Catholic Herald Staff
In his welcome message on the Diocese of Superior’s Marriage Preparation webpage, Bishop James P. Powers says, “The Church rejoices with you as you approach the sacrament of marriage and wishes to support you in living your married life to the fullest.”
The bishop notes, “Today’s culture can work against your commitment to a healthy, lifelong Christian marriage, but the Church offers you the building blocks with which to build a solid foundation for your marriage. The cornerstones of that solid foundation begin now, in your engagement period.”
Marriage retreats are one key element of effective marriage preparation.
Twenty-five couples took part in retreats for engaged couples this spring – March 16 at St. Joseph in Rice Lake and April 6 at Holy Rosary in Medford.
While each parish’s retreat focused on similar topics, the formats varied.
St. Joseph does not follow a specific curriculum. Pastor Fr. Ed Anderson shared that their marriage preparation team has looked at various programs – and while there are many excellent ones available – they have decided on certain foundational topics and then choose couples “strong in their faith,” able to offer a witness testimony on each one.
“I would prefer to hear the witness and testimony of real people facing the triumphs and struggles of married life; how they share their joys, how they worked their way through problems, and now how they can reflect back on those struggles even with some humor because you can see how they kept their marriage Christ-centered,” Fr. Anderson said.
The Medford team, led by Mike and Peggy Czerniak, uses Ascension Press’s “Joy-Filled Marriage” program with two primary texts, “God’s Plan for Love” and “Life Skills for Couples.”
Both books’ introduction states “Great marriages do not happen by accident. They require the deliberate, daily commitment of both spouses who, by God’s grace, are determined to nurture and safeguard their lives together.”
The program is considered to be virtues-based and includes time and resources for couples to discuss and plan how to apply what they are learning to everyday life.
Clergy were present at both daylong sessions. In Medford, Fr. Phil Juza presented on the sacrament of marriage and some practical aspects of wedding planning. Fr. Ed Anderson or a deacon always led a similar session for the Rice Lake retreat.
Fr. Anderson said while there would be enough material for an entire weekend retreat, the one-day format facilitates the reality that most couples attending are not local. The same is true for the Medford area. Couples attended from a broader region than the parish, including out of state.
Three key topics
Communication and conflict resolution was a subject both retreats covered extensively. In Medford, Jean and John Osen, married for 19 years, were the presenters.
Principles given were: commitment, balance and self-restraint, fairness and charity, good discernment and forgiveness. “Effective problem-solving does not happen once one spouse starts shutting down or where emotions become volatile,” they explained.
Couples were advised to listen as much as they speak, be aware of how conflicts were resolved in each family of origin, and know when to bring things up.
The Osens also clarified that fairness does not always mean equality; using a scale to compare exactness will not safeguard or honor the marriage.
Giving a personal example of how important listening outside of oneself is, the couple commented on doing laundry. If they would have been asked before getting married if they did laundry, both could honestly answer “yes.” But for John, that meant maybe once a month, whereas for Jean, doing laundry meant something very different.
The Czerniaks, in their subject areas, repeated over and over the qualifiers of marital love: free, total, faithful and fruitful.
“You may get tired of seeing this, but hopefully it sticks with you,” Mike said.
The requirements for a marriage’s validity were reviewed, as well as what an annulment means and what it does not mean.
More than once, the lead couple invited and encouraged engaged couples to talk to a priest or deacon regarding concerns about any of the topics covered, “please, please, please, so you can move forward with a blessed wedding.”
When it came to the section on sexuality, openness to life and Catholic teaching, Mike opened saying, “I’m just asking you to be open to hearing something different than what society presents.”
He stated that his goal was to present enough information to leave them “curious enough to learn more about it, so that we can make an informed decision as a couple, rather than running on the assumptions of what society pushes at us.”
Through the provided texts, their own commentary and two video clips, the Czerniaks touched on Natural Family Planning’s scientific and relational elements, its natural value as non-hormonal and non-invasive, as well as looking at intimacy in broader terms than merely sexual.
Mike iterated, “The focus is not on what’s wrong with contraception, but what’s right with Natural Family Planning.”
The topic of finances, money and time management was the final segment and addressed from various angles because of its prominence in marital struggles.
Starting from their own experience, the Czerniaks shared how coming from financially conservative families had been influential and helpful. Mike remembered his own father’s rule of thumb as a dairy farmer and father of eight – “never have more than two cows’ worth of debt.”
The engaged couples participated in an exercise where they prioritized from a long list of items and activities that they valued – family, success, couple time, financial stability, work, recreation, hobbies and health, among others. Most of the couples shared that many of their priorities were shared.
The lead couple encouraged them to make this a frequent discussion, something to revisit at least annually, as priorities can and do evolve and change as marriage passes through different stages, especially regarding work and family.
They gave four habits for building happiness: responsible generosity, shared planning, joint commitment and balance.
Acknowledging that the environment engaged couples were getting married in – with the paradox of both immediate gratification and procrastination – differed from when they were married 34 years ago, the Czerniaks stated, “If you do not manage your money, your money will manage you … It’s not about how much you make, but how you plan to manage it.”
Peggy asked if they knew how many times money is talked about in the Bible. The answer was, “2,325 times, more often than sex.” She emphasized what an emotional subject it can be, and how necessary it is to make marital finances another point of regular review.
During the numerous moments for couple discussion, music was played in the background to protect privacy. The intent was to keep the focus on the day as not just information for each couple to receive but to process together and to foster lifelong habits of deeper understanding and joint reflection.
Prayer as a couple was the final topic. Couples were given a chance to learn a new style of prayer together, where each would share words of appreciation, joys and hopes and then translate those same thoughts into a prayer including God in each aspect.
Peggy said, “Intimacy with God increases intimacy with your spouse.” She clarified that God will not force himself into the marriage, that He wants to be invited.
More information about marriage preparation in the Diocese of Superior may be found at https://catholicdos.org/marriage-steps.