The grace of accompaniment on the journey of Sacramental Marriage
Father Jim Grogan, pastor, Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, is working with the Diocese to develop comprehensive training on the new diocesan Marriage preparation process, with a focus on identifying and recruiting mentors who will accompany engaged couples on their journey.
In the following reflection, Father Grogan, who was married for 25 years before being ordained as a priest years after the death of his wife, shares his special insight on marriage as both a husband and a priest:
When we consider every important pursuit in our lives, we encounter times of discernment or searching, periods of transformation. We also often seek a mentor or coach to help us advance. That works for careers and for physical fitness. It also has a model in our sacramental life.
The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation each have at least one person chosen as a sponsor. Sponsors, by way of clarification for selection, are those who have been selected by the parents or candidate for the sacrament as living a pattern of life that reflects a positive role model for the candidate.
The Sacrament of Marriage seems to be an anomaly in this pattern. We spend far more time getting a professional license, or getting certified in a skilled trade, or maybe even improving our golf game than in preparing for a lifetime of marriage. This is where the concept of “accompaniment” seems to me to be a vital part of the journey of marriage. As the Diocese looks at constantly improving how we assist couples, we connect the couple to a priest, deacon or lay marriage minister during the engagement. And for a time, they may also have some interaction after the marriage, but generally not ongoing.
The role of a marriage mentor changes that; it is a couple, best chosen by the bride and groom themselves, whom they respect for how they witness their marriage in everyday life, much like the sponsors in Baptism and Confirmation. Unlike the role of the priest and deacon, the chosen mentor couple are, many times, friends or acquaintances of the couple getting married, and they continue that journey over several years at least, or perhaps for a lifetime, as other sacramental sponsors are always connected to the child being baptized, or the confirmand.
When we look to the simple criteria for a mentor couple, we see how this journey of accompaniment makes perfect sense: they are chosen because they have been married for at least five years, they live out their Catholic faith, and will be open to sharing their experience and guiding the new couple.
While the parallel can be drawn to the “catechumenate” – applied to the “preparation” for Marriage – I think “accompaniment” is a better term, which connects the couple not just before the sacrament, but in an ongoing relationship.
My personal experience with mentor couples over the past couple of years also shows that both the newly married and the mentor couple benefit from the relationship, and ongoing conversation. It would seem that, like spiritual direction, all four of the participants grow from the in-depth conversations which accompany the mentoring role.