Preparing for a Christ-Centered Marriage

Couples Find Grace and Joy in Wedding Planning Focused on the Sacrament

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Wedding-planning stress is far from the minds of Steven Cybulski, 30, and Amber Fessler, 25. The couple is determined to maximize holiness on their wedding day, as they keep preparations focused on the sacrament that awaits them.

Cybulski and Fessler, both Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ missionaries, who were engaged in December 2015, knew that they wanted God and their Catholic faith to be foundational in their relationship.

“Our Catholic faith doesn’t just play a role; it is the foundation of everything,” Fessler said. “It defines who we are, both together and individually. It directs what we spend our time doing, what brings us joy and shapes how we resolve conflict. It is the deepest part of our identities.”

Consequently, their Christ-centered wedding planning is in line with Pope Francis’ advice in his exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love): “Short-term preparations for marriage tend to be concentrated on invitations, clothes, the party and any number of other details that tend to drain not only the budget, but energy and joy as well. The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take. … Here let me say a word to fiancés. Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances. What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else” (212).


It’s About Priorities

To bring that belief to life, the soon-to-be-wed missionaries established a set of priorities for their wedding planning. Fessler explained, “We decided that we want to prioritize four things in wedding planning: the most amount of people, the least amount of money, the least amount of stress and evangelizing through the wedding day.”

Cybulski added, “While we certainly hope that the decorations will be beautiful and the food delicious, for us, the most important elements of the day are that we actually get married in the eyes of God and that the people we love can be with us.”

The couple cited prayer as the most important spiritual preparation for their marriage. In an effort to incorporate evangelization into their special day, Fessler said, “We hope to have special instruction and a reflection given before the Mass to help those less familiar with its power to better [understand] the sacrament. We are also hoping to make confession available to attendees before the Mass.”

The two desire to continue evangelizing after their wedding day — July 16, at St. Adalbert Catholic Church in Toledo, Ohio — too. “We hope to share with the students we serve the goodness and beauty of a Christ-centered marriage,” Cybulski said.

The married missionaries will serve on the campus of Towson University in Towson, Md., this fall.


Focusing on Love

Father Benjamin Lehnertz, an associate pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church in Orlando, Fla., sees his role as designer of a new marriage-preparation program at his parish as an immense privilege, helping to ensure that couples understand the supreme gift of sacramental matrimony: “One of the most important and beautiful benefits of entering into a sacramental marriage is that there are guaranteed graces bestowed from God upon the couple to be able to reach beyond themselves in order to love in a way that would otherwise be impossible.”

Father Lehnertz elaborated, “[But] without a committed relationship with God through prayer, [couples] stand little chance of actually receiving and actualizing those graces.”

In order to assist couples in growing in their relationship with God, Father Lehnertz plans to have “sponsor couples” connect with engaged men and women during their formation process. “I desire to bring in an element of the catechumenate, to have each engaged couple paired up with a married couple, whom they will meet with over the course of a year, so that the sponsor couple can do a little bit of what Jesus did with his apostles: discipleship.”

This, he hopes, will help engaged couples pay closer attention to the sacrament at hand. “We want engaged couples to be focused on marriage and what it looks like in real life more than on the events of a wedding,” he noted.

When asked what advice he has for couples planning their wedding day, Father Lehnertz mentioned, “There is elegance in simplicity. In life, we will go to innumerable celebrations, many of which will have a lot of the same elements. The thing that sets this day apart is your love for each other. Focus on that instead of event planning.” 


Goal of Sanctity

When David and Carolyn Kennedy of Cleveland married almost 17 years ago, they recognized the importance of focusing on love and sacramental grace if they were to grow in holiness together in their marriage.

“When we started out, it was with the idea that we’d live the ‘perfect’ Catholic marriage,” Carolyn admitted. “But after almost 17 years, that has come to mean something very different. In reality, things get thrown at you that make it difficult to live perfection. This is when the sacramental part of marriage becomes so obvious. God somehow miraculously draws you closer together during times that would seem like they might rip anyone apart.”

The Kennedys believe their wedding day focused on God was a catalyst in their pursuit of sanctity together. They concentrated on the sacrament at hand by having Marian symbolism designed into their rings, keeping details simple and seeking guidance from men and women in vocations to the religious life.

David acknowledged that it takes courage to “swim against consumerism and what the secular media and bridal magazines are selling and to give witness to what really matters: that you are about to embark on an amazing and holy adventure modeled by Christ and his Church.”

The Kennedys had the courage to understand thoroughly the nature of the sacrament of matrimony and what it entails, and then to renew that commitment daily, now in the context of their family life with five children.

“During his homily at our wedding, our priest and spiritual director exhorted us to ask each other every day, ‘Will you marry me?’” David recounted. “I’m not sure he really thought we would do it, but we have, every day, for almost 17 years now, and it is a beautiful way to call upon the grace God [still] wants to give us.”

Katie Warner writes

from Florida. Her website is image