Reverence for Christ, love and laughter are paramount in the home of Irene Sarmiento and Ernesto Lozano, who met and married in their home-country of Mexico before emigrating to Canada with their growing family 11 years ago. They’ve been married for 26 years and they have six children.
“On our wedding day, we received the blessing of the bishop who married us, and one of the wedding gifts was a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II. I feel we’ve had tons of grace helping us on our journey,” said Irene.
That journey would carry them far from their beginnings, but when they arrived in Canada, they found a new home in their Catholic communities in Calgary.
“When we went to Church and I saw the tabernacle, I felt at home, because the Church is everywhere, and it is actually like you have a family,” said Irene, commenting that the Church community in Canada welcomed them with open arms when they arrived.
The family of the Church welcomed another couple into its midst in 2014, when Jean-Francois (JF) and Ana Church said, “I do.”
Though they met one another and attended JF’s prom together in 2006, they had a long journey toward marriage. As both of them journeyed separately toward a deeper relationship with God and a greater understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they formed a friendship that blossomed into love as they eventually served in youth ministry together in Ottawa.
“It is such an intimate relationship when you are working with someone and being guided by the holy spirit and teaching about God,” said Ana. “You really get to see that person’s heart and where they are at and where their relationship with God is at. At the time I thought, ‘these are all the qualities that I’m looking for in a husband.’”
Both said they feel they were guided to one another by God.
“For some time, I thought I wanted to be a priest,” JF shared, saying he took a yearlong discernment retreat to find out.
“The answer for me was clear that I was called to exemplify the Holy Family, and that’s a tall order. I didn’t know who the lady would be at that time, but every time there’s a shadow of doubt, I know that I discerned this and that God has a plan for us.”
God’s plans are mysterious and beautiful. As I listened to both of these couples share their memories, my own came vividly to mind. Thirteen years ago on February 14th, my husband Joseph who had also discerned the priesthood but felt called to have a family, married.
As I walked down the aisle of our hometown church on the arm of my dad, I remember being awestruck. My thoughts raced, but I remember thinking that this was the church where our parents had brought us to be baptized, and where we had walked down the aisle to receive the Eucharist countless times, and here we were on the same path toward something entirely new and sacred. We felt truly at home in the Church in that moment.
“Being married is not easy, it is hard,” said Ernesto matter-of-factly, “especially being married to someone like me,” he finished with a wry smile.
I’ll confess I feel like Joseph sometimes carries an unfair burden with such an emotional, opinionated wife. But all self-deprecation and joking aside, as Catholics we have been richly blessed in the Sacraments, which feed our souls and call us to deeper conversion.
In 2011, Joseph and I walked the aisle of the same Church at my father’s funeral. It gave me comfort to recall our wedding, my First Communion and all of the Masses I’d attended there as I walked, this time with the heaviness of grief. It was in the Sacraments and in my marriage that I found solace.
This moment came to mind when Ernesto said, “when you are feeling terrible, there is always the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” He and Irene try to go often, and to normalize going for their children.
It is important for them that their children would feel at home in the church.
“When the children were little, I would take them and ask the priest if they could talk with him a little bit. That way when it came time for their First Reconciliation they weren’t going to a person they didn’t know,” Irene said.
As Irene and Ernesto recall starting their family, they remember feeling overwhelmed too.
“When you have your first child they do not come with instructions,” said Ernesto facetiously.
“Yes,” added Irene, “you have to figure it out as you go.”
Six children, including now-adult children have given them a lot of practice in parenting, and I had to resist the temptation to sit for hours picking their brains for advice about my own family. Something that is important to the couple is mentorship of parents, which they do through their involvement with a program called Family Enrichment.
As parents of young children, Mass can be a challenge. Nonetheless, Ana and JF try to attend Mass as often as possible.
In moments where certain behaviours are causing problems of concentration, JF says he tries to “remove myself mentally from the situation, as if to see myself in the third person, pretending that I’m God the Father looking at this situation; one of the kids wrote on the pew with wax crayon and I’m trying to listen to the homily.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” and if I am pretending I am God looking in, I think “okay, this is actually hilarious.” If I miss the homily, then I know God meets us where we don’t expect it, and he’ll fill me some other way.”
“I don’t operate that way,” said Ana, “and I often feel alone in those moments.”
“So often I pray to the Holy Spirit that I need help. Sometimes (during Mass, but also in everyday life) I’m praying under my breath and the kids ask “what are you doing?” and I say “I’m inviting Jesus right now… you should too!”
