By Natalie Hoefer, Criterion
When it comes to weddings, there are dresses to choose, flowers to order, invitations to send out, a reception hall to book … who has time for marriage prep?
Considering that a couple is not entering into a contract with options to renege, but rather into a lifelong covenant intended to help each other get to heaven, the question should rather be, “Who doesn’t have time for marriage prep?”
Among the marriage preparation programs offered in the archdiocese, “One in Christ” (OIC) is the newest.
With its emphasis on catechesis, presentations by young couples and an extensive look at Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the procreative element of marriage, the program has already changed many hearts about the true nature of marriage.
While there were already many marriage preparation programs in existence in his archdiocese, Father Thomas Aschenbrener of the Archdiocese of Chicago felt compelled to create a new one with a more catechetical approach.
“I knew young adults were entering marriage uncatechized, not practicing their faith. Our culture says children are bad, expensive, a burden, and that with contraception you can control your life and family life,” he says. “They weren’t aware of Church teaching—that marriage is faithful, fruitful and forever.”
Then-vicar general of the archdiocese of Indianapolis Msgr. Joseph Schaedel knew Father Aschenbrener and asked to see the program when it was completed.
“I was very impressed. It’s very thorough and complete. It pulls no punches about the truth, but in a very pastoral way,” says Msgr. Schaedel, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “It presents the authentic teaching of the Church on Christian marriage.”
He also appreciates that the program is led by young married couples who sign an oath of fidelity to the magisterium—the teachings of the Church.
The program was implemented in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in the fall of 2010.
The OIC program takes place over the course of three weekend days. The first Saturday of the OIC program begins by exploring the true nature of marriage as God intended and as Scripture reveals; the covenantal theology of marriage; the sacramental aspects of marriage and how the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation nourish the sacrament of marriage.
The focus then shifts to communication and finance in marriage in general, and also the role faith plays in both. Each session involves questions, a video and time for couples to discuss in private.
“It really is a step-process program,” says Mark Overholt, who coordinates the program in Indianapolis with his wife, Michelle. “Couples have to understand the role of God in their marriage and the vision of God for their marriage. Only in light of that can you then look at practical tools for marriage, like communication and finances.”
With those foundations laid, the remainder of the program—Sunday and the following Saturday—delves into the unitive and procreative ends of marriage.
“We don’t shy away from the controversial topics. We talk about pornography, cohabitation, contraception and infertility,” says Michelle, who with her husband is a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.
During the week between sessions, couples read articles on contraception, infertility, chastity and Church teaching on these topics.
On the second Saturday, medical professionals from The Kolbe Center, Inc. in Indianapolis, make a presentation to the couples on health perspectives of natural family planning, contraception and moral ways to cope with and treat infertility.
“When they hear about NFP, they can pull all the things together they learned from the previous weekend about God, communication and finance,” says Tim Hill, who presents with his wife, Mandy.
“They can see how all those things come together, and how you’re talking about them at least once a month with NFP as you decide whether to postpone pregnancy or not,” says Tim, who along with his wife is a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “It makes the communication in your marriage so much better.”
The day concludes with an explanatory Mass—a full Mass in which the priest stops frequently to explain the order, actions and symbols of the Mass. (Related: New ‘One in Christ’ renewal program for married couples to be offered this fall)
Once the couples have completed the sessions, they then enroll in and complete a NFP course.
“NFP is not the same as the rhythm method that our mothers and grandmothers used,” says Dr. Melanie Margiotta, founder of The Kolbe Center, Inc. “In addition to using NFP to postpone or achieve pregnancy, it is also a way for couples to grow in holiness together and to learn more about their bodies for preventative health care.”
Ann and Mike Green, members of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in Zionsville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, have been teaching NFP classes for 13 years and coordinate classes for the Indianapolis chapter of the Couple to Couple League. They are thrilled with the results they see from the “One in Christ” program.
“There is such a difference between the OIC couples who take NFP classes versus those the priest just told to take [the class]. They are so much more excited because they’ve been catechized and understand the ‘why’ behind NFP,” says Ann.
“They really do get the education of the faith in OIC,” Mike adds. “That and NFP are such a big part of living a Catholic marriage. It just works perfect with marriage prep. It changes lives.”
Ashley Wells can attest to how OIC changes lives. The member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis says she wouldn’t be Catholic today were it not for the OIC marriage prep program.
Ashley was a Methodist when she and her then-fiancé, Andrew, signed up for OIC at their parish.
“I thought it was going to be a lot of Catholic knowledge being shoved down my throat. I was surprised,” she says. “After the first night I came home, and it gave me so much to think about.
“They talked about birth control and other things that are hard to talk about. No one talked to me before about why Catholics have the views they do on certain subjects. The more I learned and prayed about it, I felt the Church was where I belonged,” says Ashley. “I decided to go through RCIA and became Catholic last year at Easter. OIC really changed my life.”
It actually changed both of their lives—and added a new life to the world. After learning more about NFP, Ashley and Andrew decided to open themselves to God’s gift of children early in their marriage. They were married on July 2, 2011, and now have a 1-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Amy Butz and her fiancé, Peter Blackett, had a similar experience when Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, requested they complete the OIC program.
“We were like, ‘Three weekend days out of our lives?’ It was just one more thing to check off the list of a million things to do,” says Butz.
But like Ashley, she walked away from the program with a new perspective.
“I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment when I heard that within the marriage sacrament, it becomes your job to get your spouse to heaven. Never in a million years had I thought about that.”
The post-session evaluations speak volumes about the program’s efficacy, says administrator Michelle.
“We see the same comments over and over, that now they know the ‘why’s’ of Church teaching on covenants, contraception, NFP, in vitro fertilization, etc., and how that has changed their perspective on marriage and fertility and birth control.”
One couple who recently completed the OIC program commented that, “We never thought about the fact that there are three in marriage, even in intimacy, and that God uses the bride and bridegroom as a main expression of his covenant. It’s really humbling to be held at that level. It made us realize that this is a real vocation we’re taking on.”
In light of such a statement, Father Aschenbrener’s program seems to be on its way to achieving the goal he felt God was calling him to strive toward with the creation of the OIC program:
“If we have holy couples, we’re going to have holy families, which means we’ll have holy vocations. And if we have holy families and vocations, we’ll have a holy society, and that’s the whole meaning of Gospel.”