instruction from the Mormons they encounter an especially ignorant missionary who makes up his own revelation from snippets of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. When the ruse is discovered, all conclude that religion is better when taken as a metaphor instead of literally.

My first red flag went up with the portrayal of the Ugandans, seen as virtually illiterate, and enslaved by their sexual instincts. I don’t know what a Ugandan would make of being presented as almost bestial in his desires and with a vocabulary limited to profanity. (In the show, all but one of the 75 instances of foul language are uttered by the Ugandans.)

Furthermore, the story presumes that female genital mutilation is a normal practice despite the fact that Uganda outlawed the practice in 2009, blazing the trail for other African nations. And although the plot supposes that the overwhelming majority of Ugandans are infected with the AIDS virus, Uganda has been the most successful battleground against AIDS with its “ABC” policy, of Abstinence, “Be faithful,” and Condoms, with the latter seen as a last resort. Thanks to this program HIV has declined dramatically in Uganda, and between 1991 and 2007, HIV infection rates dropped by more than 50%.

Frankly, the AIDS question made me realize this was not merely a satire of what Mormons believe, but also an attack on any religion that teaches morals, especially sexual morals. From that moment on, I saw every joke about the Mormon angel Moroni as if it were about Gabriel and the Virgin Birth, and the show became less funny.

The next, very catchy, number was called “turn it off,” about leaving painful experiences behind and forging onward. If these were Catholic missionaries, it would be called “offer it up.” After a few desultory lyrics about authentic family tragedies, the song gets to its real point: homosexuality. At this point the missionaries are transformed into a pink-sequined kick-line of sexually repressed young men.

That’s when I started to do a little math. Proposition 8, the California amendment banning gay marriage, was passed in November 2008, largely with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who provided a great deal of the funding and the door-to-door canvassing to pass the legislation. The Mormons were very hard hit in the backlash from gay activists with everything from protests, to vandalism, to threats of violence.

“Book of Mormon,” like Lady Gaga’s return to high school, smacks of revenge served with music and lyrics. The authors claim to have a long-standing interest in Mormons, but I suspect that the rewrites between 2008 and 2010 underscored the homosexual angle.

Again, it seems that by slapping the LDS, the writers were really after any church that stands by its teachings. As a Catholic watching Broadway bully the Mormons, I kept thinking, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?

“Book of Mormon” is weakened further by its relentless obscenity. Even The New York Times review of the play admitted that the musical was “more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak.”

A friend and fellow art historian had perhaps the most reasoned criticism of the show, “So much expense, so much work and so much talent … for this?” The sexual humor and profanity soon become tired gags.

Engaging the camera

While the dark clouds of sex and satire obscuring stage and screen may suggest a bleak forecast, I also witnessed a great force for the year of evangelization, in the newly nominated Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York.

The morning of Jan. 6, I went to morning Mass in the cathedral (silly me, I thought Epiphany was a holy day of obligation) and saw Cardinal Dolan just hours after the nomination, as TV cameras and reporters were piling into the church. Archbishop Dolan met the cameras with ease, explaining his new duties and his commitment to his present responsibilities with a clarity, confidence and joy that was more engaging than any show tune.

He then walked across the street to the set of the Today show, and, pre-empting politics and entertainment, used his new status for a few instants of morning evangelization.

My most memorable New York moment, however, was walking out of the “Book of Mormon” theater, relativist mantras still resounding in my head, and seeing a little chapel directly across the street. It was the Actor’s Chapel dedicated to St. Malachy, which has been quietly sitting on 49th Street since 1902. The prayerful space holds chapels to St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors and St. Cecelia, the patroness of music. Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope and Ricardo Montalban prayed here, and Jimmy Durante served at Mass.

The tabernacle with its little red Eucharistic lamp reminds us that Christ sees all. He has been mocked before, far more severely than any musical taunt could, and he has triumphed.

Report Shows Big Downside to Family Disintegration
By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Marriage continues to decline in the United States, bringing with it numerous adverse consequences for individuals, and society in general. This is one of the main conclusions of a recent study.

The National Marriage Report released its annual publication “The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America 2007” this summer. The center is based at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

The authors of the study are two academics well-known for their writings on family and marriage issues: David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. They found that from 1970 to 2005 there was a decline of nearly 50% in the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adult women.

