Father Jim Grogan, left, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, and Deacon Anthony Scalzo hold a sign for the "Year of Marriage" with fellow parishioners. Photo courtesy of Father Grogan

Father Jim Grogan, left, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, and Deacon Anthony Scalzo hold a sign for the "Year of Marriage" with fellow parishioners. Photo courtesy of Father Grogan

By David Kilby | Correspondent

In his continuing effort to strengthen marriages, Father Jim Grogan, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, has introduced a “Year of Marriage” for the 2018 liturgical year that is being celebrated with events that embrace the fullness of God in marriage.

“We are looking to transform our parish to be a place where the celebration of marriage as a Sacrament is something that excites families – long before anyone is actually getting a ring, and long after you have said ‘I do!’” he explained.

Each month, the parish is highlighting a different focal point about marriage, and homilies are directed at helping each parishioner better understand how marriage and family life reflect the Gospel.

As part of the initiative, a prayer for the success of new marriages and engaged couples is recited at the end of every daily Mass. This is also a prayer for couples who want to get their marriage convalidated in the Church, for those who lost a spouse through divorce and for widows and widowers.

This is a prayer to which Father Grogan can relate. Married for 25 years, he became a priest after his wife died of cancer. He has the rare combined responsibilities of being a spiritual father to his parishioners and a biological one to three sons.

“The Church of the Nativity community is in a unique position, having Father Jim at the helm,” said parishioner Maria Maita, whose daughter recently got engaged. “His real life experience as a husband and father combined with his dedication to God and the Church teachings gives us such a benefit. ... We know that he has been in our shoes and perhaps can guide us well when our going gets tough.”

Some of the inspiration for the Year of Marriage came from the diocesan marriage summit in 2015, Father Grogan said, sharing that the summit helped bring to mind the question, “What are we intentionally doing in our parishes to make the idea and support for marriages stronger?”

He said the Church’s role in marriage preparation has three distinct phases: Remote Preparation, Immediate Preparation and Support/Mentoring.

Most people, he said, think about the Immediate Preparation phase – the 12 to 15 months during which the couple is engaged, meeting with a priest or deacon and getting ready to say “I do.”

“That’s what most people think of as marriage preparation,” Father Grogan said, explaining that the first phase actually begins as a child, when one is observing parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and how they live out their marriage.

“Suddenly, we find ourselves as young adults, and through that time, we’ve actually developed really firm opinions about what it means to be married,” he said.

The third phase of marriage preparation, properly understood, is mentorship and support for married couples throughout their whole journey as husband and wife.

 “I can’t just say, ‘What God has joined together let no man pull apart,’ and then walk away and leave them on their own,” Father Grogan said.

“My purpose in declaring 2017-18 the ‘Year of Marriage’ is to have our parish community focus on the Remote and Support stages … so that every family, actively participating in the liturgical life of our parish will grow in their understanding of what makes an extraordinary marriage, and with our collective help, each couple – whether soon-to-be-married, married five years or married 55 years – has the encouragement and resources to help their marriage grow.”

The Year of Marriage is already well on its way in fulfilling the mission of the third phase. In January, Father Grogan gave a presentation on convalidations. On Feb. 10 and 11, he will give a nuptial blessing during all weekend Masses in the parish, and Feb. 17, the parish will host a sweetheart dinner for couples.

Father Grogan is also leading an evening of reflection Feb. 12 from 7  to 9 p.m in St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel, on how to live out one’s baptism in marriage.

On March 22, Father Grogan will give a presentation on the theology of marriage in the parish. He will also lead a married couple retreat April 21 in the parish from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The focus will be on growth of prayer life and different ways to pray as a couple.

Other planned events include a presentation in May that will examine the role of the laity, a light-hearted program in June associated with the theme, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” a presentation on the lives of married saints around the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim in July, and a Rosary Novena for marriage in October.

Through these events, Father Grogan hopes to convey that marriage is not just about a person’s relationship with each other, but also with God.
In order to have a successful and holy marriage, he said, couples need to do three things: demand of each other that they strive for an extraordinary marriage, ask God to have his grace fill their lives and help them recognize the grace of a sacramental marriage, and demand the Church’s support.

“Every marriage deserves to be extraordinary,” he added. “A big part of going from good to extraordinary is learning to pray together and putting the Sacraments to use in their daily marriage.”

Parishioner John Hendrick, who has a daughter soon to be married in the Church, said the Year of Marriage has already transformed the parish life in a variety of ways.

“It has united us in daily prayer and personal action to be better husbands, wives, fathers and mothers [and] to proactively welcome and attract newly engaged couples, as well as friends and neighbors who may be struggling due to marital conflict, disillusionment or the loss of a spouse,” he said.