As the Church continues to reflect on the pastoral needs of the family following the recent Synod of Bishops, there has emerged the need for marriage formation lasting well beyond the day a husband and wife take their vows. Marriage preparation was one of many topics on the agenda for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which concluded Oct. 19, with the synod fathers acknowledging the importance of improving marriage formation. “There is a real need for the creation of a standard for the preparation and formation for marriage,” said John Noronha, a PhD candidate in bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum,  in an email interview with CNA Oct. 2. John and his wife Ashley, both known for having hosted the EWTN series "Vatican Report's Art & Faith," moved to Rome shortly after their marriage in 2008. He noted how the marriage preparation which is currently available “can range from non-existent to substantially formative,” depending on one's diocese or parish. “Since the Church is universal there needs to be uniformity,” he said, “but also using the wisdom of subsidiarity and solidarity, certain fundamental norms and guidelines ought to be developed and followed to ensure that the couple is in fact ready, informed and fully prepared for the important and sacred sacrament of marriage.” “The Church has the spiritual and practical wisdom, but just needs to find ways to reach out to families to share it.” “Married couples and those considering marriage,” Ashley said in the same interview, “need support from the local church to offer guidance in how to form strong families that are built on sharing the love of the Lord with each other and their local communities.” While acknowledging that some churches offer instruction to couples in the lead up to their marriage, she stressed that this “support should continue on after a man and woman take their vows.” “The Church can nurture family life by teaching a Catholic family how to tie in their domestic culture with that of their local parish and the universal Church,” Ashley continued. She gave an example of a local Church which offered programs in “parenting, family counseling, and teen mentoring,” which resulted in an increase in parish activity “because people were able to build a strong parish life that then trickled down into how they formed their families.”   She also cited various grassroots initiatives which parishes can provide, including as “bible studies for couples and families, even simply reading Church documents together that explore family issues, like the Catechism, Theology of the Body, Familiaris Consortio and Mulieris Dignatatem.” “By reading and sharing the Gospel and exploring the wisdom of the Church together,” Ashley continued, “married couples can bond more deeply in the love of Christ and enter deeper into the sacramental mystery of their commitment. Authentic Catholic culture will bloom in a family when it is nurtured and celebrated in tangible ways by the local church.” Another element of preparation, said John, “should be to help the couple prepare for the role of being faithful and practicing Catholic parents.” “For new parents it wouldn’t be easy to make a promise at their child’s baptism to bring up the child in the faith of the Church, if the parents do not know or haven’t practiced the faith after their wedding day.” John stressed the importance of families being able to find the spiritual support they need at their local parishes. “Families should be able to get support from the local church to know where to go to tap into the treasures of the spiritual wisdom of the Church and the writings of the church fathers. The local parish is a natural place where they can learn practical aspects of living together as a couple and a family and how to do that in an authentically Catholic way.” The move from being an independent to being part of a family, John said, is “one of the most critical steps that a man and woman can take in their lifetimes.” He expressed his hope that the synods will find “ways to explain the wisdom of the Church’s teachings on the family and family life in a way that is clear, concise and solidly grounded in scripture.” “Stronger and well-formed families mean a stronger Church and a stronger moral society,” said Ashley. “Stronger families mean that more people feel the love of Christ every day in their homes, neighborhoods, cities and countries.”