COLUMBIA — Damon Owens said his life is a testament to the correctness of God’s plan for relationships between men and women.
The New Jersey-based family values advocate spoke to about 40 people on “God’s Plan for Love, Life and Family” at St. Martin de Porres Church on May 31. It was his third appearance in three days in the Diocese of Charleston. The Office of Family Life sponsored the visit.
Owens, a New Jersey native and lifelong Catholic, told the Columbia crowd frank stories about his journey from being a young man who let his faith and values slip during college years at Brown University to a married man with six daughters who wants others to discover the fullness of a committed, God-centered relationship.
On May 29, he spoke to about 50 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston on “God, Sex and the Meaning of Life,” and on May 30 he led a training session at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville for people who work in marriage ministry.
Owens is the founder of Joy-filled Marriage New Jersey, the natural family planning coordinator for the Diocese of Camden, N.J., and a national spokesman for the Life Education and Resource Network, made up of African-American pro-life organizations. He is an outreach director for the National Organization for Marriage, and a gospel singer. Owens is one of the national trainers for “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage,” a marriage preparation program used at two churches in the diocese. He is also working on two shows for EWTN.
Owens described the struggle of promoting God’s plan for relationships in a world that has trivialized the meaning of family, sexuality and commitment.
He described meeting his wife Melanie at a graduate school reception in California. The couple, both Catholic, were sexually active in the early months of their relationship, before deciding to make a commitment to abstinence, he explained. They struggled and eventually visited a priest in Oakland, Calif., who gave them a copy of “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on human life and sexuality, and invited them to worship at his inner-city parish.
At the first Mass he attended, Owens said he felt he had returned to the faith of his childhood. The couple committed themselves to abstinence for the next two years leading up to their marriage after reading the encyclical.
“It was the first time I had ever read anything the church actually taught,” he said. “We were 22, in love and we wanted to be happy, and for the first time everything made sense. We learned about wholeness, integrity and what it really means to be a man and a woman … these are two identities flowing from God, and the church’s teaching gives us a lens to understand why we’re here and what we must do to be happy.”
By focusing on the nature of marriage and its sacred purpose of creating human life, he said couples can discover a source of true happiness not found in a secular culture that promotes a trivial version of sexuality.
“We learned from ‘Humane Vitae’ that our faith is not separate from our desire to be happy,” he said. “We learned that God is real, and this is not just acting a certain way because you’re supposed to. This vision of love showed us that Jesus is real. In the struggle, we learned that God’s grace is not abstract … the deepest mystery of God is that God himself is an eternal exchange of love.”
Owens described the difference between the love people feel toward their family and friends, and the love between a man and wife.
“These are stepping stones to the love everyone is called to — agape, pledged love, committed love,” he said. “The ability to love is meant to be given away. A freedom that is not committed rots like fruit. With agape love, we are pledging everything to a particular other. It’s life-giving love, fruitful because it’s a mature tree. For most of us, this love is found in marriage.”
The total commitment that couples show each other in marriage is a mirror of the union with God that people will achieve at the end of their lives.
“Marriage itself is marriage prep,” he said. “Through marriage, we’re preparing for the marriage of the Lamb that will take place when we get to heaven.”
He stressed that people who are not called to marriage can also show committed love through a religious vocation or through a single life that is devoted to serving God and others.
Owens said that bearing and raising children is the most evident fruit of married love, and strong, committed, two-parent families create the foundations of a stable society.
“Marital sexual love is the only love that literally can create a third,” he said. “This type of family union creates affirmed and loved and strong children, who become affirmed and loved and strong parishioners, politicians, policemen and other members of our communities.
“The family is the nuclear cell of our culture. Someone said to me that you can’t learn love from an institution, and that’s true,” he continued.
He encouraged people to teach youth about the importance of sexual purity and the Catholic vision of sexuality, and to help engaged and married couples learn about the fruitfulness of living out church teachings on marriage and reproduction.