What We Should Have Asked During Marriage Preparation



Our first marriage prep meeting was in the deacon’s office of the large parish where we were to be married. As we sat facing his desk, we noticed the shelves facing us; they were filled with binders labeled ‘Annulments A-Ba,’ ‘Annulments Ba-Ce,’ ‘Annulments Ce-Di,’ and so on. As we stared at the bewildering number of annulment binders, the deacon informed us that, as twenty-somethings, the odds are against us: statistics show married people in our age bracket are more likely to end up divorced.

We left our first meeting discouraged, our second underwhelmed, and our pre-Cana retreat scared. We desired to make our marriage preparation worthwhile, but all of the support offered by our diocese and parish left us feeling more lost and confused than ever.  As an engaged person, it is often difficult to find the all-encompassing resources to feel spiritually prepared for marriage.

If you are already married and feel as though your marriage preparation was lacking, there are resources available for married couples. You can still seek a deeper understanding of this wonderful sacrament.

Although our diocesan-level preparation lacked convicting formation, we did not  advocate for stronger pre-cana support for ourselves because we did not know what questions to ask. After reflecting on these shortcomings over the past year, here are some of the questions I wish I had asked in the deacon’s office.

What have been the best ways that you have seen couples prepare for marriage?

Maybe the Pre-Cana retreat in your diocese is not up to scratch, but your parish may have an excellent sponsor couple program. Working with a mentor couple who has many years of experience in marriage and marriage preparation can provide trusting relationships and additional ideas during your engagement.  Ask around to friends and family as they may have recommendations as well.

What resources are available to us?

Little did we know, there is a fantastic office full of Catholic marriage counselors down the road from our parish. We never heard about these services while we were preparing for the sacrament of matrimony, probably because we never asked. Every diocese has its own resources, and there are many more online. The right resources are often hard to find, but the first step is to ask the right people in your community.

What books can you recommend?

Ask your married friends for helpful books from their engagement. Ask priests or religious sisters for books to deepen your understanding and knowledge of the sacrament of matrimony. Consult blogs and articles for recommended readings. With your beloved, consider the options and discern which resources you want to dive into together. Even if there are not many formal resources available in your area, you can form a self-guided  marriage prep course with the help of a good reading list.

Are there any ministries geared toward people who are already married?

Marriage preparation is only one part of the equation. Marriage is not an easy vocation; husbands and wives need all the support they can get in a world that consistently tears down the call to marriage and family life. Are there any groups in your parish or in your diocese which can connect you with others trying to live the vocation of marriage?

There are many resources to help you prepare for your lifelong marriage, and many people who aspire to share their wisdom--and your excitement--in your preparations. Do not be afraid to ask for the things you need, both in your desires for more and in the midst of a struggle. As Matthew 7:7 reminds us, “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.”

About the Author: Ada Pimentel studied English at the University of Dallas and currently teaches elementary school. She married her college best friend in November 2017. When she is not teaching, Ada can be found contemplating classical education, redecorating her apartment for the hundredth time, and reading British novels.


Starting Your Christmas Shopping? 5 Gifts Perfect for Newlyweds



One of the options for the blessing at the conclusion of the wedding Mass reads, May you… have solace in your friends and enjoy true peace with everyone.

 As friends and family of a newlywed couple it is our job to help them throughout their marriage and on their way to salvation. Of course, the majority of the work is up to them, but there are still many ways we can offer support-- one of the most tangible being through gifts.

The purpose behind wedding gifts is to provide the newlyweds the things they need to start their life together, and while everyone does need sheets and towels and dishes, these don’t necessarily support your friends in their actual marriage. Here, a few ideas for meaningful gifts to help them along the way.

A date night in

Common wisdom says, “Never stop dating.” Give your friends some treats to enjoy at home, while they relax in each other’s company. A two player game or a book of Mad-Libs, some snacks, a nice bottle of wine, and voila! The perfect date night in.

