July 17, 2009

Fall Marriage Supplement

‘Love one another’: Tobit Weekend helps couples live God-centered marriage

Newlyweds Steven and Ruth Moll were married on June 27 at St. Rose Church in Knightstown. Her engagement and wedding rings and his wedding ring placed on a Bible symbolize their marital covenant with God. (Photo by Kelly Kimball/Ingalls Photography)

Newlyweds Steven and Ruth Moll were married on June 27 at St. Rose Church in Knightstown. Her engagement and wedding rings and his wedding ring placed on a Bible symbolize their marital covenant with God. (Photo by Kelly Kimball/Ingalls Photography)

By Mary Ann Wyand

“Love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12).

Christ’s instructions in the Gospel of John are a simple and straightforward lesson in how to live a happy and holy life.

But in the midst of oftentimes stressful and extremely busy daily living, it can be easy for individuals and married couples to forget those words of wisdom.

That’s why the Church requires engaged couples to participate in a marriage preparation program before exchanging vows in the sacrament of matrimony.

The Pre Cana Program, a one-day course sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Family Ministries, and the Tobit Weekend, a retreat presented by a priest and trained volunteer team of married couples, help engaged couples learn how to grow in love and holiness with God at the center of their marriage all the days of their lives together.

Both marriage preparation programs are offered at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House, the archdiocesan retreat center at 5353 E. 56th St. in Indianapolis.

Father Jim Farrell, Fatima’s director, and Cheryl McSweeney, program manager, invite married couples to help with this important volunteer ministry as Tobit team members.

“Tobit Weekend retreats are a wonderful opportunity for engaged couples to take a weekend away from the hectic schedules that many of them face as they are making preparations for the celebration of their marriage,” Father Farrell explained. “It’s an opportunity for them to focus on all the days that follow the wedding—the lifetime of marital commitment.”

Married couples on the Tobit teams candidly share their own marriage experiences, he said, to “offer engaged couples an inside view of marriage—the daily blessings and challenges of working out a relationship with your beloved spouse and what all is involved in that.”

Tobit presentations and discussions address a variety of relationship skills, including:

  • What does it mean to learn the art of communication with your spouse?
  • How do you move toward forgiveness in times of difficulty or disillusionment?
  • What are the marriage vows really about?

“It’s an opportunity to focus on the meaning of ‘for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,’ ” Father Farrell said. “We are blessed to have some couples in the archdiocese, who have been married anywhere from three to five years up to 35 or 40 years, that have been very committed to the Tobit ministry and give up a weekend to be a part of this experience in helping engaged couples prepare for the sacrament of marriage.”

Fatima staff members and Tobit volunteer team presenters are “always looking for additional couples who are willing to share the story of their love and their sacrament with engaged couples,” he said. “Many of the married couples who are involved in this ministry speak of the blessing it is for them to have a time to reflect on the meaning of their own commitment, what they have come to value in their marriage, how their sacrament has come to life, how they feel the power of the grace of the sacrament at work within their love, and how this makes all the difference day after day.”

For team couples, the Tobit ministry is “an opportunity to renew their own marriage even as they give the gift of their wisdom and experience,” he said, “and share their story with couples who are preparing for the sacrament.”

The late Franciscan Father Martin Wolter started the Tobit Weekend ministry during the 1980s at the former Alverna Retreat Center in Indianapolis.

Two married couples and a priest serve on the Tobit Weekend team, Father Farrell said. The priest presents a talk on the spirituality and sacramentality of marriage, and also celebrates an explanatory Mass in slow motion, a catechetical tool for young couples preparing for a Catholic or an interfaith marriage.

“The experience of being a priest on the Tobit Weekend is an opportunity to witness my own spousal relationship with the Church,” he said, “and also to benefit from hearing the witness, the stories, of the presenting couples. It’s always very enriching for me to hear about the couples who are living out their marriage in the Church, meeting various challenges, going through periods of disillusionment and sorrow, but then rising to new periods of joy and discovery in their love for each other. … It’s a real blessing.

“As I witness to the engaged couples,” he said, “I’m always encouraged by the couples who take this opportunity to enrich their love for each other and deepen their communication with each other.”

Cheryl McSweeney, Fatima’s program manager for five years, and her husband, Mark, are members of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, and have volunteered as Tobit Weekend presenters for 15 years. They have been married for 19 years and have three children.

“We believe so much in the [Tobit Weekend] message,” she said, “and know how crucial—even in our first few years of marriage—that information was for us.”

Tobit presentations focus on “the importance of communication with your spouse and with God,” she said, “sharing that conversation with God as a couple and what that will do for your marriage.”

Keeping God in the center of your marriage is the key to a lifetime of happiness together, McSweeney said. “In the ins and outs and challenges of daily life, … it’s knowing that not only do we have each other to lean on, we also have our faith in God.”

Tobit Weekend presentations are especially important for young couples who live far away from their families, she said, and don’t have the benefit of this support in their marriage.

“It’s a very personal ministry,” McSweeney said, because “presenting couples are sharing their whole life with engaged couples” to help prepare them for a loving, God-centered marriage.

Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners Larry and Emily Connolly of Indianapolis have been married for 42 years, and have three grown sons and three grandchildren. They have volunteered as presenters on the Tobit Weekend team for 12 years.

“At the retreat house, engaged couples have the ability to spend important one-on-one time communicating with each other,” Connolly said. “Emily and I believe that [helping with the Tobit program] has been a blessing to us. We have had a very good marriage, and it’s a gift from God. By working with engaged couples, if we can share anything that helps them along the road, it’s a matter of sharing that gift. … If you can help them realize how God is a part of their marriage, that’s a victory in itself.”

(For information about Tobit Weekends for engaged couples in 2009 and 2010 or to volunteer as a presenting couple, call Cheryl McSweeney at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis at 317-545-7681.)

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