A significant proportion of this drop was simply due to delaying marriage until an older age. Nevertheless, more people simply don’t marry or are unmarried, due to cohabitation and a decrease in the numbers of divorced people to remarry.

The report cites estimates that about a quarter of unmarried women 25-39 are currently living with a partner, and an additional quarter have lived with a partner at some time in the past. As well, over half of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared with virtually none 50 years ago.

Cohabitation is more common among those of lower educational and income levels, as well as those who are less religious than their peers.

Myths

The report also rebuts a couple of myths often used by anti-family forces. The first myth is that living together before marriage is useful in order to find out whether the couple can get along, thereby avoiding a bad marriage and an eventual divorce. This is not borne out by the facts, the report observes.

“In fact, a substantial body of evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage,” the report comments.

The report admits that there are diverse opinions over how the data can be interpreted, but at a minimum the authors conclude: “What can be said for certain is that no evidence has yet been found that those who cohabit before marriage have stronger marriages than those who do not.”

The second myth refuted by the report is the affirmation that even though fewer are marrying, those who marry have higher quality marriages. Not so, reply Popenoe and Whitehead, noting that “the best available evidence on the topic” shows a decline over the last 25 years in the number of both men and women who affirm their marriages are “very happy.”

Education’s role

The report also reveals a growing social divide when it comes to marriage. Among those who have received a university education the institution of marriage has strengthened in the last couple of decades. College-educated women now marry at a higher rate compared with the rest of the population, and they are also less favorably inclined toward divorce than less educated women.

In addition, among those who delay marriage past age 30, college-educated women are the only ones more likely to have children after marriage rather than before.

There is, thus, a growing “marriage gap” in America, notes the report, between those who are well educated and those who are not.

In fact, for those without a university education, “the marriage situation remains gloomy,” according to the report. This is due to a combination of a continuing decline in marriage rates and a growing percentage of out-of-wedlock births. By the year 2000, fully 40% of high school drop-out mothers were living without husbands, compared with just 12% of college-graduate mothers, states the report.

Since hitting a high point in the early 1980s, divorce has moderately declined. Overall, the lifetime probability of a first marriage ending in divorce or separation remains between 40% and 50%. The risk of divorce, however, varies quite notably. The chances of divorce are much higher for those who are poor, people who are high-school drop outs, and couples who marry as teenagers. Couples who have a family background of divorce, as well as those who have no religious affiliation, are also more likely to divorce.

Bottom line

In addition to the personal consequences, the breakdown in marriage and family life over the last few decades has had a severe economic impact. A section of the report looks at the economic benefits of marriage for society.

“Married couples create more economic assets on average than do otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples,” argues the report. Married couples live more frugally, as opposed to two adults living as singles, and they also save and invest more for the future. Men also tend to become more economically productive after marriage, earning between 10% and 40% more than do single men with similar education and job histories.

The increase in divorce has also resulted in more inequality and poverty. The report points out that a large body of research has shown that both divorce and unmarried childbearing increase child poverty. One study even went so far as to show that if family structure had not changed between 1960 and 1998, the black child poverty rate in 1998 would have been 28.4% rather than 45.6%, and the white child poverty rate would have been 11.4% rather than 15.4%.

Divorce also means higher costs for governments, due to such factors as welfare payments and increased juvenile delinquency. The nation’s 1.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $30 billion, the report affirms.

The increase in single-parent families also imposes a high cost on children. By 2006 some 28% of American children lived with just one parent. “This means that more children each year are not living in families that include their own married, biological parents, which by all available empirical evidence is the gold standard for insuring optimal outcomes in a child’s development,” commented Popenoe in his introductory essay to the report.

Reversing trends

Popenoe also asks how the breakdown in marriage and the family could be repaired. One way to do this is through a cultural transformation led by religion. With the passing of years, Popenoe continues, the United States and other countries have become ever more secular and individualistic. This is particularly the case among young people.

Strengthening religion and the family is one of Benedict XVI’s common themes. The family is a priority of the new evangelization, he declared July 5 to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic present in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

The Pontiff said, “The Church desires that the family truly be the place where the person is born, matures and is educated for life, and where parents, by loving their children tenderly, prepare them for healthy interpersonal relationships which embody moral and human values in the midst of a society so heavily marked by hedonism and religious indifference.” 