A date night out

After planning a wedding, budgets are often tight, which means luxuries often get cut out for a few months. A gift card to a nice restaurant or tickets to a concert or movie can be a great excuse for a night out without breaking the bank. Consider planning with several friends to splurge on an event the couple would really enjoy, but which may not be in their budget. Of course, you may have to ask ahead of time whether their calendar is open!

 Practical religious items

When I got married a friend sent an Advent wreath. I had never had one before, but it set the tone for a prayerful first Advent together. A small nativity scene, family Bible, or some holy salt for blessing their home are all good options. Consider including a small booklet of prayers or a note about how you celebrate different occasions throughout the liturgical year.

Words of wisdom

The best gift my husband and I received was a simple note that read, Welcome to marriage (or as we call it, The Eternal Sleepover). Don’t forget to get cocktails together. Our friends’ humor and advice were exactly what we needed during our jittery period of anticipation before the wedding. Consider passing on the best wedding advice you ever received or a book that had a major impact on your marriage.

 A Polaroid camera

After all the wedding hubbub has died down, and all the photos have been posted to social media, people often forget to document the silly, happy, or even mundane moments of their lives. A Polaroid (or a few disposable cameras) is a great way to remind newly married couples that the adventures are just beginning, and that these new memories deserve to be cherished.

Over the years married couples rely on friends for many things: solace in hardship, companionship in good times, and a support network through all the little highs and lows. A small token of your friendship on their wedding day lets your friends know you care for them and that they are assured of your friendship in the years to come.

About the Author: Ada Pimentel studied English at the University of Dallas and currently teaches elementary school. She married her college best friend in November 2017. When she is not teaching, Ada can be found contemplating classical education, redecorating her apartment for the hundredth time, and reading British novels.


Ada + Greg | Texas Vintage Wedding

Ada and Greg met at seventeen while attending an admissions event at a Catholic college, where neither of them ended up going. Ada recalls Greg ignoring her when she tried to talk to him. He doesn’t remember their first meeting at all. But when they found themselves together during freshman orientation at a different school that Fall, the Lord began revealing his plans for them.

Greg and Ada became friends--inseparable friends, but nothing more. They studied and spent time together, went to the same parties, and were there for each other during significantly difficult and happy moments.

One of the latter took place during a semester in Rome. Amidst seasons of individual personal discernment, Ada and Greg witnessed Pope Benedict’s last public Mass on Ash Wednesday and prayed a rosary outside Castel Gandolfo as the gates closed on the last day of his papacy. When Pope Francis was elected, they were both there in Saint Peter’s Square.

They began dating their last semester of college, approximately a week after Ada accepted a job in another city. From early, they knew dating would either make or break their friendship. Ada also knew she was serious about Greg, who rearranged his life to stay near her in Texas.

Shortly after graduation, however, their careers took them long-distance for two years. While apart between weekend visits, they wrote letters and made phone calls to stay connected.

From the Bride: In addition to our long-distance relationship, we were also undergoing the major transition of leaving college and moving into the workforce. We often questioned whether our relationship was worth the time, effort, and stress we put into it. But despite our doubts, we ultimately believed our relationship was growing into something bigger, and probably better, than anything we could build alone.

We decided to get married before we officially announced our engagement, and we spent a month in challenging discernment. We don’t make decisions lightly, so we needed time for honest introspection, discussion, and prayer before we were ready to share our news. On a cloudy February Sunday, Greg asked me to be his wife and presented me with a gorgeous antique ring. Our friends and families were overjoyed, and the enthusiasm that greeted us offered confirmation that we were making the right decision.

Because we had a short engagement, we knew we needed to spend our time of preparation wisely. We spent time reading and discussing books on the sacramental and relational aspects of marriage and even met with a Catholic marriage counselor, in addition to the required preparation at our parish. For us, engagement was a period of even deeper discernment, and there were still many doubts and struggles to be overcome before the wedding day.

Something I struggled with in wedding planning was a nagging doubt that my wedding wouldn’t be good enough. I felt discouraged even in the midst of all of the joy and excitement. My mom, however, put things in perspective, saying, “We are going to have Mass and a party. It’s just a Mass and a party.” Knowing my wedding day wasn’t about perfection or glamour allowed me to enjoy more of the planning process.

