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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Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers