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by Annemarie Scobey-Polacheck
Our nine-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old son had been having a terrible weekend together. Liam was annoyed with Teenasia’s constant singing. Teenasia said Liam was chewing with his mouth open on purpose. Liam took more than his share of chips for lunch; Teenasia allegedly never got in trouble for anything. Their list of complaints became shriller with every passing hour. Finally, on Sunday morning, my husband and I left them unsupervised in the mudroom to put on their jackets for Mass and a screaming match ensued. Mass would begin in ten minutes, and we were already a couple minutes behind. But as I looked at their angry faces, I knew I couldn’t ignore this moment. I told Liam and Teenasia to join hands with the other kids and we were going to have a quick family prayer. In the prayer, I thanked God for sending Liam and Teenasia into our family. I said there was a reason God had chosen for them to be brother and sister and prayed that both of them would be open to God’s grace to be the best big brother or younger sister that they could be.
Once the family was loaded in the van, I said we were going to drive to church without talking, so that Liam and Teenasia could both pray the Hail Mary silently.
Parents who integrate prayer into daily life give their children the gift of a relationship with God that is constant and accessible. Praying about regular life problems and successes helps children to form a context for a faith that could otherwise feel removed and mysterious. For Liam and Teenasia that particular day, my husband and I noticed that each of them made a conscious effort to stop the bickering after church. Later that night, Liam approached Teenasia and said he’d read out loud with her before bed. Will this be the end of sibling rivalry for them? Certainly not. But hopefully, having them pray together in difficult times is laying the groundwork for an understanding that all relationships are gifts from God.
Looking for ways to build more prayer into your family’s life? Here are a few ideas:
• Create a tradition that incorporates prayer: “Each year, during Lent, we do outdoor Stations of the Cross with another family,” said Jamie, father of four. “We either have a picnic or go out for a fish fry afterward. The kids love that it’s a tradition unique to our family.”
• If it’s an important day – pray for it! “When a child has an important day in our family, we gather together in the morning, put our hands on that child and each person gives a blessing,” said Jen, mother of three. “Whether it’s a big test or tryouts for a sport or a birthday, we begin the day by talking to God about it.”
• Road trips start with prayer: “Once the van is packed and everyone is buckled in, we say an Our Father or a Hail Mary for our trip,” said Bill, father of four. “My wife or I will pray out loud for safe travels and also for the people we might be going to visit, or that we learn something from the trip.”
• Service can be prayer in action: “We serve at a meal program once a month,” said Henry, father of three. “When we do this, our kids are taken out of their comfortable world and get to experience living the Gospel values.”
• Jump-start your own prayer life: It’s difficult to pass on a spirit of prayer if that’s not where you are personally. If you feel that your whole family is lacking spiritually, begin by giving prayer a place in your own life. Children will learn by osmosis. “I can tell when I need to pray more. I become more irritable and worried,” said Amy, mother of three. “When my children see me taking time to go to daily Mass or Adoration, or reading spiritual books, they recognize it’s important and it makes a difference.”
By Fr. Tom Vandenberg
Why should couples pray together? Is it to deepen their unity as a couple or to seek God’s help in dealing with problems in their family or even in their own relationship? The answer is yes to these and countless other such questions. However, the overriding motive for a couple called to the Sacrament of Matrimony to pray together is their vocation to be a living sign of Jesus’ love in the Church.
Like the Sacrament of Orders, the Sacrament of Matrimony is ultimately for the life of the
Church. That is what distinguishes sacramental marriage from all other marriages.
In addition to faith in each other, it requires faith in God and the desire to live in the Spirit
of God’s love as their way of life – not just for themselves, but also for the People of God. Because of their baptism into Christ, a sacramental couple’s vocation is to make love itself real and believable in the Church, for, where love is, God is. Sharing a relationship with God through prayer bonds the couple more closely together and supports their vocation
as a domestic church.