Although our families were on opposite coasts while we planned our Texas wedding, they were still intimately involved in the planning.

My dress had been worn twice before by my grandmother and her sister, who were married ten weeks apart in 1963.

My veil was new, but similar to the one they and my mother had all shared. The necklace I wore belonged to my great-grandmother. In many ways, these heirlooms set the overall theme for our vintage-inspired wedding.

My bridesmaids were Greg’s three sisters, as well as mine. We asked our parents to proclaim the readings at our Mass, which was particularly meaningful: Greg and I had both been homeschooled, so our parents had truly been the ones to teach us the word of God. I also carried a small Holy Family medal that my dad had given to me as a toddler after he attended a retreat at a Trappist monastery. It has gone nearly everywhere with me, and it was important to me to have it with me on the day Greg and I created a new family.

Beautiful music for our Mass was a major priority. Because the chapel where we were married didn’t have an organ, we chose to have a string trio, pianist, and vocalist. We wanted our wedding liturgy to be particularly beautiful because it was, after all, the main event. We were also very lucky that many of our friends are musically gifted; their singing supported many of the hymns we chose.

As I entered the church with my dad, the congregation sang “O God, Beyond All Praising.” This has been a favorite hymn of mine since I was a teenager, but the lines, “And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill / We’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless You still” had stuck with me throughout our engagement as the perfect motto for married life. Greg and I pledged ourselves “for better or for worse,” and despite the difficulties that may arise, God will always be with us and guide us.

One of my favorite memories from the wedding is walking down the aisle towards Greg, passing so many friends from different phases of our lives, all gathered to celebrate and pray with us. At the altar I was met by Greg and Fr. Thomas Esposito, O. Cist., a dear friend and advisor whom we’d first met in Rome. In many ways, Fr. Thomas knows us a little too well, because his homily was full of friendly ribbing as well as good-natured advice.

Greg chose our offertory hymn, “What Wondrous Love is This?,” his personal favorite. The words were perfect, reminding us that love is a sacrifice. I had also engraved the words “stern as death is love,” from the Song of Songs, inside Greg’s wedding ring as a reminder to myself of what I was promising him. He had “the greatest of these is love,” engraved in my ring, taken from the Epistle to the Corinthians we had chosen for the second reading. Finally, during communion, we sang “Be Thou my Vision,” asking God to lead us through our marriage and the rest of our lives together.

Because we were so nervous during the Mass itself, we were surprised to find later that there hadn’t been a dry eye in the congregation. Many guests, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have told us since that they had never been to such a beautiful Mass.

We were so elated after the Mass, and all of our friends and family were ready to celebrate at the reception. Greg and I danced to a song he has always played to me on his guitar. One of the highlights of the evening was the toast Greg’s father had written for us, a particularly beautiful mediation on marriage:

One needs courage to uphold such honor as the years of life grow long. Such courage may seem to have grown rare, but God has not grown less generous in His grace. You must have faith in his generosity, and though the world press on you from dawn to dusk, you must not deem the world more formidable than yourselves.

We were blessed to celebrate into the night with all those who had come to wish us well, particularly those whose weddings we had attended in the past. We ended the night by forming a giant conga line out of the building, while our friends sent us off to the tune of “The Parting Glass,” a traditional Irish folk song.

Despite all the challenges we felt as we prepared for marriage, our wedding reminded us we are not alone. We have friends and family who support us and provide wonderful examples of loving marriages. We also felt strengthened by the sacrament of marriage, so that when hard times do come, we will have the courage to face them.

