Relying on Providence: Catholic Couple Begins Married Life on Pilgrimage

Newly married in June 2023, Matthew and Emily Sweet have a family mission: to rely on the providence of God in all things.

Clockwise from top: A post-wedding pilgrimage for Matthew and Emily Sweet included participating in a vigil procession for Our Lady’s Assumption with the Community of the Lamb, in Plavilla, France; a visit to St. Claude de la Colombière’s chapel in Paray-le-Monial, France, and traveling to sites by train.
Clockwise from top: A post-wedding pilgrimage for Matthew and Emily Sweet included participating in a vigil procession for Our Lady’s Assumption with the Community of the Lamb, in Plavilla, France; a visit to St. Claude de la Colombière’s chapel in Paray-le-Monial, France, and traveling to sites by train. (photo: Courtesy of the Sweets and the Community of the Lamb)

Newly married in June 2023, Matthew and Emily Sweet have a family mission: to rely on the providence of God in all things.

This  mission is patterned on the example of their next-door neighbors, a religious order called the Community of the Lamb. A mendicant order founded in France in 1981, their life is closely tied to meditation on the Gospel; love of neighbor, especially young people and the poor; and a strong reliance on God’s providence. 

 Matthew, 27, who works for Catholic Charities, first came to Kansas City by  way of the pro-life ministry Crossroads, which hosts a walk across America; he  then ended up moving from his home on the East Coast to “intentionally live  around Catholic community.” Emily, 29, formerly a Catholic elementary music  teacher and currently a stay-at-home wife, grew up in the Kansas City area and  converted to Catholicism two and a half years ago. They met each other at a young-adult night offered by the Community of the Lamb, and are both lay members, which means they make promises to live out this order’s mode of life in a way that is fitted to their state in life. 

Of their decision to live in the same neighborhood as the  order,  the Sweets are thinking not only about their own close relationship with the community but about future children: “We want our children to have the opportunity to be friends with monastics, and also with the poor, whom the little community surround themselves with,” Matthew said. Emily added, “We want our children not to be afraid of  poverty  and to rely on Providence so they can grow out of thinking that their mom and dad are perfect and can provide everything, that really we all have to rely on God.” This was the case for Matthew’s father, whose first memory was “the swish of Dominican habits across the kitchen floor” of his childhood home; Dominicans were frequent  visitors in their home because Matthew’s grandfather worked with them at Providence College in Rhode Island. Similarly,  friendship with the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Lamb will be integral to the Sweet family’s way of life. 


Pilgrimage to World Youth Day and Beyond

Not only has God’s providence brought both Emily and Matthew to the Community of the Lamb and to each other, it also brought them to a somewhat unexpected honeymoon. Matthew had signed up to travel to World Youth Day in the early days of dating Emily. As they moved into the engagement period and a seat opened up on the pilgrimage that would allow Emily to go too, they realized there would be an opportunity to travel as both pilgrims and newlyweds with the Archdiocese of Kansas City,  Kansas, and to spend two extra weeks in Europe visiting places significant to them. 

Despite the challenges of their World Youth Day experience, Emily and Matthew pointed out a few moments that deeply resonated with them, and, ultimately, as Matthew put it, “The things that remain on our hearts most significantly are this hope in what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church and in this security we have in our earthly fathers.” 

Pilgrims from the  Archdiocese of Kansas City visited Fatima before World Youth Day, and for Emily and Matthew it was at this Marian shrine that they most tangibly experienced the universality of the Catholic faith. During a Rosary procession in which the first half of the Hail Mary prayers were led in different languages, and the second half recited by all pilgrims in their own languages, Matthew recalled, “Several times, instead of praying aloud, I completed the prayer mentally, so  I was able to listen to the Church universal, so I could hear the ‘Holy Mary …’ spoken in so many  languages all around me. It was an incredible moment of the universal Church.” 

