Six months after our college graduation, as I began a corporate job in my hometown and my boyfriend moved across the country for military service, he made a surprise visit and proposed on the campus where we fell in love. Giddily, we walked hand-in-hand. I looked up at him and asked, “Now what?” to which he replied, “Let’s go to the church!”
With the exception of extreme circumstances, the Church calls us to take time as a couple to prepare for marriage. Due to our long-distance circumstances, my fiancé and I hoped to get married sooner rather than later, in the church we attended together back in college. Excitedly, we walked into the office, asked, “how can we get married here?,” and were given a booklet of instructions. It was here I learned the Church must be notified at least six months in advance of a couple’s desired wedding date to ensure sufficient preparation for the sacrament.
A few days later, my fiancé and I were thrilled to find an available date that worked with his military commitment. We met with a priest to discuss our formal preparation with the church over the next nine months. Along with a retreat and written materials for pre-marriage counseling, our priest requested we meet with him 6-8 times throughout our engagement. This posed a challenge, with our eight hour separation and work obligations--our visits were limited to one weekend every few months. At this first meeting, he assured us that as long as my fiancé could call or Skype into the meetings, this would not be an issue. We were pleased with the plan.
When we shared these details with our families, my parents were taken aback that the parish required so many pastoral meetings. My fiancé and I were confused by their reaction.
Other family members, including grandparents, continued to surprise us, asking questions like,Why do you two need to meet with the priest so many times? Isn’t it enough that you want to get married in the Catholic Church, when so few couples do these days? Though they’ve encouraged my faith throughout my life, my family viewed the time commitment as burdensome during an already stressful period of separation.
I liked our priest, however, and I rationalized that it was not a huge time commitment. Still, when my spouse and I attended a Pre-Cana retreat and learned from other attendees that frequent meetings were fairly uncommon, I was a bit surprised. Most other parishes in our geographical area did not require couples to commit to more than a Pre-Cana retreat and a meeting or two. Friends of ours getting married in another state were only required to do a Pre-Cana retreat.
So as our first official marriage preparation meeting approached, I grew frustrated: Why do we have to commit to so much more than other couples preparing for marriage in the Church?
It took time and prayer to find an answer. My fiancé and I were facing the stress of the military, illness in the family, uncertainty about my career plans. We both worked long hours, and the wedding was suddenly six months away.
After our first meeting, it hit me: we were not spending enough quality time with God. The Father had his hand in us getting married at this particular church. He wanted to make sure we were prepared for the sacrament. Taking time to go the church where I would marry my husband, either in person or attending by phone, gave me much needed time for prayer and reflection.
Our priest’s approach also provided valuable insight into our expectations for marriage. I learned right away that my vision was far too idealistic. The priest pointed out that on our formal assessment, I agreed with the statement, “I will always love my intended as I do now.” I now see that as naivety. Of course, love matures and grows. Through our conversations, I grew more realistic about the future and potential challenges ahead. We created a budget, discussed how we might share household responsibilities, and came up with potential date ideas--all as part of our marriage preparation.
As much as we kept Christ at the center of our dating relationship, the busyness and stress of engagement made it more difficult--and the commitments with our priest ensured we still made the Lord our priority.
If you are preparing for the sacrament and feel burdened by the obligations, talk with your fiancé and encourage each other to fully commit to what the Church asks of you. In the case that your parish does not require a marriage prep course, I push you to take the leap yourself and schedule some time to talk as a couple with your priest. Our Father gave us the beautiful gift of marriage. And like all of the sacraments, we must ready our hearts in order to fully enter into it.
About the Author: Megan graduated from John Carroll University in 2017, where she studied Management, English Literature, and Spanish--and met her husband. The couple currently resides in Tennessee, where Megan works as a data analyst. Together, they enjoy day trips, movie marathons, and spending time with friends and family around the country. Megan's passions include baking, reading, and taking on DIY projects.