ORLANDO | An increasing number of those dedicated to marriage ministry across the diocese are finding new ways to strengthen connections between engaged and mentor couples. There is an adage: it takes a village to raise a child. “Marriage takes a village too,” says marriage preparation and family life coordinator Fran Stadler. The Most Precious Blood Parish staffer knows the blessings of this beautiful sacrament and is focused on building a thriving “marriage community” in her parish.
National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, focuses on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family. In honor of this sacrament, the Diocese of Orlando celebrated its annual Mass for Marriage at St. James Cathedral. Stadler and others invited couples from their parish to renew their vows, receive a blessing and strengthen the bonds of love they pledged.
The idea of a mentoring marriage community is not new. In 1965, Pope Paul VI noted in Gaudium et Spes, “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family,” (p. 47).
St. Pope John Paul II compared marriage preparation to the “catechumenal process” in Familiaris Consortio (p. 66) – an accompaniment in and through ongoing formation. In the opening paragraph of Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage (Pontifical Council for the Family, 1996), the document states, “the Sacrament of Marriage has great value for the whole Christian community.”
Pope Francis frequently speaks to us from Amoris Lataetia (The Joy of Love) where he says, “The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons,” (p. 67). He goes on to add, “I encourage Christian communities to recognize the great benefit that they themselves receive from supporting engaged couples as they grow in love. As the Italian bishops have observed, those couples are “a valuable resource because, as they sincerely commit themselves to grow in love and self-giving, they can help (p. 238) renew the fabric of the whole ecclesial body.” It is in this communion that mentor couples are most valued, as models of God’s love in the day-to-day reality, joys and struggles of married life.
Mentors help cultivate community and promulgate faith values, while providing guidance, encouragement and accompaniment. “Mentor couples are critical now, more than ever, because there are not often good role models for couples. Marriage prep is supposed to be lifelong – from infancy on through,” noted Stadler. Focusing on the stages of marriages preparation, she added, “Remote is when you’re growing up and learning from your own family; proximate happens as you’re getting older, dating, discerning marriage; and immediate is when you’re getting married, or are engaged. That’s when we get the couples. If that’s all the marriage prep you have for a sacrament that involves the rest of your life, you are unprepared.”
Being the sacrament from which all other sacraments flow, Stadler emphasized, “You need people to help you focus within and not turn out and away when the struggles do come. I think it’s key.” To facilitate this, last year she changed marriage prep programs to Fully Engaged, which requires couples to meet more often with mentors to encourage and build friendships and trust. The program helps marriage ministries answer Pope Francis’ call to help Christian couples preparing for marriage “nourish and progressively increase within themselves that specific call to model themselves as Christian spouses.”
Mentor couple Edgardo and Claudia Maldonado welcome the change. The two also participate in Renovación Conyugal, a ministry that fosters healthy marriages and offers retreats. Claudia said, “We have seen how much we’ve grown as a couple, but how much we still need to work on and use the tools that once were given to us by our marriage mentors to help keep the eternal flame in our marriage.” She said the ongoing mentorship commits them to “truly having Christ as a center of our lives and marriage.”
Maria Faversani is marriage ministry coordinator at Holy Redeemer Parish in Kissimmee. “Marriage preparation and ministry is perhaps the most vital for the continuation and passing on of our faith,” she said. “It is through strong marriages that we will have strong families.” Her ministry urges couples who are civilly married or cohabitating to think about marriage preparation. She acknowledges, “Marriage enrichment helps the community as a whole, as it keeps recently married couples close to the Church and fortifies couples and families who are part of the community.”
Holy Redeemer mentor couple, Dennis and Claire Marotte agree. “We learn so much about ourselves and about our marriage,” said Claire. Married almost 53 years, she admits, even after all that time, “Marriage needs a shot of penicillin in the arm now and then. Mentoring gives us a chance to re-evaluate our marriage. It sparks something for them and us.”
Claire says in today’s environment of “disposable marriages”, being a mentor helps couples realize, “Our marriage is not perfect, but we are trying… (Mentoring) is our way to leave a legacy. Maybe someday, when a couple is ready to throw in the towel, they’ll remember something we said and change their mind.” As Claire notes, they have walked the walk. “Accompanying couples and allowing them a chance to see that is invaluable,” she said.
Rachel and Joshua Enot married in 2016 at Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo. Their mentor couple was Liz and Max Maxwell. Following a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) approach to accompaniment, the Maxwells met with the Enots for the typical “marriage inventory” review where couples explore responses to the marriage questionnaire and discuss possible hot topics. “We remember being welcomed into their home by the sweetest golden doodle puppy, kids shouting from the banister, a cat opening the front door, and one of their neighbors on the way out,” recalled Rachel. After realizing they had the wrong couples’ answers, they threw out the script and simply shared each other’s stories. “We remember feeling finally connected to our church community in that moment. We both attended Most Precious Blood as kids and were part of Catholic Campus Ministries while at the University of Central Florida. The Maxwells felt like catalyst allowing us to be hopeful about rejoining the MPB community as adults.”
A friendship developed well past the wedding day. “They have been a great role model to aspire to,” said Joshua. When the Maxwells shared their struggles over a medical scare with their daughter, Joshua said, “It showed us the most important part of relationships with anyone, but especially a spouse, is vulnerability. Vulnerability helps bring down any walls we have and allow intimate connection. This is something that I struggle with the most. Seeing the Maxwells be vulnerable with us and others about their challenges keeps me hopeful about our marriage, that I will continue to grow more vulnerable, and that our marriage will continue to grow more intimate.”
Although they haven’t felt a need to discuss specific issues yet, Rachel says, “…we feel close enough reach out if we ever need to. They are compassionate, responsive and genuine. We trust they will always have our marriage’s best interest in mind. Even if that means telling us hard truths!” noted Rachel.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic February 21, 2020