Read Time: 5 minutes

Such a monumental and life-changing event as a wedding deserves a significant amount of thought and planning to be sure! From the perfect church to complicated guest lists, to bouquets of flowers and more, planning a wedding requires a lot of time, effort, and brainpower.

With so much focus on the actual day of the wedding, many couples unwisely brush aside some of the -shall we say- less glamorous aspects of wedding preparation, including choosing a method of Natural Family Planning (NFP).

While I could go on and on about all things NFP, here are the most important things engaged couples need to know about NFP during Marriage Prep:

The World of NFP Can Seem Overwhelming  

Cervical mucus observations? Waking temperature? LH strips? What does it all mean, and how do they know what method is for them? There are many types of Natural Family Planning, which can make choosing a type of NFP feel overwhelming for many couples. Some couples have never heard of NFP, have heard it spoken of in a negative way, or feel like it’s much too complicated. In these cases, they need to know their feelings are valid, and they are not alone.

For these reasons and many more, they may place choosing an NFP method at the bottom of their wedding to-do list. When that happens, as they cross items off their list and it gets closer and closer to their wedding, many couples “panic shop” the various types of NFP methods. Some may commit to the first one they learn about without fully understanding the method or discerning if it will work best with their lifestyle.

How can we help couples realize that choosing a type of NFP is good for a healthy and successful marriage? How do we make it more than an item to be crossed off on their wedding prep checklist?

We (the Church) Can Help You Navigate This Choice

If we want to help couples avoid last-minute decisions about Natural Family Planning, we can begin by accompanying them on the journey and sharing knowledge. An important first step is helping them understand the basics of the primary methods of NFP.

The current most popular methods are:

  1. Ovulation methods, like the Creighton Model FertilityCare System or the Billings’ Ovulation Method
  2. Sympto-Hormonal methods, such as the Marquette Model
  3. Sympto-Thermal methods such as Couple to Couple League and SymptoPro
  4. Crosscheck methods, which combine all three aspects of the methods listed above, such as the Boston Crosscheck Method

If that list leaves you feeling overwhelmed with the world of NFP, remember neither you nor the couples you serve need to be an expert in each of the various methods. A basic understanding of the different types of NFP is enough to help them make an informed and intentional decision about what type of NFP will work for their marriage.

Before choosing a method, each couple should consider their lifestyle, family goals, and health concerns. Have them openly and honestly discuss which method of NFP “makes sense” for both of them. Providing resources for couples to learn the basics of more than one method is important and can lead to greater success. Also, if they find they’re unhappy with their chosen method, they can switch to another one.

Start Charting As Soon As Possible

We all are familiar with the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” This saying also applies to using NFP! Once a couple selects a model or method of NFP they feel will meet their family planning needs, they should begin receiving instruction in the selected method and begin charting as soon as possible.

As a FertilityCare Practitioner of the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, I see all too often that couples decide early on during marriage preparation which NFP method they want to use, but they don’t actually begin learning the method until a few weeks before their wedding. This can lead to frustrations, uncertainty, and nervousness about NFP as their wedding day approaches.

A couple that begins learning their selected method of NFP early on during their Marriage Prep, and continues to work with their method instructor, will be more confident in their understanding of their fertility on the day of their wedding and beyond. That also leads to fewer jitters on their wedding day!

Who’s Responsible for Natural Family Planning?

While it’s true the methods of NFP focus on the cyclic changes happening within a woman’s body, that does not mean that the burden of learning a method of NFP falls squarely on the woman’s shoulders. A couple will discuss their Natural Family Planning method every day of their married life, which means both the man and the woman need to work on this together during their engagement and marriage preparation.

Encourage both the man and the woman to attend classes for their chosen method and discuss the results of their charting daily, just like they will do during their marriage. Trust me, if an engaged couple can seriously discuss their understanding and planned use of their Natural Family Planning method during their time of marriage preparation, they will have a lot of great practice for communication when they are married. Many of us in the world of NFP like to say when working with a couple, “If you two can talk about this, you can talk about anything!”

