A total of 17 young adult married couples from 11 parishes across the diocese attended “Behold: Our Souls Proclaim the Greatness,” a day of reflection for married couples up to age 35.
Co-sponsored by the Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry and the Office of Marriage and Natural Family Planning, the retreat was March 25 at St. Francis Retreat House, Easton.
Seven attending couples represented Northampton County parishes, four couples were present from Berks County, and two couples attended from Lehigh County. Also attending were two couples from the Diocese of Harrisburg, and one from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The theme of the day focused on the Annunciation, encouraging couples to reflect on the marriage between Mary and Joseph, and how each of them could relate to the joys and challenges experienced by the Holy Family.
Spiritual director was Father Herbert Sperger, director of spiritual formation for the college division at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia.
Facilitating the retreat were Alexa Doncsecz, assistant coordinator of the Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry, and Robert Olney, director of the Office of Marriage and Natural Family Planning.
“Mary and Joseph are very much like ourselves,” Sperger told the group during his first talk of the morning.
“We put the saints on a pedestal, and certainly they had special graces, but like us they had successes and failures, good times and bad times, joys and sorrows. They struggled with relationships, with making the right choices, with being tired or frustrated, and with their own hopes and dreams.”
As couples reflected on the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary in the context of her betrothal to Joseph, Sperger prompted couples to think about their own seasons of engagement to their spouses.
“Where were you in your life when you were preparing for marriage with your spouse? How old were you? Where were you living? Were you working or were you a student? What was your relationship like with your family, with your friends, and with God?
“It’s important to remember that Mary and Joseph were excited, in love, and were planning their future together.”
Sperger placed special emphasis on the strong relationship both Mary and Joseph had with God that allowed them to hear his voice and respond appropriately.
“The Annunciation sometimes seems like God came crashing into Mary’s life. But God was very gentle. He does not force her, rather he asks and invites her to choose and then asks for a response. Mary’s ‘yes,’ as well as our own ‘yes’ in each of our vocations, are not only about what God is doing, but also about what Mary was doing and what each of us are doing.”
Father Sperger spoke about how it is important for couples to be open and receptive to God so they can receive direction in their marriage and family. He related this to the dream Joseph received after he considered divorcing Mary.
“The fact that Joseph was capable of receiving a dream as communication from God, that he interprets that dream correctly, and that he was ready to act on the dream, indicate that Joseph was open to God and was a man of faith,” he said.
“Joseph’s dream was not the end of the story,” Father Sperger reminded the couples. “How would they go forward? How would they handle people’s reactions to their situation? How would they go about raising the son of God? And, likewise, what challenges have you faced that have provided opportunities for growth in your marriage?”
Ultimately, Father Sperger highlighted for the couples what their marriages mean in the life of the church and in the context of the faith.
“The first thing the church believes about the Sacrament of Marriage is that by loving one another you are loving and being loved by God. Your yes to one another in the vocation of marriage is a yes to God, which is relatable to Mary’s yes at the Annunciation.”
The retreat provided opportunities for couples to get to know each other, including a “Bethlehem Walk,” where couples were sent off in pairs to spend an hour walking the friary grounds and talking with one another.
The day also included four talks by Father Sperger, adoration, confession, lunch and Mass. Onsite childcare was available as needed.
One young woman noted how the retreat affected her view of the sacrament of reconciliation.
“It wasn’t until we dove more into the concept of penance, asking God for the forgiveness of your sins, that I realized that there is a huge component of self-compassion,” said Katie Brague, parishioner of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem.
“Just as God forgives us, we must also forgive ourselves. Penance is a true practice in striking the balance between humility and pride, while atoning and forgiving sin.”
Joey Moser of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Bethlehem reflected on how the day helped spouses connect with each other, while simultaneously fostering community among young married couples.
“The retreat allowed not only for my husband and I to draw deeper into a holy marriage, but also to meet other couples who are in the same part of their journey,” said Moser. “Having a young family can be isolating at times, so the opportunity for fellowship was truly a blessing.”
“You need to be each other’s biggest fan and staunchest critic,” Father Sperger told the couples during his final keynote. “And it’s important to be prepared to receive criticism before giving it. Be the first to praise and the first to invite feedback. Be generous in giving credit, but stingy in assigning blame.”
Finally, he reminded the couples, “Christ is with you as an individual, as a couple and as a family. He is with you wherever you may be, through whatever may be happening, wherever you are in your life.”