Published February 7, 2007
About two and a half years ago Anthony Buono began reflecting on the dichotomy between the litany of praises of the many who met and married through his Catholic Ave Maria Singles dating Web site and the resounding complaints of hundreds of others about the poor quality of his service and the people on it.
As the site’s founder pondered the predicament of those disillusioned singles quite frustrated with the process, the idea began to germinate of a program to better prepare for marriage those persons of faith who may not have the experience needed of healthy relationships because of their own “bad formation” in habits or behaviors—or at least those with some room for improvement who would benefit from making “more of an investment in themselves.”
“They were not ready for marriage, but they felt a call for marriage. They wanted to be married and that would make (them) happy and God happy but had approached it in a very linear way. ‘Where is this person?’” he recalled thinking in a phone interview Jan. 25. “So they’re not marriage material yet. They just need to make some kind of move for themselves to be better catches. I’m interested in them becoming a better catch because that is what makes all the difference in finding the right person. It’s being the right person.”
So about two years ago he began a project to produce a DVD series with co-hosts Father Edward B. Connolly and Susan Gertz that focuses less on creating a checklist of desired qualities in an ideal spouse and more on personal development to grow closer to the person God desires one to be, to be better prepared to meet Mr. or Ms. Right and ready to act when the person comes along. It was co-produced with Catholicmatch.com and was launched last year. Buono is also developing a series of supplemental materials to complement the DVDs. He will be introducing a training program on positive steps to prepare oneself to become the person one needs to be for marriage on the Road to Cana Web site.
CTK Singles of the Cathedral of Christ the King is sponsoring this Catholic Lenten marriage preparation DVD series for young adults who are single, engaged or discerning the vocation of marriage on Saturday evenings from Feb. 17 to April 14 (no program March 10 and April 7) to help Atlanta young adults seeking marriage to reflect during Lent on how they can be better prepared for the sacrament of holy matrimony. The series covers a broad range of practical topics such as character development, physical attraction, a biblical guide to courtship, desired qualities and the notion of one perfect match, pitfalls and wise practices for Internet dating, and what men and women want. Segments predicate that Christ is at the center of one’s life, and tie themes into church teaching and Scripture lessons.
The second and third parts of the series are also appearing on Eternal World Television Network from Feb. 5-9 at 3 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., and from Feb. 12-14 at 3 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Buono developed Ave Maria Singles in 1998 after identifying a need in the emerging Internet dating world for a Catholic presence while working for a Catholic publisher in New Jersey. Following its inception he received financial support from Tom Monaghan’s Ave Maria Foundation to help establish this lay apostolate (independent of the church). So far he knows of about 800 couples who have met and married through the site, which is designed for Catholics who are in full communion with the church and agree with its teachings.
Buono has found that most people can make positive changes and become their most attractive selves through only slight adjustments, which can involve simple changes in bad habits like talking too much or too little on a date. Other changes might involve getting a job to better fulfill one’s potential—rather than delivering pizzas—or modifying ingrained bad behavior habits such as complaining too much and being inconsiderate. After all, people aren’t going to care too much if one is a “devout Catholic” if the person lacks basic human virtues, Buono noted, as grace builds on nature and the single needs to be a good human being to allow the sacraments to be more efficacious in one’s life.
Singles must avoid, he advises, “the false sense that a person owes them the love because they practice their Catholic faith. Most of Road to Cana is about character more than your faith because this is so much” of what a spouse would need to depend on in marriage day by day.
It stresses the importance of faithful living by developing those human virtues of the natural order such as kindness that opens one up to the grace to practice theological ones of faith, hope and love.
“The more you are selfless in your existence as a single person, the better your marriage is because you have already conditioned yourself to think of the other person.”
That selflessness and strong character are grounded in the four cardinal virtues of courage, moderation, justice and wisdom.
“It’s the formation of one’s character, the human virtues and practices, that make you totally available for the graces that religion and the sacraments bring you. Grace builds on nature,” he said, and as the Vatican has taught that if a person has no human virtue then grace rolls over the individual and has no place to go.
