"We see a time when there's more need to make sure that couples who are preparing for the sacrament have a good formation so that they can live their marriages in the whole of their lives," said Fr. Kramer.
Before marriage in the Catholic Church, couples are typically required to take a marriage preparation course and talk with the parish where they will be married and the priest who is preparing them.
The engagement period is a time for evangelization if the couple has been away from the Church and the sacraments, Fr. Kramer said. Even for couples who are already involved in the Church, marriage preparation and counseling is a good opportunity to deepen one's knowledge and relationship with Christ and to become more involved in their parish's life.
Bethany Meola, assistant director in the Secretariat on Laity Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed to the conference's online resource "For Your Marriage," which contains contact information for marriage preparation and support programs for dioceses around the country.
The website also contains a wealth of online resources, such as Church teachings on various topics surrounding marriage and family life, relationship and parenting advice, Natural Family Planning resources, wedding planning guides, and book reviews.
In addition to their online resources, the office is engaged in virtual outreach to Catholics around the country through their virtual retreat for National Marriage Week. This year's retreat focuses on the theme of "Life and Love," and is running via Facebook from Feb. 7 through Valentine's Day. Each day, the office posts a reflection from the new apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" – or "Joy of Love" – and invites couples to pray and reflect on the passages together.
The office is also celebrating the lighter side of marriage and love through their "Joy of Love" social media contest: each day couples are invited to engage online with National Marriage Week by answering a question posed by the Secretariat. Every day, winning couples will receive a pair of matching "Mr." and "Mrs." coffee mugs.
Offline, while the office doesn't directly oversee any marriage program, it does provide support and aid dioceses across the country and the marriage programs happening in their parishes. Meola told CNA that around the country, the bishops are seeing "a lot of energy" going into marriage preparation. "I think we're at a really exciting time."
In addition, dioceses are trying to implement the insights from Amoris Laetitia into their marriage preparation and support programs. This, in turn, is refocusing attention on parishes as the "first responders" to marriages in crisis, and the role of marriage in evangelizing the broader culture.
While love and preparation can help build the foundation for a strong marriage, every marriage inevitably faces challenges and obstacles, Fr. Kramer said. And when these difficulties arise, the Church does not abandon couples.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
When struggling couples approach him for advice, the first question Fr. Kramer asks is whether they have been attending Mass and going to Confession. The sacraments, he said, form the core of our lives and relationships, and the graces of the sacraments have a key place in marriage as well.
"People always have financial difficulties, they'll always have difficulty communicating, but if they've separated themselves from the Church or from the sacraments," Fr. Kramer said, "then it's difficult to live that out in their life."
In addition to the sacraments, Fr. Kramer noted, parish priests can offer guidance or counseling. And some dioceses also offer marriage enrichment programs like "Three to Stay Married," "Marriage Encounter," and "ReFOCCUS" to help couples revitalize their relationship with God and with each other.
Many couples who previously used contraception also report that learning and using Natural Family Planning can help heal divisions and can bring about new life in a relationship, he said.
The Church can also help find aid for those struggling with separation from a spouse, addictions such as pornography, or healing for other struggles like infertility or miscarriage. Finally, the archdiocese offers a support group called "Post-Cana" for widows and widowers grieving after a marriage has ended because of death.
In some of the more difficult situations, where couples have sought aid from other resources to no avail, there is still support and hope for healing. Denise Felde, a presenter for Retrouvaille of Maryland / Washington DC, spoke to CNA about her organization, which has been helping heal marriages since the late 1970s.