Natural Family Planning is Not Easy

Natural Family Planning is about more than the physical body, trying to conceive, or discerning when to open oneself up to a new addition to the family. There are spiritual principles that provide the foundation for every one of the physical practices, and couples need to know these as well. Approaching all of this in an approachable and authentic way is essential to helping engaged couples prepare for practicing NFP throughout their marriage.

As a spiritual leader, you can support couples by equipping them with the knowledge they’ll need to navigate the spiritual, physical, and practical aspects of Natural Family Planning. Creating a resource page on your parish website that includes recommended courses, websites, and downloadable info sheets is a great way to help couples learn.

Here are some of our favorites:

They’re Just Getting Started

With everything there is to learn about Natural Family Planning, marriage prep is just the beginning, especially if this is the couple’s first exposure to the topic. Reminding them that the Church and many fertility care providers are there to help, that they can start learning and charting before the wedding, and that they’ll need to support one another in this sometimes difficult journey will be a tremendous help.

If you need help educating couples in Natural Family Planning, please reach out for a free demo of our course, NFP Life, an excellent overview of the beauty and science of NFP that teaches the basics of each method and the spiritual foundations based on Humane Vitae and Theology of the Body.

You can also connect couples with one-on-one coaching from a certified FertilityCare Practitioner at Groesbeck FertilityCare Center for help with the Creighton Method of NFP.
https://www.groesbeckfertility.com/philosophy

Authors: Natalie Klinkhammer, BSN, RN, FCP & Jessie Wiegand

NFP Life™ featuring Dr. Danielle & Kyle Koestner — This six-part video series is an overview, witness, and introduction to the beauty and science of Natural Family Planning. Watch the trailer below and have your couples register here.

 

Read Time: 3 minutes

“As a priest and pastor, what can I do for my Family Life or Marriage Ministry Director?”

If this is a question you have asked yourself in the past, then you are on the right track! It is not a secret to anyone that Family Life Directors are not only busy, but they are also tired and burned out. They are, after all, human!

In recent years, especially during and after the pandemic, ministers in the Church have been asked to do more with less. They have had to take on more responsibilities, do more work, be more creative, and work more hours. On top of this, they are working with fewer resources, a smaller staff, and reduced budgets.

As a priest and pastor, have you asked yourself what this situation created in the life and ministry of your Family Life Minister? Have you had a chance to speak openly to your Director of Family Life about these issues?

We at The Marriage Group, as your partners in mission, want to offer you some ideas that might help your Family Life Minister stay engaged in the mission and vision you have for the parish.

Personal Retreat

A day (or two) of personal retreat might be what your Family Life Director needs. Going away to pray, rest, and get re-energized is always a good thing! A personal retreat is an opportunity to take some much-needed time away to obtain a better perspective on everything that keeps us busy.

Most of us never do it!

Ask your Family Life Director, “When was the last time you went on a personal retreat?”

This is not a retreat that they organize for people in the parish, but a personal retreat where they themselves are the recipients.

Day of Reflection

A Day of Reflection is an opportunity for ministers to attend a professional presentation on a topic that is beneficial to them not just in their professional life but also in their personal life. Invite them to take advantage of the opportunities that your diocese may offer.

You can also look for these opportunities taking place at Catholic colleges/universities or seminaries. Listening to a great presentation gives ministers food for thought, and it also gives them the opportunity to share with other lay ministers in the area.

Connection With National/Local Organizations

There are so many benefits to belonging to a local or national Catholic organization! Ministers need to connect with their peers to hear and see what is working in other areas of their city/state/country. Best practices are shared freely by those attending local and national conferences. It happens naturally over coffee, lunch, or dinner. Newsletters, Zoom/video conferences, and webinars, are all ways to stay connected at the local and national level with other ministry professionals.

Healthy and Open Conversations

Staff meetings are NOT the place where your staff will share their personal struggles. Have regular conversations (yes, just a conversation) with your Family Life Director, and ask him/her, “How are YOU doing? What are your struggles?” and then just listen. Open your heart and be present.

These are just some examples of what you can do to help your Family Life Director stay engaged with the mission and vision you have for the parish. You, as the pastor, have the capacity to empower your staff and to help them stay focused, and the best way to do it is by spending time with them.

