Diocesan News

Diocese Seeks to Strengthen Marriages via Engaged Encounter

(SNR) - Observed each year on the second Sunday in February, World Marriage Day is sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter to honor the lifelong commitment of husbands and wives.

This year, the day falls on Feb. 13. The occasion will be marked by various activities across the diocese.

Throughout the year, there are continuing efforts to strengthen marriages in the Diocese of Lincoln, such as Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille. Another program – Engaged Encounter – helps couples lay a strong foundation of communication and respect before the wedding day.

Preparation may be the key for a lasting, happy marriage.

During a Jan. 22 address, the Holy Father urged priests to help engaged couples prepare for marriage more thoroughly.

Pope Benedict XVI said, "Every effort must be made, insofar as possible, to break the vicious circle which often arises between automatic admission to marriage without adequate preparation or a serious examination of the requirements laid down for its celebration."

To that end, Engaged Encounter is a requirement for couples who wish to marry in the Diocese of Lincoln, in addition to private sessions with their priest.

Engaged Encounter was developed by Worldwide Marriage Encounter to enable couples to delve deeper into their relationship and gain valuable insight about what marriage is really like.

During an Engaged Encounter weekend, a couple leaves behind wedding planning, jobs, family obligations and even cell phones and televisions from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. They take the time to listen and talk to each other – privately – about numerous important issues.

The weekends are led by two married couples and a priest. Throughout the retreat, members of this team take turns giving talks that they’ve prepared according to an outline provided by the parent organization.

"We give examples of how we’ve gotten through a situation or how we are still working through a situation," explained Brandi Brown, who serves as Engaged Encounter coordinator for the diocese with her husband, James. They are members of North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln.

"We let them know that our marriages are not perfect. It’s about what you do to keep it going and to stay in love."

After the talks, the men and women are divided, and each person writes responses to a series of questions related to the talk. Then the couples pair off to read each other’s answers and discuss their responses one-on-one.

"It’s an opportunity to communicate before marriage about a lot of important topics, from children to finances to what your in-laws are going to think of you," Mr. Brown said.

Other topics include making joint decisions, Natural Family Planning, intimacy, extended family relationships and so on.

"There are so many things that they may not have talked about yet," Mr. Brown observed. "A lot of people put those issues off to the side."

The one thing Engaged Encounter will not do is tell couples how to be married.

"We’re really not teaching couples a right and wrong way to be married," said Sue Vagts. She and her husband Dale, members of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ Parish in Lincoln, have been working as Engaged Encounter volunteers for the last 16 years of their 23-year marriage.

"We’re sharing how we have handled these things in our lives," she continued. "When we give a talk on communication, we talk about the times we’ve failed to communicate, how we’ve learned from it and how we’ve changed."

Priests are on hand to share their own experiences, celebrate Mass and provide the Sacrament of Reconciliation to anyone who needs it. They also provide pastoral care.

Mrs. Brown explained that the priest and both leading couples make themselves available on the Friday and Saturday evenings of the retreat for anybody who wishes to talk. They field a great variety of questions, and on occasion, meet with couples who are distressed about various issues that are coming to light.

"If they are not communicating, the priest will take them into a private room to see what he can do to help them out," Mrs. Brown said.

Since Engaged Encounter is required for couples in the Lincoln Diocese, Mr. and Mrs. Brown coordinate 14 different weekends, all held at Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat Center in Waverly. There are 22 different volunteering couples who stage the retreats, either by giving the talks, babysitting the presenting couples’ children, setting up, etc. Seven or eight priests are also on the team.

"We couldn’t put these weekends on without so many people behind this thing," Mr. Brown said.

For the engaged couples, the Browns acknowledged that it’s a sacrifice to take a weekend away from wedding planning to go on Engaged Encounter, but they agree it’s well worth the time.

"Marriage is more than just a wedding day," reasoned Mr. Brown. "It’s a lifetime together."

"We tell them to just spend 40 hours with their fiancé to get to know them and what it’s going to be like to be married," his wife said. "We want to see Catholic marriages succeed."

For more information about Engaged Encounter, contact your parish priest or call the Family Life office at 402-488-2040, Ext. 301. You can view the current schedule of Engaged Encounter weekends for the diocese at http://www.engagedencounter.org/D4dates.asp (scroll down for the Lincoln Diocese).

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