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Attending Mass leads to healthier, happier marriages

Marriage is in trouble. When we must enshrine into law the definition of an institution as essential to our lives as marriage, it is in serious trouble. On June 7, the U.S. Senate rejected a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as “the union of a man with a woman.” Many would argue that such decisions should be left to the individual states. That’s true – except for the fact that two of the 26 states, whose voters had overwhelmingly approved such amendments, had them overturned by activist judges.

Four years ago, our beloved Bishop Robert Baker (bishop of Charleston, S.C.), hosted the first national conference on the Theology of the Body, sponsored by Family Honor, Inc. After Atlanta hosted the conference two years ago, I feel honored that our own diocese is hosting the third national conference this July 21-22 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jacksonville.

The theme for this year’s conference is Theology of the Body and the Mercy of God: Reopening Hearts to Love.

How good it would be if many of you could attend at least one day of this conference! We are privileged to have Cardinal Francis Arinze join us for the opening keynote address on Friday afternoon. His Eminence will also celebrate the 7:30 Mass the next morning at Immaculate Conception Church, just a few blocks away from the conference hotel.

In my message last month, I emphasized how important it is to give our best when we participate in Sunday worship. This month I would like to stress that regular Sunday worship contributes to happy and long-lasting marriages. Researchers had been stating for some time that Christians divorce at the same rates as other Americans, and were having extramarital sex at the same rate as their secular neighbors. More recent research, however, conducted by the eminent authorities Drs. Brad Wilcox and Byron Johnson, have discovered that the previous studies were flawed. I would like to quote Chuck Colson (of Prison Fellowship) in a commentary he made in the April issue of Breakpoint Worldview:

“In collecting data, Wilcox and Johnson examined the religious practices of people who call themselves Christians – something previous studies had not always done. In particular, they checked rates of church attendance. Their findings were striking. Although church attendance is down, those who do attend, especially weekly, are less likely to divorce. Instead they are more likely to report that their marriages are happy. And regular church attendees reported being happier in general than those who did not attend regularly… It’s no coincidence, then, that church attendance and marriage declined together as divorce and illegitimacy rates rise…”

This fact is supported by the old adage, “The family that prays together stays together.” So I was both pleased and saddened by a recent request I received from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The letter began with, “Did you know that the more often children and teens eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs?” They then went on to ask me to promote Family Day in our diocese, whose purpose is “to eat dinner with your children on Sept. 25, 2006.”

What saddened me about this request was that the bar had been placed so low – a special Family Day in September to have dinner with your children! This is a far cry from the happy memories of my own childhood, where family dinner was the norm every evening and especially on Sundays.

And it’s an even farther cry from the ideal expressed by Vatican II, which referred to the family as “the domestic church.” As the Catechism states: “

The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and Christian charity.” (CCC, 1666)

In closing, I make two final points: Let’s make every day Family Day. And I hope to see many of you at the Family Honor Conference on July 21-22.  

Gratefully yours in Our Lord,
Victor Galeone
Bishop of St. Augustine

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