More recently, when responding to questions Sept. 1 posed by the youth gathered for an encounter with the Pope in Loreto, Italy, Benedict XVI stated that the marginalization affecting so many people today in part is due to the fragmentation of families.

The family, he pointed out, “should not only be a place where generations meet, but also where they learn to live, learn the essential virtues, and this is in danger.” We need to make sure the family survives and is once more at the center of society, the Pope urged. A task more urgent than ever in the light of current trends.



New Studies Reveal Close Relationship

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The fortunes of family life and religion may well be linked, say experts in recent studies. W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is the author of a research brief published in May by the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families.

“Churches are bulwarks of marriage in urban America,” he affirmed in the brief “Religion, Race, and Relationships in Urban America.” Wilcox started by observing that in spite of widespread concern over the breakdown of marriage and family life in contemporary society, so far little attention has been paid on religion’s influence for the family.

His attempt to remedy this omission is based on a reading of data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (FFCW), sponsored by Columbia and Princeton Universities.

The dramatic changes in family structures are graphically illustrated by Wilcox.

— From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of children born out of wedlock rose from 5% to 33%.

— The divorce rate more than doubled to almost 50%.

— The percentage of children living in single-parent families rose
from 9% to 27%.

Poor and minority families have suffered even more. In 1996, for example, 35% of African American children and 64% of Latino children were living in married households, compared to 77% of white children.

Wilcox argued that religion can influence family life in four ways.

— Religious institutions promote norms strengthening marriage, for example, the idea that sex and childbearing ought to be reserved for marriage, and broader moral norms that support happier, more stable marriages.

— Religious faith endows the marital relationship with a sense of transcendence.

— In many religious groups there are family-oriented social networks that offer emotional and social support, plus a measure of social control that reinforces commitment to the marital bond.

— Religious belief and practice provides support to cope with stresses such as unemployment or the death of a loved one. A greater psychological resilience, in turn, is linked to higher quality marriages.

Paradox

Wilcox does, however, admit that religious participation is by no means an automatic guarantee of a happy family life. In fact, what he termed “one of the paradoxes of American religious life,” is the contradiction between the high level of religious practice among African Americans — the highest of any racial group — and the reality that they have the lowest rate of marriage of any racial or ethnic group.

Turning to an analysis of the data from the FFCW survey, Wilcox argued that it shows how religious attendance — particularly by fathers — is associated with higher rates of marriage among urban parents.

Moreover, churchgoing boosts the odds of marriage for African American parents in urban America in much the same way it boosts the odds of marriage for urban parents from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Paternal church attendance is particularly important for urban relationships, Wilcox maintains. If a father goes to church regularly, then he is more likely to enter into marriage and also to have a relationship of higher quality.

Benefits of belief

The arguments raised by Wilcox are similar to those put forward by Patrick Fagan in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation last December. In “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” Fagan argued that “religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families and the community.”

“Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages and well-behaved children,” he pointed out.

Numerous sociological studies, Fagan continued, show that valuing religion and regularly practicing it are associated with greater marital stability, higher levels of marital satisfaction and an increased likelihood that an individual will be inclined to marry.

Among other points, these studies reveal that:

— Women who are more religious are less likely to experience divorce or separation than their less religious peers.

— Marriages in which both spouses attend religious services frequently are 2.4 times less likely to end in divorce than marriages in which neither spouse worships.

— Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, confirming studies conducted as far back as 50 years ago.

— Couples who share the same faith are more likely to reunite if they separate than are couples who do not share the same religious affiliation.

Moreover, Fagan pointed out, religious practice is also related to a reduction in such negative behaviors as domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse and addiction.

Losing God

Mary Eberstadt looked at the other side of the coin in the relationship between family and religion in an article published in the June-July issue of the magazine Policy Review. In the article “How the West Really Lost God,” she reflected on the causes of secularization, a phenomenon particularly notable in Western Europe.

The thesis often put forward, Eberstadt observed, is that secularism came first and that this had a negative impact on family life in Western Europe. She argued, however: “At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families.”

In support of her case Eberstadt pointed out that European fertility in general dropped well before the dramatic demise of religious practice observed in recent decades. Within Europe she cited the example of France, which saw fertility decline much sooner than in many other European countries, and is also a nation where secularism is stronger.

