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Archives Called to Marriage
Preparing for lifelong love

March 25, 2020

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

While the Church wisely requires marriage preparation for engaged couples, not everyone understands why. The NCC explored this issue recently with Deacon Henry and Dayna Leader of Gouverneur, diocesan Family Life Associates for Marriage Enrichment and Preparation. Married for 25 years, parents of eight and grandparents of four, the couple brings to this work more than two decades of experience in leadership at Family Guggenheim, in Worldwide Marriage Encounter, and in diocesan marriage preparation.

What motivated your extraordinary commitment to this ministry?
LEADERS: Our understanding of God’s plan for marriage and family, and the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Marriage, compelled us from our own Pre-Cana and Engaged Encounter Weekend that this would be our lives’ work. We were so blessed to know, through our own preparation, that the vows we were about to make were for EVER. We saw the destruction and despair of generations of friends and loved ones because of failed marriages. We understood that “some weddings should not have taken place,” and that many couples are not prepared , nor capable, to make a valid vow of permanence. We have seen the devastation of couples who went into marriage believing that they were promising forever, but not actually knowing what that really meant or how to achieve it.

Why does the Church require marriage preparation for engaged couples?
LEADERS: The Church, in all her wisdom, requires marriage preparation for several reasons. Jesus chose the Sacrament of Marriage to reflect His love for His Church. Our job as a husband or wife is to help each other get to heaven. Marriage requires daily choices to love even when we do not feel like it! To love is to will the good of the other! To love is to sacrifice, to make a gift of ourselves to our spouse every single day. The Church requires marriage preparation BECAUSE YOUNG COUPLES DO NOT KNOW THESE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS!!

Now more than ever, the world is screaming the exact opposite of these truths. One of the greatest misconceptions that young people bring into marriage is that they will always be as happy as they were on their wedding day, or when dating, or on their honeymoon. When they are not, they become disillusioned and believe that they either chose the wrong spouse, or that they will never find happiness with their spouse. Both are lies from the evil one, whose greatest desire is for marriages to fail. Once, in an argument, Henry and I were not acting very charitably, and he challenged me by referring to what we teach in Pre-Cana. Stubbornly, I sniffled and blubbered, “Oh yeah! I’m the best person to tell those kids that they aren’t always going to be that happy!” As always, Henry’s love softened my heart and we laughed and reconciled. Young couples need to hear this reality! Lifelong, faithful marriage is possible!

What is the focus of a Pre-Cana session?
LEADERS: The focus of the Pre-Cana sessions is to expose engaged coupleso the fundamental truths about God’s plan for marriage. The content includes the basics of Theology of the Body, what the Sacrament of Marriage is, and how it differs from a civil marriage. Obviously, this content is huge, but it is vitally important that couples understand that in marriage they are being called to love the way God loves: freely, permanently, faithfully, and fruitfully. Catholic marriage is a vocation, a call to love and serve God and to share His love with others.

What is BELOVED, the Augustine Institute’s marriage prep program that many Pre-Canas use?
LEADERS: The BELOVED program is a treasure trove of the beauty of sacramental marriage, presented in state-of-the-art videography unpacked by leading experts in the Church on marriage. The engaged couples are very receptive to the format and the content, as well as having a married couple model prayer with them and facilitate the discussion of various topics. Participants also enjoy the time provided for the two of them to privately discuss what is presented. At this time, BELOVED is the best format that we have found, and it introduces couples to the most highly respected authors and speakers on marriage in the Church.

What joys and challenges are involved in marriage preparation?
The biggest challenge is that nearly all the engaged couples are hearing the fundamental truths about the Sacrament of Marriage for the very first time. We are asking them to take a drink of living water that can sustain them in marriage. But in reality, we are drowning them in an ocean of information in less time than it takes to prepare to drive a car or become a deer hunter, or a lifeguard. They look at us as if we are speaking a beautiful, romantic language that they have never heard before but would like to understand, though some honestly look at us like we are crazy. The challenge is knowing that the measure in which they accept the grace of the Sacrament and stay faithful to their marriage vows is directly proportional to the extent that they are capable of true happiness, along with their children and grandchildren. The joy is the hope of Jesus Christ that the longing for Him is in every human heart. He has called these couples to be with us before they marry, and He allows us to be unworthy, honest, real-life instruments to His example of sacrificial self-gift and unwavering forgiveness as the keys to life-long marriage. The joys are when we see new families created, see couples return to Mass and the Sacraments, reflecting God’s love to the world.

Pope Francis calls for “a new catechumenate in preparation for marriage.” Any thoughts?
The best approach we know is understanding that marriage formation begins in childhood. We need to speak to our children about vocations at the youngest ages. We need to teach children about making gifts of themselves, about self-donation, and we need to teach them that language and train them in virtue. We need to identify that we are preparing them for their future spouse, whether in marriage or in Jesus or the Church, every time they help with the dishes or clean up a mess they didn’t make, or ask forgiveness when they have failed to be a gift of self to the family. This simple but profound formation can be reinforced by Teen Camp, Family Guggenheim, and the Steubenville Youth Conference. Families, no matter the age of their children, can pray for their current/future spouses. That is the beginning. It is impossible to love like Christ, to love 100%, 100% of the time. However, it is possible to love like Christ when we cling to Him.

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