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: 2 minutes

Here you go again. You’re working with a couple who hasn’t darkened the door of a church in years. You guide them through the marriage prep process, preside at their Catholic wedding, then watch as they carry on with their life journey leaving faith by the side of the road.

You see it over and over, and honestly, it can make you feel a little jaded about marriage prep.

The couple has so much on their mind already: wedding decorations, catering, invitations, honeymoon travel arrangements, etc. If their faith isn’t already really important to them, it’s going to get crowded out pretty fast.

As you prepare an engaged couple for marriage, what can you do to keep their Catholic faith alive?

Teach them how to pray.

Sure, they may know the standard Catholic prayers by heart, like the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.” But do they know how to pray together, as a couple?

So many people have never really been taught how to pray. That means they’re missing the very foundation for their faith lives. But as a clergy or ministry leader, you can provide that foundation for them.

When a couple prays together, their spiritual lives change. They start to develop a relationship with Christ. And when that happens, their love will mature. They’ll ask deeper questions. And all those things you wish would stick in their heads about faith and marriage? They’ll desire to know it for themselves.

That’s not an overnight process, though. It can start here in marriage prep, but like all good things, learning to pray and growing in faith take time.

So start small. Encourage your couples to start praying together. Better yet, don’t just tell them, show them how.

Yes, praying as a couple can feel awkward at first. That’s okay. (And you can tell them that.) It’s like planting seeds. If they stick with it, those seeds of faith will bloom in their married life with the help of God’s grace.

When you remember that, you’ll find joy and purpose coming back into your marriage prep.

Here are some resources to help you teach couples how to pray.

Joined by Grace: A Catholic Prayer Book for Engaged and Newly Married Couples

A simple, practical guide on ways to pray as a couple. It’s full of texts to pray with and background info on devotions your couples can start working into their life together.

The Rosary

The idea of praying the Rosary every day intimidates most people, so invite couples to try praying just one decade a day with a pocket rosary. That alone can make a powerful impact on their faith.

Novena for engaged couples

Praying a novena together for nine days in a row builds up habits of prayer the easy way, because it takes just a few minutes to do each day. This “Novena for a Happy and Faithful Marriage” was compiled from St. Josemaria Escriva’s writings on marriage in today’s world.

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.