As a living sacrament, a couple calls the Church to that unique way of life Jesus referred to when he said, “By this will they know you are my disciples: your love for one another” (John 13:35). Not only do our sacramental couples show us what Christ-like love looks like, they actually bring Jesus’ love to the community of the Church. Sacraments confer what they signify. They make Jesus’ love real! And in so doing, they help empower others to have a real depth of love for one another as well.
The Sacrament of Matrimony exists in the dynamic power of the couple’s
relationship with each other. The home they create by their love is the most important
school for learning the ways of love that their children will ever experience. Calling on the
power of God’s love through praying together strengthens this extraordinary call from
When living in the Spirit of God’s love, rather than asking for Jesus to help them with their daily challenges, they may ask instead, “Jesus, how can we help you today? How can we make your love present in us more obvious today? What should our love look like right here, right now?” This all requires that a married couple surrender themselves to the Spirit of God’s Love who empowers them to fulfill their vocation. This begins by worshiping together at Mass when they surrender themselves as they are, in union with Jesus, to the Father. In this way, their hearts open to the transforming grace and love of God, so their hearts will more clearly reflect the heart of Jesus. United in divine love, they then can let the Spirit guide their private prayer together.
By Bob Ovies
The American Bishops issued their Pastoral Letter on Marriage for reasons marriage ministers are all familiar with. Marriage, whether sacramental or civil, is the choice of a shrinking percentage of couples who decide to express their love for one another by living together in an intimate committed relationship. And among those couples who do celebrate marriage, the difference in the divorce rate of Catholic couples and those of the general population is negligible.
But for all of this, there is still a “critical something” that has yet to be extensively pursued in marriage support ministries at either diocesan or parish levels, even though it’s foundational to Catholic life, it’s proven to be easy to teach, it’s been clinically demonstrated to dramatically strengthen virtually every factor known to be essential to the well-being of the marriage relationship (Rushnell and Duart, Couples Who Pray , 2007),
and, of all the collates known to contribute to happy and healthy marriages, it’s been identified by researcher Fr. Andrew Greeley as “the most powerful we have yet discovered.” (Andrew Greeley, Faithful Attraction, 1991).
That “critical something” is shared “couple prayer” – close, honest, personal prayer shared by a husband and wife on a regular basis.
Jesus tells us in his encounter with a busy Martha and attentive Mary that drawing back from the busyness of life The One Necessary Thing in order to focus on His company, to tell Him what’s in our heart and mind, and, very importantly, to listen to what He has to say to us, is the “only necessary thing.” (Lk 10:42) What an incredible revelation!
Married couples obviously have all kinds of important things to deal with, some of which are even critical. But married couples (like individuals, congregations, whole parish communities and the entire church) have only one thing that is “necessary” – prayer.
Yet most married couples are not praying together as a couple; not just the two of them coming together for that specific reason, and not with anything even remotely approaching a regular basis.
As a diaconal couple, my wife, Kathy, and I have been blessed over the past nine years to personally help some 1,400 couples embrace the “only necessary thing” more deeply and consistently as married couples. We’ve learned over that period of time that the overwhelming majority of couples – including even those who express a genuine desire to be able to pray together on a regular basis – are not in fact doing it, citing either or both of these two overriding reasons:
1. We don’t know how to go about it.
2. We wouldn’t feel safe. We’d be too vulnerable.
No other reasons come even close to being as significant as these. Think about that.
It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth, died, rose from the dead, and sent the Holy Spirit. And yet, today most married Catholic couples (and other Christian couples, too, across the denominational board) are not praying together because of the above reasons.
There is very good news, though, and that is – both of those issues are teachable. They are learnable. They are achievable – and achievable more easily and more quickly than most couples might even imagine.
Couples can learn how to pray together in secure and successful ways. They can learn whole menus of solid ways to pray, within which they can closely and supportively pray together in their own most personally comfortable ways.
Couples can learn how to create a safe environment for themselves and their spouse, one in which sharing the intimacy of their personal relationship with God becomes an abiding comfort to them, not a threat. In fact, they can learn how to pray together comfortably in just a matter of weeks.
Here are some things we’ve learned that we hope will encourage you.