We want to help! Please let us know how we can assist you in this task. We are, after all, your companions in mission!

Got a minute? Please watch the following video for a personal message from Claudio Mora, Director of Catholic Programs:

Read Time: 2 minutes

Ministry in a Multicultural Church

Cultural diversity is a reality that touches not only our country but also the Church. Parishes have become a home to people from different cultural backgrounds. Today in our parishes, we find people who speak different languages, have different cultural and religious traditions, are different nationalities, races, etc.

All of them are present in what is now known today as a shared parish.

How Should We Respond?

Now more than ever, ministers in the Church need to be equipped with a special set of skills that include cultural sensitivity and multicultural competencies. These skills will ensure that the Church will continue carrying out its mission of evangelization to all nations, as Jesus commanded his apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

Doing ministry in a multicultural parish starts with:

  • desire to relate and get to know people from other cultures.
  • Respect for those who come from a cultural background different from your own.
  • The awareness that the Church is Universal, there’s a place for everyone at the table.

What Can We Build?

Once this basic set of skills have been established, we can start outlining the more specific skills or competencies that are necessary when serving as a minister in a multicultural parish. This set of competences have been developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the program Building Intercultural Competencies for Ministers and they include:

  • Developing intercultural communication skills.
  • Expanding our knowledge of those obstacles that impede effective intercultural relations.
  • Fostering ecclesial integration rather than assimilation.

Intercultural Competence is the capacity to communicate, relate, and work across cultural boundaries. It involves developing capacity in three areas: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

  • Knowledge of the different dynamics, techniques, modes, and styles of communication in different cultural settings.
  • Skills to build relationships based on respect for people of different cultures and ethnicities.
  • Attitude of openness to other cultures, attitude of wanting to learn from other cultures, attitude of seeing cultural differences as a way of life not as a problem to be solved.

What Could Result?

As a Family Life Director serving in a diocese or in a parish, your ministry will be so much more efficient if you cultivate these skills and develop these competencies. You will be not only be more effective, but you will also be more faithful to the call we have received from the Lord, “that they all may be one.” (John 17:21).

Read Time: 2 minutes

You Are Not an Island: The Value of Networking With Fellow Family Life Ministers

Picture an island in the middle of the ocean. The words that come to mind when you think of an island may be: disconnected, isolated, lonely, independent. While these are accurate, we must also realize that islands are higher elevations of land that are still connected to the continents, but those connections are covered by water.

This analogy helps us to think about ourselves as Family Life/Marriage ministers. Many times, we think we are alone, disconnected, isolated, lonely, and independent, but we are not. There are many connections out there that we may not see, but they are truly there to help us in our ministry.

Changing Your Mindset

First, we must think about ministry as relational. Ministry is not something we do alone. The document from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, tells us:

Ministry is diverse and, at the same time, profoundly relational. This is so because ministry has its source in the triune God and because it takes shape within the Church understood as a communion. Ministerial relationships are grounded first in what all members of Christ’s Body have in common.”

Enabling Your Growth

Second, we must look at the benefits we obtain when we connect, network, and collaborate with other Family Life/Marriage Ministry minsters both locally and around the country:

  • Best practices: One thing that is common in ministry is that we share our joys! We share what works, our successes. When we network with other ministers, we learn what has worked for them, and we can implement those best practices into our own areas of ministry.
  • New resources: There may be a new book, a new video, a new program that other Family Life/Marriage Ministers are using that you didn’t know about. Networking gives you access to new resources that may be very effective for your ministry.
  • Get free advice: When you are not sure if a technique/resource/decision is effective, you can consult with your peers and ask for advice. This is completely free! You have access to other people’s experiences and points of view that can only enrich your own perspective.
  • Prayer partners: People who are in the same ministry position, but in other areas of your diocese, understand what you are going through, and they are your best supporters. Create your own prayer network! Find a few colleagues with whom you feel comfortable and establish the practice of praying for one another. Share prayer intentions and lift each other up in prayer!

Positioning Yourself for Success

All this to say, you are not expected to go through this responsibility of being a diocesan or a parish Family Life/Marriage Ministry minister alone. You have great people around you! Get in touch with them. Talk to them often. Visit each other if you live close by. Get together for coffee and for informal conversations.

