Over eight years ago, when I began the One in Christ Marriage Seminar with Fr. Paul Stein, we asked ourselves how we could effectively evangelize our culture that has become increasingly secular and hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his message of salvation. With the support of His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George and the assistance of the Priest Advisory Board to the Respect Life Office in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we decided to create a program that would not only prepare engaged couples for the wonderful Sacrament of Matrimony, but to re-evangelize fallen away and lukewarm Catholics so that they could experience a truly faith-deepening conversion and an awakening to the beauty, goodness, and truth about marriage, family life, and the Catholic Faith. We discovered that by evangelizing couples with the Gospel of Life, within the context of marriage preparation, couples come to appreciate the total value of human life transmitted through marriage.
The one thing I have come to discover over the years is that most couples are extremely hungry for the Catholic understanding of truth, beauty, and goodness about marriage and family life. Unfortunately, the news media and advertisements paint a very grim picture of marriage and family. We are inundated daily from the Internet, television, magazines, and the news about relationships on the rocks, run away brides, bridezillas, Hollywood hookups and breakups, who’s cheating on whom, and who is in the process of their next divorce. Consequently, we are conditioned to think that there is nothing virtuously alluring about marriage.
Couples preparing for marriage deserve better. The reason for many dysfunctional marriages is that God is no longer in the equation. That is why we decided to name the seminar One in Christ, to emphasize the fundamental belief that it takes three to get married: husband, wife, and God. In an age when beauty, truth, and goodness are no longer valued as gifts from God and the self is placed at the center of the universe, it is my hope that this program will inspire couples to see that marriage is about seeking the goodness, integrity, holiness, and salvation of the other: their spouse. As a result, couples come to discover that their vocation in marriage is to help each other get to Heaven.
The seminar also exposes the evils of secular society, many of which has become accepted and embraced, particularly contraception, pre-marital sex, pornography, and several immoral reproductive technologies. When the truth about these moral evils is presented in charity and patience, couples are more apt to embrace the Church’s teaching and thus come to a greater appreciation about chastity, fidelity, and indissolubility.
What has given me great joy over the years working with hundreds of couples is the power of conversion. I am happy to see couples coming to see the truth, beauty, and goodness of Christian marriage as a gift from God and how marriage, here on earth, is truly a participation in the life of Heaven. Putting this program together is probably one of the pinnacles of my priestly ministry, because through it, I have grown tremendously in my priesthood Coming to know the couples and their stories, challenges, and joys, has helped me grow in my own vocation and discover on a deeper level the meaning of self-sacrificial love. My joy has also been to see many couples return to the Faith and the reception of the Sacraments.
With the help of God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, this program has produced much fruit. Yet I have to constantly remind myself that we are merely God’s instruments in the vineyard, planting the seeds of truth, beauty, and goodness for his greater glory. We may never see the fruits of our labor, but we know that if we are faithful to our vocation to serve him and those whom he has put in our lives, especially couples preparing for marriage, we will receive an abundance of his grace.
My guiding principal over the years has been to present the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Catholic Faith with charity, love, and patience or as a saint once said, “Stew the truth until it is sweet.” Truth, beauty, and goodness are all attributes of Almighty God and when we speak, teach, or preach on his behalf, they become manifest in the world and become very attractive, appealing, and contagious. When couples embrace these throughout their married lives, they truly become a visible sign of an invisible reality, which is ultimately Christ’s love for his Bride, the Church.
Francis Cardinal George, the late Archbishop of Chicago, states "Part of the Church's care for marriage expresses itself in programs preparing men and women to enter into the state of marriage today. A sacrament of the Church by the will and action of Christ, marriage demands a personal formation that will enable married couples to grow in sanctity together. That is the purpose of One In Christ...Chastity, fidelity and indissolubility might seem impossible, unless one comes to rely upon God and count on His grace. This seminar assures couples that God is more interested in the success of their marriage than they are. Preparation for marriage includes lessons in communication, in common understanding about finances and the raising of children, about where to live and dozens of other practical considerations. Most basically, however, marriage preparation should inspire a man and a woman to see 'the goodness, integrity, holiness and salvation' of their spouse. I hope and pray that all couples who attend this seminar will experience a faith-deepening conversion that will remain with them each day of their married lives."