Ireland, by contrast, withstood the winds of secularism until a short time ago, and it was also a country with strong families. The recent erosion of religion in Ireland was preceded by a collapse in Irish fertility, Eberstadt added.

Turning to the United States she commented that the higher level of religious practice could be due to the greater number of children.

Evangelicals and Mormons, who unlike Catholics are not prohibited from using contraceptives, also have larger families. Maybe, Eberstadt posited, there is something about the family that inclines people toward religiosity.

She then examined the dynamic that exists between family life and religion. The experience of birth leads parents to a moment of transcendence. As well, the practice of sacrificing oneself for the good of the family and children may lead people to go beyond selfish pleasure-seeking. In addition, the fear of death, in terms of losing a spouse or child is a powerful spur to faith.

As for the well-known fact that women tend to be more religious than men, maybe Eberstadt argued, this is due to their more intimate participation in the birth of their children compared to a man’s role.

While fertility rates in Europe and many other countries are now very low, this could change as the disadvantages of single motherhood and the social and economic consequences of shrinking populations weigh more heavily.

“There is nothing inevitable about the decline of the natural family and thus, by implication, religion too,” Eberstadt contended. While quick to admit that, “merely having families and children is no guarantee of religious belief,” a resurgence in family life could well strengthen religion.

The authors of the studies cited here would probably be the first to admit that the interaction between religion and the family is complicated and that many other factors play a part in the strengthening or weakening of both. No doubt more research is needed, but these initial efforts point to some interesting relationships.

The natural family, Ebserstadt concludes, “as a whole has been the human symphony through which God has historically been heard by many people.” A symphony unfortunately marred by many discordant notes today, but whose return to harmony would be of immense benefit.

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop-Designate Elliott

MELBOURNE, Australia, JUNE 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A love for the liturgy attracted former-Anglican Peter John Elliott to the Catholic Church, a love which he will carry over into his activities as an auxiliary bishop.

Bishop-designate Elliott, 63, of Melbourne, is the third Australian prelate to have an Anglican background. He converted to the Catholic Church during his studies at Oxford. He will receive his episcopal ordination June 15.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop-designate Elliott discusses his new mission as a Church leader, and the challenges of secularization and religious formation in Australia.

Q: As a convert from the Anglican Church, and now appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, you bring with you a background not shared by many bishops. What influence has your personal history had on your priesthood, and what will it mean for you as a bishop?

Bishop-designate Elliott: As far as I can see, I am the third Australian bishop with an Anglican background. Archbishop Lancelot Goody [1908-1992] of Perth came into the Church as a child, when his family converted. Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore, New South Wales, was an Anglican clergyman until he was reconciled to the Church in 1964.

I came in four years later, halfway through my theology studies at Oxford, where I was training for the Anglican clergy.

But apart from the ecumenical advantages, the Anglicanism in which I was raised was firmly based in the High Church Oxford Movement, so my father, an Anglican vicar, was not anti-Catholic. I could say that I learned the basics of the faith at home.

When I was ordained a priest in Melbourne in 1973, my parents were delighted to be involved in the celebrations. Yet what has influenced my priesthood, rising from this background, was a love of the liturgy, a valuing of the sacraments and a sense of beauty, reverence and awe, which characterized the Anglican tradition at its best. My father also taught me to preach — without notes!

Q: Your work in Rome at the Pontifical Council for the Family, and then in Melbourne as the director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, meant you were in close contact with family questions. In these times when there is so much debate over the future of the family, what do you think the Church has to offer a secular society?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Working in the pontifical council from 1987 to 1997 was a fascinating experience, especially guided by Cardinal Edouard Gagnon and Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, two leaders I was honored to serve, in our common service of Pope John Paul II.

It was the era of the famous, or infamous, U.N. conferences. I served in the delegation of the Holy See at the Cairo Population Conference, the World Justice Summit at Copenhagen and the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing.

Here I learned in no uncertain terms that the family, marriage and human life itself is under direct attack, and that God’s providence is guiding the Catholic Church to meet the challenge of global secularism in all its aggressive and destructive forms.

The battleground in not merely in international conferences heavy with ambiguous jargon and deceitful strategies, but right here in your family and mine — this is where the struggle for the soul of the human person is taking place.

Yet the Church meets this not with negativity, but by proclaiming the good news of life and love, by saying that babies are beautiful, that the future does move by way of the family, that the great hope for humanity is the living cell of all societies, the family based on marriage.

