Toward a marriage preparation mentoring program

For three evenings over the course of a week, Ron and Kathy Feher, representing the Pastoral and Matrimonial Renewal Center, drove from Pennsylvania into three different counties of the Camden Diocese to meet with people involved with marriage ministry and explain their Living in Love “program suite.”

The three flagship programs — Preparing to Live in Love, Living in Love, and Living in Love Every Day — have been approved by Bishop Joseph Galante as programs that meet the norms for marriage preparation and formation beyond the wedding as outlined in the Pastoral Policies and Guidelines for Marriage in the Catholic Church in New Jersey.

The Living in Love program is endorsed by the office of Family Life Formation’s new director, Linda K. Robinson. The programs emphasize marriage as covenant, marriage as sacrament, and as the lived expression of faith.

“Marriage formation starts couples on their faith journey of married life,” said Robinson. “It is another step within the whole process of lifelong faith formation. We wanted a program that supports this understanding and connects the engaged couple with the parish community. Preparing to Live in Love is designed to do that.”

In Vineland, Absecon and Williamstown, the Fehers presented their parish-based model of marriage enrichment and preparation. The Fehers are finding that those who are prepared for marriage by a mentoring couple over the seven-session program develop a strong bond of friendship with the couple as well as a bond of with the parish. Kathy Feher described the difference as one in attitude: “The couple now gets married in the church, rather than at the church.”

She also described the average result of exit evaluations from the engaged couples who have experienced Preparing to Live in Love as their marriage prep as a 9.4 on a scale of 10. In addition, those who attend Preparing to Live in Love for marriage preparation are eager to attend the Living in Love retreat once they are married, and then experience Living in Love Every Day as their training to become mentors to the engaged themselves.

As the Fehers emphasized, this is as much an evangelization program as it is a marriage program: “How can we be a ‘sacrament,’ a sign of Christ’s love, if we are just getting along with each other as husband and wife? Christ doesn’t just get along with us. He is passionately in love with us!”

The sessions and discussions aim to change each individual from a self-centered orientation to one of extraordinary, other-centered generosity. It also addresses the main reason that couples divorce — they don’t think they are ‘in love’ anymore. The Living in Love program teaches couples to fuel the experience of being ‘in love’ because when they are ‘in love,’ the work of marriage becomes easier.

The practical skills learned on the weekend help couples to communicate in ways that make their spouse feel loved, to forgive and heal hurts, and to reconnect with their own history to get a sense of purpose, hope and direction for the future of their marriage.

Father Robert Hughes of the Church of the Holy Family Parish in Sewell attended the Williamstown presentation as a pastor who has a parish Pre-Cana team that is in transition.

“For two years, I have been trying to help the team see that Pre-Cana is only part of marriage prep and that as a parish we can and should do more. The team was open to the possibilities.”

After hearing the Fehers presentation, he asked them to bring the Living in Love marriage enrichment weekend to his parish as soon as possible to begin the process of training mentor couples.

“I think what ‘sealed the deal’ for me in terms of the Living in Love program is the fact that our couples will receive ‘training’ that will come with more credibility than what we could offer at the parish level alone. Ron and Kathy said many of the things that I believe — that couples living a happily married life are the best witnesses, and witnessing to engaged couples is at the heart of

the former Pre-Cana program. Preparing to Live in Love just stretches it out and thereby adds a deeper dimension in the fact that the engaged couples begin to form a relationship with a couple who

is active in the parish community…when young couples see that practicing faith isn’t contrary to life, but actually supportive of a fulfilling life, perhaps they will be more open to what God wants for them in his Church. We have to do more to celebrate and support marriage in our parishes.”

The Church of the Holy Family will host the Living in Love weekend on June 5-6.

Pastors can contact the PMRC directly by phone (610-640-4105) or email (PMRCusa@msn.com), or contact Linda K. Robinson in the Office of Family Life at 856-583-6116 or Linda.k.robinson@camdendiocese.org. Please visit the PMRC web site www.livinginlove.org for specifics on how to bring Living in Love to your parish.

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