Program #0200 for Wednesday, December 14, 2011: Transformed in Love Marriage Preparation

December 14, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams

Today’s guest(s): Stephen and Kari Colella and Mary Finnigan from Archdiocese of Boston Marriage Ministries and the Transformed in Love marriage preparation program

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Today’s topics: Transformed in Love marriage preparation program

Summary of today’s show: Statistics tells us that there is a marriage crisis in our society. Cardinal Sean and the Marriage Ministry Office of the Archdiocese of Boston have responded with a new marriage preparation program called “Transformed in Love” that provides both the practical human skills and the spiritual foundation and formation that every couple needs to have a successful marriage today. Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams are joined on our 200th show by Stephen and Kari Colella and Mary Finnigan to talk about what makes Transformed in Love different and how couples who’ve experienced it are giving glowing testimonials.

1st segment: Scot said it’s our 200th show on The Good Catholic Life and Fr. Matt said it’s great to be on Wednesdays because it’s always a milestone show. Fr. Matt said he’s been getting ready this week for the March for Life pilgrimage in January as well as the New Year’s Eve Young Adult Mass and gathering in the North End with Cardinal Seán. Information on both are available at http://www.one4boston.org.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Steve, Kari, and Mary to the show. He asked Kari to give background on Transformed in Love. She said they started developing it in 2006 and have been running marriage preparation programs with it in 2009. Mary said there are some new topics and areas in this program, by reconnecting people with their faith including reconciliation, a teaching Mass, and a discussion of salvation history.

Kari said they spent a lot of time doing research and working with people to find the needs for people preparing for marriage today, as well as deacons and priests helping prepare people. A key element that came up was the role that faith plays in individual lives and as a couple to strengthen marriages, as well as the practical skills they can provide. There was a lot more substantive explanation of marriage, plus they maintained the traditional witness talks from married couples.

Mary said the response has been positive. There have been comments like “I’ve never heard this before” or “I went through Catholic school and never heard this before” or “This is more relevant than I thought it would be.” They are connecting and reenergizing interest in the faith.

Fr. Matt said several years ago, the cardinal called together a committee to study marriage and was chaired by Kari. They were asked to study how they could strengthen marriage in the archdiocese. One recommendation was educating people about marriage prior to engagement, often as children, and giving the tools for marriage; helping engaged couples prepare for marriage (this is where the committee wanted to focus resources); and helping couples in their relationship after marriage. They are looking how to adapt the marriage preparation program for young people before engagement and married couples after marriage. They are seeking to standardize the program through the archdiocese so that everyone knows what to expect and everyone gets the same high level of preparation.

Scot said Catholics divorce about the same rate as non-Catholics. Kari said it is sobering to see those statistics. Research says communications are important to head off divorce. We also have to have the vision and commitment to understand where we’re going as well as spiritual practices to help us grow in virtue and love. People are thirsty for the vision and to love well.

Scot asked Steve how those human skills get worked into the program. Steve said when he was first married to Kari, he thought Kari was the luckiest girl in the world, but in the past 15 years he’s realized he’s the luckiest guy in the world. He said even those with the strongest backgrounds need these skills. He said this program has helped their own marriage grow. When you link the natural and supernatural, you start lining up those virtues and see and feel the growth in your spouse and yourself that becomes unstoppable when sharing that love with others.

Scot said the Catholic Church tries to form the whole person whether it’s seminary or other formation. Formation for marriage is not just spiritual formation, but also the human formation of skills and how we merge all of our family background, our emotions, our history, our abilities and weaknesses.

Kari said they talk about the importance of forgiveness, to be attentive to God’s presence, serving others in our family and community. They talk about the different types of love: attraction, friendship, romantic love, and selfless love, choosing to be loving even when we might not feel it. Choosing to be loving. Being mature in love.

Scot noted that agape is God’s self-sacrificing, very active love. We are called to be self-giving, where the world tells us that it’s all about “me”. It can bring us together when a couple sees one spouse give up so much out of love with one another. Steve said Transformed in Love has been well-designed to build one topic upon another. John Paul II said our greatest strengths can be in our differences, not just our similarities. When you realize that communication styles can be different but compatible, that can lead to joy in life, not conflict. It can be difficult, but joyful and hopeful as a real witness of marriage.