It models for them that they can reach out to God when they need Him and that He will be there for us even when we might feel alone.”
“It also models for them that we are not trying to raise them to be perfect,” said JF. “We expect them to have freakouts just like we do, but in those moments there is a Holy Spirit, there is a Jesus, there is an Abba-Daddy who cares for us and wants to help. I think it is just beautiful to model that.”
To support one another in continuing to grow a relationship with God, Ana and JF have been going alternate weeks to Tuesday night Reconciliation, Mass and Adoration for almost a year.
“Having that sacred time that we can look forward to and that we protect for each other is really key. We also get to listen to the homily that day, which is really nice,” said Ana.
“It’s amazing how many saints went to frequent confession,” pointed out JF, who finds it helpful to go often and “break the cycle of sin.”
“If I’m going often, with not a lot of time between confessions, I’m forcing myself to be in a position to make an examination of conscience and go a deeper route so that I can address things in myself – other personality defects that are leading me to those sins.”
Ana and JF are a couple who’ve spent quite a long time building up the spiritual life of their family and seeking the Sacraments.
“The key is really staying vulnerable with the Lord and with each other, and I find the Sacraments just make room for that psychologically and emotionally, and bring a source of inspiration and dreaming with the Lord,” said JF.
Growing up, I often recited my “life checklist” – by the age of 25 (27 at the latest) I will have a full-time job teaching, own my first home, and be married with a baby on the way. The saying is true, God laughs when we make plans. "For I know the plans I have for you", says the Lord. (Jer. 9:11)
At the age of 26, I would have told you I was at least on par with my plan. I was in a long-term relationship with someone I was sure would be my forever. Yet looking back, if I had been more honest with myself, I knew he wasn’t (and I think he did too). We were very different and yet we loved each other and celebrated our differences. But sometimes love isn’t enough.
I can recall praying through tears on a car drive home, pleading with God to take him out of my life if he wasn’t the one. I got my answer to prayer, albeit in the most heartbreaking way – he’d leave me in the weeks to come after falling in love with someone else. As with all loss, I went through the cycle of grief – but my faith was never shaken. Calling into mind the poem, Footprints in the Sand: "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings."
Fast forward to the summer of 2019 – I am now 31 and still single after the breakup in 2017 despite my best efforts to put myself out there and meet someone. I trusted in God knowing he knew the desires on my heart, yet my patience was thinning. I had just returned from a summer away in Ireland with a dear friend, and I was settling into my new home in the downtown core of Calgary. “Single and ready to mingle” as they say. Little did I know that God was aligning the stars in His perfect timing – on August 16th the love of my life would walk into my world and change life as I knew it forever.
For those who know me well, they’ll attest to the fact that I enjoy storytelling, especially as it pertains to answered prayers, signs from God, or little messages sent by an angel – ever find dimes in odd places?
August 5th, 2020 was not unlike any other summer day (although I’m now 32). We had an early start that morning as my boyfriend and I were on our way to Moraine Lake to catch the sunrise and paddleboard. He had been acting strange, but I figured it was due to a 2 AM alarm clock and a lack of sleep. What I would learn later that morning is that his nerves were slowly eating away at him as he prepared to get down on one knee to ask me to be his wife (spoiler – I said yes)! August 5th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Snows, the name of the school where I began my teaching career. This was undeniably a sign from Our Lady in the midst of a pandemic to remind me to trust, to keep the faith, and maintain hope.
As we prepared for our December 2021 nuptials at Our Lady of the Rockies Shrine in Canmore, we enrolled in the Marriage Preparation Course offered through Catholic Family Service. While we like to think we knew everything about one another, this opportunity gave us the chance to go deeper. In reflecting on our own families growing up, we conversed about what we wanted to bring to the table when it came to building our family, and the misgivings that we wanted to avoid. We had thoughtful and reflective conversations on our 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), and explored the types of communicators we are and areas we need to work on. Important here was understanding that no family will ever be perfect, not even Christ’s own family – a genealogy that included an array of sinners. However, we affirmed the need to remain rooted in faith and love.
Marry the right person, in the right place, at the right time. But more than that – trust that God will lead you to the right person, in the right place, and in His time.
Aames Abanto from Catholic Sunday Best offers five great reasons for Catholic gentlemen to adopt St. Joseph as their 2021 patron saint.