Matthew and Emily Sweet sketches
Matthew’s sketched scenes from Fatima included the Fatima basilica spire, the trees near to where Our Lady appeared to the shepherd children, stonework near the stables, Francisco’s bedroom, and the basilica bell tolling. He also sketched various locations near Fatima; Emily’s sketch of the basilica’s altarpiece is also shown.(Photo: Matthew and Emily Sweet)

At World Youth Day itself, what most touched  the newlyweds was the kindness of the people of Portugal, who graciously shared their homes and cities with the pilgrims, and the presence of Pope Francis. They particularly recall his part in the Opening Ceremony as a moment of grace. While some aspects of World Youth Day were disappointing  —  at times, a lack of reverence and missed opportunities to draw on the riches of the Church’ s patrimony — they  were edified as  Pope Francis reminded pilgrims that Christ is meant to be the center, not only of World Youth Day, but of our lives. While he was still far away from them, they each glimpsed Pope Francis through a gap in the crowd. Emily shared, “I start weeping. I was not expecting that reaction. I felt so, so fathered.” 

Matthew recalled that the opening Gospel passage was about Jesus sending out the 72 disciples to the surrounding towns and villages. “I really felt reflecting on this that the Pope’s message was that he wanted to send us back to our homes with this spirit of poverty, of carrying only the Word, only the good news that Jesus is coming.” Emily added, “As lay members of the Lamb, we were like, ‘Yeah!’” 

Matthew remembers the personalization of the Pope’s simple message to the pilgrims that followed this Gospel: “In this time of having just seen the Pope, in a tangible yet indescribable way, he felt so much like my father. I listened to him and I just felt in my heart that these are the words of my father. … His message was meant for me; it was meant for this son of the Church.” 

In the Litany of the Saints and the sung Pater Noster prayers that followed, the Sweets saw the Pope’s fatherliness shine forth: “He really found great goodness in the traditions of the Church and offered them to us as young people,” Matthew said. So moved were they by the Pope’s message to go forth in Providence that the couple took off their shoes and walked barefoot part of the way back to their lodging. As Emily shared with Matthew during their conversation with the Register, “The joy I experienced in that moment of being sent out in Providence reminded me of how I felt walking back down the aisle with you at the end of our wedding Mass. We were both really giddy and so filled with joy.”

Matthew and Emily Sweet wedding Mass 2023
Matthew and Emily Sweet walk out of their wedding Mass on June 17. (Photo: Kelsey Irwin photo)

From World Youth Day, the couple traveled to personally resonant locations in France and Germany. And there, too, God’s providence was extraordinarily clear. For instance, through a series of train mishaps, they somehow arrived in the town of Paray-le-Monial four hours earlier than initially scheduled. Perhaps most famously known for being the location of the incorrupt body of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, it is also the resting place of St. Claude de la Colombière, spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary and Matthew’s confirmation saint. This visit was described by the couple as “our cup-fill after World Youth Day” and “led by the Holy Spirit.” The first day visiting Paray-le-Monial happened to be the memorial of St. Jane Frances de Chantel, founder of the Visitation Order. The couple each got to spend time with St. Claude’s bones and, as one would with a friend, share about their life. Before St. Claude’s tomb, Emily reflected on her love for Matthew, and for Matthew, “entering into conversation with him was quite powerful. I felt that Claude had been leading me along his way for a long time.”

Another highlight during this part of the pilgrimage was a visit to St. Pierre, the motherhouse of the Community of the Lamb located in Plavilla, France. Before this trip, Emily had previously been to Europe on a foreign-exchange trip as a musician. She came to realize that one of the locations in which she had played music was near Plavilla, and she was struck by the providence of being so close to the religious community that would become a spiritual home. 


A Life on Mission

Now that they have returned from a pilgrimage “steeped in Providence,” Emily and  Matthew plan to live “on mission” in the neighborhood they share with the  Community of the Lamb. Of their home, Matthew said,  “We want this to be a place of evangelization. We do really desire to love Jesus  in our neighbor and especially the poor, those we can welcome to our door for  a meal, a glass of water, a chat — to be one with the poor, to be with them, to be  one of them.” To bolster them in this mission, they have the  friendship of their neighbors and the Community of the Lamb, who remind them  of the pattern of love to which they hope to mold their lives. 

From their neighbors, Matthew and Emily see the necessity of relying more radically on the Lord’s providence. As Matthew said, “We want to live actively trusting the Lord for all the things we need. We recognize it is not our work that sustains us, but it is the Lord.”