Every night Kevin and Bridget Hughes’ three children see their father and mother praying together. One day the practice prompted one of the kids to state out loud that, if Mom and Dad pray so much, then praying “must be really important.”
Important it is, and so are other endeavors for Kevin and Bridget Hughes in Philadelphia and couples like them who are growing in married love and holiness as members of Teams of Our Lady.
An international Catholic movement of married spirituality, Teams of Our Lady is recognized by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Laity as a private international association of the faithful (online at teamsofourlady.org).
Members meeting in Rome have been addressed by two popes. In 1976, Pope Paul VI referred to these teams as “authentic schools of spirituality for couples.” And, in 2003, Pope John Paul II said, “I thank God for the fruitfulness of your movement throughout the world, encouraging you to witness untiringly and explicitly to the beauty of human love, marriage and the family.”
Growing in Holiness
That fruitfulness comes through specific ways — the “endeavors,” explains Eileen Kosnik of Tyler, Texas. She and her husband Ted are in charge of one “super-region” — the United States.
“These endeavors are attitudes that encourage the couple to study, to really concentrate on some areas that normally, without the group support, would not be undertaken,” she says. Kosnik then lists six concrete ways couples “increase” life in Christ and grow in holiness: daily reading of the Word of God, daily meditation, conjugal and family prayer, a monthly sit-down, a rule of life, and an annual retreat together.
Says Kevin Hughes, “We had the experience that when we were trying to find our own way spiritually as a couple, one of us would expect the other to initiate prayer. There were miscommunications and assumptions. But this gave us a shared vocabulary and framework: We should be praying together every day, reading Scripture together every day.”
This fruitful experience repeats many times over once husbands and wives begin praying together in addition to praying as individuals.
Often conjugal prayer includes not only familiar prayers like the Rosary but also spontaneous offerings up to God.
“When we pray out loud together we can understand what is on the other person’s heart,” says April Mahfood of Tyler, Texas. What’s on the heart can become an important part of a couple’s monthly sit-down endeavor, which April also appreciates.
The Mahfoods make a date, light a candle, set the tone with prayers, and talk about specific issues on growing in their lives together. They bring everything to the cross.
Eileen Kosnick details how the sit-down also includes Scripture. “We pray over a reading, then discuss something significant to us, whether spiritual, a move to make or about the children. It brings Christ into daily activity.”
Today, five to seven couples comprising each of the 550 Teams of Our Lady across the United States embrace the endeavors, not to mention nearly 10,000 teams internationally. This July, the U.S. team as a whole kicks off a year to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2008.
These numbers grew from the first meeting of Teams of Our Lady in Paris on Feb. 25, 1939, after four young married couples approached Father Henri Caffarel to help them grow in their marriage and love in the light of their Christian faith. As the movement’s founder, he helped in a way that’s proving timeless.
One good reason can be spotted in the observation of Father Edwin Dill of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, who has been a chaplain counselor for teams in the Washington, D.C., area and regionally for more than 30 years. He sees the teams as a way for couples to get to the depths of their sacramental commitment in matrimony.
“It’s a place where couples can share their relational life, their married life vis-à-vis their faith,” says Father Dill. “They can talk about their faith, their marriage. The real practical things come out, and they bring them to God in prayer.”
Today’s couples, like the Mahfoods, married nearly six years, are proof positive of the value of Teams of Our Lady.
“It keeps our faith in the forefront for us,” says husband Ben. “It helps us realize the covenant we share through Jesus.”
Spiritual and marital growth comes for couples through the endeavors, which include such things as the rule of life. Every month, couples decide to concentrate on something to improve their marital relationship.
Kosnik gives a personal example that involves mashed potatoes — her husband loves them while she’s no big spud fan.
“One month I gave Ted potatoes every day because it brings joy to him,” she says. It became a love token and an act of service rather than a resented part of our diet.”
The endeavors also affect the whole family. In Turlock, Calif., Ana and Luie Nunes have been with Teams of Our Lady for 18 of their 19 years of marriage; they’re second-generation members since Ana’s parents were with the first teams started in California.
Ana points to just one result of family prayer through the endeavors.
“On Sunday with our children, we do the readings before we go to Mass,” she explains. “It actually prepares us and our children before we go. We can focus better on the Mass. That’s a routine we’ve gotten into, and we have a 17-year-old who doesn’t complain.”
Each team, five to seven couples strong, can become a second family of sorts as they meet together monthly for prayer, Scripture, fellowship, study and a potluck meal.
The meetings end with the Magnificat, the prayer of the international movement and a daily prayer of the couples because teams see Mary as the perfect disciple and model to follow to draw closer to her son.
And since only one party needs to be Catholic, it isn’t unusual for the teams to inspire conversions. Kosnik tells of one man who called Teams of Our Lady “the book I’m studying about Catholicism.” Soon after, he entered the Church.
Another plus is the age range of the couples. “It’s the whole spectrum of life, which is very rewarding,” says April.
With all the pluses, it’s little wonder the couples of Teams of Our Lady constantly grow closer to each other, to their family — and to Jesus, through Mary.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
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