All this will only make your ministerial experience even more successful.

Lastly, remember that we at The Marriage Group are also here to network and collaborate with you. We are your partners in ministry, and all of us would be more than happy to chat with you and share our experiences in ministry.

We wish you all the success in the world!

Claudio Mora and The Marriage Group Team.

Read Time: 3 minutes

In 2022, we were blessed to serve over 6,000 engaged Catholic couples from 72 countries around the world.

We recently reflected on the data collected from our course participants, and we saw a marked difference in a couple of key areas. As ministry leaders, you have likely experienced these changing demographics in your work with couples.

Here are a few things we learned about how the pandemic changed engaged Catholic couples, and how that affects marriage and family life ministry.

Average Ages:

  • Bride: 30
  • Groom: 32

What changed: The average age of both has increased by 1 year. This number has been rising steadily in the U.S. since the early 2000s when brides were around 25 and grooms were around 26. The average age is only slightly lower for Catholic couples than it is for the general population.

Engagement Length:

  • Average: 642 days

The length of engagement is significantly longer than in previous years. In the past, the average was around 500 days. This is due to postponed and rescheduled weddings because of COVID-19.

Location:

  • Same Location: 83%
  • Different Locations: 5%
  • Combination: 12%

More couples are using our programs from the same location. Our online courses are being used for a variety of reasons by couples who are not separated by distance.

Living Situation:

  • We live separately: 28%
  • We have been living together for more than a year: 51%
  • We have been living together for less than a year: 14%
  • I’d rather not say: 7%

More couples are cohabitating than in past years. Our data shows that at least 65% of couples were cohabitating, and it could be closer to 72%. This was the most significant change in our post-pandemic data, and we believe it directly affects all areas of marriage and family life ministry.

How Should We Respond?

With the increase of engaged couples cohabitating, what is our responsibility? It’s clear that those preparing Catholic couples for marriage are at the front lines of this phenomenon. It’s also clear that this trend has been steadily increasing over the years, and the pandemic only exacerbated it.

The United States Catholic Conference addressed this issue in 1999 when almost half of engaged couples were cohabitating. In the Report on New Realities of Pastoral Practices (https://www.usccb.org/topics/marriage-and-family-life-ministries/marriage-preparation-and-cohabiting-couples), the USCC stated:

Those who choose to marry instead of continuing to cohabit are the “good news” in a culture that is increasingly anti-marriage. Those cohabiting couples who move to marriage seem to be the “best risk” of a high-risk group: they have fewer risk factors than those cohabitors who choose not to marry. Even so, they still divorce at a rate 50% higher than couples who have never cohabited. They are a high-risk group for divorce and their special risk factors need to be identified and addressed, especially at the time of marriage preparation, if the couples are to build solid marriages.

The Report continues by reminding those preparing couples for marriage that this is a teachable moment. It is “an opportunity for evangelization and catechesis.”

Cohabitating couples inevitably approach marriage with habits that could lead to higher divorce rates, infidelity, and conflict; it’s the responsibility of those preparing couples for marriage to address those issues during marriage prep. The USCC Report urges clergy and lay ministers to avoid the extremes of harshly condemning couples for cohabitation or ignoring the issue altogether.

Discussing Cohabitation During Marriage Prep: Approaching Couples With Curiosity

Since it’s clear that we will all be ministering to an increased number of cohabitating couples, how could we approach the topic in a way that leads couples toward a more sacred view of marriage and commitment?

The advice found in the USCC’s report reminds us that curiosity is the key to opening up an honest conversation with couples.

Encourage the couple to reflect on their situation and why they decided to cohabit and to provide insights into possible consequences, factors that may present special challenges to them, or put them at risk for later marital disruption.

Asking good questions will not only provide insight into the couple’s character, beliefs, and habits, it will also enable them to explore how those things may affect their future marriage. Asking those questions with the spirit of understanding and an honest desire to see the couple reconciled to God, the Church, and one another can help them learn where they may have gone astray and accept the call to return to Catholic teaching on marriage and family life.

