For synod auditors, God’s plan for marriage best taught by living it out

The American married couple who addressed the Synod of Bishops said daily life is where they first saw God’s plan for families revealed and that they hope to equip parents to be primary educators of the faith.
“That is really something we have to get back to, whether parents are together and married or they are single parents, it doesn’t matter. We have to give them the confidence they need to really proclaim the gospel of the family every day,” Alice Heinzen told CNA Oct. 9.
As auditors at the Synod on the Family, Alice and her husband Jeffrey are listening in on talks among the bishops, and got the chance to address participants on Thursday about parts of the synod’s working document — “Pastoral Program for the Family” and “Pastoral Challenges of the Family.”
In their address to the Synod, the couple lamented that the pastoral issues being addressed in the working document “are not meeting the magnitude of the cultural challenges facing us today,” Vatican Radio reported.
They suggested that the Church needs to develop “more robust and creative methods” to share the truth about marriage which is “a divine gift from God.”
For example, when teaching children about vocations, marriage should always be presented as another option to serve God. Along those lines, the couple said, the way that we “provide for the aftercare of marriage” should be examined.
The issue of promoting family and marriage should is not “a crisis of truth”, but rather a “crisis of methodology.”
“How do we as a Church, effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways, so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live life-long marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic Church?”
In an interview with CNA, Jeffrey Heinzen, who is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life of the Diocese of Lacrosse, said that he learned the faith within the context of his own family — something he aims to do as a father and grandfather.
For him, seemingly ordinary acts such as going to Sunday Mass as a family, sharing a kiss with his wife in the kitchen, and spending Sunday with grandparents have all borne witness to the faith and God’s plan for marriage.
He said that in his work with the diocese — especially in men’s ministry — he hopes to help men to fully live out their vocations.
“Part of what I hope to do when I get back is to call the men forward — call the fathers forward, the fathers-to-be, the grandfathers — and really challenge them to come forward and take on their role as faith leaders with their families.”
Alice Heinzen, who serves as the Natural Family Planning Coordinator of the Marriage and Family Life Office, said that she believes teaching how to live out the faith as a family can be overcomplicated when it doesn’t need to be.
“I think what is lacking is that sometimes we make it too complex,” she said. “It’s just simple, loving is simple: we have to persevere and hang in there.”
“That is the key that we have to move forward with is that we have to be patient with our families. We have to walk with them; not just say, ‘Here’s my journey, walk with me.’”
As a child, Alice said that her family always ate dinner together, which allowed for everyone to get a chance to talk about their day and address conflicts.
“Conflicts were never avoided in our home; we would talk — we would talk about everything — and everything that was present in our family happened at the dinner table. It was wonderful.”
When she first began working for the diocese, Heinzen related how she would travel throughout her state teaching students about the Gospel and the Catholic faith. It was not until one night after she “struck out” with a group of teens who seemed totally unresponsive to her talk that she realized she was delivering the “right message” to the “wrong audience.”
Parents, she said, need to be given the confidence to be the primary educators of their children on matters of the faith.
“When we do that, then that message is going to be lived. It’s going to become a part of their daily being.”
The couple offered practical advice for helping support Catholic marriages and families, such as recognizing married couples after Sunday Mass or sharing positive news on social media.
“We have to grasp the goodness of the media,” Alice said.
Although there are so many “horrific stories” out there about the media, she said it is actually “a gift to us from God” since it allows us to reach out to so many people who might otherwise never hear the Gospel.
“There have to be ways that we can put things online and, using social media, that we can be present to the families in their home because they are so busy right now.”
“So let’s find a way to connect with them in their busy-ness (in a way) that hopefully will help them slow down and take a look at the fullness of the Catholic faith.”
The Heinzens have been married for 34 years, and have served as members of the Natural Family Planning Board for the USCCB and National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministries.

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