With Christian marriages facing obstacles from pornography and infidelity to self-centeredness and divorce, what are faithful Catholics to do? First, learn what love — the heart of marriage — really means, said a group of lay Catholics and theologians who have produced a marriage prep video series. “Many married couples don’t know what love really is. They don’t know how to love. They don’t know what marriage is and they don’t know of the real graces that are present to them in the sacrament to help in their marriage and family life,” Dr. Edward Sri of the Denver-based Augustine Institute said in an April 8 conference call. A “great crisis” faces the institution of marriage today, he said, but most of the discussion tends to focus on ideas. Although those ideas are “worth fighting for,” what people really need is help living them out in daily life. Dr. Timothy Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, said that this crisis affects not just those who are divorced, but also “those who are married who are vulnerable to the loss of vision of what marriage means,” and even those who are not married. “Beloved: Finding Happiness in Marriage,” a 12-part video series from the Augustine Institute, aims at enriching marriages and preparing couples for the sacrament. “The Church speaks about self-giving love, but what does this really mean?” Dr. Sri asks in episode four of the series, “Total Gift of Self.” “This is what we mean by self-giving love: someone in love is drawn, impelled, to surrender their freedom, to give up this free gift of free will, to commit their will to serve this other person, to serve their marriage union, and to serve any children that may come from that marriage.” Featuring 46 presenters including noted Catholic speakers such as Teresa Tomeo, Chris Stefanick, Leah Darrow, Patrick Coffin and Jason Evert, “Beloved” explores the nature of love and God’s plan for marriage. Released in between the Synods on the Family taking place last fall and this fall in Rome, Dr. Sri said the series responds to two needs identified by Pope Francis: better marriage preparation and continual formation for marriages. Dr. Sri described marriage as an “art.” It’s not a “basic skill” that you can master in a weekend, like riding a bike, but something that takes lifelong practice and dedication. “(W)hat we’re really aiming for here is to provide a service to the Church that can help for marriage preparation, but even more so, be an ongoing formation for married couples to build a strong marriage, to live the art of marriage with excellence.” Teresa Tomeo, another presenter in the series, agreed, saying that she and her husband had little preparation and understanding of what marriage really meant, something that hurt them later on when they nearly faced a divorce. “I think it’s continual work, and we understand this concept of work in so many different aspects of our lives, but not necessarily in marriage,” she said. “‘Beloved’ helps to make it seem (like) not only work, but a type of work that you want to put your heart into. This is really worth the sacrifice.” When they set out to make a new video series, the creators knew they needed to make something with high production value that would be able to stand out in a media-saturated culture. “We realize that we’re competing with the world of Hollywood, Netflix, YouTube, and that’s why we wanted the best quality in video production and the best presentation as well,” Dr. Sri, who served as content director on the series, said. In the time since the series’ Valentine’s Day release, he said there’s already been a great response to the series. He and other collaborators on the series have had people thank them for creating it, but have also faced questions about why something like this wasn’t available sooner. “If we’re going to meet people, to help them to have healthy marriages, we’ve got to be there in the beginning,” said Dr. Pia de Solenni, associate dean for the Augustine Institute’s Orange County campus and “Beloved” presenter. Programs on the “theology of marriage” are already out there, Dr. Gray said, but what the “Beloved” producers hoped to make is a series that maps out the “Biblical Catholic vision of marriage” to inspire even those who are cohabiting and may not see any value in marriage. “Really, this is not just theology; it’s pastoral theology that seeks to not just teach something, but really inspire a new way of life, a new vision for living out one’s identity as a spouse,” he said. The six-disc DVD set is available through Ignatius Press, along with study guides for couples and groups. Beginning in May, the Augustine Institute will make all their video series, including “Beloved,” available on a new digital platform called formed.org.
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