Moving Forward With Today’s Couples

Although these statistics aren’t what we hoped to see, we recognize that this is the reality of life for the couples we serve. In light of this data, The Marriage Group is looking for thoughtful and innovative ways to address these changing demographics in a way that honors Catholic teaching and promotes the gospel truths of love, mercy, and grace.

We also pray for your ministry to couples, acknowledging the many conversations that you have with cohabitating couples and the tension you may feel between honoring the standard God has called you to uphold and the current state of relationships in our parishes.

For more information on this topic, we recommend the USCC’s Report on New Realities of Pastoral Practices available here: (https://www.usccb.org/topics/marriage-and-family-life-ministries/marriage-preparation-and-cohabiting-couples)

Read Time: 3 minutes

The ministry of marriage preparation is a lot like driving a car; just when you think the road is smooth and straight and free of obstacles, you discover bumps, twists and turns, and, of course, traffic lights.

Most of the time, we hope for green lights all the way through. But honestly, there will always be a few red lights that will indicate to us it’s time to stop, see what’s going on, and make sure there is no danger.

Then, when the green light reappears, we can proceed.

Red flags in marriage ministry are just like approaching a red light along your travel route.

What do you normally do?

You stop, wait, and, when the light turns green, you continue driving.

A red flag in marriage prep is not the end of the road; it is a stop to make sure the road ahead is safe before continuing the marriage preparation journey.

Let’s analyze some of the most common red flags that marriage ministers may encounter when preparing couples for marriage. These are just examples; you may encounter many more red flags in your own experience with couples.

1. Red Flags in Family of Origin

Differences in families of origin that, if not addressed properly, may represent a bigger obstacle in the future.

The family of origin teaches us about relationships.

We learn to communicate (or not to communicate) in our family of origin. We learn to express or repress feelings in the family of origin. We learn how to handle money in our families of origin. Most of our life skills and the way we relate to others are learned in our families of origin.

When there are too many differences in the way the couples we work with were raised, and when those differences are too extreme, it is a red flag.

That means, it is time to stop, observe the reality, and adjust whatever needs to be adjusted before proceeding with the preparation for marriage.

2. Addiction

Use of drugs, alcohol, and pornography.

This is unfortunately a very common red flag.

When we discover these behaviors with a couple preparing for marriage, we must stop, invite the couple to address the issue, and see if any type of counseling or a Twelve Step program is needed before marriage preparation can continue.

Be aware that both parties may not be Catholic, but address these issues with the Catholic party; they need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if pornography was/is an issue in their life.

Covenant Eyes is also a great resource, and its services specialize in helping people overcome the addiction to pornography.

3. A History of Violence

History of domestic violence either in the family of origin or in themselves.

If the couple preparing for marriage reports a history of domestic violence either in their parents or in their own present relationship (domestic violence may occur even in couples who are not living together), it is time to stop marriage preparation and refer the couple to a therapist who can help them navigate these issues.

The USCCB has some great resources available for those experiencing domestic violence.

4. Lack of Vulnerability

Inability or fear of speak openly about specific issues/topics.

When we’re preparing a couple for marriage, one of them may experience fear or the inability to speak openly about a specific topic (for example: sex, money, addictions, infidelity, etc.).

Whatever the topic is, couples should experience trust and openness to speak freely about any issue that is important to the relationship.

When we find this is not possible due to fear or other reasons, it is time to stop marriage preparation and address those fears or feelings of unrest.

Your Duty as A Minister


Red flags come in many forms and are common.

It’s important for a Family Life Minister/ Marriage Minister to learn how to identify them and design a game plan to help couples work through them.

It’s our job to take the time needed to address the issues and then continue with marriage preparation.

Some couples may find it hard or uncomfortable to address these red flags, but ultimately, we need to clarify that we are inviting them to address the red flags because we care about them; we want them to be successful and happy in their marriage!

Make sure to equip yourself with plenty of resources that you can use as a Family Life Minister for navigating these difficult situations — we have linked to a few examples in this article.

Most importantly? Your guidance can help couples navigate these red flags and provide the support they need to address them in a healthy way.

