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Focus on Sacrament of Marriage is best guarantee against divorce

By Kim Lovejoy-Voss
January 15th, 2008
Catholic Explorer (

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (Catholic Explorer) - First comes love, then comes marriage, then — according to the National Center for Health Statistics — comes divorce for over 40 percent of couples married less than 15 years.

In an effort to lower those numbers, some Catholic churches in the area have stepped forward to help couples realize that marriage is a sacrament and a lifelong commitment, not just a one-day celebration. St. Margaret Mary Parish has restarted a marriage preparation program and 18 married couples attended a workshop Jan. 6 at the Naperville church to learn how to mentor engaged couples.

Instead of meeting in a large group, each engaged couple meets five times with a married couple that has been matched to them by Deacon Terry Taylor and his wife, Maureen. The two couples meet one-on-one in a home setting to reflect, dialogue and pray with each other. Before the marriage, each engaged pair at St. Margaret Mary also must meet with a priest or deacon for two or three additional sessions.

Too much about wedding, not enough about marriage

Deacon Taylor explained that couples often put a lot of planning into the marriage preparations, but very little into the marriage. A book titled, “For Better and For Ever,” which was created by Father Robert Ruhnke, a Redemptorist priest in San Antonio, is used as a guide for the meetings.

“I was looking for something to replace the pre-Cana program,” Father Ruhnke told the Catholic Explorer in a phone interview. “We had already started the Engaged Encounter program but I was looking for a program that could tend to the needs of those who could not ‘fit’ into the Engaged Encounter program.”

Father Ruhnke suggested every engaged couple read the book prior to meeting with their pastor or planning the wedding. The book, which has been rewritten several times, helps engaged couples deal with the issue of their family origins and encourages more open conversation in the one-on-one meetings.

That transfiguring moment

Speaking at the workshop, James Healy, director of the diocesan Center for Family Ministry, told the men and women that an engaged couple’s marriage is “everyone’s marriage since marriage is a sacrament and sacraments are about the community.

“Your job is to welcome, encourage and share with the couples, to welcome and witness,” Healy told the married couples. “You need to normalize them to the spiritual process of marriage. The greatest and the hardest things of marriage are both negative and positive parts of a marriage. That’s how I know I am in the presence of a sacrament.

“You can’t have the resurrection without the crucifixion. Dying and rising are normal. It doesn’t mean our lives are over, but will be born again.”

Healy said couples who are getting married are in a transfiguring moment that they expect to last forever. But once they are in a marriage and lives change or children enter the picture, they come off the mountaintop; things aren’t as rosy and that is the crucifixion. He said it is important that couples know marriages will die many times, but can rise again every time.

Most of the couples attending the workshop have been married for more than 10 years. Each couple was selected by the Taylors, Kathy and John Schmitt, who had served as mentors before, and Franciscan Sister Madelyn Gould, director of adult faith formation at the parish.

“We were flattered to be approached,” said Rafael Diaz, who has been married to Ana Rosa for 20 years. “But there is a certain amount of selfishness in that we think (mentoring a couple) will help us as well.

“We also think it might help our Quest kids,” he said, referring to the high school students he and his wife teach. “Working with Journey and Quest has brought us together as a couple.”

Father Ruhnke said he has heard many mentoring couples say that their marriages were enriched by helping others.

“The feedback from both engaged couples and the sponsor couples convinced me that the ‘sponsor couple’ program was much more effective” than pre-Cana or Engaged Encounter, Father Ruhnke said.

Ana Rosa said she and her husband decided it would be good to share their marriage experiences with an engaged couple and she is looking forward to getting started in the program.

Mentoring engaged couples

Ken and Julie Ganoski of St. Michael Parish in Wheaton have been married 20 years and have three children. The Ganoskis instruct others on how to mentor couples who are looking to marry. At the workshop, they offered several suggestions to the mentors on how to build a relationship with the engaged couple and discussed Father Ruhnke’s book with the mentors.

“You can judge the success (of your relationship) by the fact that the session starts to become a discussion with back and forth dialogue,” Ken explained. “You don’t know who they have had as role models, so you need to establish the relationship.”

It will take at least two of the five sessions to get to know each other and to be comfortable with each other, Julie said.

After 36 years of marriage, Sandi and Adrian Jaworski are comfortable with each other and enjoy working together, which is one of the reasons they chose to join the mentoring program. They also wanted to make sure they helped engaged couples receive better training from the church then they received 35 years ago.

“We are hoping to bring a better preparation program (to young couples) than we received,” Sandi said. “Pre-Cana was dreadful. It was a bunch of lectures in a large group. Couples need more one-on-one with an opportunity to explore. I like the idea of a mentoring process. That is what this society needs.

“I also think they need to realize that they are in it for the long haul. They are preparing not for the day, but for their whole lifetime.”

“They need to celebrate the marriage as well as the wedding,” her husband added. “Sometimes the sacrament of marriage is just forgotten.”

Bishop’s ‘gesture of love’

In an effort to keep the sacrament in marriage, Bishop J. Peter Sartain has said he would like every couple who is planning to marry in the diocese to obtain a copy of a booklet he wrote titled, “Everything I Have Is Yours: Understanding God’s Plan for Marriage and the Gift of Life.”

“The booklet is a gesture of love and support for the engaged couples of our diocese,” Healy said. “It explains how they should take the time to reflect and pray together.”

Booklets will be sent to every parish in the diocese and will be distributed to every engaged couple and to any parishioner interested in obtaining a copy.

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