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The Joy of Marriage

With all the trials and challenges to traditional marriage, a conference that proclaims some good news would seem to be countercultural. Yet that is what the Diocese of Saskatoon (Saskatchewan, Canada) is planning with its conference scheduled for March 19-20, called “A Time for Hope: Finally, Good News about Marriage!”

Blake Sittler, director of the Office of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Saskatoon, is heading up the effort, which is billed as a national conference that is gaining interest from Catholics all across Canada.

Sittler, 37, has been working for the past 10 years for the Saskatoon Diocese, and was involved in parish ministry for five years before that. He and his wife, Brooke, are married for 15 years and have three preteen children. Fathers for Good talked to him about the conference and the state of marriage.

Blake and Brooke Sittler with their three children.

Blake and Brooke Sittler with their three children.

Fathers for Good: Why a national conference on marriage in Canada - who should come and what should they expect?

Sittler: Marriage conferences are necessary periodically to offer couples, and our Church, a vision of matrimony that gives guidance, support and hope. This conference was designed by married couples for married couples, and those who minister in the area of marriage. We want participants to come and be fed good content but we also want them to have fun and be rejuvenated.

There will be entertaining speakers, resource material, Mass, a banquet, door prizes, and a dance. I know, personally, I’m going to bring my swimming trunks and hit the water slide at some point, too.
FFG: Why "Finally Good News about Marriage"?
Sittler: We chose the title for many reasons. So often, when we hear about marriage in the media, even Catholic media, we hear about divorce rates, spousal abuse, the low compliance to Catholic teachings on contraception, the changing structure of marriage, and more couples choosing premarital cohabitation. These are realities but there are a lot of positive things happening in marriage today.

There are vast fields of opportunity to educate our children about the vocation of marriage. Marriage enrichment opportunities abound. Marriage is much more egalitarian than even 20 years ago. Marriage is still one of the key indicators of emotional, social and financial stability in the world. We are not ignoring or sugar-coating the other realities; we are going to give couples a vision, a game plan – so that they have a sense of how they can be witnesses to the world about how Christ loves the world through the love they share with each other and in their community.
FFG: What is the status of marriage in Canada?

Sittler: The primary reason we need to be concerned about the current state of marriage is so that we can lower the rates of cohabitation through better childhood formation and higher expectations, lower the rates of divorce through better preparation and counseling, and increase the happiness index through better enrichment.

FFG: What does your office do to help marriage and couples?

Sittler: The Office of Marriage & Family Life in the Diocese of Saskatoon was formed in 2007, so it is relatively new. The Marriage Task Force plans an annual marriage appreciation banquet attended by over 200 people.

We offer periodic training sessions. I promote marriage preparation in the diocese and try to create some discussion between the different ministries. We support Retrouvaille, a ministry for couples who are considering separation or divorce. We coordinate support groups for individuals who are separated and divorced. We support Encore, a marriage preparation ministry for couples entering a second marriage.

In the future, we have many plans for more education at the elementary and high school level and promoting more regular marriage and parenting enrichment opportunities. We are also putting together a widow group that we are hoping to have in place by fall 2010. My personal dream is to see opportunities for family mission experiences like in some Protestant churches.
FFG: How can you reach the younger generation with good news about marriage?
Sittler: We will always spend some time on the traditional media and curriculum approaches like brochures, workshops, newspaper articles, educational material and speaking in schools and churches. What we all need to recognize is that what our children learn about “the good news about marriage” is what they see lived out in the world, and, more accurately, in their home.

Married couples — the love they share, the forgiveness they offer, the charity and justice they proclaim — are the message. David Wells, an English catechist, told us at a pastoral leadership in the Diocese of Saskatoon, “There is no magic bullet. There is no perfect strategy. You are the plan.” I believe that about married couples: We are the plan; we are the good news.