Marriage Enrichment: On long marriages—and a columnist’s retirement

Many people are thanked for their efforts over the years to benefit marriage-support events

By Marian Christiana

This article is going to have two parts to it. At first glance, they may not seem to fit together, but stick with me and I think that you will see the connection. The first section is about the 2019 longest-married couple in the Diocese of Knoxville, and in the second section I will comment on my upcoming retirement at the end of June 2019.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We have all heard this Scripture passage read many times at wedding ceremonies. It is a favorite of many brides and grooms because what is proclaimed is what we hope to experience in our marriages. In fact, we are counting on it! We all want our spouse to love us unconditionally. We hope to be able to love our spouse in the same fashion, but sometimes our “IFS” and “BUTS” sneak in because we are human and imperfect. Realizing our imperfections is a very good reason to have marriage mentors who can help us through the rough patches, similar patches that they have already lived through and have successfully navigated.

A perfect example of a couple who have successfully navigated the ever-changing road of marriage is Emery and Millie Faulkner. The Faulkners are from Holy Trinity Parish in Jefferson City and will be celebrating their 71st wedding anniversary July 1.

Here is a bit of history about the 2019 Diocese of Knoxville longest-married couple. Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner met in elementary school in Mobile, Ala. They married while they were both still teenagers and moved to Florida after just a few years in Alabama. The Faulkners lived in Florida for 46 years before back-to-back hurricanes caused them to move to Tennessee to live closer to their son. In addition to their son in East Tennessee, they have a daughter who lives in Virginia. They now enjoy four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The Faulkners are very happy in their adopted state and highly recommend it to other retirees.

One of my favorite aspects of my job has been the opportunity to speak to so many couples who have enjoyed long-term marriages and ask them what advice they might want to convey to younger couples. The Faulkners agreed that couples should not take marriage lightly. Couples need to depend on each other and never give up. Mrs. Faulkner said that couples need God in their lives. She said that couples need “soul food” just as much as they need food for their table. This is very sound advice, and any couple who is struggling now could benefit from their sage words.

Mentor couples do not need to be marriage counselors or marriage experts. They just need to be willing to share their love story with others but, most importantly, they need to be asked to share their story! I am quite sure we all know couples who have been happily married for a long time. Ask to sit down with them and listen to their love story. We can all benefit from understanding how other couples have navigated life’s challenges, and we can use their experiences to help enrich our own marriages.

Writing about mentor couples brings me to the second part of my article: my pending retirement.

Working for this diocesan office, and getting to know so many wonderful couples who have said “yes” when asked to share their love story with others, has been a tremendous blessing for me and for my marriage. Through our various diocesan programs, many married men and women have shared their stories with engaged couples, married couples, and couples discerning marriage. Without question, all of these couples have benefited from these mentors’ generosity. Thank you is not a deep enough expression to describe my gratitude to these marriage leaders. They have forever changed my life by their love and support.

In addition, I want to thank Bishop Richard F. Stika for his support of this office. In particular, I want to thank him for graciously celebrating the annual Marriage Masses and luncheons throughout the diocese. In the past 10 years, we have traveled to more than 27 parishes where the bishop has celebrated Mass and the renewal of each married couples’ marriage vows. After the Mass, he then joined the couples and their families at a luncheon where a hot lunch and wedding cake awaited them all. Many of the couples who have attended the celebrations have been married for 50 years and longer. The bishop has been so generous with his time, whether it was with the couples who had been married for decades or those who were just starting their married life.

Over the years, this office has hosted a variety of marriage enrichment and marriage support events that would not have been possible without the gracious hospitality of our wonderful pastors. They have opened the door to their parish facilities for our use, tirelessly promoted the events, and, in some cases, helped present the program. Several pastors have even accompanied me to other parishes around the diocese to present specific marriage enrichment or marriage support programs. I am forever grateful to all of our pastors and the support they have provided to this marriage ministry.

For many years, the Chattanooga Deanery pastors took turns hosting the Picture of Love marriage preparation program. The weekend entails the setting up and tearing down of equipment, bringing in supplies, and providing meals. It has truly taken a village of volunteers to present the weekends. For the past five years, Father Manual Pérez has hosted all of the Picture of Love weekends at St. Stephen Parish. The facilities at St. Stephen’s are wonderful, and the staff has been fantastic to work with. They have made my job so much easier as I moved closer and closer to retirement age.

The Unidos con Cristo marriage enrichment weekend for Hispanic couples could not have been possible without the steady guidance of Father Arthur Torres and the leadership of the team couples. Jose Fermin and Ana Cabrera have headed the leadership team since the inception of the program in 2017 along with Agustin and Veronica Ortega. Together, they helped to develop the curriculum, recruit additional team couples, visit parishes throughout the diocese to promote the weekend, and set up small-group communities at many parishes. Blanca Primm, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, has played an integral part in developing this ministry. Her collaboration has been invaluable.

Another invaluable collaborator has been Deacon Tim Elliot, director of the Diaconate and Deacon Formation. He has facilitated the training of the diaconate in ministering with a family perspective. Through his guidance, the diaconate has been trained to be facilitators of the premarital inventory FOCCUS, (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding, and Study) as well as Marriage First Responders and Declaration of Annulity case workers.

I cannot retire without thanking Karen Byrne, who is an assistant to the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment. Karen has kept us organized, created publicity for our events, and guided people who have called into the office on many different topics. She was the voice of reason when I started overextending myself. She has helped to host our events, celebrated our successes, and helped me through some disappointing failures. She is really the backbone of this office. Karen has a great sense of humor, and we have had a blast working together. She has been a true blessing to me and to the diocese.

I would be remiss if my last article did not thank my husband, Ralph; my children, Patrick, Madeleine, and Marie; and my siblings. They have all helped carry supplies, set up and attended events, and then taken it all down when things were finished. I am grateful that my family has provided me with many stories for my articles and helped me with presentations on marriage enrichment topics. Their love, support, and prayers have been a large part of this ministry. Our children have moved away from Tennessee, and when they did, I started recruiting my siblings for help. They always thought they were coming to Tennessee for a vacation, but inevitably, they were put to work. I do not know who is looking more forward to my retirement, my family or me!

Ralph and I have met so many wonderful people throughout the diocese because of this job. We hope to see you as we start our travels in retirement, so we will not say goodbye. We will say thank you for your friendship and for your wise advice as we enter this next step of our marriage journey. Until we meet again, remember, “Love never fails.”

 

Marian Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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