By Carly York | Correspondent

“I’ll be loving you – always. With a love that’s true – always,” Redemptorist Father James Wallace sang to the 47 couples gathered Feb. 14 in San Alfonso Retreat House, Long Branch.

Inviting the crowd to join him in singing “Always,” he continued, “Days may not be fair – always; that’s when I’ll be there – always. Not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but always.”

Photo Gallery: Valentine's Day Dinner at San Alfonso Retreat House

Father Wallace, rector and director of the retreat house along the shore, used the famous Irving Berlin song to begin the “Evening of Recollection,” a tradition that goes back about seven years that celebrates not just Valentine’s Day, but World Marriage Day, which traditionally falls on the second Sunday of February. The evening included the musical greeting and introductions, a dinner, discussion, prayer and a Mass with a recommitment of vows.

The goal, Father Wallace said, was for couples to “celebrate the gift of life that God gave them.”

“Our Catholic tradition says that marriage is a community of life and love. We want to remind couples of that and celebrate it,” he said.

After a dinner complete with wine, coffee and dessert, the couples moved into a conference room, where Redemptorist Father Arthur Wendel sang popular songs from many decades of music as a reflection on life, faith and the love of God. Those in attendance were invited to listen to the music and hear the lyrics of love as if they were coming from God.

“These songs speak of God’s love for us,” Father Wendel said, reminding the married couples that they are precious to God. “Precious means ‘beyond value.’ That is what our God calls us.”

He sang the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a tune from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel,” to remind the couples that “God is always with us, even in our pain. … The same comfort that God’s promises give us, we can give to each other in our marriage.”

He closed his reflection by saying, “We are invited not just to receive God’s love, but to share God’s love in our marriage and all areas of our life.” He then invited the congregation to sing a final song with him, “Fill the World with Love” from the musical “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

The evening of recollection concluded with a Mass in the San Alfonso chapel in which the couples took a recommitment of their marriage vows, complete with the words, “You may now kiss the bride.” 

In his homily, Father Wallace reminded the couples, “When you love each other – when the world sees your love for each other – you not only receive a Sacrament, but you become a Sacrament for the world.”

He closed with the poignant words from “The Sound of Music”: “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”

Ted and Tara Mika of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, who have been coming to the Valentine’s Day event for years, reflected on the evening. Tara Mika said that after 14 years of marriage, “flowers, chocolates and restaurants are so overrated. When you have been married for so long, you want something that is deeper.”

Her husband agreed, saying, “When you are in a church setting, meditating together, it is really nice. Plus we get to learn from veterans at marriage.”

There were many veterans of marriage in attendance, such as Jim and Elaine Hinckley of Holy Cross Parish, Rumson, who will have been married 53 years in October. Both have always believed “the Sacrament of Marriage confirms a special grace,” Jim Hinckley said.

His advice to younger couples: “Try to stay close to God. That is what kept us together whenever life gave us a crisis.”

Margaret Bergman, a parishioner of St. Dorothea Parish, Eatontown, and her husband, Ike, will be married 65 years in March. Ike Bergman said the key to a good marriage is, “give and take. …There are spats, but you don’t want them to last long.”

“Absolutely true!” Margaret Bergman said, certain that faith was a main reason the couple were able to stay together so long.

Margie and Ray Sepulveda traveled from Holy Trinity Church, Fort Lee, because they love attending summer weekend marriage retreats at San Alfonso.

“What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than to have dinner and prayer with the one you love,” Margie Sepulveda said.

Married for 20 years, Ray Sepulveda said the best thing about marriage is “the companionship and the love we have for each other.”

The evening was extra special for John and Joyce Lajewski of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach.

“Tonight is the first time in 49 years that we have gone out on Valentine’s Day,” Joyce Lajewski said. “We always had the children and grandchildren before. It is nice that we can now enjoy each other.”

For more information, on the San Alfonso Retreat House, including other retreats, visit www.sanalfonsoretreats.org/64.