When Gary and I announced our engagement to our spiritual director, Fr. Ed Broom, he immediately gave us a to-do list:
- Contact an NFP counselor (who happened to be a Creighton Model Practitioner)
- Contact a marriage mentor connected to the parish
- Sign up for a Marriage Prep Day Retreat
- Register for the Engaged Encounter Weekend Retreat
To most people, it sounded like a lot to do, but since we simplified our wedding plans to having just the Mass and a small dinner with the wedding party, we had all the time in the world to focus on the spiritual aspect of marriage preparation.
He told us that in the state of California, you couldn’t get a driver’s license without taking a class and learning about the rules of the road. You had to get to know the system of traffic so you could stay safe as you traveled from Point A to Point B.
How much more important was the time and effort we needed to get ready for the biggest day of our lives? Fr. Ed told us that most couples jumped into marriage without a second thought, but he reminded us that it was a SACRAMENT…a covenant between each other and God. Our Point A was the day we decided to get married, and Point B was the day we enter into Heaven. We had to help each other get there.
Looking back some years later, we don’t regret any of it. Yes, it was a sacrifice since we were both working full-time jobs and Gary was traveling on most weekends. He lived in Westchester and I lived in Buena Park. But we found no joy greater than the time we spent going to these classes and meeting with people who were guiding us towards a successful marriage.
If you are looking ahead to get married, please take the time to prepare! There’s nothing more important than understanding your future spouse, learning how to communicate with one another, and knowing truly what “til death do us part” means.
Mentoring and spiritual direction
If your parish has married couples who are available to guide you in formal mentoring, this is a great resource for prayer and instruction. Our marriage mentor was a wonderful woman about as old as our parents who prayed with us and for us the entire length of our engagement. Her support was so valuable to us because she was able to draw out both the strengths and the weaknesses in our relationship. She gave us weekly assignments that covered the following topics:
- Elements of a Christian Marriage
- Marital Communication
- Sexual Intimacy and Empowerment
- Children and Marriage
We also received church guidelines, which were extremely helpful for the logistics planning of the wedding day.
We met with our mentor about every other week for about three months. Each session lasted an hour or so, taking into account 15 minutes for the rosary and the rest of the time devoted to reading and discussion.
If you don’t happen to have a formal mentoring program available, you’ll want to find a couple in a strong, faith-filled marriage who can advise you and share their experiences with you. Ask them to pray for you regularly, and let them know if you are struggling in any way so they can lead you in the right direction.
At the very least, I would recommend having a priest as your spiritual director. We were so blessed to have both, but having Fr. Ed to go to for confession and counsel took much of the potential burden and drama out of our engagement period. Your priest may be at your parish or located somewhere else – whatever the case may be, it is best to have someone who is readily available to help you both.
Natural Family Planning
Before I met our Creighton Model Practitioner, I didn’t really understand what natural family planning was. I knew it was a method approved by the Catholic Church, but I didn’t know how it worked or what value it would bring to our marriage. When we attended our Introductory Session, I was just a little uncomfortable because we hadn’t really talked about our sexuality or even expressed physical affection beyond hugs, holding hands, and kisses on the cheek. Yet over the next year of follow-ups, we both learned to appreciate God’s perfect design of our bodies and understand how beautifully we were made.
We started using the Creighton Model FertilityCare System (CrMS) about six months before our wedding date, after we were finished with the marriage mentoring program. This worked out well because I got to know the natural signs of my fertility and have Gary there learning the method as well.
The first follow-up was 2 weeks after the Intro Session, and the next three follow-ups were also two weeks apart, so the first 2 months of using CrMS was a little busy. Nothing that we weren’t used to, though, since we already had a routine of doing marriage prep activities together every other week. The schedule lightened up on the 5th follow-up, which was a month later, and the 6th follow-up was scheduled three months after that.
This particular method of natural family planning was a God-send for me because we were actually able to monitor my cycles and identify possible problems over the last few years. Having my chart as a medical record to bring to my doctors has come with numerous advantages, and I cannot be grateful enough for the practitioners who have graciously taken me on as one of their clients.
There are a number of different methods out there, and you can definitely do your research to find the best one for you. To learn more about NFP, please visit:
- The California Association of Natural Family Planning (CANFP) http://www.canfp.org/
- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) – Natural Family Planning http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/index.shtml
- Creighton Model FertilityCare System http://www.creightonmodel.com/
Abortion, Contraception, Natural Family Planning, and Humanae Vitae (Priests for Life, 2009) – includes other NFP-related links
Engaged Encounter Weekend Retreat http://www.engagedencounter.org/
Catholic Engaged Encounter is a weekend retreat away with other engaged couples with plenty of time alone together to plan for a sacramental marriage. It is designed to give couples planning marriage the opportunity to dialogue honestly and intensively about their prospective lives together– their strengths and weaknesses, desires, ambitions, goals, their attitudes about money, sex, children, family, their role in the church and society–in a face to face way.
For more information about just what happens on a weekend, or to locate a Catholic Engaged Encounter Community in a specific Diocese or Locality, Click Here.
All of the things we were doing for marriage preparation were amazing, but I have to say that this was my favorite one. Gary and I went out to the Serra Retreat House in Malibu and loved it there! It was absolutely beautiful; not to mention that the time we spent there was probably the most fruitful three days of our engagement.
The speaker couples were great – they were so open and candid about all the aspects of their married life. We had plenty of time alone and with each other in-between the talks to journal and share, most topics we’d discussed months before but were able to expand on in greater detail. There wasn’t a whole lot of interaction with the other couples there, except at mealtimes and in the evening when we would go back to our separate rooms and small talk with our roommates before we went to sleep.
Because of Gary’s travel schedule and retreat availability, we didn’t have much of a choice but to attend Engaged Encounter two weeks before our wedding. It worked out for us because we had already done everything else that Fr. Ed recommended to us. So at this point, we already knew that we were a good fit for each other. Generally, engaged couples really should go through EE about six months before, just because so many different issues may arise at the retreat that could take about that long to work out.
Compared to the day retreat we attended the previous December, this was much more fruitful. It really is worth the time and money to go to Engaged Encounter together because you really do get to know each other quite intensely. There’s a lot more communication between the couple, more knowledge and wisdom received through the experience, and you just get the sense that most of the other couples there are taking pretty seriously, too. So while it wouldn’t hurt to attend a day retreat, if you had to choose between the two – please register for the weekend!
Here’s our basic timeline, so you have an idea of how we fit this into our engagement:
- Length of Engagement = 11 months
- Met with priest = about one week after proposal (check-ins as needed + confession once a month)
- Marriage Mentoring = began one month after proposal / lasted about three months (every two weeks)
- Day Retreat = 7 months before wedding date
- NFP sessions = 6 months before wedding date (with subsequent follow-ups for Creighton Model)
- Engaged Encounter = recommend about 4-6 months before wedding date