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Christendom College summer institute focuses on marriage and the family

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“Why do we all love weddings?” asked Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal. The question was addressed to a crowd of more than 250 gathered in St. Lawrence Commons at the opening of Christendom’s 24th summer institute. 

O’Donnell’s question went right to the heart of this year’s topic, “Restoring the Divine Plan for Marriage and the Family.” O’Donnell was joined by author Mary Beth Bonacci; San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone; Franciscan University of Steubenville professor Scott Hahn; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; and Christendom College instructor Mary Stanford as they each shed light on the challenges facing marriage today and gave advice on how to combat them. 

According to O’Donnell, the reason people love weddings is because of what the bride and groom represent. Standing before the altar of God, they allow us to see, touch and experience something that breathes of eternity and connects everyone witnessing it, he said. 

 “Christian marriage is one of the most beautiful gifts that God has given us,” said O’Donnell. “This gift from God, my friends, is the foundation of our society. It is sacred. It is holy. It is not ours to manipulate or redefine. And how the devil hates it.”

According to several speakers, many of today’s societal problems are a result of the breakdown of the family unit. Archbishop Cordileone cited the tragic results of the so-called “Summer of love” in 1967 as one example of the consequences of an immoral society without marriage.  

The personal struggles and experiences of the speakers paired well with the historical and scriptural contexts. Santorum gave an emotional witness to the importance of fatherhood that left hardly a dry eye in the room.

He shared the story of holding his son Gabriel for the two hours of his short life, when he realized his son was going to heaven.

“In the end, all that matters is that your sons and daughters are on a pathway to heaven,” said Santorum.

The conference lightened with the wit of Mary Beth Bonacci, who had the crowd in stitches as she explained the connection between sex and love.

While admitting that Adam and Eve didn’t have a lot of options when it came to dating, she marveled at the purity of their love before the fall.

“Love, as it existed between Adam and Eve, is wanting what is best for the other simply because they were created in the image and likeness of God,” said Bonacci. “I give myself completely to what is best for you. To look out for you as God would look out for you. That is the connection between sex and love.” 

Attendees Lauren and Aaron Ranson signed up for the conference to grow deeper in holiness in their marriage. The parishioners from St. Leo Church in Fairfax were not disappointed.

“I think that there is a constant call for that continued commitment and growing in the love that God has for us,” said Aaron. “They say marriage is always a work in progress and I think it was reinforced today in a really profound way.”

For Lauren, the conference renewed her motivation to not “fall asleep at the wheel” with her faith.

“The reality is that we are living in a world where marriage is being redefined and even love is being redefined. We are being called to keep the truth of what those things are in the world,” she said. “I walked away from (the conference) thinking we are more different from the world than we thought. There are conversations worth having and differences worth standing behind.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017