Read Time: 3 minutes

The Church offers us Advent and Christmas as a time to be refreshed and renewed, but if you’re a priest, deacon, or lay minister, the holiday season can feel overwhelming.

How do you use this time to serve others and feel renewed in your own spiritual life?

Here are some things to reflect on as you approach the holiday season as a ministry leader.

Pray While You Serve

What does that look like for a busy ministry leader?

First of all, it doesn’t require clearing your schedule or putting off other responsibilities. While setting aside a specific block of time for prayer each day is part of the Christian life, there is also a precedent for incorporating prayer into everything we’re doing.

Brother Lawrence shared his wisdom in this area by encouraging us to pray while we work:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

We worship a God who understands the demands that life and ministry make on our physical and emotional energy, and he will meet us in our work and our rest if we set our hearts on him.

Rest assured that you can pray while decorating the Church for the holidays, printing extra bulletins, and setting up Giving Trees, and that time can be as valuable as the minutes or hours you spend in stillness and solitude focusing on God.

Reflect on the Meaning of Advent

The Season of Advent can invite a spirit of anticipation that renews us during this busy time.

There’s a special element to anticipating a great event that gives us the ability to take on more work than normal and yet not feel as drained or worn out. There may be physical tiredness, but the anticipation keeps our minds fresh and our spirits renewed.

During Advent, reflecting on the event of Jesus’s birth – the Lord of All coming down to earth to redeem it, and his eventual return – the King of All coming back to reign forever, can add excitement and a renewed sense of calling to our ministries.

Taking time to reflect on these great mysteries can infuse our busy-ness with an energy that comes from the Spirit, and that excitement can build as Christmas draws near. This is truly a gift from God.

Work Out of Your Rest

It’s hard to imagine what the scriptures mean when they say that God rested, but we can be sure that it wasn’t because he didn’t have any energy or passion left to continue working.

As servants of God and the Church, we tend to work tirelessly out of commitment to God and his people, devotion to the Church, and to fulfill the deep sense of meaning and purpose we derive out of our work.

As much as ministry is an act of love on our part, it is still activity that cannot be sustained without rest.

God gave us the Sabbath for many reasons, and the ability to rest is a spiritual discipline in and of itself.

There should be periods of work and rest in every day, not just on Sundays. The Genesis account, which first mentions the Sabbath, reminds us that “there was evening and there was morning” on each day of the Creation Narrative.

If we see our week as a series of days to work as hard as possible and Sunday as the only day or period of rest, we may develop an endurance mindset where we force ourselves forward in our work and crash at the end of the week.

Instead, let’s practice periods of rest in each day which provide the foundation for the work we do. Working out of our rest, instead of collapsing into rest as the result of overwork, can do wonders for our spiritual well-being.

Come to the Table

God will meet us during this season in our ministry, providing everything we need to be refreshed and renewed. He provides it through his grace poured out in the Eucharist, and he provides it in the body as we support one another.

Our hope for you is that this holiday season would be full of the realization that God is with you in every moment of your service. May the anticipation of his coming and return fill you with joy, and may his spirit give you rest and renewal as you remain devoted to him.

Read Time: 4 minutes

Talking about contraception is an important part of marriage preparation. Contraception in its various forms has become the status quo for sexual relationships outside of the Church. Some Catholic couples either don’t know or don’t agree with the Church’s teaching. Getting comfortable talking about contraception is vitally important for the moral and sexual health of the couples you work with.

So how do you have this conversation?

1. Know the Church’s teaching inside and out.

There’s no getting around it: the Church’s teaching on contraception runs contrary to what is accepted by modern culture and is often misunderstood.

If you aren’t sure why contraception is forbidden, read the teaching and prepare to discuss it. This doesn’t mean you need a graduate degree in theology before you start doing marriage prep.

Fortunately, the Catholic position is actually more intuitive than that, but you should know what you’re talking about and why the Church teaches what it does.

For many couples, you may be the first person who has ever shared the negative aspects of using contraception.

They will likely have questions and may even have objections.

You need to understand the principles behind the doctrine and be ready to explain why it is good for the couple’s marriage to avoid contraception.

Some good resources (for you and the couples) include the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Catholic Answers, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2. Be honest about the Church’s teaching.

