“Marriage is probably going to be the most important decision you will ever make in your life,” said Monmouth University Campus Minister Cristina D’Averso-Collins. “Thankfully, we have the Church to give us guidance in this Sacrament, but there are still many insights and advice people should know before receiving it.

D’Averso-Collins shared these observations during the recent “Before I Do” young adult retreat on the topic of the Sacrament of Marriage, personal relationships, dating advice and more. The event was hosted in St. Anselm Church, Tinton Falls.

“It is important now for young people and college students to be well grounded in the faith and know about the red flags and how to resolve issues in relationships,” D’Averso-Collins continued. “Unfortunately, many people who come to marriage prep are not always spiritually prepared for what they are about to take on.”

The retreat began in the parish’s chapel with Lectio Divina, studying the “Wedding Feast of Cana,” a Scripture verse commonly used at Catholic weddings. D’Averso-Collins said that this “water to wine miracle” is an example of how marriage is not only an earthly activity but an eternally divine privilege as well. 

Jennifer Maher, a clinical trauma therapist from Howell, spoke to the group about the importance of Catholic teaching and many common relationship concerns, including cohabitation, “hookup culture” and contraception, as well as the benefits of chastity and Natural Family Planning. Maher credited the papal letters Humanae Vitae by Pope St. Paul VI and “Theology of the Body” by Pope St. John Paul II for their guidance in these areas of relationships.

She also talked about the role of parenting in marriage.

“Bringing life into the world is the greatest gift you would ever give,” Maher said. “Be open to it … Marriage is important to this process because unlike cohabitation, the couple is held to a divine contract to stay with each other and the children instead of being able to leave anytime they want.”

Maher also shared dating advice for young single Catholics. “Date as many people as you can. Dating is important and you shouldn’t need to get intimate at all,” she said. “Dating is meant to see what common traits you share . . . with someone.”

Dr. John Van Epp, author of the book, “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk,” spoke to the group via video. Drawing upon his 43-year marriage and 25 years of marriage counseling, Dr. Van Epp discussed relationship strategies and character traits to look for in dating.

“Healthy relationships should try to cultivate character and allow room for change,” Dr. Van Epp said. “Form a plan to get to know and study someone’s character over time, and develop a strong relationship, but have a safe zone” so you are not too close with a person at the beginning.”