Marriage as a sign of Christ’s love in the world

Parish retreat aims to equip couples to manifest their call to love in marriage, family

Roxanne King

As Christians, we are called to love — God first, then our neighbor. Jesus said the entire law and the prophets were summarized in that double directive called “the great commandment” (Mt 22:35-40).

“For married couples, our first neighbor is our spouse,” said Father Armando Marsal, a Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary priest and parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish in Littleton. “Couples are called to love through their marriages.… The greatest need of society is for couples whose marriages really are a sign of the sharing of the love of Jesus.”

To help married couples deepen their love for God and for each other, St. Mary’s is offering a commuter retreat titled “Called to Love” Nov. 9-11 at the parish. It starts Friday evening and has all-day sessions on Saturday and Sunday. It is open to any married couple, regardless of age or years of marriage.

“Marriage is the place where one learns to love, to give your life to another person,” Father Marsal said. “It’s the way to God. It’s every day of our lives.”

While priests are involved, the retreat will be led primarily by married couples who will share their experiences related to issues couples face, including forgiveness, families of origin and communication.

Married 30 years and parents to four young adults, St. Mary parishioners and marriage preparation facilitators Meg and Ophil D’Costa will be among the presenters. They will share their experience with the challenges and blessings of forgiveness.

All ongoing relationships require forgiveness — particularly marriage. A whole host of serious issues can shake the foundation of a marriage and tempt spouses to divorce. Catholics have the graces of the sacramental marital bond and of the Eucharist and reconciliation to help them persevere.

“Our sacramental marriage is why we were able to get through what we did; you have to fall on your faith and the sacraments when things are tough in your marriage,” Meg D’Costa said. “The most powerful thing for us [are] the fruits that come from forgiving. The graces the Lord has given us have been amazing.”

After each talk, couples will be able to discuss privately what they heard and make resolutions for moving forward, explained Brian Donelson, St. Mary’s director of catechesis and evangelization and an organizer of the retreat. At the end of the retreat, couples will put together a plan to renew their marriage. The retreat will also offer an opportunity for follow-up support via a small faith community.

“Sacraments aren’t an end point, but a new beginning,” Donelson said, quoting Father Marsal. “This is meant to help couples live their marriage sacrament more fully.

“It’s meant to change the whole course of their lives. It’s directed to their hearts and minds. We’ll offer aids to help them grow in their relationship and, ultimately, to become fully alive in their marriages and families and to become missionaries [of Christ’s love] to the world.”

Impelled by this year’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical on marriage and responsible parenthood, organizers said the retreat also draws on another Vatican II document, Guadium et Spes (Joy and Hope, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and on Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s recent pastoral letter on human sexuality, “The Splendor of Love.”

Sacramental marriage is the path to holiness for spouses, for it’s in the day-to-day living and loving that “authentic married love is caught up into divine love,” notes Gaudium et Spes. “Thus the Christian family, which springs from marriage as a reflection of the loving covenant uniting Christ with the Church, and as a participation in that covenant, will manifest to all men Christ’s living presence in the world, and the genuine nature of the Church.”

Only with God is this love possible, Father Marsal said.

“This is to help families to become missionaries [of Christ’s love],” Donelson said. “Not that they’re perfect, but they’re on the way.”

CALLED TO LOVE

What: Marriage retreat

When: Nov. 9-11

Where: St. Mary School (Joachim Hall) 6853 S. Prince St., Littleton, CO

Cost: $100 per couple, includes materials and meals. Childcare options are available.

Information/Register: visit stmarylittleton.org go to Called to Love or email bdonelson@stmarylittleton.org or call 720-283-4731

COMING UP: Here’s what 65 years of marriage looks like

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

While divorces are still very common and the average age of young people marrying is older every year (for men, it’s almost 30; for women it’s about 27), true love still exists.

But it doesn’t look the way the world imagines it to be: Heart-pounding, butterfly-stomach, head-over-heels, warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s much deeper.

For Bill and Fran Chism, 89 and 91, who celebrate 65 years of marriage this year, it looks more like faithfulness — especially in the difficulties of life.

Four years ago, Fran broke her hip and her health quickly declined. Soon, she was diagnosed with dementia.

“We thought we were going to lose her a couple times in the hospital,” Bill said. “She had an upper chest infection…her memory was slipping away, and then she got shingles last September, and that just wiped out her memory.”

