Despite being “ever ancient, ever new,” eternal and divine, some more human elements of the Church, particularly ministry, vary widely across dioceses and parishes. And so vary the lives of their attendees. If you’re preparing for a sacrament, particularly marriage, you’ve been somewhere different than anyone else and any other couple in the room: we are loved and willed into existence; we are planned; we walk the road of providence, whether we realize it or not.
Maybe you’re reading this as you’re revisiting the Church for your wedding and are looking for answers on the reasons behind seemingly arbitrary teachings and traditions. Maybe you’re already familiar and on board with the theology of marriage, and are looking for something more beyond the basics. Here’s a gesture, on our part, to help you experience and appreciate your marriage prep program with fresh eyes.
Teri and John Bosio are the creators of Ave Maria Press’s Joined by Grace marriage prep program, a sacramental approach to making good on your vows for a lifetime. The Bosios recently released a prayer book to accompany the program, and you, by inviting the Father into your dialogue as a couple. The book is a simple, beautifully designed resource with both the basics of Catholic spirituality and prayers alongside lesser-known devotions.
No matter what preparation program you’re enrolled in and no matter where you are in your spiritual life, it’s our hope that this recent conversation with Teri and John illuminates ways to make your preparations more personal, less one size fits all, and ways to take part in the life of the Church.
For couples who haven't shared a prayer life before, what steps do you recommend for finding a starting point and creating a routine?
Engagement is such an important moment in your life as a couple. This is the time when new directions are charted, new habits formed, and decisions made that will influence your life for years to come. For couples wondering where to begin with prayer, our recommendation is to start with what you have in common--your love for each other, and the gratitude for how you feel.
One of you might say to the other, “Do you mind if we say a prayer of thanks to God for bringing us together?” Then, say the simplest prayer that comes to mind, such as the Our Father, or any others. This might be the start, or the continuation, of a conversation about how to make prayer part of your faith life, even if you are from different religious tradition. Engagement is a time to start your prayer traditions, including prayers before meals, evening prayers, and others.
For those who already pray together and are looking to delve deeper during this time of preparation for marriage, what prayers or habits can they turn to?
We’d recommend praying in community. None of us can live in isolation. Researchers are finding that marriages connected to the life of their church community receive from it great spiritual and social support. The parish is where we are born spiritually in Baptism, and we return to the parish regularly for our nourishment through the sacraments. Although your parish after the wedding may be different and far away, it’s still valuable and important to participate in the life of the parish where you live at the time.
Make it a habit to attend Mass regularly, make use of the sacrament of Penance, adopt spiritual practices like the rosary or Eucharistic Adoration, and participate in acts of service with your parish community. You’ll find your parish becomes your extended family wherever you live, for the rest of your life. It can be a great source of strength and support, especially when you encounter challenges.
The marriage prep program the two of you designed, Joined by Grace, prioritizes the sacraments as a framework for married life. What are some ways couples can practically live out a sacramental mentality during engagement and, later, in marriage?
Joined by Grace invites couples to love each other as Christ loves the Church. One notable place Catholics personally experience this love is in the seven sacraments. You’re encouraged to answer the question, “What does the Bridegroom--Christ--do for his Bride--the Church--in each sacrament that I need to do for my spouse?”
For example, in Baptism we experience Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance. He shares his life with us and welcomes us into his Father’s family. Engaged couples learn from Christ the importance of mutual acceptance, without which no marriage can survive. Such acceptance is expressed in listening to each other attentively and respectfully, adjusting to one another’s habits, bearing with the other’s annoying quirks, being patient, and appreciating each other’s uniqueness and differences.
In Confirmation we experience God’s love through his commitment to be present to us with the Holy Spirit. The bishop seals us to Christ with sacred oil, and we receive the gifts of the Spirit. One of the most important qualities of spousal love is the commitment to always be present to each other: to trust, to pay attention, to stand by each other, to give support, and to stay focused on the needs of the other.
