FORT WAYNE — Seventy area couples enjoyed a day of reflection, prayer and examination of the state of marriage in general and their own relationship in particular during the Diocesan Marriage Conference Saturday on the North Campus of the University of Saint Francis.
Presenters for the event were Greg and Julie Alexander, marriage ministers and founders of The Alexander House, an international Catholic apostolate focused on marriage.
In introducing themselves, the Alexanders related an all-too-familiar story of the early years of their marriage when a focus on the external trappings of successful careers, a good income, a nice car and a big house — acquisitions associated with status — threatened to destroy their relationship. They thought there was no solution but divorce when a wise priest to whom they went for guidance advised them to seek out God’s plan for marriage before ending their own. The couple searched Scripture, the catechism and Church documents for answers and in doing so found the Church’s vision for the sacrament. At that point, Greg and Julie prayed together for the first time, asking God to restore their relationship. They both quit their jobs, sold their house and their possessions and opened themselves to God’s plan.
They realized then that many other couples are living within the sacrament of Marriage but have no true idea of God’s plan for it and pledged to help others make the same discovery they have through this marriage ministry. “If we aren’t fully participating with God in the sacrament, we’re not truly happy,” said Greg.
We realized that the true purpose of Marriage according to God’s plan is to give each other a foretaste of heaven, said Julie. It is not about materialism; it is to help one another grow in holiness.
“Love is not a feeling, it’s a decision we make. Love doesn’t always feel good,” she pointed out. But a loving couple should mutually work toward their heavenly goal.
Those in attendance were instructed to complete an “evaluate your marriage” form by listing the top three priorities in their lives and how the position of each is reflected on a daily basis. Each was asked to list the problem areas invading their relationship and communicate those to their spouse. Though time was set aside during the conference for couples to discuss those priorities, it was generally agreed that the time was too short.
The Alexanders outlined their own priorities. Put God first, then each other, then your children and finally, your relatives and friends. “Everything we have is due to God’s grace,” said Greg.
Even though we know God’s plan, he said, we must transfer that knowledge from our head to our heart, often by using practical exercises like the next one he assigned to his listeners — the “forgiveness and healing exercise.”
Each person was instructed to examine his conscience regarding the hurtful things done to his or her spouse, including behaviors that were selfish, critical, insensitive, disrespectful, abusive, unfaithful or unforgiving. Then those shortcomings were “confessed,” true contrition expressed and forgiveness sought. Couples were then advised, as penance, to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as possible.
“Get yourself back in the state of grace to work on your marriage,” advised Julie. She indicated the large cross looming over the stage. “And anything you can’t forgive, lay it at the foot of the cross.” Forgiveness is a critical step in the healing process, she noted.
During a break midway through the day’s program, Robert and Paula Giver of Little Flower Parish in South Bend noted that it was refreshing to take time to focus on their marriage.
Kellie and Jim Steel, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Fort Wayne, parishioners, were also in attendance. Kellie said she found that “everything they said was inspirational.”
The Alexanders want their presentation to be an “enrichment experience,” giving couples practical tools to use in evaluating and strengthening their relationship.
In the afternoon sessions, the Alexanders encouraged the 70 couples in attendance to keep God in the center of their marriages. “Be obedient to God’s call,” Julie said.
God needs marriages that are solid and good to evangelize to the world, Julie added.
The Alexanders reminded the couples that marriage starts in the home and healing and forgiveness begin at home. The Alexanders encouraged couples to use the spousal-type of examination with their children and also ask for forgiveness of their children.
At a panel discussion closing the conference, the Alexanders encouraged couples to pray daily — every morning and evening as spouses — to come together, hold hands, pray the Our Father, Hail Mary and prayers of thanksgiving for the spouse. They also encouraged Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, studying Scripture, the catechism and saints.
St. Joseph, Garrett, parishioners Ed and Diane Ort attended the conference. “It was very worthwhile,” Diane told Today’s Catholic.
“The forgiveness exercise gives us easy tools to grow stronger in our marriage,” Ed said. “It challenges us to witness our marriage and faith to others and (helps us) desire to learn more about our Catholic faith.”
Kevin and Rhonda Noll of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, also felt the conference was helpful.
“I really enjoyed it from the standpoint that I think it’s always good to hear from people who are ‘real,’ have experienced lows and turned their marriage around. I think it is easier to learn from those people,” Kevin said.
Rhonda added, “And (the Alexanders) tell the truth about where we need to be in our relationship. If we don’t put God first, no marriage has a chance.”
Kevin added that the conference “brough faith and marriage together.”
Mass begins conference
Earlier that day, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades opened the conference with a celebration of the Mass. Bishop Rhoades serves as the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Rhoades spoke about the day’s Gospel that Jesus came to earth not to call the righteous but sinners.
“We are called, like Levi, to get up and follow Jesus, every day: to persevere in our faith and our vocations, even though it may be challenging or difficult at times,” Bishop Rhoades said. “And if we falter or fail at times to be as loving and committed, selfless and responsible as we should be, we can always repent and we can grow, because the Lord is with us. He continuously pours out His grace upon us: the grace of forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance, the grace of the sacraments of our vocation (Marriage or Holy Orders), and the grace of amazing communion with Him and each other in the Holy Eucharist.”
The bishop said, “What confidence and hope we have because of our Lord’s assurance in today’s Gospel that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners! We have a Savior who says to us each day ‘Follow me.’”
He said, “During this day and during this season of Lent, may your relationship with the Lord grow and deepen, especially through prayer and the reception of the sacraments. When this happens, your marital love also grows and deepens.”
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