Journeying with couples


Kevin and Isabel (back) shared their marriage experience in the new parish initiative, the Couple Mentor Journey, with couple mentees Aylwin and Weijing.

In response to the calls of our Holy Fathers, the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF) launched the Couple Mentor Journey (CMJ) here in October last year. CMJ is a journey on which engaged and newly married couples are mentored by more seasoned Couple Mentors. Helmed by the ACF, CMJ was put in place to augment – not replace – existing marriage preparation courses Catholic Engaged Encounter (CEE) and Marriage Preparation Course (MPC).

At Couple Mentor Journey, couples continue building upon the foundation they had received in the course of their marriage preparation with the support and accompaniment of their assigned parish-based couple mentors. It is an ongoing journey that sees couples before their marriage or newly married couples through their first two years of marriage (where the storms usually hit) before they move on to marriage enrichment programmes such as Marriage Encounter (ME) and the Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP). “This is in line with ACF’s vision and ongoing work of having programmes in place for Catholics at every stage of life.” said David Fong, ACF’s executive director.

Benefits

But what is in it for couple mentees? As it is, there is hardly even time to breathe amidst work and all the wedding preparations and other obligations. According to engaged couple, Jamielene Fernandez, 36 and Vel B. K., 38, it may be just the thing they need.

“Really getting to spend protected time with your spouse on a personalised journey is a gift,” says 36-year-old Jamie.

“There is just so much distraction we contend with in everyday life. Having that time carved out for each other allows us to reflect, communicate and share our thoughts.” That they have an older couple to guide, support and encourage them on the journey is a bonus, says her non-Catholic husband, Vel. “You get to see things from the valuable perspective of mentors who have walked the same road you are on. It is very heartening and assuring to know that they are willing to so generously open up their lives to us so that we can draw and learn from them.” He and Jamie are looking forward to the start of their journey next month.

The experiential learning that CMJ provides is invaluable according to Caroline Theseira, who co-directs the Couple Mentor Journey with her husband Roderick. She shares: “We are imperfect beings caught up in a busy state and it is very common for couples to not apply what they learn in books or lectures due to complacency, indifference or even memory lapses.” She explains: “This can cause a number of disruptions in the relationship – often to its sad detriment”.

Because the Couple Mentor Journey is in fact, a journey, the learning is “live” and “real” as the Couple Mentors share the struggles and difficulties in their own marriage, and how they overcome them together. “There is no better way to learn than from witnessing another couple living out their marriage fruitfully. It is inspiring and it gives us a clear picture of where and what and who we want to be”, says Jamie. Vel adds: “Having a mentor couple also means coming to the realisation that we are not alone, and that the problems we will face are not going to be unique to us.” This helps lighten the load of the hard work that marriage requires. “And provides us with lifelong couple-friends whom we can count on and turn to in the long run, because of all our shared experiences,” says Jamie.

The CMJ experience

Newlyweds Aylwin Lek and Weijing Cao, who have recently completed the CMJ programme cannot wait to put what they have learnt into practice and also recommend it to others who are planning to get married. The couple, who is of mixed faith, signed up for the programme when their assistant parish priest, Fr Terence Kesavan, of Divine Mercy Church, recommended it.

“Having an experienced couple mentor us is a real advantage because we get to pre-empt issues before they hit us. In essence, that is what marriage preparation and enrichment is all about,” said Aylwin.

Added Weijing: “CMJ is very holistic and also made us more aware of each other’s expectations and ideals, and how to manage them so that we can enjoy our lives as a married couple.

Couples can attend CMJ after their initial marriage preparation (Engaged Encounter or Marriage Preparation Course) either before or into the two years of their marriage. CMJ provides this to augment their marriage preparation to enrich their marriage.

Mentor’s perspective

It is an equally meaningful journey for the mentors. Having been married for 28 years, Kevin and Isabel Yap signed up to be couple mentors last year. Recalling their early struggles as a young married couple, they wished there was a more seasoned couple they could turn to for comfort and advice when they were sailing through rough waters.

“Such a mentor couple would have made a huge difference. It would have helped to put things into perspective and helped us use this time to connect at a deeper level,” said Isabel.

As to how a young couple might benefit, Isabel explained: “It prepares couples in a meaningful and practical way for marriage and provides tools for good times and troubled times. It also gives a continued connection with the Church through an intimate relationship with the mentors who can provide some support along their years of marriage on an ad-hoc basis.”

One of the programme’s attractions is the availability of help on tap. Said Isabel, “It will be reassuring for the young couple to know that they can refer to the mentors when needed, even if it is just meeting at the end of mass and spending a few minutes together.”

Training to be couple mentors also benefitted the Yaps. Kevin shared: “We learnt that marriage is a loving sign of God’s love and likewise, married couples are called to be a living, loving sign of God’s love. And there are lots of great CMJ Smart Loving Tools to help us live that out. Even though we have been married for 28 years, we find the tools very practical and useful for ourselves!”

For more information on CMJ or to sign up, visit catholicfamily.org.sg/cmj.

Answering the call of two popes for accompaniment of newlyweds

Pope Saint John Paul II was a strong advocate for the family. In 1981, his prophectic Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, placed emphasis on pastoral care after marriage, saying: “Young married couples should learn to accept willingly, and make good use of, the discreet, tactful and generous help offered by other couples that already have more experience of married and family life” (69).

