Peg Hensler
Peg Hensler

By Peg Hensler | Special Contributor

In the secular world, Valentine’s Day has long been symbolic of romantic love – a time for thoughtful gifts, elegant dinners and cuddling by a warm fire.

In the Catholic Church today, thanks to the annual celebration of World Marriage Day (second Sunday of February) and National Marriage Week (Feb. 7-14), St. Valentine’s Day now signifies the ultimate expression of romantic love – Holy Matrimony. The days surrounding Valentine’s Day offer Catholic married couples a reminder of the gift they are, not only to their immediate and extended families, but to their parish family as well. It is also a time of gratitude for Catholic couples and families as they pause to appreciate the tremendous love and support they receive from their parish community throughout every stage of family life.

As I look back on nearly 36 years of marriage and the myriad challenges of raising three children to become faithful, productive adults, I know that my husband and I couldn’t have done it without God’s grace, the support of family and friends, and active involvement in our parish. We began our marriage in 1982 when my husband was about to enter his second year of law school. We had left our family homes in Pennsylvania to start our married life in New Jersey.  Faith and family were extremely important to us from the start, so nearly every Sunday we found ourselves back home with one of our families for Sunday breakfast, Mass and Sunday dinner.

Within a few years, we settled in our permanent home and joined our local parish, so the trips back to Pennsylvania became less frequent, and we began to feel at home with our newfound parish family and friends. We were cradle Catholics who attended Mass in our new parish every Sunday, yet we still had no idea what our vocation of marriage was all about. It wasn’t until we joined a Pre-Cana team in 1987 that we began to understand that marriage is a Sacrament of service, and that when we serve together in ministry, we are serving God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. The profound joy we found in serving with other young couples who shared our passion for faith and our family values was the impetus for active involvement in our own parish community. Because our three children attended the parish school, we became totally immersed in every aspect of our children’s Catholic education as well.

Fast forward to 2019 – our oldest son now teaches college theology, our daughter is a human resources professional, married and expecting our first grandchild, and our youngest son is a second-year law student. We look now at all we have, and we know that God is the source of all life, faith, hope, trust and love. Every gift we possess, every joy and, yes, every sorrow is a gift from God. There have been major family crises and alarming health challenges along the way, but through every challenge our marriage has grown stronger and our family has grown closer. Though our children may not attend Mass consistently, like so many of their peers, we see the Christ-centered values of their Catholic faith shining through in all important aspects of their lives.

My husband and I continue to serve in ministry together, and know it is one of the greatest gifts for our marriage.  But it is the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, and the support of our loving parish community that gives us the abiding peace and joy that only God can give.

Peg Hensler is associate director for Marriage Ministries and NFP in the Diocese of Trenton.