“This was an opportunity to prioritize our relationship with each other and with God. It’s easy for those things to take a backseat after you get married,” said Danielle Adams, one of the attendees at the Young Married Couples Retreat.
Aug. 25-26, the diocesan Office for Evangelization (OFE) invited newlyweds to join them for the retreat at Wintergreen Resort, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The retreat was open to couples who have been married up to seven years. It included presentations, Mass, adoration, reconciliation, and time for reflection and bonding.
“Statistically, the first seven years of a marriage is a watershed time in a couple’s relationship – a time when they are figuring things out as a couple. It can be very challenging,” said Dan Harms, OFE’s associate director for marriage, family, and life.
A diverse group of 14 couples traveled to Wintergreen for the weekend – ten from across the diocese, three from the Diocese of Arlington, and one from New Jersey. The ten couples from within the diocese were from ten different parishes.
Two of the couples had been married less than a year. The couples’ ages ranged from 18-50. Nine people in the group were between 31-35 years old. Eight were in the 18-25 bracket. Three were between 41 and 50 years old.
Adams and her husband, Quinn, parishioners at St. Benedict, Richmond, have been married seven years and brought along their eight-month-old baby.
“We’re at the end of our seventh year and thought this would be our last chance to go, and we’re so glad we did. It was a great experience,” Adams said. “We can go to other retreats, but they won’t have the marriage component.”
The keynote speakers were husband-wife team Geoff and Bethany Gasperini, who use their own marriage as their ministry, sharing their insight to help other couples.
“There were so many great things they shared with us in terms of expectations and how to actively demonstrate love,” said Adams.
She shared that spouses need to be “diligent, not lazy” in how they interact. “It takes a lot of intentional thought when you’re having a conversation or an argument – to be loving in how you react. In the beginning of our relationship, especially before we were married, we were more intentional and thoughtful in the way we treated each other. Over the years, you can get comfortable with each other and it gets easy to not do that,” she admitted.
Father Michael Boehling, the diocese’s vicar general, served as chaplain over the weekend – celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and being present to the couples during the talks and breakout sessions.
“When you serve the bishop as vicar general, most of what we do is oversee things like big initiatives and major programs. For me personally as a priest, it was humbling to be with married couples, to accompany them, to hear about their lives,” said Father Boehling. “The weekend was beautiful, it was spiritually uplifting, and gave me a lot of hope.”
Harms talked about four saintly couples: Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus; Sts. Priscilla and Aquila, who ministered alongside St. Paul; Venerable Pierre Toussaint and Servant of God Juliette Toussaint, who bought freedom for many slaves and are credited with helping start Catholic Charities, NY; and Sts. Zélie and Louis Martin – five of their nine children entered religious life, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Those saintly couples all demonstrated mission within marriage. “You can’t have the sacrament of marriage – and you can’t help your spouse get to heaven – without God,” Father Boehling said.
“The Church is here to love them, nurture them, and point to where grace can help empower them. For many couples, they think they have to do it all themselves. But through grace in the sacraments, God is there to accompany them and help them,” Harms explained.
“There are profound stressors and pressures on young adults – and that’s just for them as individuals. It multiplies when you’re married,” said the vicar general.
“The best way to stay in sync is ‘First pray, then play,’” Father Boehling added.
Adams echoed that sentiment: “Have a life of prayer first, then build that foundation as a couple.”
Harms said an easy first step for couples who want to strengthen their marriage is for them to go to their parish. He noted that parishes have tools, such as the Prepare/Enrich program, which is normally thought of as a program for engaged couples, but can also aid couples who are already married.
Editor’s note: Visit the Office for Evangelization for more marriage resources.