Similarly, from the sacrament of the Eucharist couples can see the importance of self-giving and sacrifice; from the Sacrament of Penance they learn forgiveness; from the Anointing of the Sick, compassion, and helping each other heal. And from Holy Orders and Matrimony, you learn to serve one another and together, serve God.
The practical skills and loving attitudes we learn from the sacraments are critical, and are renewed and strengthened through the graces you receive at every Mass.
Joined by Grace also encourages mentorship from other married couples. Any advice for newlyweds and spouses-to-be for connecting with other couples and finding community, particularly if one or both of them will be joining a new parish or relocating after the wedding?
If you currently aren’t an active member of your parish, working with a mentor couple is a great way to get started.
Your mentors can introduce you to your parish’s prayer and social life and help you meet other young couples. In our 44 years of marriage, we’ve received many blessings from actively participating in the life of our parishes. For us, that looked like going to Mass regularly, attending social functions, teach religious education to children and adults, serving on the parish council, singing in the choir, and serving as ministers at Mass.
During times of relocation, we always prioritized finding a parish where we wanted to belong. These churches became for us our extended family, where in each one we met many friends who were there through joy, illnesses, celebrations, job losses, and family deaths. We do not feel alone. In moments of needs our friends pray for us and help us. The parish stands by us and holds us up when we fall down. Don’t remain isolated! When you are new in a city and on your own, go to Mass to the nearest parish, read the bulletin, find things you want to do and become involved--it will be a blessing for your marriage.
The two of you have now experienced many seasons of your marriage, from newlywed life on into grandparenthood, and have worked with many couples through your marriage prep ministry. What aspects or realities of married life would surprise engaged couples the most?
So many aspects of married life caught us by surprise! First, little things can appear to be big things, but they’re not. We've learned to accommodate things like toothpaste left in the sink and to adjust to one another’s ways of doing things.
Second, we looked forward to children and were blessed with two wonderful daughters. It required an adjustment to our lifestyle, from being a couple to being a family. It took time to navigate our roles as parents and to balance meeting each other’s needs with the needs of our children.
Third, we found it can be all too easy to find ourselves going in different directions. When one of us went back to school at a time the other was frequently traveling for work, we found we had little free time to spend alone. We had to deliberately make time. We started scheduling and budgeting for a babysitter so we could regularly date, like we had before marriage.
Finally, we found strength in knowing we are not alone.
We can draw strength from each other in difficult moments: job changes, sickness, moves, and beyond. Each of us have learned there is nothing more reassuring in those dark moments than remembering our spouse, and God, stands by us, watching out for our common good and helping us work out of predicaments together.
Any wedding planning and marriage advice you’d like to share with our readers?
Your wedding only marks the beginning of your married life. One is a day; the other is a lifetime. During your marriage you’ll each continue growing as individuals and will constantly change--there might be days you don’t recognize each other! Agree now on how you’ll handle those surprises and what life throws at you.
When you encounter challenges, think back to these days of planning for your life together. Think about how your love story started. When times get tough and the problems seem bigger than both of you, agree now that you will to seek help through prayer and openness to professional counseling.
Our best advice for your wedding planning comes from Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love. He writes:
“Here let me say a word to fiancés. Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances. What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else (212)."
John and Teri Bosio are active in parish and family ministry, serving parishes and dioceses around the country and leading couples retreats and family ministry workshops for deacons and priests. They are the writers of Joined by Grace, a marriage preparation program, and the accompanying Joined by Grace: A Catholic Prayer Book for Engaged and Newly Married Couples, from Ave Maria Press. They have produced three parish-based marriage enrichment programs, Six Dates for Catholic Couples, The Beatitudes: A Couple’s Path to Greater Joy, and Four Dates for Catholic Couples: The Virtues. The Bosios live in Nashville, Tennessee, and have two daughters and one grandchild.