• It doesn’t take long. Couples won’t get there with just a strong homily or an evening in the parish center, but in just a few weeks they can be well on their way. Psychologists tell us that it takes approximately forty days to make or break a life-pattern, or habit, and we’ve found that that’s a very comfortable time-frame for husbands and wives to begin sharing daily couple prayer with as much faithfulness as they now brush their teeth, check their e-mail, go on the web, watch TV, or do any of the other hundred things that they now consider so important that they take time out for them each and every day.
• It’s accomplished successfully when it’s approached in gradual stages, with the first and most enduring stage being simply learning to start thanking God openly and honestly with one another. As David said, “Enter the gates of God with thanksgiving…” (Ps 100:1, 2)
Giving God thanks is not only a foundational and eternal response to God’s goodness to us, it is a wonderful starting place for any couple’s shared-prayer journey. There is little personal exposure in thanking God together,which in turn provides a greater sense of security, which in turn allows a higher degree of trust. It is trust that opens the door for intimacy and it’s intimacy – close, loving, enduring, personal intimacy with God and one another – that’s the most abiding of our longings and the highest goal of our prayers.
From that beginning point of helping couples learn to share open and honest prayers of thanks together, helping them pray comfortably together for a lifetime is simply a matter of supporting them through even more open, trusting, and intimate levels of “the only necessary thing.”
• from thanking and praising God in simple and heart-felt ways together,
• to asking God’s help together,
• to sharing personal insights and personal prayers about scripture and other resources together,
• to blessing each other and their children together,
• to sharing devotions together,
• to the deepest intimacies of forgiving and the highest intimacies of
worshiping God together –praying as a married couple may truly be the
most intimate act between husband and wife that any marriage can offer.
It is, after all, all in God’s plan, which means it’s already planted in the hearts of the next married couple we will get a chance to help, just waiting to bloom. The more we encourage prayer as a marriage support ministry of the highest importance, the more we will see marriages, and therefore families, and therefore the church herself, genuinely renewed.
By Steve & Kathy Beirne
Our prayer ministry for engaged couples began about ten years ago when we started providing the UNITAS program in our parish. That program runs for seven weeks. Our intent was to involve as many parishioners as possible in preparing couples for their marriage, so that it would be apparent that the community was supporting their entry into this important sacrament. We had couples acting as sponsors, others providing a meal, and still others serving the meal. Others gathered door prizes for each evening’s meeting – but core to the entire effort was the prayer ministry.
Forms were distributed in church prior to the program asking who would be willing to pray for an engaged couple as they went through the program. Each person (or couple) was assigned one of the engaged couples to pray for. We sent a picture of the couple with their first names and wedding date, and asked that they pray for them until their wedding.
In addition, we gave names of the couples to the children in our parochial school, also with a picture. The photos were posted in each classroom, and the children prayed for the couples daily. One year the pastor had the children make placemats for the couples with their advice for marriage. The drawings and the sayings touched the couples, and the children told them, “Don’t fight.”
The prayer ministry is an important one from both sides. Knowing that they have the support of others in the parish is a comfort to the engaged. It makes them feel part of something larger than themselves. From the other side, those who are prayer partners feel involved in the important work of getting couples ready for a Catholic wedding and for the work of living out a lifelong, happy, healthy, holy marriage. The first year, we had a 100 year old woman who offered to be a prayer partner. The couple she got to pray for were getting married on her own wedding anniversary. You can imagine how meaningful it was for both parties to have that connection.
Recently we have begun asking the prayer partners to write a letter to be given to the couple on the last night of the program. This strengthens the awareness of the engaged to the love and concern that enfolds them.
We now have one volunteer who takes charge of this aspect of ministry to the engaged, from collecting the forms with the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the prayer partners to assigning them couples and making sure they receive the photos. We ask that the letters for the couples be left in the sacristy toward the end of the program so postage is not involved.
Having had this ministry for ten years we now see it as integral to our marriage preparation program. Many of the couples attending the program are only tangentially related to the parish – it is the parish they grew up in, or they have recently moved to the area. This program connects them in a positive way to the larger community.