A hundred days ago, my husband and I said our vows before the altar of our Lord. If you were to ask me five years ago if I would be where I am at now, I would not have imagined this present moment. In fact, sometimes when I wake up in the morning and he greets me good morning, I would still think to myself, “Oh right — I’m married!”
Quite honestly, sometimes I feel it has not sunk in… but then again, it has only been 100 days. These past few months, friends have always asked us, “How’s married life?” Almost every time, I would mutter a quick, “oh it's great", or "well, it's new!" and such.
But how is it, really.
I have always thought that it will be an easy “transition” to the married life for Ryan and I because we have been together for many years, but I was caught by a surprise: I thought I knew him well enough; however, since we’ve been married, I have learned many new things about my husband! Don’t get me wrong: I knew what I was getting into — that the man I was going to marry was a man of values and had the characteristics I prayed for.
By new, I meant those things that you don’t really discover until you live together. And while some may think that you first need to experience living with someone before you marry them, they are completely missing out — being married (and now living together) gave us more reasons to get to know each other on a more meaningful level. While it could be difficult sometimes, I’ve learned that through those “new” experiences, we could still love each other even more.
“You need to communicate.”
Talk about the little things. Do not complain, nag, blame, or accuse. Your spouse cannot read your mind, and you cannot assume the other person knows what you’re thinking or feeling! There will be some occasions when they will know something is not right, but one cannot always expect this. It's important to cultivate patience, especially when your spouse does things differently than you do — and even more when you think your way of doing things is much better. Ha!
Experience the Gift
Be a gift and allow your spouse to be a gift to you — to love you without speculating that they only do things for you out of obligation because now, you’re married. Allow your spouse to accept you and love you, knowing that they will find your self-offering a gift that is precious. Cherish and serve them because you love them. Allow your spouse to do the same and do not question or limit their love for you despite of however little or much they seem to do. Every time I ask Ry to do something for me and he isn’t really up for it, he would always say jokingly, “It’s okay! I'll do it! Die to self!” It’s our running joke, and although he says it tongue in cheek, I appreciate it because I know that he is not only giving all he can, but he is giving all that he is.
I know we have a lifetime ahead as husband and wife, and even many more experiences, challenges that will come our way. We pray that this commitment of constantly choosing to love will always draw us back to the self-giving love that Christ had for his Church. May we always see this marriage as a gift that points and leads us to Christ. After all, our vocation is to lead each other to heaven.
Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ~ Pope John Paul II
Written by Karissa Factura.
Photos courtesy of Karissa & Ryan Factura.
A mainstay of Church calendars since the 5th century and a secular celebration of romance for more than 500 years, St. Valentine’s Day gives Catholic couples a mid-winter opportunity to show appreciation for beloved spouses. While some forsake the highly-commercialized nature of what they see as a kind of Valentine’s Day beast, others will mark the day with cards and chocolates. This year, three parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Calgary upped the ante. Two are holding Valentine’s-themed events and the third hosted a retreat led by a married couple who willingly shared with Faithfully a few ideas about ways to keep Catholic marriages faith-filled—and happy.
At Holy Trinity in Blairmore, more than 20 couples celebrated their Catholic marriages at a Marriage Promise Renewal service on Feb. 7. The event builds on the success of similar services Fr. Joseph Nagothu organized when serving parishes in India, Rockyford, Beiseker and Calgary.
All couples married in the Church are welcome to attend the church service, followed by a banquet in the parish hall. Like the renewal of baptismal vows at Easter, the marriage promise renewal invites couples to rededicate themselves to the sacramental nature of marriage and a deeper awareness of God’s grace in their lives.
The ceremony can be especially resonant with couples who are finding their way back to the Church and for those who’ve let their faith simmer to a kind of lukewarm temperature, explains Fr. Nagothu. He says past participants have thanked him for graces received when they took part in the service.
Parish council is onboard with their priest’s plans to make the service an annual event. “Next year, we plan to hold this same event at Holy Trinity on Feb. 14,” says Fr. Nagothu.
In Strathmore, Sacred Heart parish organized a Wedding Anniversary Celebration for Feb. 8. The dinner and dance will celebrate marriage and raise money for the parish building fund. Organizers hope some of the 150 participants will come dressed in their wedding attire, says Simon Caron, a parish volunteer and a member of Sacred Heart’s fundraising committee. “The idea is to recreate the best day of people’s lives.”
The Sacred Heart fundraiser will include square dancing, with a local caller adding to the fun, says Caron.
The faith/marriage connection
Couples who aren’t participating in formal events can use all of the largely-secular hullabaloo surrounding Valentine’s Day as an excuse to spark their own marriage renewal, says Donna and Jeff Garrett of Omaha, Nebraska.