Bill put her in a memory care facility so she could have help being cared for; but even then, he was still with her most of the day, getting her up for breakfast and putting her to bed at night.

Just a month ago, Bill took Fran home to care for her on his own — even getting a knee replacement a year ago at the age of 88 so that he would be able to take care of his wife.

“[He] thought he wouldn’t be able to take care of her the way he’d need to with the pain and the problems with the knee,” said Dede Chism, Bill’s daughter-in-law.

So, despite the doctor pushing back due to his age, Bill convinced him to do the knee replacement. It wasn’t long before he was taking walks around the park again and caring for Fran.

Now, though her memory suffers, Fran is able to do most things on her own, and Bill cares for her every day in their quiet home.

 

Early days

Bill and Fran met in Downtown Denver at a dance, and initially, Fran wouldn’t marry him because he wasn’t Catholic. After talking to a priest about the issue, he decided to become Catholic after his term with the navy was over. World War II was just ending; he would later serve in the Korean war as well.

After that, Fran agreed, and they married in 1952 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. They drove from Colorado to San Francisco, Calif., where Bill would ship out only 10 months after marrying Fran.

They were also expecting their first son.

“I was shipping out and she was due, that was tough,” Bill said. “I told the doctor…I hope she can have the baby before I leave…sometimes if you give them castor oil, it’ll induce. She didn’t need it. We just got back and she started having pains. Took her [to the hospital] and was told, ‘Oh you better go back home, she’ll be here all night.’

“I no sooner left than she went into labor and she had a hard time with our first son, he was nine pounds, and she’s kinda small. So I wasn’t there when he was born, but I got the word after he was born that it’s all over now; they told me it wouldn’t happen till morning,” Bill said.

Bill and Fran Chism celebrate 65 years of marriage together this year. Married in 1952, they have three sons, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

The couple went on to have three boys, five grandchildren and now have 11 great-grandchildren. It wasn’t until having a couple kids that Bill was able to join the Catholic Church, in 1960.

“It took a while to get around to it, and I took instructions,” Bill said. “She knew how to pray, I didn’t, I still have a little difficulty with it.”

The couple practiced their faith together in the form of praying every night before bed with one another.

 

‘I do means I do’

So what’s kept their marriage strong through all the “ups and downs” of life: Wars, sicknesses, deaths in the family?

“Commitment,” Bill said. “When we got married, we made a commitment. That’s what’s holding us together. With me, when I make a commitment, I stick with it.

“Oh, we’ve had our ups and downs. Not fights, but misunderstandings or arguments. But it wouldn’t be life if you didn’t,” he added.

According to Bill’s son, Ken Chism, the couple believes they’re just ordinary, simple people, and they are. But the simple example of true love in a marriage that’s weathered many joys and struggles in the family is an example that’s sorely needed today, Ken said.

“He said I don’t know why you want to hear from me, we’re just simple people,” Ken said. “The fact of the matter is, the simplest truth is that you don’t have to know all of the theology. What you need to know is God has called you, and with that ‘I do,’ that God’s grace and his love is enough.”

“[Bill] said, ‘When I said I do, I do,’” he continued. “The problem is so many people find ‘I don’ts’ to put in that, instead of always ‘I do.’ You can’t have anything that you’re not willing to do, or your relationship will fail. And that’s both [spouses]. Both have to have that attitude. So for me to watch what’s happened the last five years especially…you don’t know what you’ve got to live with. And he’s lived out the ‘I do’ like no one I’ve ever seen. And it’s very, very special to be able to watch that.”

You can’t have anything that you’re not willing to do, or your relationship will fail. And that’s both [spouses]. Both have to have that attitude.

Dede said that though Bill and Fran have weathered every decade where marriage looked so different, God has remained the foundation, which never changes.

“A marriage grounded in faith and Christ is a marriage that will succeed, regardless of what comes your way, because God succeeds,” she said. “And I would say that that one thing is the center of our marriage. Wars, sicknesses…you can survive anything because with God, all things are possible.”

 

Couples celebrating 25, 50 or 50+ years of marriage this year are invited to the annual Anniversary Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn. Bishop Jorge Rodriguez will be the celebrant, and cake and coffee reception will follow. For more information, contact Jennifer Sharn at 303-715-3252 or jennifer.sharn@archden.org.