Some just need a simple makeover, he continued, recalling one devout man whose shabby appearance suggested he didn’t care much about himself even though he was a very pious person. He eventually got a more modern hairstyle and ditched the 1970s-style glasses.
And while the series addresses how it’s a falsehood to say that only internal beauty matters in the world of dating and, for example, not post a picture or present oneself poorly groomed, it also addresses how people in Internet or real world dating should not “shoot themselves in the foot” and be too rigid in their checklist of qualities for mate selection. After all, Buono noted, attraction can often grow between people who aren’t even initially attracted to one another, and there are often blessed elements of surprise in who one chooses to marry. “What we’re looking for a lot of times is very subjective. It’s really about making sure what we see in another person we don’t like doesn’t make us prematurely say no, not interested any more,” he explained. “Yes, looks matter but (how much) are you making them matter? It’s not just about the level of beauty but attraction in getting to know (a person). … They become even more attractive because of who they are. There are a lot of ways attraction happens. You can’t just look at a photo on a Web site and make a judgment. That’s just not reality and you are losing a lot of opportunities if you approach it that way.”
It asserts that there is no perfect person and there are inevitable conflicts and recurring failures and shortcomings of each individual in a marriage.
While the series is geared for those who are preparing to or are dating, the marriage issues discussed are also relevant for those who are engaged and already married as well.
Buono is busy developing the complementary training program to prepare persons for dating and marriage through his Web site as well as additional supplemental resources including more radio and TV programming, parish literature, and pod-casting. He has also been leading several Catholic singles cruises and pilgrimages–some cosponsored by Catholic Match—to Rome, Hawaii, the Caribbean and beyond, which include daily Mass, praying the rosary and other activities, where “people are surprised about how much they learn about themselves and are edified by others and have fun.”
He is holding the Ave Maria Singles first retreat this May 25-27 outside Philadelphia, and plans to eventually offer four yearly around the country to socialize and to discuss Road to Cana themes and faith issues.
The DVDs are “just the first resource of many different things and formation we plan to do that center around the Website formation program,” stressed Buono.
Mark Homer and Allison Gerdvil from CTK Singles lead organizing efforts for this series. Gerdvil is currently a co-chair on the spiritual committee, while Homer will co-host the programs. Also hosting is Keri Allen, director of adult enrichment and evangelization at CTK.
Homer noted how there are so many dating/relationship series out there, most of which contain content that reflects what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death.” Even in the Protestant community there are relationship series such as “Finding The Love of Your Life” and “Power of Passion,” both of which are Christ-centered and have been presented at CTK, but he likes how this program addresses what singles can do to prepare for dating and marriage.
“Road To Cana is the only one that I have heard of that is uniquely Catholic and based upon what we, as Catholics, believe are central attributes to a healthy marriage. This series presents information that is of interest to every young adult who is called to or is discerning the call to the vocation because it addresses what we should be doing before meeting the person of our prayers,” he wrote in an e-mail interview.
Homer believes that Saturdays during Lent is a good time for single Catholics to spend reflecting on God’s call in their lives.
“For me personally, Lent is a time for reflection. It is a period when I really focus on what God is trying to do in my life, what he is calling me to and what direction my life needs to go in to become the person he created me to be. There are many young adults who are discerning the call to marriage, perhaps the highest calling of their lives. What better time is there than Lent than to have the opportunity to begin to really focus on this calling?”
The program begins each evening at 6:30 p.m. with gathering and refreshments, followed by a program from the video, small group discussion and a question and answer period. Program topics by week include “Marriage: What Went Wrong?/All The Time In The World,” “Our Wounded Human Nature/One, Two, Zero,” “Back To The Future/Sex And The Will,” “Know Thyself /The Perfect Person,” “Do Looks Matter?/Choosing Wisely,” “What Men And Women Want, Part 1/What Men And Women Want, Part 2,” and “Approaching Dating/The Internet.” No programs will be held March 10 and April 7.
There will be a social at a local establishment at 9 p.m. A suggested donation of $3 will be collected each night to help cover costs.