Many couples have stories of priests or mentors giving them incorrect information about contraception and marriage. They may be upset when they find out they’ve been misled.

If that’s the case, tell the couple gently, but honestly, what the Church in her wisdom teaches about marriage and sexuality.

Don’t dance around the truth. Be clear about what is and isn’t allowed. Deliver the message with charity, but don’t leave the couple wondering what you actually mean. Then, you can work with them to figure out how to follow the Church’s teachings in their marriage.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or afraid of the Catholic understanding of sexuality.

There are many good reasons to avoid contraception, from the potential health risks to the way it tends to violate the dignity of both spouses. If you know these reasons, you’ll be able to explain the Catholic position while truly understanding and believing it yourself, which is crucial.

3. Be patient with couples (and yourself).

For some couples, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is strange and confusing. They may have a hard time understanding how a couple goes about having a happy, fulfilling marriage and sex life without birth control.

Obviously, you shouldn’t belittle or criticize them. Charity and gentleness are needed at all times.

Keep in mind that it’s not necessary for them to fully understand and agree with you right away.

Give them the truth clearly and kindly, then allow them time to think about what you said and discuss it privately. Suggest that they also pray about it. Conversion and understanding don’t have to happen immediately.

Let the Holy Spirit work, and don’t feel the need to “win” the discussion and answer every objection the first time you broach the subject. If a change of heart is needed, remember that it is God, not you, who will work that out.

4. Offer an alternative.

The thought of being married and having sex without contraception can be overwhelming for some couples. Visions of 20 children or 15-passenger vans may pop into their heads. The couple may fear the health risks that can be associated with pregnancy, especially if the wife has underlying health problems.

On a theoretical level, wives may believe the Church only values them for their ability to have babies.

Fortunately, the Church doesn’t simply forbid contraception and abandon couples to figure it out on their own. It offers an alternative approach: Natural Family Planning (NFP).

There are a lot of great resources available for couples who want to learn about NFP, including our own new course: NFP Life.

You’ll also want to know if NFP coaching is available locally, if your parish doesn’t have a program for that. Oftentimes, local nurses will be certified to teach the methods of NFP. If your parish does offer a program or class, have the information on hand and give it to the couple right away.

You’ll also want information on medical professionals who actually know how NFP works (learn more about Dr. Danielle Koestner here). As frustrating and tragic as it is, some OB/GYNs can be woefully untrained and uninformed about the scientific methods used in NFP.

You should understand the basics of NFP — and why it isn’t the “rhythm method” — so you can answer initial questions from the couple. Allow the details to be covered by the mentor or course.

The bottom line

NFP has tremendous benefits for the couple’s health and their marriage. Understanding these can be helpful when explaining why they should practice Natural Family Planning in their marriage.

Contraception and family planning may be a difficult topic for many couples, but if it’s done with charity and wisdom, such conversations can bear a lot of fruit.

Above all, remember that the Church has very good reasons to teach what it does, and these teachings are actually borne of science and theology, not just one or the other. When you meet with couples to talk about contraception and Natural Family Planning, you can be confident that you are sharing good news for both their physical and spiritual health.

Read Time: 2 minutes

Who are your most active parishioners?

Probably not your young couples.

Sure, they come to Mass on the weekends. But beyond that?

It takes all ages to make a community thrive. If you can tap into young couples’ energy and enthusiasm, you’ll stir up new life in your parish.

At the end of this post, you’ll find some resources for you and other parish leaders to get the ball rolling. But first, here are a few things to remember.

1. Be mindful of their schedules.

Your schedule doesn’t coincide with an average couple’s schedule. Consider this: you announce, “We’re having a Bible study at 6:30 on Wednesdays!” That’s when most couples are getting home from work. They’re tired and they need to make dinner. They may also have little kids to take care of. If there was ever a time for them to come to a Bible study… it’s not that time.

That’s why shorter, one-time events usually work well. For example: want to have a retreat? Try one that’s just a Saturday morning.

2. Listen to what they’re asking.

Some ministry leaders make the mistake of their spending time and energy answering questions people aren’t actually asking. That doesn’t mean they aren’t asking questions, though. Are you listening?