To put it simply: In a world weighed down by doom-and-gloom postmodern ideologies, we proclaim the virtue word “hope.”

Q: You are also a well-known commentator on liturgical questions. Amid all the worries over changes in liturgy and a lack of respect for Church norms, how do you think we can recover a sense of the sacred in the liturgy, while at the same time making it attractive to a mentality that often sees ceremonies as boring and repetitive?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Sometimes I regret getting into writing books on liturgy. Some e-mails I receive are quite amazing. But I love the liturgy, and it was largely through the liturgy that I “came home” to Catholicism.

That is why I deeply regret the abuses of liturgy or the sheer liturgical laziness found in various places. While these abuses continue, I believe they are less frequent, and I see signs of hope, particularly through the liturgical vision and leadership of Benedict XVI.

He takes us beyond techniques, details and issues, and he leads us deeply into the “spirit of the liturgy.” The wonderful vision of the Second Vatican Council was of a liturgy that linked earth to heaven, the worship of the mystical body.

Our Holy Father understands this well, and interprets it wisely. The sense of the sacred is returning, gradually. Young Catholics bear witness to this trend.

I am delighted at the prospect of real, dignified and accurate texts for Mass in English, and that this reform is being extended to all languages.

Also, I am not so sure that many people see ceremonies as “boring and repetitive.” I think there has been a reaction against that phase when ceremonies were made so “meaningful” as to be performances, a liturgical cabaret approach.

People seek stability in worship, and that is where the fixed liturgical forms of Catholic worship in the East and West come into play in our lives.

Q: Benedict XVI has specifically mentioned Australia, along with some other Western nations, as being one of the countries most affected by secularization and a weakening of the Church. What do you see as the priorities for the Church in Australia to affront this situation?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Yes, secularization is prevalent in Australia. I recently took part in a dialogue with evangelicals and Pentecostals on this question, which is of concern to all Christians.

The secularizing process, and a kind of ideology of secularism, has made great inroads into our families, and into the lives of individuals. But that is just the kind of challenge we have had to face, in other pagan forms, in other societies in the past.

In Australia we need to strengthen the Church by concentrating on two points: formation of priests and promoting vocations, and a radical revision of religious education and catechesis.

I have been involved in that second area since I returned from Rome 10 years ago. Cardinal George Pell made me episcopal vicar for religious education in Melbourne, and editor of a 13-volume set of school texts entitled “To Know, Worship and Love.”

As a bishop, I will continue working in this field with Archbishop Denis Hart, a hands-on leader who recognizes priorities. We now see these texts spreading across Australia because they “put the beef back into the hamburger” — in an attractive, creative way.

Formation and education, these are the keys to family ministry, to parish revitalization, and will be evident at World Youth Day in Sydney next year.

In turn, formation and education lead to a real “new evangelization,” which, putting aside all the debates about detail, really means converting nonbelieving people to Jesus Christ and his Church. By forming better Catholics we can carry out a mission to others.

So many “secular” people are hungering for God, even if they do not know it. But without formation we have little to offer them.

Nevertheless, when it is all said and done, we Catholics still have to respond to the greatest gift of Vatican II, the universal call to holiness. That is how we meet and transform a secularized society, by deeper personal spirituality, by union with the merciful heart of the Lord Jesus.

Q: We often tend to focus on the negative side. What do think are some of the positive steps that the Church and religious organizations have made in recent years in Australia?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Spiritual movements are growing in Australia, with their different charisms, spiritualities and approaches that reflect the variety, and yet build up the organic unity of the Church. None of these movements is the perfect “silver bullet,” yet together they are reshaping large sections of the Church.

Again, that will be evident at World Youth Day. I also see the deep concern for social justice as a major contribution the Church in Australia has made to the life of our nation, and beyond, as in East Timor and the Pacific Islands. Australian Catholicism has a grand heritage of justice work and action based on the social teachings of the Church.

This is another way to penetrate a very prosperous but uncertain — and fear-ridden — society. We bring the balance and wisdom of the Christian cultures of the past to bear on our society today. Australia is a changing multiethnic society, ranging from our indigenous Australians through to new waves of refugees and immigrants who seek a new life in our land.

But this is a land of hope, named centuries ago by Catholic explorers — the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.