Couples going through marriage preparation are in the midst of spending long hours planning the details of their wedding day, with “the dress, and the glitz and glitter,” said Krisanne Murphy, but she added, “There is a real life in a marriage,” and marriage preparation programs in the Archdiocese of Washington aim to address the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of marriage.
By volunteering to speak during the marriage preparation course at St. Peter’s Parish in Washington, Krisanne and her husband, Jay, hope to remind the couples preparing for marriage that they are entering into a life-long covenant. By hearing from real married couples about how God is present in their marriages, in addition to hearing from priests, Jay said the class “makes God practical.”
When the Murphys were preparing for marriage, they felt a desire for more practical marriage advice given by real married couples. A few years later, they heard that the pastor of St. Peter’s in Washington was going to be starting a team teaching model with lay couples for marriage prep, and they were asked to participate. Given their own desire to hear from real, married couples about marriage, they agreed, and began by talking to couples one-on-one in their living room.
Over 10 years, the program has grown so much that they now speak to about 30-50 couples at a time. The marriage-prep course at St. Peter’s is spread out into four consecutive Saturdays, covering a variety of topics with time for couples to have both small group and one-on-one discussion. The Murphys give the first talk on the first Saturday of the four-week course, which runs three times a year.
The archdiocese now offers several options for marriage preparation, which cover the same content and are all taught by a combination of lay people and priests. Several parishes in the archdiocese offer weekly classes, and there is the option to do an intensive weekend course either at Our Lady of Bethesda Center for Family Development or on an Engaged Encounter Retreat. There is also a Spanish language option at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg. Couples are able to choose which format fits best with their own schedules and personalities.
Amidst a culture that values instant gratification and believes “if it doesn’t feel good then it must not be right,” the Murphys try to “meet couples where they’re at” to explain that conflict is a normal part of marriage, and they should embrace it as a form of growing together and getting to know each other better.
“Conflict is inherent in any kind of dynamic, growing relationship and it doesn’t mean it is a bad thing,” Jay said.
While it doesn’t always feel like a couple is growing together while in the midst of the conflict, Jay said couples should remember, “God is with you in your marriage. He has ordained it, and He will see you through it.”
By turning away from conflict, “you are doing a disservice to your ministry of marriage,” Jay said. In order to navigate the conflict that they are encouraging the couples to embrace, the Murphys discuss the importance of communication, which they say provides them with a touchstone to evaluate how their own marriage is going along the way.
“We need that, I think, in our own marriage, so actually talking about it in front of a bunch of people who are about to enter into it helps us remember that in our own lives,” Jay added.
The Murphys think Catholic marriages are special because the couples are doing more than signing a contract. In most sacraments, the priest confers the sacrament upon the person receiving it, but during a wedding Mass, the couple is conferring the sacrament upon each other when they say their vows. In doing so, they are entering into a life-long covenant and vocation, where they are trying their best to make sure the other person gets to heaven.
“The ministry is all about growing together, dying to your self and emerging as one body in Christ together, and it makes tons of sense in that construct that your salvation is tied into one another,” Jay said.
The Murphys, who are parishioners at St. Peter’s along with their three children, see their participation in marriage preparation as a way of entering into the New Evangelization. Since not everyone getting married in the Catholic Church is a practicing Catholic, they have an opportunity to present the faith in a new way.
“Hopefully it is inviting enough, open enough, real and authentic enough that people… find it relevant and see it as a reason to come back to the Church. And for people who are not from the Catholic tradition, hopefully it is a welcome into the Catholic tradition,” Krisanne said. “And it is not all about getting Catholic converts…it is about expressing God’s love for us, God’s love for marriage and families and that special ministry. Hopefully it is attractive enough that people want some of that and it connects to a deeper longing in their heart along the way.”