July 20, 2018

Inspiring choice for a wedding ‘can change the world’

Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, poses for a photo with Amanda and Craig Schebler after presiding at their wedding at the parish church on July 8, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Soul Creations Photography)

Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, poses for a photo with Amanda and Craig Schebler after presiding at their wedding at the parish church on July 8, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Soul Creations Photography)

By John Shaughnessy

Father Rick Nagel smiles as he talks about weddings, including the dramatic change he’s seen involving marriage ceremonies at one of the most beautiful churches in central and southern Indiana.

For years, non-parishioners filled up the schedule for weddings at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis, lured by the grandeur and beauty of the historic church and its closeness to reception sites in the heart of the city.

“Now, the majority of our weddings are for our own parishioners,” says Father Nagel, the pastor of St. John, a parish that has placed a great emphasis on welcoming young adults and college students in the past decade. “It’s been very consistent over the past five to seven years.”

This year, the St. John staff is helping with 59 weddings, with 35 of them involving parishioners getting married at the parish church, 17 involving non‑parishioners, and another seven marriages involving parishioners who are getting married in other churches in their home parishes.

Still, Father Nagel says his true joy about all these weddings is that the young couples are choosing to be married in the Church, which is far from a given in today’s society.

“In the midst of a secular culture that doesn’t raise up marriage and family life as a highest value, it inspires me to know that these couples not only are choosing to get married in the Church but to live Catholic,” he says. “It also gives me a lot of hope in a day when we hear all the statistics of divorce or we hear of people who don’t get married.”

Father Nagel makes a point of always thanking the couples “for getting married sacramentally in the Church.”

“To receive God’s blessing in the Church is very beautiful. As we do the marriage prep with the couples, we’ve learned that the vast majority are choosing this for themselves, and not just because of mom and dad or grandmom. They’re choosing it because they believe it’s paramount for their futures.”

Father Nagel believes the parish’s emphasis on welcoming young adults and college students has contributed to many of these couples meeting each other and then wanting to get married in the Church.

“I’m not typically a matchmaker,” Father Nagel says, breaking into another smile. “But I do feel we’re very blessed to offer a fertile ground for young adults to make friendships and get to know each other. I can’t tell you the number of couples who met at a social here.”

Forming a foundation of faith

Yet the main focus is on helping people develop a deeper relationship with God, he says. And that emphasis continues for engaged couples as the parish provides—and insists upon—a strong marriage preparation program for them.

“We require the ‘One in Christ’ retreat,” he says. “It’s over two weekends, and it’s very thorough with the theology of marriage, the covenant and some ‘Theology of the Body.’ During the retreat, the couple is always breaking off with questions that are being presented. So they have some time to talk. And during the week in-between, there’s some homework to do together.”

The second weekend of the retreat, which occurs on Saturday only, includes a focus on an aspect of the Catholic faith that most engaged couples haven’t considered: natural family planning.

“What we find is that it isn’t on the radar for the vast majority of couples,” Father Nagel says. “When they learn about it, they think it’s great. Requiring the classes provides the knowledge, and then they can make the choice.”

There are also meetings with parish staff about planning the liturgy for the wedding.

“We emphasize that the most important thing on that day will be the sacrament,” Father Nagel says. “They also make choices about readings for the wedding. That’s powerful too because they’re reading a lot, and they’re going through the word.”

A relationship that can change the world

The couple also is given a testing tool that reveals the gifts each person will bring to the marriage, and opportunities for growth.

Then there are meetings with either Father Nagel or Deacon David Bartolowits, who presides at most of the weddings at St. John that don’t involve the Eucharist.

“In our meetings with them, we ask, ‘How did you meet? What do you love about each other? What do you struggle with [about] the Church? What do you love most about the Church?’ ” Father Nagel says. “We also ask them about the last time they’ve been to confession and whether they are cohabitating.”

If there’s a situation where the couple is living outside the teachings of the Church, Father Nagel talks to them about making a commitment to change that reality—in the belief that as long as someone is moving in the direction that God wants them to follow, God will honor that effort.

It all fits within the overall commitment that a married couple makes to each other and to God, Father Nagel notes.

“We know from the grace of the sacrament that couples married sacramentally in the Church can change the world. It sets them on a firm foundation. When they start on that firm foundation, they’re more likely to continue that for a lifetime.

“One of the missions of marriage is to help each other get to heaven, and to use that as a filter for your life together and for your family. When you do, it changes everything.”

(The semi-annual marriage supplement of The Criterion will run in the July 27 issue, featuring stories on marriage preparation, plus photos and information on couples from the archdiocese who have been married in the Church in the past year—or will soon be married in the Church.)


Related story: ‘A team of three’: Young couple finds their love and faith in God form a life-changing combination

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