The Garretts, who will celebrate 32 years of marriage this summer, were at Sacred Heart parish in downtown Calgary in late January to lead a two-day retreat, Your Difference Has a Purpose.
The Garretts, who embraced the Regnum Christi movement about 20 years ago, teach others how to identify and explore their God-given talents. Retreat participants included couples, single people and individuals who came without their spouses.
Before the retreat, participants used the CliftonStrengths assessment tool to learn about their strengths. During the retreat, a guided assessment of their individual results led people to what Jeff calls, the “wow factor.” That’s the moment when people realize why they do things the way they do—and why that could rub some people the wrong way. “You solve problems with strengths, but strengths also become blinders,” notes Jeff.
The family that prays together
Outside their work as retreat leaders, the Garretts say they’ve learned to make their faith a foundation of their marriage. “We pray together and that has evolved over our married life,” says Colleen. “In the early days, she prayed there and I prayed over here,” says Jeff with a smile. “Now, we really do pray together.”
The Garretts encourage other couples to value the sacramental nature of a Catholic marriage. “Our marriage is about ‘us.’ But it’s also about ‘us’ within the body of the Church,” says Colleen. In that context, her life as a Catholic wife, mother and grandmother calls her to see “how that means working to help the people around me become saints,” says Colleen. “I, as a spouse, want to see my husband succeed. I want him to be a saint.”
Jeff’s own commitment to the sacramental nature of his marriage allows him to live by the personal mantra, “give your best to your best.”
The Garretts say their marriage benefits from sharing assessments of their individual strengths. “The other thing we are very good at is focused listening,” says Colleen. “And that costs no money,” adds Jeff.
Colleen also credits Jeff with being very good at positive affirmation and they both take care to make sure that “we set each other up to succeed with our kids.” If a child shares sensitive information with Colleen, for example, she’ll make sure Jeff knows so that he can be similarly supportive. They’ve also learned to have interests outside their children. That was a tip they learned early in their marriage and Colleen says it’s served them well.
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Newlyweds Andrea and Juan Carlos received a special papal blessing at the Vatican on their European honeymoon in the spring.
Dressed in their wedding attire, they were afforded an audience with Pope Francis — a moment Andrea describes as “surreal.” The couple received a blessing and the Pope asked them to pray for him.
The papal audience was made possible thanks to Fr. Pilmaiken Lezanok, St. Michael Community Associate Pastor. He told the couple about this opportunity for newlyweds to meet the Pope and helped them through the process of applying for an audience.
“It was just an unforgettable experience. It helped us to start on the right foot,” said Andrea.
Before departing on their honeymoon, the St. Michael’s couple got married at St. Mary’s Church in Banff.
St. Mary’s Church is considered a destination wedding parish. Couples travel from as far as Australia, the Philippines, Germany, England, South America, the United States of America, across Canada, Alberta and Calgary to celebrate their Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
While this small rural parish only serves about 100 registered parishioners, mainly workers who live in Banff National Park and those vacationing in the area, each year Pastor Dan Stevenot celebrates between 20 to 30 weddings.
“For a small country parish, it is a lot of weddings. People are coming because of their faith and the beauty of the mountains,” said Fr. Stevenot.
This is the case for James Champion and Ashley Stark, an engaged couple living on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. They met in 2012 while both studying for their PhD in Psychology. Since Stark is originally from Edmonton and her family still lives there, they are planning a small 20-guest winter destination wedding for December 21, 2019.
“This was an important part of our special day, to be able to celebrate our relationship not just in front of our closest friends and family, but with God’s blessing as well,” said Stark.
“We really wanted to be married in a Catholic church,” said Stark.
“My family is Catholic, so will no doubt enjoy the ceremony at St. Mary’s, but my Grandfather, in particular, is very devout in his faith and we really look forward to sharing this special part of our day with him at St. Mary’s Parish,” she said.
While the couple has never visited St. Mary’s Church, they did meet Fr. Stevenot in January while he was visiting Australia’s Gold Coast. They organized a lunch at the local surf club, spending the afternoon getting to know one another and talking about the church and wedding plans.
“This is going to make the day even more special as we have now had the chance to meet the priest who will be marrying us,” said Stark. “So despite not having been to the church itself, we feel a special connection with it already.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
For more information on St. Mary's Parish in Banff, visit: http://www.stmarysparishbanff.ca
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers