By Barb Arland-Fye
One by one, some 40 couples, and one spouse whose husband wasn’t present, rose from their chairs to briefly share their stories of sacramental marriage and what they thought they could offer as marriage mentors. My husband Steve and I, married 34 years this month, were among the couples.
We gathered last weekend at St. Ludmila Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for training as volunteers with the Covenant of Love Marriage Mentors program to be launched this summer in the Diocese of Davenport and the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Both dioceses recognize the need to help support healthy marriages. As marriage mentors, we will journey with other married couples, sharing our stories and experiences, including our journey toward a deeper understanding of the fullness God intended for our marriage. We will share our failings and victories and hope to impart to the couples we mentor the practical tools needed to best live out the sacrament of marriage.
Greg and Julie Alexander, founders of the Alexander House, a nonprofit apostolate dedicated to the education and enrichment of marriage and family life, served as presenters during the weekend of renewal and training. Eighty couples participated the first day and half of those couples attended the mentor training the following day.
Ten years into their marriage, Greg and Julie were ready to call it quits because of the emotional hurt they inflicted on each other, including betrayal of their marriage vows. But they didn’t give up on the Catholic Church. Through the grace of God, and the guidance of a faithful priest, they rebuilt their sacramental marriage and chose to devote their lives to helping other couples build healthy marriages with God at the center.
They introduced us to the essential elements for a strong Catholic marriage which they developed in their ministry to couples. Appropriately, on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 28), mentors in training were invited to share a synopsis of their stories. I think couples opened up because of Greg and Julie’s candidness.
The previous day’s exercises also had an impact. A forgiveness and healing exercise required us to spend 30 minutes alone with God to reflect on how we have hurt our spouse through the years. Privately, we expressed contrition to each other and promised to try our best, coupled with God’s grace, to not commit that sin(s) again. We are also supposed to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation as soon as possible. The exercise was a humbling, but cathartic experience. Who knew that sometimes when I tease Steve I go overboard?
Stories shared around the room about each couple’s marriage tugged at our hearts, evoked laughter in some cases and tears in others. We nodded our heads in agreement when we heard a story that seemed to mirror ours.
We know that every sacramental marriage must deal with problems. We are human beings after all, not God. God’s grace, received through the sacrament, pulls us through.
Many of the couples have been married 30 years or longer. One couple, married just 18 months, received applause for their desire to share their experiences of a sacramental marriage with other young couples.
Marriage, with all of its ups and downs, is like a roller coaster ride, one woman said. “I’ve enjoyed the ride — through it all, we’ve learned so much.” A husband observed, “We spend 12-plus years getting ready for our careers but not marriage.”
When Steve and I told our story, I said that we thought some of the challenges we lived through, such as raising a son with autism, might help other couples struggling in a similar situation. We leaned heavily on God to guide us in nurturing two sons to adulthood.
That’s what God wants us to do. As Julie told us, “You are going to help other couples grow closer to God.”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)