Photography: Red Fern Photography | Church: St. Ann Catholic Church, Coppell, TX | Reception: Las Colinas Country Club, Irving, TX | Bride shoes: DSW: dsw.com | Bride earrings: Anthropologie | Veil: Mariso lAparicio :Www.esty.com/ shop/marisolaparicio | Bridal hair & make up: Dear Clark | Salon: Dearclark.com | Gown: Vintage | Necklace: Vintage | Bridesmaids’ dresses: Azazie: azazie.com | Bridesmaids’ jewelry: Chole and Isabel: www.choleandisabel.com | Invitations: Basic | Invite: basicinvite.com | Engagement ring: Vintage | Groom wedding band:DiamondBoutiqueCo : Www.esty.com/ shop/diamondboutiqueco | Groom / groomsmen suits:Jos. A. Banks | Groom/ groomsmen ties: Jos. A. Banks | Cake: Loft22 Cakes: Loft22cakes.com | Flowers: Lizzie Bee’s | Flower Shoppe: Lizziebees.net | Catering: Las Colinas Country Club

How to Include Non-Catholic Family in Your Wedding Preparations



There you are: scrolling through Catholic wedding resources, reading, taking notes on the best ways to incorporate your faith into your big day. But there, in the back of your mind, a voice is saying, what if this doesn’t go over well with my family?

Planning a wedding can be a stressful experience in any family situation, but when your family or your fiancé's don’t share your faith, it can be even trickier.

Everyone brings their own set of expectations to a wedding. As a bride, the hardest thing you will have to do is to balance all of these expectations with the reality that it is your wedding. And when you add in family who may not share or entirely understand your enthusiasm for having a Catholic wedding, you might feel like you're kissing your sanity goodbye.

Here, a few ways to make your family feel included in your big day, even if they aren’t Catholic or don't share your faith:

Be open.

Surprises are fun at birthdays. But when it comes to your big, fat, Catholic wedding, surprises should be avoided. Let your family know what to expect on your wedding day. Depending on your family's openness, this may or may not be a great time to delve into the mysteries of the Church. Regardless, letting family know what is expected of them at the nuptial Mass is never a bad idea. Consider including a detailed Mass rubric in your program so that guests know exactly what to do throughout the Mass. Eliminating guesswork makes everyone feel more at ease.

It is also a good idea, and powerful (and sometimes unspoken) witness, to share with your non-Catholic family your reasons for choosing to have a Catholic wedding at all. Sure, you could have had your wedding on the beach or while skydiving, but you chose to get married in the Church because it's important to you. Don’t be afraid to share which parts of your wedding liturgy are most meaningful to you or the reasons behind the readings you've chosen.

Find common ground.

Although a Catholic wedding may be different from what your family is used to, there are probably areas where you can find common ground. Most religious groups, for example, include readings from their foundational texts at weddings, and nearly all cultures throughout the world have wedding receptions of some kind, so you should be able to find at least a few commonalities when it comes to including family in your plans.

Consider making a list of these common areas and designating those as the tasks where you can seek assistance from non-Catholic family and friends.

Incorporate family traditions.

You aren't going to be able to live up to every guest’s expectations for your wedding. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t include some elements of your family’s history and traditions into the celebration, especially if getting married in the Church means breaking with family tradition.

To honor your families, consider adding heirloom jewelry to your wedding ensemble or meaningful touches to the décor to commemorate members of your family. There is no need for grand gestures, but small tokens assure your family know that you love them and that their traditions are important to you, particularly on your wedding day.

Be at peace.

Finally, be at peace. You are getting married, and preparing to partake in a beautiful sacrament. You and your fiancé are  starting a new and amazing chapter in your life. Is everyone going to be perfectly happy with your wedding? Probably not, but that’s okay.

Take time to enjoy the process of planning your weddings, and to enjoy the aspects of it that reflect your faith. Pray that your non-Catholic guests will not only feel welcomed, but inspired by the beauty of your wedding Mass.

About the Author: Ada Thomas studied English at the University of Dallas and currently teaches elementary school. She will be marrying her college best friend in November. When she is not wedding planning or teaching, Ada can be found contemplating classical education, redecorating her apartment for the hundredth time, and reading British novels.


Fun Reads Featuring Strong Marriages



As a bride-to-be or newlywed, you've probably noticed the plethora of self-help books directed at nearly every area of your life: DIY wedding books, conflict-resolution books, and even Catholic how-to books. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of advice that is thrown at you as a bride, and at the end of the day you’re often left wondering, “How does this work in real life?”

