Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
January 30, 2018 // Diocese

Symposium supports strengthening marriage and the family

Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on Saturday, Jan. 27, a “Symposium to Strengthen Marriage and the Family: Building a Christ Centered Home” was sponsored by the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend and the South Bend Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The topic is a common bond between the two churches, especially in a culture that actively and passively denigrates the complementarity between men and women, a commitment to life-long marriage and the joy of family life. Held in South Bend at St. Therese Little Flower Parish, the symposium had relics of patron saints of St. Louie and Zelie Martin, canonized parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in the church right next door.

Though we differ greatly theologically, Catholics and Mormons do support many common values and beliefs: the importance of marriage as a social institution, the centrality of family life and the important role of parents in teaching their faith, and service to society,” John Sikorski, director of Adult Faith Formation and program co-coordinator, explained.

A young Catholic couple with four children discuss with Dr. Mark and Naomi Hoipkeimer ways to serve in their parish and local community. The ideas shared included both “going outward” from one’s home, and “going inward” — creating hospitality when serving others with children. — Jennifer Miller

This is the second symposium on the topic; the first, held in 2016 in Fort Wayne, featured national speakers on the topic. This year, excellent local speakers were invited. They focused on a variety of topics, including overcoming common conflicts in marriage, deepening communication and intimacy, teaching the responsible use of social media, educating teens about sexuality, theology of the family and the family in service to society.

The event began with prayer followed by a keynote address by LDS South Bend Stake President Rick Jones. He thanked Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades for his collaboration in this event, explaining its importance, “because of the stated commitments to the family that rise above political or theological differences.” Jones then spoke about some of the historical perspective that led to the symposium, noting that the 1950s were also “trying times for the cohesion of the family — with forced control for uniformity and conformity. The role of the family does not change (in history) just because the circumstances surrounding it have.” He also emphasized the need for support for families in “maintaining the beauty of love at home.” 

Breakout sessions were offered on three different tracks: marriage and spousal relationships, parenting in a Christian home, and a social track about living the faith in a secular culture. University of Notre Dame professor Dr. Daniel Philpott offered a reflection about defending the family in a time of polite persecution from the Catholic perspective, and professor Bryan Ritchie discussed how marriage is and isn’t like a start-up business, from the Mormon perspective.

Local licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Feathergill shared research about healthy marriages from the work of John and Julie Gottman. He emphasized the No. 1 trait of healthy marriages, which is a deep and abiding friendship between the spouses. He explained that challenges and conflicts are not necessarily a problem in a relationship, but rather how they are handled and argued.

Local Catholic and Mormon couples, both with many children, also shared their life experiences on a panel. Areas of common family life, such as regular family dinner together, were found to be instrumental in raising of faith-filled adult children. Public policy fellow Dr. Mary O’Callaghan, from the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, presented a theologically rich testimony on laying down one’s life and embracing the cross as parents build a Christ-centered home

Bishop Rhoades offered a reflective talk on building marriage and family life on the solid rock of Christ. He explained a “damaging cultural change — the diminishment of faith, the growth of atheism — a practical atheism in which people who even profess faith in God, live as if God does not exist.

“This secularism is perhaps the most damaging influence on the well-being of marriage and family in our culture,” he said. “The absence of God in a person’s life or in the life of a married couple makes it more difficult to make the sacrifices that married love entails.”

He offered antidotes to this practical atheism: “Believing that God’s (own) love is stable and forever, one understands that the covenant of marriage, with God’s help, is meant to be stable and forever.

“We pray in the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ This is an important petition for married couples, because living marriage is an everyday task. It is important to say “yes” or “I do” every day, not just on the wedding day.”

He also spoke of the importance of forgiveness in the marriage relationship, noting that God forgives His people — as several of the other speakers emphasized as well. The words of Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, “The family that prays together stays together,” were also cited in numerous talks as a key to the rich fabric of living a Christ-centered family life.

Sikorski offered: “In a conference on the role and mission of the family held in Rome, Pope Francis said, “The family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity.

“Pope St. John Paul II called the family a “school of life and love,” where holy married couples can form future saints by helping their children to encounter Christ and to work for the common good. We hope that by learning from the sessions at the symposium all our participants came away with a renewed strength, zeal, and practical skills needed to help them to build their marriages on the solid rock of Christ, who gives them grace to live this beautiful vocation.”

Lauren and Tim Bonadies of St. Joseph Parish, South Bend, took strength from unexpected moments of the conference. “My husband, Tim, and I weren’t sure what to expect from the symposium, but we knew we wanted to focus on the marriage aspect and we sincerely appreciated all of the insights shared on Saturday,” said Lauren. “As the wife of someone who started his own company, I most enjoyed hearing Dr. Ritchie speak on how marriage is comparable to a startup company, as it helped me to garner a bit of perspective into where my business-oriented husband is coming from. We look forward to the next symposium.”

Spouses and families were encouraged to “more than anything, re-commit on a daily basis to fostering and nurturing Christ’s self-giving love in marriage,” Sikorski said. “It is hard to continue to improve one’s marriage if one is not actively doing something about it. It’s still early enough in the year to make some “New Year’s resolutions” — maybe think of one or two that you can make specifically for your spouse or children. Also, look for ways to become more involved in your parish or church community — ways in which you can give of yourself to those who are less fortunate. Parishes offer date nights for married couples, small faith-sharing groups, and Bible studies. If your parish isn’t offering something, perhaps you can consider starting it? It’s important to carve out time and space to always place one’s marriage first.

For those on social media, Lisa Everett, deputy secretary for the Secretariat of Evangelization and Discipleship, also recommended following “We regularly post articles related to various aspects of marriage and parenting that we think would be helpful to couples in the throes of family life. Some posts are from the perspective of our faith, others report the results of good social science, and some posts are more inspirational while others are more practical. Our hope is that our Facebook page can be a place where couples can be ‘fed’ on a regular basis as they strive to build Christ-centered homes,” she shared.

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