WASHINGTON — Finances, child rearing and career decisions are
issues all husbands and wives will likely face at some point.
But military couples can add long separations, frequent
relocations and the absence of extended family close by to that list.
And that's where the church — through the sacraments, clergy,
catechetical outreach and parish life — can offer not just spiritual
assistance, but also crucial emotional support, according to Catholic marriage
preparation experts and military spouses.
"Military couples have many of the same challenges as
couples everywhere … communication skills, work-life balance and learning to
love one another as Christ loves the church," said Debbie Nowak of Agape
Catholic Ministries and a marriage preparation instructor with her husband,
The church is obligated to help married couples deal with
pressures of military life, said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the
Archdiocese for the Military Services in an article published on Foryourmarriage.org,
a website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"The calling to the sacrament of matrimony is so noble, yet
it is currently challenged on many fronts, especially for military families in
this time of war, deployment and suffering," he wrote.
He also pointed out that deployment brings additional challenges
because it means the spouse at home becomes a single parent and "the
possibility that the condition may become permanent in the case of death in the
line of duty also adds to the tension already present in the family."
Kirsten Simonsgaard, a marriage preparation counselor with her
husband, Craig, with CatholicMarriagePrep.com, an online marriage preparation
program, said military life brings circumstances that may leave couples and
families feeling isolated, but the church is always there for them.
"Even in good times, faith is sustained through the parish,
formation, and relationships within the parish community, which is a vital
support for us as Catholics and even more so in the military," she said.
Angelina Geaney, an Air Force wife, stationed with her husband,
David, and their three children at Osan Air Base in South Korea, said in an
email that her best advice for Catholic military families is to introduce
themselves to the chaplain and become involved in the base parish right away.
"Staying connected to the church is so very important to a
family. It is the one place you can go and immediately have an entire
congregation who wants to help you spiritually and with everyday things. Don't
know where the best grocery story is? Ask at Mass. Want to know places to take
kids? Ask at Mass," she said.
But the parish also is the place for more serious questions, she
added, such as having trouble coping with deployment with a new baby and no
family nearby, having family issues or a faith crisis.
She said she has asked fellow parishioners for help and has been
humbled by the immediate response of support with action and prayers.
Through CatholicMarriagePrep.com, a trained instructor married
couple works online with Catholic military engaged couples all over the world,
geographically separated because of deployments. The course, approved by the
Archdiocese for the Military Services, is rooted in Scripture, St. John Paul
II's Theology of the Body and other church
"The best help for military couples is also the best help
for any couple: that is a marriage with Christ at the center where each partner
is deeply committed to their relationship with Jesus," said Simonsgaard.
Archbishop Broglio wrote that active-duty chaplains serving men
and women in uniform and those who minister in Veterans' Administration
hospitals report one of the most serious by-products of the Middle East wars
are the burdens placed on families.
"The communion of life, which describes marriage, suffers
considerably," he said, adding that post-traumatic stress, economic
hardship and re-entry into civilian life are also significant strains in military
The church and its members have a duty to contribute to the
spiritual and psychological well-being of active-duty service members and
veterans who have sacrificed for their country, the archbishop said.
"All of us, military and civilian, can help by our prayers
and by our eagerness to welcome home the military personnel who return home to
our cities and neighborhoods," he said.