In her list of wedding resources, Elise mentioned that she and her fiancé found mentor couples to help them prepare for their wedding day. If that is not an option for you (or maybe just isn’t your style), these books from many different genres may help fill the void. There are many accessible, enjoyable books that feature strong marriages, perfect for reading on your commute or when you need a break from wedding planning.


My Life in France by Julia Child

Although Julia and her husband Paul were not Catholic, their marriage is a wonderful example of a strong union and a helpmate relationship between spouses. During Paul’s time working for the State Department, Julia moved with him to France, Germany, Norway, and finally back to the United States. She supported him in his work, while he supported her in her newfound love of cooking, and together they created a home where their friends could feel welcome and revel in Julia’s delicious cooking, perfectly complimented by her husband’s extensive knowledge of wine. 

Paul and Julia are a real life example of what it means to grow within marriage. Julia did not start cooking until well into her thirties, and she and Paul continued to cultivate their personal interests together as a couple. While Julia filmed her first  cooking shows, Paul was behind the camera, washing her dishes for the next scene or taste-testing her delicious food.

Not only will this book encourage you to offer loving support to your husband-to-be, it may also inspire you to master the art of French cooking with your sweetheart!

The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers by Maria Von Trapp

There’s much more to the famous “Sound of Music family” than a classic movie with a catchy soundtrack. In her autobiography, Maria Von Trapp chronicles her time with her family, both as their governess and later as their mother. She candidly discusses coming into a disunified family and how music brought them all together.

After Hitler came to power, the Von Trapp family, who had become famous in Austria for their musical talent, fled to the United States, where they finally settled in Vermont. They started a camp near their Vermont home for other families to come together to grow in appreciation for music and each other. Maria’s story faith, strength, and  devotion to her family make an inspiring read for anyone hoping to start a strong family of their own.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

While this may seem a slightly counterintuitive suggestion, bear with me! Within its typically dickensian six hundred pages, David Copperfield contains the only happy family in all of Dickens’ vast canon. The Copperfield’s maid, Peggotty, marries the willing Mr. Barkis and relocates to Yarmouth where they live in a barge-turned-house on the beach with Peggotty’s brother, her nephew, and Peggotty’s adopted niece, Emily.

Despite the many misfortunes and hardships which the family endures, Peggotty and Barkis’ home is a welcome bulwark against the harshness of the world around them. It is the place where young Davy Copperfield feels most at home and most happy before the gloom of his mother’s marriage to the evil Mr. Murdstone settles into his own home. The little boathouse on Yarmouth beach is a jewel of domestic bliss in a world of turmoil, unhappiness, and, frankly, terrible marriages.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

Most women are at least vaguely familiar with the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery, but if it’s been a few years since you got these classics off the shelves, consider reading the fifth installment, Anne’s House of Dreams, as you prepare for marriage. In this book, Anne returns to Avonlea to finally marry Gilbert Blythe, and the picture that LM Montgomery paints of wedding preparation and newlywed life reminds us that, despite all of the difficulties that crop up in daily life, we are meant to enjoy this special time.

Anne and Gilbert’s love, supported by those who love them best, is the sole focus of their wedding day. There is no worry about the church, the reception venue, or the caterer, and their home is a reflection of the comfort and joy that their love brings to each of them. Even in times of great sorrow, the Blythes find consolation in their home and in their mutual love. Their neighbors also seek out the “house of dreams” as a refuge, knowing that there will always be a warm welcome for them there.

If you decide to read one (or all) of these books as you prepare for marriage, I hope you will discover what I have found: beautiful literary reminders of what is essential in the process of making two lives one.  

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About the Author: Ada Thomas studied English at the University of Dallas and currently teaches elementary school. She will be marrying her college best friend in November. When she is not wedding planning or teaching, Ada can be found contemplating classical education, redecorating her apartment for the hundredth time, and reading British novels.