Wistful about how young couples are left to their own devices after they marry, Pope Francis called for the Church community to “welcome, accompany and help young couples, by offering them opportunities and appropriate tools” to nourish their spiritual and family lives. “It is in these first moments of family life that they must be guaranteed greater proximity and a strong spiritual support,” he said. In so doing, we effectively help to weave young married couples into parish community life – from which they must draw encouragement, wisdom, support and strength.

Pope Francis added: “Couples need to “embark upon marriage as a life-long based on a firm and realistic decision to face all trials and difficult moments together” through means of a “pedagogy of love, attuned to the feelings and needs of young people and capable of helping them to grow interiorly”.



The Synod Fathers observed that “the initial years of marriage are a vital and sensitive period during which couples become more aware of the challenges and meaning of married life. Consequently, pastoral accompaniment needs to go beyond the actual celebration of the sacrament (Familiaris Consortio, Part III). In this regard, experienced couples have an important role to play. The parish is a place where such experienced couples can help younger couples, with the eventual cooperation of associations, ecclesial movements and new communities”. - 223

An excerpt from Amoris laetitia (Latin: The Joy of Love) a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis released in April 2016.



                                                                                                                                  Photo by CTS Books





“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 10:14)

I often recount these words of Jesus, especially now during Lent, during this season of preparation, during this season of getting away from the extraneous. For to be a little child is to live on the essentials and to know and be joyful that we are accorded close to nothing in the eyes of the world.

I believe that Jesus spoke not so much of the physical littleness of the child, but of the humility of the child and the total dependence the child has on others. He spoke about the joy that children have because their cup is little and easily filled to overflowing with the Joy that Jesus brings.

I saw this Joy recently in my daughter Claire’s eyes, as she happily sang the song “Seek Ye first” after a weekend retreat in church.

As a catechist, I also see this Joy often in the eyes of the little 3 to 6 year olds who partake in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) at St. Ignatius. I love seeing their little faces gleam as they dwell in the knowledge that Jesus loves them. In this Montessori-inspired approach to spiritual formation, there is the recognition that God often uses the smallest, most humble instruments for His greatest mysteries and gifts. I believe that the greatest example of this is the Eucharist; such a small, plain, humble circle of bread, yet it is God in all His fullness and mystery.

What does this mean for you and I? It means that we need to become child-like in our dependence on Him, in recognising that we are nothing but for Him. As the celebration of Ash Wednesday so poignantly reminds us, we are little more than dust and ashes. Everything we have is from Him. All our joys, our blessings, our crosses. All from Him.

How do we respond to the Lenten call to “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”?

I believe that it starts by de-cluttering our hearts. Just as the Lord chose to be born in that humble manger so long ago, we need to make the room of our hearts bare-bones just like that humble manger. No distractions, no gold or finery, no fancy gilded walls, no pride. Just an emptying and surrendering of ourselves, so that He can completely fill us.

When I search for the ultimate example of that emptying of self, I look to Jesus, hanging on the crucifix, His heart pouring out His Blood and Water. His entire Life; poured out for us.

How do we do the same for Him this Lent? How do we empty all that noise from our hearts so that like Elijah, we can recognize His still, small voice in the gentle wind?

Oh Jesus, make us smaller, more and more each day, so that by and by, you will be the Biggest part of our hearts.


Family: the ‘cradle of faith and love’


Family Partners of the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF) turned up in full force on the 11th day celebrating the 120th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

Part of the two-week celebrations of the 120th anniversary and dedication of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd saw another full house on Feb 24, with Holy Mass focused on the family. Presided by Msgr Francis Lau, the Mass was themed “Family: Cradle of Faith and Love”, and was celebrated in thanksgiving for the role of the family in Christian life.

The Family Partners of the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF) turned up in full force, setting up booths to share their missions and advocate their programmes and services. “Our partners are our first responders at the frontline in direct contact with our community,” said ACF Executive Director David Fong. “From young adults, singles, engaged couples, newlyweds to parents, they attend to and address all familial and marital issues regardless.”

During his homily Msgr Lau reiterated the Church’s view of the family as the “basic institution of society”, stating that families did not just consist of couples, but their children as well. He also highlighted the importance of uninterrupted dinner time and its role in family bonding, “The family that eats and prays together, stays together.”

In regards to spousal relationships, Msgr Lau had many sound nuggets of advice to give. Acknowledging that disagreements were part and parcel of marriage, he advised couples to “be to each other’s virtues very kind, be to each other’s faults a little blind.” Most importantly, he urged couples not to sort out their disagreements in the presence of their children.

Msgr concluded his homily by reminding the congregation that God intended the family unit to be a paradise on earth.
“Bring God into your life. Without God, a family will not be a happy one.”

In reflection, Mary de Cruz of Beginning Experiences (BE) shared that Catholic families should set an example by using actions to show love. “It’s the actions that matter more, not the words,” said the 64-year-old.

For others, the evening made them reflect on their roles and witness in the family.

“I was reminded that parents are guilty of using their phones during dinner too,” said Angeline Yong, who is in her 40s.

“Dinner time is the best opportunity to bond for busy parents, and we should be present for our children.”

The success of the event has given encouragement to the work of ACF. Said David, who has been leading the Commission for a year: “Pope St John Paul II said: ‘It is … indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavour to save and foster the values and requirements of the Family’. Families are the cradles of faith and love. They are the beacons representing God’s compassion and love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful.”

For full coverage of the event, visit catholicfamily.org.sg.


                                                                                                                            






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