Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

From Bishop Daly
Engaged Encounter: a much-needed gift for young couples

by Bishop Thomas Daly

(From the June 16, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

On that snowy Saturday back in January, several hundred men, women and children braved the cold to prayerfully participate in the first annual Spokane Walk for Life. Along the route, a man introduced himself to me: “Bishop, I am Ric Gaunt.” He proudly mentioned his parish and how he and his wife were very involved in Engaged Encounter. “I hope you can come for dinner and meet her. We want to tell you about this important ministry.”

I was already familiar with Engaged Encounter. Prior to my appointment as bishop, I helped on the retreats. Directed by two married couples and assisted by a priest, it is a weekend retreat away with other engaged couples, with time alone to together to discuss their prospective lives together. This vital ministry helps those preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony to understand that “A wedding is a day, a marriage is a lifetime.”

Sometime after Easter, Father Pat Kerst arranged the dinner. Along with Father Jeff Lewis – both priests help on the retreats – we had a great evening with Ric and Cindy Gaunt. Reflecting on their experiences as leaders over the years, they shared their wisdom, thoughts and experiences of marriage preparation.

Although the young men and women getting married today face obstacles virtually unknown even 20 years ago, there was no doubt that Engaged Encounter is a much-needed gift for young couples. It is also a true blessing and source of hope for those who have the privilege to guide the young as they desire the grace of the sacrament of marriage.

Sadly, in our own Diocese of Spokane, as well as many others in our country, there are fewer Catholic weddings than in past years. Reasons offered include the high cost, the push by wedding coordinators (and often brides) for the “all-inclusive” wedding and reception at some outdoor destination, and the fear of commitment of young people to pledge their love “for the rest of their lives.” Although a bishop, I still witness marriages, most of them those of former students. But I, too, have noticed the drop-off in those desiring a sacramental marriage. And this is not just an issue for the Catholic Church in the United States. It is a worldwide problem.

Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), addresses the many challenges families face today. With tremendous compassion, honesty, and insight, the Holy Father takes from the two Synods, held in October of 2014 and 2015, and reports, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the Church.” In nine chapters, a variety of questions are raised and points of reflections are offered.

In the introduction, Pope Francis even helps the reader by offering this advice: “It is likely, for example, that married couples will be more concerned with Chapters Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight.”

It is in Chapter Six that the letter reiterates the vital ministry of Engaged Encounter: “The Synod Fathers stated in a number of ways that we need to help young people discover the dignity and beauty of marriage (205). ... The complexity of today’s society and the challenges faced by the family require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those who are about to be married ... (206) Marriage preparation should be a kind of “initiation” to the Sacrament of Matrimony, providing couples with the help they need to receive the sacrament worthily and to make a solid beginning of life as a family. (207) Another great challenge of marriage preparation is to help couples realize that marriage is not something that happens once for all. (218) This process occurs in various stages that call for generosity and sacrifice.” (220)

For those men and women who will be married during the summer months, and for those who accompany them throughout their preparation, the Holy Father’s final words offer hope and consolation: “May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.” (325) Let us pray for them. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. Amen.

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