This month in Rome, the Augustine Institute released Beloved: The Mystery and Meaning of Marriage. Beloved is the latest edition of Symbolon, a faith-formation series currently being used in almost 4,000 parishes both nationally and internationally.
Dr. Edward Sri, content director of Beloved and professor of theology at the Augustine Institute, told Catholic World Report that the inspiration behind the Institute’s new series was multi-faceted. “We recognized,” he said, “on the one hand, there is a serious need for a program that will really prepare young people to live marriage in a world that is not at all supportive of married life. On the other hand, we recognized the great need for a program that offers ongoing formation and helps married couples enrich their relationships. How many kids suffer because they don’t see their parents richly love each other—even if their mom and dad haven’t divorced? Beloved will alleviate suffering and help our culture.”
Those familiar with the work and thought of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will recognize the profound and rich teachings of those pontiffs at work in the Beloved series—as well as a host of other saints and teachings from the Tradition. Yet, at the same time, Beloved is not an exercise in abstract or academic theology, but is an engaging exploration of the meaning and joy of marriage. As Dr. Sri pointed out, “After watching the 12-episode series, many viewers said it moves quickly and feels like watching a movie.”
In addition to 46 different presenters, including several nationally-known Catholic speakers, the Augustine Institute’s production team used high quality, state-of-the-art filming to create beautiful visuals to match the beauty and richness of the Church’s teaching on the meaning and mystery of marriage. (It’s safe to say this is nothing like what you may have seen in your Catholic schools, parishes, and CCD programs in the 70s and 80s!)
Dr. Sri describes the aesthetic beauty of Beloved as necessary for gaining “permission to play” in a culture where the number of couples getting married is on the decline, where fewer Catholic couples are entering into sacramental marriages, and where still fewer Catholic couples entering into sacramental marriages understand the meaning of the sacrament. “We wanted to reach and engage the culture,” he noted, “We wanted to grab their attention and reach people where they’re at. We asked ourselves, how can we take the timeless teaching on marriage and present it in a timely, engaging, and compelling way to captivate the hearts of modern men and women?”
The first episode of Beloved is entitled “Does Marriage Matter?” And this crucial question sets the tone and context for the entire series. As Dr. Sri explained:
Living in a culture where fewer people are getting married, it is only natural to ask the question, why get married in the first place? Does it really matter? Is it just something on a piece paper? The creators of Beloved understood that we need to appeal to the heart: what kind of love do we want? We long for a lasting love, a love that includes and is made possible only through permanence. Deep down we’re made to love and be loved. Yet, conjugal love—which requires a total gift of self—is experienced and is possible only within the mutual commitment of life-long fidelity, that is, within the context of marriage. We need the security to know that our beloved is not going to leave us, no matter what, in order to reveal who we really are.
However, beyond the fact that marriage is good for us and for society—the series presents the social science data backing up these truths: married people tend to be happier, wealthier, enjoy higher levels of sexual satisfaction, are more psychologically healthy, etc.—the creators of Beloved wanted to show how marriage is much more as well. Marriage is bound up in God’s whole plan for the world, his love story. Dr. Sri articulates this in a captivating way:
What is love? Love is engraved on the human heart. We have been made for love. Marriage is more than contract: it is woven into us, into the very design of our humanity. The human love relationship is meant to participate in a bigger love story: God’s love for us. My little love story is meant to be caught up and elevated into this larger Love Story.
He continues, “Marriage is a calling, part of the Great Mystery, Christ’s love for the Church, his mode of love. If I access the grace of the marriage sacrament, I begin to love my spouse with God’s love, and I become changed myself. Marriage and family is our number-one adventure, where we find what we’re made for!”
As people are drawn into each episode of Beloved, it becomes evident that the series’ aim is not simply to transmit knowledge and information about the Church’s teaching on marriage. Rather, the chief aim is evangelization and transformation: to draw us into a deeper encounter with Christ and to have our lives shaped and changed in practical ways through this encounter. This is why Beloved includes interviews with several couples who talk not only about the joys of their marriages but also about the deep difficulties and challenges they have had to face and overcome.
An important truth the various couples speak about—one that is perhaps often forgotten or not emphasized enough, even in Catholic circles—is precisely the fact that marriage is a sacrament. And, as a sacrament, marriage offers husbands and wives the specific and actual graces they need to love each other and their children with Christ’s own love. In other words, as a sacrament, marriage is a supernatural reality that allows us to love with a supernatural love—a love that is not accessible to the human person according to our own resources, but only as a grace that flows to us as the fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection.
“With the bond of love between husband and wife, something new is brought into creation that wasn’t there before,” observes Dr. Sri. “Married couples can draw on that bond, the grace of the sacrament. They can constantly call on the graces: to be more humble, patient, forgiving. Through my marriage, I become aware that my wife needs more than simply my love, she needs Christ’s love through me. Married couples need to know they aren’t alone: Christ is right there, in the sacramental bond of their love, to be called upon.”
Throughout the Beloved series, ordinary couples tell stories of how they’ve accessed and lived the grace of the sacrament through prayer, the Eucharist, confession, forgiveness, and humility. Each couple shares how they have approached the challenge of putting Christ not only at the center of their marriages, but at the center of their own lives. It is no surprise, then, to hear of the positive responses to the series. “People are saying ‘this is so real,’” says Dr. Sri, “not just theory—the messiness, the way we want to change our spouses rather than ourselves, the challenges and joys of real nitty-gritty, day-to-day love, the constant dying to self in serving our spouse and our children, the need to grow in the virtues.”
While much attention was given at last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family to irregular situations and controversies, little attention was given to the synod’s recognition of the crucial need for developing programs to prepare engaged couples for marriage and to provide ongoing formation to enrich marriages. The Augustine Institute, however, has paid attention to these pressing needs. And Beloved: The Mystery and Meaning of Marriage answers the call to provide such preparation and ongoing formation in a program that is thoroughly rooted in and faithful to the dynamism and spirit of the New Evangelization.
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