Perhaps your couples want to explore some basic questions about faith. Or they struggle to understand a moral teaching of the Church. Or maybe they simply crave some time and space to pray.

Whatever it is, focus on that in your programs. People make an effort to attend what they feel speaks directly to their questions or needs.

3. Start with connection.

Today’s young couples crave a sense of belonging. You might think people get involved at the parish in order to feel connected, but actually people tend to get more involved after they feel connected.

Retreats are a good example of this. Ever notice how people get more involved after they make a retreat? It’s because they’ve experienced a new sense of connection with others. This inspires them to do more at the parish, to keep that connection going.

Here are some resources to help you foster these connections.

Welcome 

A retreat designed specifically for Catholic parishes. The comprehensive guide covers every step in forming your retreat team, planning the weekend, putting on the retreat itself and growing a community of faith.

Couples, Awaken Your Love!

You could use this book as a basis for giving retreat talks to couples during a Saturday morning or weekend program.

Alpha

This easy-to-watch series explores the big questions about life, God and faith that most people wonder about but don’t get the chance to talk about. It’s designed to be watched in a relaxed setting with food or snacks. An excellent gateway for couples to get more involved at your parish.

Read Time: 3 minutes

You have an engaged couple who wants to get married at your church. Wonderful!

As a pastor, you have lots of experience talking with people in various stages of life. However, this engaged couple does NOT have much experience talking with clergy. They likely have things on their mind that they don’t know how to bring up with you.

So how do you put them more at ease?

You can take the lead in handling topics they may not feel comfortable about introducing into the discussion. That takes the burden off of them. The more relaxed they feel, the more fruitful your marriage prep discussions will be.

Here are three things engaged couples want to know, but tend not to ask about.

1. Marriage Prep Resources to Help Them

There are so many resources out there geared to couples preparing for marriage. But you typically don’t look for something until you need it. So your engaged couple may not be aware of all the great stuff out there for their benefit.

You may notice a specific aspect of their relationship that could be helped by a resource you know about. You can point them in the right direction by compiling a few resources you know and trust, and you can give them a copy of or a link to them at your next meeting. It’s as simple as saying, “Here, you might find this useful.” That way, they don’t have to ask for “help.”

You may be surprised at how many couples really do look into your suggestions!

The Marriage Group offers plenty of resources for engaged couples like relationship-building tools, Marriage Boosters videos, and our Ultimate Guide to Pre-Cana and Wedding Ceremony Planning eBooks.

2. Natural Family Planning 101

NFP is one of those topics that many folks, couples and clergy alike, feel awkward introducing into the conversation. That makes it hard for couples to understand what it is and why it’s so important.

Many couples have heard of NFP but don’t know much about it. Or they may be open to learning about it, but they just need someone to take the initiative to put the right information into their hands.

As with other marriage prep resources, you can have NFP resources on hand for couples to look at on their own. That allows them to fully absorb it without the uncomfortable feeling of an in-person conversation.

You can point them to your diocese’s NFP resources and classes, older couples in the parish that could help, or online resources. Additionally, The Marriage Group’s “NFP Life” video course is a simple, accessible way for couples to learn about NFP and how to integrate it into their future marriage.

3. What They Can and Can’t Do At Their Wedding

Planning a Catholic wedding involves a lot of details, from the music to the readings to the photographer — and oh yes, all the decorations.

Your church probably has policies established for all these things. But that doesn’t mean your engaged couple knows them very well.

They might assume they can do things your parish policy doesn’t actually allow. Or they might wonder whether they’re allowed to do something, but they’re afraid to ask and hear you say “no.”

By communicating your church’s policies clearly and kindly up front, you can save them – and yourself – a lot of unnecessary stress, especially from having to tell them “no” later on (heaven forbid, on the wedding day!).

One Last Thing

As a pastor or ministry leader, you have a privileged role in preparing people for marriage. You may not see it in the moment, but your interactions with an engaged couple can make a long-term impact on their married lives, their family, and even the future of your parish. If that weighs on you as a heavy responsibility, we are here to help!

God bless you in your ministry.