By John Prust
SAN DIEGO — Love is in the air in February! Just like Lent is an annual opportunity for all Catholics to assess our relationship with Christ and how we can do better, February is the perfect time for married couples to assess the quality of their relationship, with all its inherent joys and challenges.
Each year, priests have the opportunity to renew their commitment to the priesthood at the Chrism Mass, traditionally held on Holy Thursday. To provide those who received the other sacrament of vocation with a similar opportunity for renewal, three years ago the diocese started hosting an annual yearly Diocesan Marriage Anniversary Mass.
The first one took place outdoors at Good Shepherd Parish, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan, and almost 500 people showed up in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic to renew their vows and celebrate marriage.
This year’s Mass will take place in the South Bay, at Corpus Christi Parish, on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. All married couples are invited to renew their commitment (in one of three languages) and stay for the reception, which hopefully will remind them of their own wedding celebration. Couples celebrating a special anniversary or jubilee — 20, 40, 50, or even 60 years of marriage — are especially invited.
Every year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops observes Feb. 7 to 14 as National Marriage Week, an opportunity to focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and family.
This year’s theme is “Marriage … one flesh, given and received.” According to the USCCB, it “highlights the one-flesh union of husband and wife that is willed by God. It also indicates the personal self-gift of each spouse, one to the other. These concepts point to Christ who gives Himself under the appearance of bread and wine — as real flesh and blood.”
Additional opportunities for renewal this month include our ”Building a Better Marriage” enrichment series, held on consecutive Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. (Jan. 11 to Feb. 15) at the diocesan Pastoral Center in English and on consecutive Thursday evenings (Feb. 9 to March 9) in Spanish. All are welcome and there is no cost to attend. The series will explore themes such as healthy communication, cultivating the virtues, personality styles/love languages, and rebuilding trust. Speakers are mainly Catholic marriage and family therapists in San Diego.
It’s also important to note opportunities for growth and renewal that aren’t just in February, but year-round. Worldwide Marriage Encounter (wwme-sandiego.org) is an incredible ministry that hosts weekend marriage retreats throughout the year focused on building healthy and holy communication between husband and wife. In addition, the Office for Family Life and Spirituality maintains a network of Catholic therapists, many of whom specialize in working with couples.
Marriage therapy isn’t just for couples who are “struggling.” Dr. Lee Williams, director of the Marital and Family Therapy program at the University of San Diego, compares couples therapy to car maintenance. Just like you wouldn’t want to wait until your car broke down in the middle of the road to do necessary repairs, why would you wait until a major disaster to work on your marriage? Changing the oil, filling the tires, replacing air filters are all part of standard auto maintenance. As a couple, what is your standard relationship maintenance? What do you do every week or month to strengthen your relationship? What do you do every five years or 10 years?
At the same time, couples that are struggling also have plenty of resources, one of which is attending a local Retrouvaille weekend (helpourmarriage-sandiego.org), which has helped couples through the years save their marriages and put them on a path towards renewal.
Couples are encouraged to visit the Marriage Enrichment landing page (sdcatholic.org/marriage) to explore a variety of resources that they can use on their own to strengthen their marriage.
Many parishes also host events in February and throughout the year, such as date nights, marriage enrichment talks, and faith-sharing small groups, such as CFM (cfm.org).
No matter how long you’ve been married or how you would describe the state of your relationship, this month presents many opportunities to take stock of your marriage and discern where and how you are called to grow. The simple decision to do something — anything — to strengthen your marriage is in itself an act of love, a reminder to your spouse of how much he or she matters to you.
John Prust is the director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.