Fr. Matt said most couples coming into see the priest when engaged are just checking off a box of what they need to do. Kari said this program welcomes everyone, both Catholic and someone marrying a Catholic, but the program starts with self-knowledge and the human skills, then moves to expectations and communications in general. Communication includes effective talking skills, effective listening, and effective checking. The key skill is listening. In a conversation, we’re often thinking of what we want to say next rather than focus on what the person is saying. They focus on empathy: What is this like for them in their experience, not for me in my experience. Using everything I know about my spouse, what is it like for her. The checking is determining whether I am hearing correctly, not necessarily agreeing with what they’re saying. Steve said the checking phase gives a pause in the conversation. Mary said checking is not just parroting back; it’s trying to get at the feeling that’s being expressed. Identifying the underlying issue.

Steve says intimacy grows when you have to say something back to your spouse and you realize the effect of your words and actions. Fr. Matt said it’s a virtue that needs to be built. He said people can start judging other people; throwing unfair comments, and hitting below the belt. Kari said this skills don’t come naturally. They have to be practiced and the couple grows in them together, to be transformed in love.

3rd segment: It’s time to announce this week’s winner of the WQOM Benefactor Raffle.

Our prizes this week are “We Celebrate Christmas: the Birth of Jesus” children’s music CD by the Celebrate Jesus Singers; Gospel Champions PC game for Windows XP; and a World Mission children’s rosary.

This week’s benefactor card raffle winner is Edward and Robin Kuczynski from North Billerica, MA. Congratulation, Edward and Robin!

If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit WQOM.org. For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.

4th segment: Scot said 25 years ago in the Archdiocese, there were 12,000 marriages recorded in all the parishes. Fast-forward to today and there were only 3,700 were married in Catholic churches last year. That number propelled Cardinal Sean’s desire to look at marriage preparation.

Kari said back in 2007, CARA did a study of the post-millennial generation. They had the highest rate of any generation to say marriage is whatever the couple say it is, but they also say marriage is a lifelong commitment and that divorce is too easy. Kari said this is a contradiction and one of the things they try to do in the program is education on marriage by talking about it as a natural institution—which pre-dates even the Catholic Church, and as a Christian institution. What added layer of meaning is there when two Christians marry? We want to articulate the value of marrying in the church. They look at the canons on marriage and then they do a diagram overview of the Faith to explain what a sacrament is and why we have them. When they started with marriage as a sacrament, they found the couples didn’t have the foundation to build on.

Steve said one of the comments they get over and over is that diagram works, whether they are active Catholic, inactive Catholics, or even Protestant, because it gives a common language to talk about marriage.

Scot said another part of the program looks at the promises made in marriage and then spiritual practices in marriage, being part of a faith community and more. He said Fr. Matt has talked about the teaching Mass before. Fr. Matt said it ties in perfectly to where they place it in the flow of topics. In it they tour the church and the various parts of it, then the structure of the Mass and the various prayers and parts. The priest explains what the prayers mean as he celebrates the Mass.

The next section is called Marital Sexuality: A Divine Design. Mary said the placement of this topic was just as intentional because they’ve laid all the groundwork. They come from Holy Communion to talk about the marital act as an experience of holy communion between the spouses. What is the divine design of the act? Scot said society has cheapened it to make it about self-pleasure, when it should be about self-giving. Mary said they look at the practical aspects of what roles the spouse plays in the fertility of the couple. It isn’t just the men who are surprised about fertility, but the women too. They then look at the science of natural family planning and what it means in the marriage relationship. They also hear a couple discuss the challenges, the benefits, and the difference it makes, especially compared to artificial contraception.

Mary said studies show the benefit of natural family planning, even in a lower divorce rate. They also discuss infertility and how the Church responds to the condition. They also discuss adoption. At the end of the section, they challenge them if they haven’t been living chastely to do so until the wedding and if they are living together to live apart.

Fr. Matt said natural family planning is not the rhythm method. Mary said NFP identifies fertility signs in the woman’s cycle, including fertility monitors that identify hormones in urine. They are also developing iPhone and Android apps to help with charting that will be coming out in 2012.

Kari said they survey the couples coming in and leaving the program. Coming in 37% say they know what NFP is and what the Church’s teaching. When they leave, 70% say they will consider using NFP, while 81% say they understand the Church’s teaching. Kari said they provide them with resources to follow up on this on their own and with their priest or deacon.

Scot said the other topics include family life, maintaining priorities, finances, and marriage enrichment programs. In 2012, they have three programs scheduled. See their webpage.

They are also publishing the curriculum and there is interest in other dioceses to use it. They are providing training to help implement.

For married couples looking to enrich their marriage, they might want to become part of a Transformed in Love team. Their website also has links to other programs on enrichment.

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