Preparation for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony begins with family life in the home long before a couple has met, said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., and this fact cannot be overlooked in addressing the prevalence of divorce.

"I've learned in nearly thirty years of ministry, that no priest can adequately prepare a couple for marriage in the months he spends with them before the wedding," he said in a Sept. 19 column for CNA. "Real preparation for marriage begins in the home – in the witness of loving and married parents who embrace the holy vocation of family life."

Although the priest's duty in counseling a couple seeking marriage in the Church is to help them "embrace the sacrificial call of marriage" and to "reject the lies of the world about false relationships" – namely, contraception, divorce, cohabitation and "trial marriage," the priest only has a few months with them, whereas a person's family has years with them.

Formation as a faithful spouse – and formation for any vocation – begins in the home where the child is "taught to believe in the merciful and trustworthy God."

He noted that many people today come from broken homes where such love is not modeled, making it difficult for a priest to convey the importance and sanctity of marriage in a short amount of time before a couple is married.

"Broken families beget more broken families, broken marriages beget more broken marriage," Bishop Conley said.

Next month's Synod of Bishops in Rome will focus on matters of family life. Leading up to the event, much attention has been given in the media and commentaries to the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics.

Bishop Conley said that divorce is a "symptom of the culture of death" and that if we wish to prevent it, the Church needs to address both family life and marriage preparation.

"In short, if we want to overcome the culture of death, we must do it by attacking the problem at the root – by allowing Jesus Christ to heal families."

Bishop Conley hopes that the upcoming synod will "help families encounter Jesus Christ" no matter what their situation and that it will encourage pastors to examine marriage and family life "as seriously as the Church prepares young men for priesthood, or young men and women for consecrated life."  

"In the midst of broken families, it is the Church who must shoulder much of the responsibility for preparing couples to embrace the cross of married life," he said.

Closing with a quote from Pope Francis' homily at the marriage of 20 couples at the Vatican last week, Bishop Conley reminded readers that families are the "bricks" that make up society.

To read the full column, click here.