1. Understand two critical realities. Making a stepfamily work well is a process. It also takes time.
2. Take time to live alone as a single after divorce or the death of a partner. Develop and maintain a solid network of family and friends. Start school, move into a new job, or do whatever it takes to move toward a long-awaited dream you’ve always held. Take risks that lead to restoring your ability to trust others. Beware of that first intense relationship and realize that, quite likely, this person is your transition person and not necessarily the one you’ll end up marrying. However, it can be a vital relationship for rebuilding self-confidence and selfrespect, as well as learning how to b ewith someone again.
3. Take time before you commit and prepare wisely. Resolve and heal former relationships. Learn information about stepfamily living. Help your children grieve their changed family situation with family discussions and therapy so they can better adjust to stepfamily living.
4. Clarify your relationship with your former spouse. Peaceful relationships help your children move between two households. Effective coparenting and minimizing loyalty conflicts for children only works when the original relationship is reasonably healthy.
5. Dealing with discipline will be your greatest challenge. The first hurdle is dealing with discipline, so that you can present a “united front” to the children as soon as possible. Examine your parenting styles. Perhaps take parenting classes during courtship. Seek out skills and communication classes. Agree on approaches that respect everyone.
6. Examine and clarify boundary issues early. Time, space, chores, and authority are issues to sort out early in the stepfamily journey so everyone is on the same page.
7. Disclose and discuss finances. Money discussions are best done before remarriage, because issues around money and other economic considerations are the second greatest challenge in the stepfamily.
8. Reduce children’s anxiety. Kids worry about their roles in the new family and may be confused. Many are angry about all the changes. Reduce their concerns by talking with them openly. Yes, they still have a good relationship with their other parent without it upsetting you or your new partner. No, they needn’t lose touch with their grandparents. Yes, they can they still see their old friends? Clear answers provide the reassurance youngsters need. New stepparents can assure children their intent is neither to replace their biological parent nor interfere in those relationships. Ask them how they view your role in their lives, listen well for guidelines, and watch for opportunities to build good relationships with them.
9. Participate in stepfamily education or counseling. Because stepfamilies differ from other families in so many ways, the more you learn in advance, the fewer struggles you’ll face later. Attend a stepfamily education class. Visit a therapist who’s savvy about stepfamilies and is trained in family systems – especially before marriage and in the early stages. It’s a
healthy family that seeks help to strengthen its family life.
10. Celebrate with a creative ceremony that includes the children. At the cutting edge of tradition, stepfamily weddings can help create a storehouse of memories that provide a strong foundation for your stepfamily. Everyone who wants to take part in a meaningful way can be encouraged to do so. A child might want to play the piano, sing a song, read a poem, or manage the guest book. Encourage your children to be a part in the ceremony but no one should be forced. If there’s resistance by a certain child, talk about it calmly to get to the bottom of what the child is feeling – it is usually unresolved divorce issues. A creative and joyful ceremony heralds your new beginning to friends and family and provides a positive start to what lies ahead.
By Fr. Britto M. Berchmans
Even though I have been a happy celibate priest for the last twenty-eight years, I consider myself a hopeless romantic. I am convinced that marriages are made in heaven. Every time I meet a couple that still has the spark after several decades of marriage, I feel vindicated in my romantic view of marriage.
In the Church we constantly encourage couples to have great marriages, but we do not always show them how. Relationships are hard work. We, as Church, must teach our
couples the necessary skills and spiritual insights so that they may be able to construct a strong, life-giving union. It is not a matter of merely passing on information. We need to accompany them on their journey.
One of the most successful initiatives that were restored in the Church after the Vatican Council was the RCIA. Over the years I have seen the quality of Catholics the program has produced. The secret of their success lies in the time and energy invested in the program. These catechumens are not alone on their journey that usually lasts several months. They are accompanied by the entire parish community. In a special way they are accompanied by their parish sponsors.
On the contrary, the preparation for marriage too often consists of simply filling out some paperwork and going through a Pre-Cana program. The couples think that the marriage celebration involves only them and no one else. In the minds of many a couple, the community is present only as guests at the ceremony, and certainly at the reception.
