By Carly York | Correspondent
The month of February may be in the rearview mirror, but those who work in marriage ministry agree that World Marriage Sunday and National Marriage Week – both of which fall during the second week of February – simply call attention to the importance of supporting the vocation all through the year.
“Marriage is a vocational call to service,” said parish marriage ministry coordinator Lori McCahill and her husband, Mike, who recently gave a testimony talk in St. Benedict Church, Holmdel. “Pre-Cana is one of the largest and best evangelization tools that the Church has. We know statistically that young people fall away from the Church in their early 20s. The Pre-Cana ministry is a great way to bring them back to the Church.”
Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, pastor in St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, agreed it is important for the Sacrament of Marriage to be uplifted through a dedicated marriage ministry at the parish level.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of forces coming against marriage, and we want to be here to help before things get bad,” he said. “The break-up of marriage and the family is a plague in our society, and it causes many social problems.”
Both parishes were among the many that not only celebrated National Marriage Day and the week with marriage-centric events and homilies, but are also taking part in the Diocese’s newest initiative to promote the Sacrament of Marriage in parishes and cohorts across Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The initiative includes three-minute pulpit talks by married couples, lawn signs proclaiming the sanctity of Catholic marriage and the creation of parish core teams to conduct marriage ministry.
Opportunities for Welcome
In their witness given in St. Benedict Church during Mass Feb. 11, the McCahills shared ways in which their marriage has been supported by their Catholic faith and parish life. They followed a homily by Father Garry Koch, parish pastor, dedicated to marriage.
The McCahills, who have been married 32 years and raised their twins in St. Benedict Parish and School, lead the parish’s first dedicated marriage ministry and also serve on the Diocese’s Council on Marriage. The goal of their ministry is to serve the social and emotional needs of couples through all phases of the marriage Sacrament.
By promoting the Pre-Cana ministry, Father Koch said the parish has seen an increase of weddings from one during his first year at the parish to 12 in 2017.
The parish’s marriage ministry is not only about Pre-Cana and weddings, Lori McCahill was quick to add.
“We host a number of events throughout the year where all couples are welcome regardless of their status,” she said, citing as examples spirituality nights for divorced and separated couples, and the fact that the marriage ministry has annulment advocates..
Father Koch also mentioned an important part of the ministry is helping couples obtain a convalidation – a ceremony in which a marriage is made recognized by the Church.
Alison and Donald Lehnert are one young couple from St. Benedict Parish who say they benefited from the marriage ministry team. The couple went through the preparation course offered by the marriage ministry team to have their marriage convalidated.
“We really came to understand the significance of the Sacrament of Marriage through the prep classes,” Alison Lehnert said. “Relationships are not good in a vacuum. It is great that the church has a marriage team to encourage couples to connect with each other at informal gatherings, where you can make friends with others.”
Father Koch said he believes it is important for parishes to have a dedicated marriage ministry because “people nowadays struggle with the traditional idea of marriage. It is important for us to have a model for couples to look to.
“It is easy for a couple to say, ‘We got married in the Church.’ But it is another thing to continue to strengthen people’s faith. The grace of the Sacrament is important, and we want to help people receive it through our marriage ministry,” he said.
Similarly in St. Mary Parish, Msgr. Tuzeneu said the marriage ministry aims to strengthen couples by offering programs such as “Beloved” by the Augustine Institute, which is a faith formation series presented over four Fridays in one month. It is being offered this year in conjunction with the local Knights of Columbus Friday Fish Fry. The Barnegat parish also has a comprehensive pre-cana program lead by Michelle Bockin.
“The secret to a great marriage is found in the average,” she said. “We grow our faith during the mundane daily life, but it is the Sacrament that ultimately helps us reach the divine,” she said.