As a married deacon serving within and outside the church walls, Deacon Dan Huber is encountering more people who are struggling in their marriages. The pandemic did not cause their struggles but exacerbated underlying problems, says Deacon Huber, pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport who also oversees the Food Pantry at The Center. “For the most part, the vast majority of couples who dissolve their marriages are both good people who have made hurtful choices in their unions and they just haven’t had the ability to get over those hurts. They didn’t go into marriage planning on divorce.”
Perhaps they moved Christ out of their marriage or never invited him in. When couples invite Christ into the center of their marriages, he “dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen.” With Christ at the center, couples have the capacity “to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.’” With Christ at the center, couples are able “to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love” (CCC, No. 1642).
The essential role of Christ in marriage provides the solid foundation for National Marriage Week (Feb. 7-14) and World Marriage Day (Feb. 12). Both observances “focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family. This year’s theme, ‘Marriage … one flesh, given and received,’ highlights the one-flesh union of husband and wife that is willed by God.” Both spouses are a self-gift to the other, pointing to “Christ who gives himself under the appearance of bread and wine — as real flesh and blood” (https://tinyurl.com/4rujymzs).
An At Home Marriage Retreat created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for National Marriage Week offers excellent insights, soul-searching questions and a prayer to conclude each day’s retreat. A theme, or “habit,” recognizes the lived experiences of Catholic spouses and aims to strengthen their marital union and their union with Christ in the Eucharist.
The retreat’s emphasis on the Eucharist reflects the U.S. Catholic Church’s focus on Eucharistic Revival. Both sacraments, matrimony and the Eucharist, “require sacrifice of oneself out of love for another: the life of Christ in the Eucharist and the lives of the spouses on this journey to heaven. In both, there is a sacrificial giving of our bodies so that ‘life can come from it.’” Married couples, whether married six weeks or 60 years, should make time (the first of the habits) for this daily retreat (https://tinyurl.com/4khub2ej). The growth opportunities are worth every minute.
Other marriage enrichment and strengthening opportunities:
• The Marriage Course is an Alpha retreat/program that Sacred Heart Cathedral will offer Thursday evenings from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 23-April 20 (with a two-week break). Each evening begins with a meal, followed by a video presentation. Couples have time to reflect privately with their spouse on topics presented in the video. Cost is $30 for couples’ books. Call the cathedral office (563) 324-3257 for more information and registration.
• Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Weekend experiences offer couples the opportunity to strengthen their relationship with God and each other. The next experiences are April 22-24 in Epworth, Iowa and Sept. 22-24 in Dubuque, Iowa. Call (563) 920-9419 for more information or sign up at wwme.org.
• For Your Marriage website provides educational and spiritual resources to help “couples at all stages of life to understand and live God’s plan for happy, holy marriages”
• Together for Life. This online resource provides information about Catholic weddings, marriage preparation, enrichment, ministers, articles and more (togetherforlifeonline.com).
• Marriage: Unique for a Reason. A website for priests, deacons, catechists or teachers to help educate Catholics on why marriage is unique and should be promoted
Married couples who are experiencing difficulties may need other resources. Here are some the Diocese of Davenport recommends:
• For Your Marriage, support for troubled marriages (https://tinyurl.com/2p9dx7jh).
• For Your Marriage, overcoming obstacles (https://tinyurl.com/24fyxxd2).
• For Better & Forever (https://tinyurl.com/2p8exc6c).
• Covenant of Love Marriage Mentor Ministry. Trained marriage mentors work with couples having trouble in their marriage to live a Christ-centered, joy-filled marriage (https://tinyurl.com/mr2hn239).
• Retrouvaille. This program focuses on communication in marriage. Visit http://retrouvaille.org/ or call (800) 470-2230.
• Pastoral Tele-Counseling Services. The Pastoral Solutions Institute provides Catholic-integrated counseling services via the telephone to couples, families and individuals. Phone: (740) 266-6461 or visit (https://catholiccounselors.com/).
“It doesn’t matter what marriage retreat or program a couple chooses to participate in,” Deacon Huber said. “If they are committed to the process, it will foster growth in their relationship. They’ll get more meaningful growth and a lasting relationship if Christ is at the center of that marriage.”
Deacon Huber raises a question for all of us — single, married, widowed or divorced — to consider, “How can we be light in a culture that is placing more darkness in marriage? How can we as a community make that effort to be the light?”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor