Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The good, the bad and the not so restful weekend

This past weekend, Heather and I attended the Catholic Engaged Encounter Weekend retreat as per instruction from the priest that is going to marry us. At first, I was very skeptical. I don't know exactly what I thought it would be. Suffice it to say that my vision of it was more like a dimly-lit room, a blackboard with "Marriage: It's a sacrament" scrawled on it, a few couples with name tags on sitting in a circle, a coffee machine percolating away on a beat up folding table in a corner and a priest pacing back and forth as he told us what marriage should mean to us.

This was not what this weekend was about. This weekend was about so much more than I ever could have realized. The situation I described above is so off-base that I should be committed for thinking such dreary thoughts.  I should probably be committed anyway, but more on that in another post. On with the information.

The retreat ran from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. It was at Savior of the World seminary in Wyandotte County (over by the Speedway). There were no priests there. There were three couples running the weekend. The first couple was married for one year. They didn't present any of the sections as they were mostly there in a support capacity. The second couple had been married for eight years and had two children. The third couple had been married for 41 years and had children and grandchildren. The two couples with the most marriage experience led the topic discussions.

There were about 70 couples there on the retreat. Some were young and a few were older, but most were around there mid-to-late twenties and early thirties.

Men and women are separated into dormitories. Everybody has a roommate. I stayed with Heather's roommate's fiancé.

The retreat starts immediately after check-in. All couples report to the discussion area where the two lead couples sit on a raised platform at the front of the room. The cadence of the sections is as follows: ~20 minutes presentation, ~20 minutes personal reflection where you write your thoughts in a notebook away from your fiancé and then ~20 minutes for you and your fiancé to trade notebooks in private and discuss what you wrote. Couples are encouraged to be honest. After all, that is what marriage should be about. Right?

The first night, there are three sections. The topics were an introduction to the weekend and two sections on your personal view of yourself and your fiancé. We started at 8 and ended at 11. We were told we would be woke up the next morning at 6:45, so we all retired pretty early.

Chapter 3
True to their word from the previous night, they woke us up to the clattering of the bell that they used to signal the end of private discussion time. Man, is that bell deceptively loud! I should get an alarm clock with that bell on it. Wait. No. That would be an extremely bad idea for my walls.

Sections started after breakfast. The curriculum for the morning included three sections on communication and one on the couple being one with each other and God. Lunch came next and then after that, you got it, more sections! These were the awkward sections for some of us. The intimacy talk came up (physical, sexual, emotional and otherwise) as well as morality, decision making and Natural Family Planning. The intimacy section would not have been as awkward, I think, if the older couple had not used so many slang terms. The section about NFP was very short and heart-wrenching as the couple presenting the section could not conceive but desperately wanted a family and blamed the pill for their inability to do so. Tough stuff.

After we ate supper, we had one more section, a QA section full of questions that the couples had written and a prayer service featuring one of the most beautiful prayers I think that I have every prayed. After the service, most people went to be while some stayed up to finish the questions that didn't get answered before the prayer service. For those of you still reading, bless you. Saturday was a long day. How long? Well, I was up at 6:45 and went to bed at around 2:15. INTENSE!

Chapter 8
Sunday morning came early with the bell ringing at 7. We ate breakfast and got started on the last five or six sessions. Some of these sessions broke rank and lasted 30 minutes and some lasted an hour and a half. The most important one was the Betrothal section. In this section, you get to write a love letter to your partner and express to them what they mean to them after experiencing this weekend with them. I think that our letters to each other are so beautiful and well-written that we will be reading them at our wedding. We cried when reading them to each other. It was truly and wonderful experience. To button up the weekend, there was a mass and then a graduation ceremony. Heather got to practice walking across the stage... er, church to get a diploma... er, certificate of completion. I think KU's graduation might be a little different.

I will say that throughout the weekend, Heather and I learned a lot about what marriage is in the Catholic church, we hardened what it means in our hearts and minds and we have a better focus on our future together. We learned about what it means to be life-giving in our marriage and what that means on so many levels. Also, we learned how to make a budget. That alone is worth the price of admission. I joke!

It is not all easy stuff though. Since Heather and I communicate rather effectively (amazingly so), we found the sections easy to navigate. For others, it was considerably harder, and some couples did not make it through the weekend.

We hope all is well with you and yours, and that this post finds you happy and healthy.

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