Each month, The Visitor is inviting guest writers to spotlight one of the ministries supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal. This is the third in a series.
Recently, I was invited to write a column in The Visitor and share how the Office of Marriage and Family has impacted my life. My instantaneous reaction was the selfish thought, “I really don’t have the time.”
But, just as quickly, I remembered not only the impact of the office on me personally but also the importance of its mission on all that is most dear to me — my faith in Christ; his life, death and resurrection; his promise of eternal life for all who trust in his mercy; and the place where we best learn to live that faith: the family or “domestic church.”
Peg and I have been married for 35 years. We have three sons and a daughter, ages 24 to 32. I had wandered away from my faith in my teens and it was my encounter with Christ through the ministry of marriage preparation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that helped us to make the choice to put Christ at the center of our marriage and cherish sacramental marriage as the church offered and explained it.
I learned how authentic love was generous and “life-giving.” We also learned that the church’s teachings about the dignity of the human person were as beautiful as they were challenging. In our first years, as we prayerfully discerned that we had “serious reason” to avoid pregnancy, it was the ministry of a “peer-to-peer apostolate” that gave us the means (natural family planning) to responsibly postpone and later conceive our first son.
Those couples did not simply teach us a method, they witnessed to us in the early years of our marriage a way of life, one with Christ in the center.
In the early 1990s, after we had moved back to the Diocese of St. Cloud, we had an opportunity to participate in the diocesan ministry to the engaged and the married.
Peg and I were trained as NFP instructors and regularly had the opportunity to introduce the method and give our witness to couples in the diocesan marriage course. We got to do for others what had been done for us. To echo the timeless wisdom of Mother Church and model the effort to live those teachings is both possible and worth it!
Through the ministry of this office we have found great support in our marriage and family. We have participated in numerous days of marriage enrichment. Through my annual attendance each spring at the men’s conference, I have been formed by the solid teachings offered and the lived witness of those very teachings by so many men I have met and blessed to know from around the diocese.
Peg and I also have been blessed to participate in our parish’s mentor couple program that helps engaged couples to talk through their responses to the pre-marriage survey. We have felt supported by the materials and local speakers the Office of Marriage and Family offers to help parents present the beautiful yet challenging teaching about how chastity protects what is most precious and beautiful in human sexuality — the sanctity and dignity of every human life and the profound mystery of total self-giving that is signified and made real in the complementary-consummate act of marriage.
As we reflect upon the exceptional challenges of which Pope Francis reminds us in his recent apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love,” the fruit of last fall’s synod on the family, we are assured the church’s teaching on the beautiful vision of marriage, family and human dignity remains a gift to live as best we can. The better we understand it, the more aware we become of the immense need for mercy and healing for ourselves and especially for those who, for reasons we may not understand, have rejected it.
The Office of Marriage and Family has long been laboring to both help people to be formed by those teachings and to accompany them in the challenges of living them.
Encouraged and equipped by this office under the pastoral care of our bishop, may we hear Christ speaking through the church, especially in this year of mercy, to be so authentic in Christ-like sensitivity, compassion and respect that we may be trusted to accompany those who find these teachings difficult to understand and even harder to live.
May the Holy Spirit give us strength to endure patiently any rejection we experience in trying to live what we believe.
Jeff Winkelman and his wife, Peg, are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Little Falls.