By Barb Arland-Fye
“Matrimony: Sacrament of Enduring Love” is the theme for this year’s Catechetical Sunday, which celebrates each Catholic’s role in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.
Officially celebrated this Sunday, Sept. 19, “Catechetical Sunday is an opportunity for all to rededicate themselves to this mission as a community of faith,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says on its website.
The bishops chose marriage as this year’s theme to coincide with new priority initiatives, including publication of a pastoral letter on marriage, continuation of the For Your Marriage website (www.foryourmarriage.org), and other initiatives intended to strengthen marriage, said Bishop Richard Malone. He chairs the USCCB’s committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.
IlaMae Hanisch, coordinator of adult and family formation and lay ministry for the Davenport Diocese, said she initially wondered how this year’s theme relates to faith formation. But then she realized the theme relates easily with faith formation efforts. “One of the goals we foster in faith formation is the development of love for God and love for others — the two greatest commandments. We intentionally design programs and processes and resources that would support the development of loving God and loving others.”
The Catholic Church is striving to emphasize the importance of marriage in an era when many couples choose not to marry. Through the sacrament, a couple witnesses to others the unconditional love of God. So when other people see them, they should think of Christ, Hanisch said.
One way to develop awareness and understanding of the sacrament is through the sponsor couple program, offered in parishes throughout the Davenport Diocese.
“The number one priority that is communicated is to keep Christ in your life and therefore in your marriage. A Christ-centered marriage will last and beat the odds related to divorce,” says Dennis Scheckel of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. He and his wife, Sandy, lead the sponsor couple program in their parish and have been involved in marriage preparation for 28 years.
“Communication is at the core of the sponsor couple program and a successful marriage,” Scheckel continued. “Basically, the program is a mentoring approach to encourage the couple to talk about things they may never have thought of and to give a Catholic-Christian outlook on setting priorities for their marriage. For some young men it may be the first time they hear another man say how much he loves his wife and loves Christ. Hopefully we make them understand that this is one of the most important, if not the most important, decision they will make in their lives.”
The program is as beneficial for the sponsor couple as for the engaged couple, he believes. “We have sponsor couples who have been involved with marriage prep as long as we have. These couples tell us that the mentoring sessions with the engaged couple is as good for their marriage as it is for the engaged couple’s. It makes them sit down as least once a year and talk about the important things that normally get pushed to the back burner when dealing with life. It helps them keep their priorities straight and it’s good to share their love for Christ and for each other with the engaged couple.”
Steve and Mary Ann Messer have served as a sponsor couple at St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant. “This is an opportunity for the engaged couple to learn how God has worked through the life of a married couple. Through discussion of personal stories and experiences, the importance of God in the marital relationship comes through,” Mary Ann said. “Sponsor couples help the engaged couple realize that part of God’s plan is to help each other get to heaven. One of our engaged couples years ago told us that the concept of helping each other get to heaven has stuck with them.”