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New retreat for engaged couples seeks to forge lifelong connection with priests

Three parish pastors in Denver have put together a new Catholic marriage preparation retreat called “Entrust” that seeks to ensure engaged couples can form strong, lifelong ties with their priests preparing them for the sacrament.

“We’re really trying to form and forge deep relationships with all of these couples,” Father Samuel Morehead, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, told the Denver Catholic. “We’re not preparing you for a day. We’re preparing you for a lifetime, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Father Morehead has joined two other parish pastors to run the Entrust retreat as a team: Father Daniel Ciucci of Most Precious Blood Catholic Parish and Father Nick Larkin of Assumption Catholic Parish. They have run the two-day retreat twice and plan another for November.

Father Morehead said that one aim of the retreat is “to actually get to know our own couples better by personally investing in them and not outsourcing the retreats.” This, he said, helps priests be “a source of blessing and a resource for future encounters with God in the Church.”

The retreat aims to encourage engaged couples to continue to involve priests in their life once they are married, Father Morehead’s collaborator Father Ciucci told the Denver Catholic.

“What we want is to communicate that the priesthood is there for the couples when they’re in need and before they’re in dire need,” he said. Much marriage counseling depends on the context and on the couple, he said. If a married couple is “known and loved” by the priest before any need for counseling arises, they can be helped even more.

Like other marriage preparation programs, the Entrust retreat features lay Catholic speakers like a psychologist and a financial expert. Two married couples also offer their testimony.

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Father Morehead, while not wanting to be too critical of other marriage preparation programs, questioned whether Church trends in recent decades have emphasized lay Catholic leadership in marriage preparation to the point that the priest’s role has been diminished. In his view, many marriage preparation retreats lack the constant presence of a priest, and their speakers sometimes focus on practicalities of marriage and lack confidence in speaking on theological topics.

The Entrust approach seeks both to “affirm the best of the practical” and to address this shortcoming.

It appears to be working, according to anonymous feedback from their April 2023 retreat.

“Personally, I have not interacted a lot with priests,” one unnamed bride-to-be said in a report Entrust organizers provided to the Denver Catholic. This feeling of distance, she said, made it difficult for her to “feel connected to the Church.”

“I think the biggest takeaway was just the interactions I had with all the priests and how loving and like normal people they are,” the retreat participant said. “It was just sort of life altering for me to feel accepted in the Church and connected to other people.”

“We are trying to invite a couple to invite Jesus into their marriage and we do that through living authentically our own vocation, and allowing that to excite this couple to live fully and authentically their own vocation. Then it becomes symbiotic. It becomes mutually life-giving.”

Participation of the priests is key, Entrust organizers said.

“We priests are present the whole time. That’s probably the distinguishing factor,” Father Ciucci explained. “We don’t get dropped in for a half-an-hour talk or a pep speech. We’re there. If we need to get pulled aside, we can be.”

“We priests will roll up our sleeves,” said Father Morehead. “We’re leaning back into this, to form a deeper partnership with lay faithful in the preparation for the sacrament.”

Father Morehead added that the Entrust retreat takes a “theologically robust approach.” He also outlined the Entrust retreat’s presentations and emphasis.

“Our talks begin first with a presentation of the Gospel, the kerygma. Most marriage prep retreats don’t,” he said. “They don’t presume to be evangelical and to want to draw people to the full expression of the Catholic Christian faith.”

The second presentation is about how to enculturate the Catholic faith into home life, with a sacramental worldview. The third presentation focuses on marriage as a sacrament and how it should be lived from the beginning of marriage on the wedding day and throughout the married couple’s lives.

A fourth presentation addresses “the authentic good of sexuality but with a robustly, scientifically informed presentation.” It also discusses temptations against marital chastity and the goods of marital chastity, Father Morehead explained.

“We are trying to invite a couple to invite Jesus into their marriage and we do that through living authentically our own vocation, and allowing that to excite this couple to live fully and authentically their own vocation,” Father Ciucci said. “Then it becomes symbiotic. It becomes mutually life-giving.”

Engaged couples should learn to walk alongside their priest, he said, because a priest will be there on their wedding day, when they want their child baptized, and when they want to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If they go to church every Sunday, which Church teaching requires, they’ll see a priest there too.

“But having those regularized sacramental touchpoints is not the same as knowing a priest, inviting him over, becoming friends with him and allowing him to know you and your marriage more deeply and personally,” Father Ciucci said.

“When a couple is preparing for marriage, they start to hear things that the Church has been proclaiming all the while, but they hear them afresh and anew,” he added. “Marriage is such a personal sacrament. What we’re trying to do is use this privileged time well, because we have their attention.”

The next Entrust retreat is scheduled for April 19-20 at Most Precious Blood Parish, with a cost of $200 per couple. It fulfills the Archdiocese of Denver’s marriage preparation requirement. Interested couples may sign up here.

Kevin J. Jones
Kevin J. Jones
Kevin J. Jones is a Catholic freelance journalist from Denver, Colorado.

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