I wish that we could make marriage preparation more intense and more spiritual. As Church, we must demand more from our couples if they want to get married in church. By transforming the marriage preparation into a serious time of prayer and spiritual growth, we may be able to integrate the couples more fully into the life of the community.
The journey does not end with the celebration of marriage. It continues even after the wedding. The faith community should become their constant source of support through all of their challenges. If the couple should be accompanied, who should be their companions on the road? Basically there are three: the priest, the mentor couple, and the larger parish community.
The priest plays a major role in helping the couple to prepare for their big day. He is not called upon to be a functionary merely celebrating a ritual. He needs to become the link between the couple and the community. Usually he is the first person that they meet in the parish. Their experience with him may determine their experience of the Church as a whole.
The priest has to make every effort to form a personal relationship with the couple. It is not enough to meet with them for just one meeting to fill out the paperwork. We should insist on several meetings during which we discuss both spiritual and practical aspects of the marriage relationship. We should not prepare them merely for their wedding day; we must prepare them for their married life. Our conversations can cover such topics as biblical insights for a healthy marriage, the meaning of the marriage commitment, differing communication styles of men and women, and finally, wise conflict management techniques. As a result of these conversations, on the wedding day the priest is no longer a stranger who hardly knows their names. He has become a friend who is able to celebrate a very personal and meaningful wedding Mass or ceremony for the couple.
It is not enough that the priest accompanies the couple during the marriage preparation. He needs to become in some sense their priest for life. The priest should encourage the couple to call on him for any need during their married life. I do understand that taking on the role of the couple’s priest for life can bring on some extra duties. But I have found that the calls from these couples do not place an undue burden. Besides, the couples seem to draw much comfort from having a personal connection to a priest of the Church.
Many successful programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and RCIA attribute their success to the commitment of sponsors who accompany the candidates on their journey. The God of Exodus walked with the people of Israel for forty years until they made their home in the Promised Land. The journey was by no means easy and the people were not always grateful. The Lord was patient and never gave up. In the same way, the Risen Lord walked as a stranger with the two disciples who were tracing their steps away from the community in Jerusalem towards their homes in Emmaus. The Lord was patient as he explained the scriptures to them. They finally recognized Him in the breaking of the Bread. I am proposing that in order to have a proactive marriage preparation, we need to find mentor couples who will accompany engaged couples on their journey towards marriage.
The mentor couple has to win the trust of the young couple. The parish may assign a mentor couple when a young couple asks to get married in the parish. The two couples may meet in the context of a meal in the home of the mentor couple. The mentors
should encourage the engaged couple to call on them if they have any question regarding the wedding. They could meet at least a couple of times before the wedding in an informal setting. They could be in the church for the wedding calming the nerves the bride and the groom. After the wedding, the mentor couple may hold an intimate celebration for the couple in their home. Hopefully through all these meetings a bond may be created and the young couple may come to rely on the wisdom of the older couple. Especially in the case of young couples living far from their families, mentor couples may provide a sense of comfort and support in matters both spiritual and material.
THE PARISH COMMUNITY
We know that the celebration of every sacrament is a community event. Yet in the case of matrimony this aspect is too often lost. Somehow we have to impress on the couple, as well as the larger parish, that the two people getting married are affecting the life of the community. To that end I suggest that we hold at least two liturgical celebrations during the year. We need to bring together all the couples who got married during that year for a Parish Wedding Mass. Thus the whole parish will acknowledge the couples and they in turn will feel connected to the community. In the same way, it is helpful to hold an Anniversaries Sunday when we can recognize all those who are celebrating special milestones in their married life. Special prayers and blessings can be offered. Even a renewal of vows may take place.
The priests must be encouraged to speak on marriage and family life in their homilies all through the year. From time to time, petitions – for couples getting married or for families – must be included in the intercessions. When choosing topics for adult education or talks in the parish, every effort must be made to address relationship issues. If topics that relate to their actual life are discussed, parishioners will show up. Finally the entire parish must constantly pray for married couples and families. For, if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers toil.