When Geoff and Katie Wester were preparing for marriage, they found an Engaged Encounter Weekend so fulfilling that they wanted to make that kind of enrichment a permanent part of their marriage.
They married in 2013, and the following year attended a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. Through that, the Westers, members of St. Paul Parish in St. Paul, were connected to a community of married couples, with whom they have maintained contact over the years through monthly meetings.
“Everyday life is a part of every meeting,” Geoff Wester said of the community. “For us, there is a big focus on bringing Jesus closer to us in our marriage and making Him the center.”
Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a faith-based, pro-marriage movement in the world, dates back to the early 1950s, when Spanish priest Father Gabriel Calvo offered a series of conferences for married couples. The focus was on the development of an open and honest relationship and learning to live out a sacramental relationship in service to others. Worldwide Marriage Encounter exists in 90 countries, and it debuted in the United States in 1968. The first weekend retreat in the Archdiocese of St. Louis was held in 1972.
The Marriage Encounter weekend is based on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and is designed to help husbands and wives strengthen their listening and communication skills. While the weekend is Catholic in its approach, it is open to all married couples. The concept of marriage as a sacrament also is strongly promoted.
The Westers, both in their mid-30s, are one of the younger couples in their group. They have appreciated the wisdom and perspectives of longer-married couples and likewise enjoy sharing ideas on topics such as communication, parenthood and work. Scripture is a part of every discussion, too.
“I personally love the wisdom that we have gained,” Katie Wester said. “How often do you get to talk to other couples about life and intimate relationships? It’s a beautiful thing, every time.”
Father Robert “Rosy” Rosebrough a chaplain with Worldwide Marriage Encounter since 1973. He said that marriage is the cell that affects the “whole mission,” including the family and parish community. Now retired, he remains involved with Encounter weekends.
“The Father and the Spirit expressed their love made flesh in Jesus, and Jesus has chosen to reveal the depth of that intimacy in your marriage to your beloved spouse,” Father Rosebrough said in a previous talk on marriage. “Your love and expression of that love with each other and others is His presence in our midst, so that we might taste, touch and be washed in the cascading abundance of His goodness that we — who are affected by your living that sacrament — will want to draw closer to His joy and glory.”
The Westers have said ongoing marriage enrichment has boosted their communication with one another — which is especially important now with four children ages one through 6. The two write letters to one another as part of their dialogue, which is “putting the romance to reality” Katie Wester said.
“We’ve learned through this that God wants us to put Him first, then our marriage, then the kids,” Katie Wester said. “This puts it back into perspective and see that when we put God first, that trickles down to everything else.”
World Marriage Day
World Marriage Day, celebrated on the second Sunday of February, honors the husband and wife as the foundation of the family — the basic unit of society. It salutes the beauty of their faithfulness, sacrifice and joy in daily married life.
World Marriage Day began in 1981 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when a group of couples and priests convinced the mayor, governor and bishop to proclaim Valentine’s Day as “We Believe in Marriage Day.” This idea was adopted by Worldwide Marriage Encounter in 1982. In 1983, the name was changed to World Marriage Day. It is celebrated in many ways throughout the movement.
World Marriage Day prayer
Father, as we prepare for World Marriage Day, we thank you for your tremendous gift of the Sacrament of Marriage. Help us to witness to its glory by a life of growing intimacy. Teach us the beauty of forgiveness so we may become more and more One in Heart, Mind, and Body. Strengthen our dialogue and help us become living signs of your love. Make us grow more in love with the Church so we may renew the Body of Christ. Make us a sign of unity in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Brother. Amen. — Father Bill Dilgen, S.M.M.
Marriage enrichment resources from the Office of Marriage and Family Life www.archstl.org/marriage-family-life/for-marriage/marriage-enrichment
Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekends
Several Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekends will take place in 2021 at the Courtyard Marriott in St. Peters. Dates are April 23-25, Aug. 6-8, Sept. 24-26, Dec. 3-5.
For more information, see stl-wwme.org.
>> ‘The Deal’ author: Keep fighting for your marriage
“The Deal,” by Chuck Neff, tells the story of a man who wants out of his once-happy marriage. The novel is intended to entertain as well as encourage and inspired married couples to keep working at their marriage and let them know they’re OK. “I’m so convinced by the power of and beauty of the sacrament of marriage,” Neff said. “Married couples need to be reminded of who they are and why they are so important to the Church and the world, especially today.”
Neff urges couples to “keep God in the relationship. Praying with one another, for one another, just solidifies the foundation of who the family is in the world. We need to be witnesses to the world, certainly we do that as a married couple in the way we love one another, walk with one another and pray with one another.”
“The Deal” is published through St. Louis-based Mater Media, Neff is a veteran broadcast journalist and hosts The Inner Life on Relevant Radio, a national Catholic radio network. He and his wife, Judy, have worked with engaged couples, were a presenting couple for Marriage Encounter for nine years and helped start Retrouvaille, a weekend for couples struggling in their marriage
For information, visit www.matermedia.org/chuck-neff.
— Joseph Kenny