I was in a meeting with our two priests and Brenda, our marriage coordinator, today and I heard a few things that perked my pastoral ears. If your parishes and dioceses are like mine, they offer engaged couples a number of options to prepare them for marriage. A quick rundown:
– Pre-Cana Conferences. The Diocese of Peoria describes it as “a day-long marriage preparation conference designed to assist engaged couples in preparing for their life-long vocation of marriage. (It) consists of a series of presentations providing basic instruction on the nature of Christian marriage: its essential elements, God’s plan for marriage and family life, the importance of communication, time for couple discussion and a question-and-answer session to assist you to make the beauty of our marriage doctrine a living reality.”
– Sponsor or Mentor Couples. The Diocese of St Cloud has a good summary here. It somewhat models the catechumenate in that an experienced couple in a parish takes an engaged couple under their wing for four to six meetings. There is a program to cover certain aspects such as praying together, life in the parish as a married couple, and sometimes the sponsor couple will address relationship issues that have surfaced during a psychological inventory. Things like attitudes toward money, children, sex, etc..
– Engaged Encounter (EE) is a spinoff of Marriage Encounter. My wife and I experienced both and this was very helpful in strenthening our relationship. It involves a weekend away at a hotel or retreat center.
Other offerings through the parish, deanery, or diocese might include workshops on Natural Family Planning, or on the wedding liturgy.
My sensible wife, when we were engaged, told the parish priest we were going to exercise all our options, because, as she put it, “We needed all the help we could get.” As two singles in our late thirties, it might be that we were somewhat more mature than some engaged couples. But we were not without issues. Nor were we without the humility that other people had a lot they could teach us about being married.
Pre-Cana we found less than helpful. We met a wonderful couple who “sponsored” us and graciously opened their home to us for a handful of meetings. Bob even drove his all-terrain vehicle to rescue us on our post-blizzard wedding day to get us to the church on time. We had a very rich experience on EE. When couples ask for my input, I urge them to go to Engaged Encounter.
My pastor remarked today that some couples blanch at the commitment of Engaged Encounter. It’s a whole weekend. If it’s at a hotel, it can be a significant chunk of money. Fr Jon, like my wife and me, recommends EE. But he also gives his couples a genius of an idea. If the budget is tight, contact godparents. Ask them to sponsor the Engaged Encounter weekend as a wedding gift instead of a toaster or a plasma tv. What serious godparent, he asked, wouldn’t want to strengthen and deepen the faith of a young couple?
I just had to pass that idea out in the blogosphere. In fact, if and when my goddaughter is preparing for marriage, I plan to make the pre-emptive offer. As engagements start racking up in the years ahead, maybe you other godparents can ponder it, too.