Catholic Family Life

The City of the Lord (COTL) is a Catholic covenant community headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, with branches in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Monterey Bay, California. In 1987, COTL began to present weekend marriage retreats to broader Catholic audiences, in the hope that what we had learned over the years about marriage and family life in the community would enrich and strengthen other Catholic families. We had discovered, early on, that good, strong, life-giving marriages were at the heart of all we were attempting to be and accomplish as a community. As a result, we sought the Lord’s guidance and the abundant wisdom Scripture and the teachings of our Church provide about building successful marriages and families, raising children, and developing a rich Christian family culture.

We realized, early on, that the sacrament of marriage constituted the first and most basic principle of Christian family life. Family begins here, with Christian marriage as a visible sign of the invisible bond of love between God and mankind. Marriage was created by God to realize His fundamental purpose for the human race: to be one, and to be fruitful (to procreate and fulfill His will for creation). Too often in our society, just managing to stay married, amid all the cultural and economic challenges, is viewed as a sufficient aim. But God is asking far more of us as Catholic couples than a dutiful commitment to “grin and bear it.” But He gives generously to couples that include Him within their marriage.

Effective communication is the key to building unity in marriage. Sharing, listening and kindness lead to understanding, openness and emotional intimacy. These in turn, lead to deepening love and sexual intimacy, which often lead to children, the other purpose of marriage. In our roles of husband-wife, mother-father, we inevitably fall short. We hurt each other and must learn how to ask for and grant forgiveness so that God can heal what has been damaged. This requires a gentleness and humility that are supernatural in origin. We cannot achieve an excellent marriage without the power of God. Fortunately He provides the power we need through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

These are things we came to know through our experience and by seeking the accumulated wisdom of the people of God through the Scripture and teaching of the Church. However, through trial and error we discovered that while we had a working understanding of the how to be married, we weren't teaching the “why marriage?” What was missing was the philosophical underpinning. It is difficult to be faithful to the rules if one doesn't understand why it is important.

At his Wednesday audience, from September 1979 through November 1984, Pope John Paul II delivered 129 short talks on the meaning of human embodiment, particularly as it concerns human sexuality. This was the first major teaching project of his pontificate. He entitled it “Theology of the Body”. Theology of the Body (TOB) is a study of how God reveals the mystery of Himself through the human body. We are indebted to the theologians whose work has made TOB accessible to a general audience. We have incorporated the understanding of TOB with pragmatic teaching on the marriage relationship to yield the material presented. We have found this synthesis of philosophical and pragmatic teaching to provide a powerful and life-changing experience for married couples.

The CFL Seminar is made up of four parts: the weekend, the follow-through, the reunions and couples groups.

The Weekend

The weekend begins Friday evening with a welcome, an introduction describing the goals of the CFL Seminar and a presentation contrasting the world’s view of marriage and God’s view of marriage.

The reason this program is titled Catholic “Family” Life becomes apparent Saturday morning when the entire family attends the Saturday session all the way through the dinner meal. The parents will learn about autonomy, empathy and mutuality while the kids make crafts, play games and learn about the love of Jesus. Families get back together for the lunch break and to share a Lord’s Day Dinner which is a celebration of the love of God for His people .

The Follow-Through

The Follow-Through Sessions provide opportunities to deepen relationships with the retreatants and begin to form positive life habits that will support strong Catholic marriages and family life. Participation in the full CFL program will work against the danger that the Weekend dissipates into a nice experience without lasting effects on lives. Couples that persevere through the Follow-Through Program will gain valuable additional formation; they will form the habit of investing in and thinking about family life and they will be drawn deeper into an experience of Christian community.

The location for the Follow-Through Sessions should be chosen for maximum convenience. If the CFL weekend was conducted in town, consider using the same space for the Follow-Through Sessions. If possible, we recommend scheduling the Follow-Through Sessions on Saturday afternoon, from 3:00 – 5:00 PM, followed by a Lord’s Day celebration. The support team and broader community can provide childcare for the team and retreatants’ children, as well as prepare the meal. Plan something manageable so that everyone can have fun.

The Follow-Through presentation topics can be tailored to suit the needs and interests of the group. Twelve outlines are provided in the handbook. The sessions provide good opportunities to train new talent for future weekends.

Catholic Family Life Reunions

After your chapter conducts a CFL retreat weekend, it is time to introduce the new group of retreatants to the families from previous weekends. The CFL Reunion serves this purpose. A Reunion will be scheduled to coincide with one of the four Follow-through Lord’s Day Celebrations. It is a joyful time of celebration of family life. The children are accommodated in the menu planning, the song selection and activities.

Couples Groups

The Catholic Family Life program anticipates the need and opportunity for ongoing formation and fellowship. It is customary in covenant communities and other renewal movements of the Church for members and those interested in membership to meet regularly in small faith sharing groups. The optimum group size is five or six couples. The couples group is facilitated by two team couples; a seasoned couple handles the primary teaching responsibility with a junior couple providing support. The couples group meets in a home.

The teaching topics are determined by the need of the couples in the group. The choices of topics are broad and varied. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. A typical evening will last 1½ to 2 hours. It consists of a time of prayer, followed by instruction and then fellowship. The initial commitment is for six biweekly meetings. The group can continue to meet as long as it is bearing fruit for the couples. As attrition is experienced, groups can be shuffled, blending the most recent retreatants with veteran retreatants. The couples groups are the ideal time and place for identifying and training future team members.