Christopher West first developed the program, called “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage,” in the late 1990s, when he served as director of the Marriage and Family Life Office in the Archdiocese of Denver.

The program provides couples such as Magliocco and Meeker an understanding of the teachings of the church, offering them tools to live married life. It helps engaged couples understand God’s plan for marriage, including the teachings of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” and they come away from the program with a sense of liberation and gratitude rather than resentment toward the church, he explained.

While Magliocco and Meeker were close in many aspects of their faith, such as Natural Family Planning and the theological approaches to the sacrament, a few issues threatened to divide their relationship.

“It was good for us to be able to put our own thoughts on paper and talk to each other and not at each other. For me, I needed to communicate better with Melissa and not be impatient,” he said. “Marriage is a give and take and we need to be selfless. We can’t be selfish in a marriage; our love needs to be like God’s love – selfless in order for it to work.”

Program impacts relationships

A five-year survey of more than 2,000 couples participating in “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage” found that 91 percent of participants were sexually active coming into the program, while after the program:

  • 48 percent planned to save sex until marriage
  • 31 percent planned to use natural family planning
  • 45 percent might use natural family planning
  • 78 percent had a better understanding of the Catholic vision of marriage
  • 50 percent came away with a more positive impression of the Catholic Church
  • 48 percent planned to become more active in their faith after the program
  • 61 percent made a deeper commitment to Christ after the program

While the archdiocese requires couples to attend an Engaged Enrichment class before marriage, Magliocco believes that challenging the relationship and discerning God’s direction brings the sacrament to a new level. In collaboration with the Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Formation – a ministry of the John Paul II Center funded by the Catholic Stewardship Appeal – the couple, with the assistance of Dave and Julie Braun, married 13 years, from Milwaukee, and Dennis and Terri Niesen, married 23 years, from Kenosha, are planning a retreat for engaged couples.

For more information:

Engagement Retreat
Based on “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage”
Oct. 30-31
Redemptorist Retreat Center
1800 N. Timber Trail Lane

The Nazareth Project for reservations and fees
John Paul II Center
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
(414) 758-2213

or Brian Magliocco
(262) 694-6018, ext. 133

The retreat, which will take place at the Redemptorist Retreat Center, includes material from the Christopher West program, discussions on the sacrament of marriage and will focus on the Theology of the Body from the perspectives of the three couples.

“We are all at different stages in our marriages and will all be able to bring a different perspective to the engaged couples,” said Magliocco. “Through the retreat, we plan to have some talks, questions to reflect on —-personally, with the couples and then finally with others in a large group.”

Two-day retreat for couples

The two-day retreat will have opportunities for Mass, reconciliation, adoration and other devotions. According to Magliocco, the weekend will also foster opportunities to hear about the church’s teaching on marriage, and provide time to reflect, pray and talk about it.

“As engaged couples, we need to understand what God’s call is,” he said. “For many people, marriage is looked at as a contract that you can break with any given conditions. But the church looks at it as a covenant with God and we want to take these vows seriously.”

While the vocation to the priesthood requires at least eight years of formal preparation, the vocation to married life requires six months’ preparation and a five-hour Engagement Enrichment class.

“We are saying that both vocations are equal, but there is a huge difference in how much preparation a married couples receives,” said Magliocco. “From what we have seen, the majority of couples are getting married in the church to go through the motions, but we would like to see them want more and become challenged in their faith and face any difficulties head on before they become a problem.”

Addressing communication issues in the beginning will help to eliminate small issues, such as leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube, before they escalate into a full-blown catastrophe.

“If we don’t do that, we won’t know how to respond to each other’s needs and quirks and will end up in a big fight,” said Magliocco. “But instead, we can realize who the person is and recognize that we all have faults. Communication is a big part of this retreat and the talks at this retreat will be the main focus so couples can take this information and see how it relates to their lives.”

High divorce rate = lack of preparation

For Meeker, going through program brought a clearer understanding of the true meaning of marriage to her and Magliocco.

“We really learned that God should be the center of all that we do on our own and as a couple,” she said. “Fr. Jim has been a great help to us. The program itself is fantastic; Brian and I got a lot of discussion out of it and some good things that we want to incorporate into our marriage.”

With the divorce rate among Catholics nearly as high as it is among non-Catholics, Meeker attributes much of that escalation to a lack of preparation.

“People are not getting to know each other or learning to really understand each other,” she said.

Dave Braun, youth minister of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, West Bend, agreed and added that for Catholics who approach marriage with a God-centered mindset, the divorce rate drops to an astonishing 5 percent.

“So it is a really good start for engaged couples if they can hold onto these Christ-centered principles and build a really good foundation,” he said. “I wish that when my wife and I got married 13 years ago that we were informed about the basis of love versus infatuation.”

While the initial honeymoon period is good and exciting, Braun hopes that couples attending the retreat will benefit from an opportunity to grow into the sacraments and develop a direction that he did not have when he married Julie.

“Having a joy-filled marriage doesn’t mean that things are always happy, but there is a joy in being confident in a totally faithful, free and fruitful relationship,” he said. “I certainly did not know these things when we started but if we had been better able to communicate, it might have been an easier start.”

Program an invitation to God-centered marriage

Magliocco hopes that 25 engaged couples will be open to challenging their faith, willing to grow deeper in a God-centered marriage, and to a more intimate level of communication and decide to attend the Oct. 30-31 retreat. While the weekend won’t guarantee a perfect marriage, he sees it as an opportunity to foster a life-long sacramental marriage.

“We don’t want this to be a one-weekend shot in the arm,” Magliocco said. “We want them to go home, or go out for dinner and talk about the practical things to do when the retreat high wears off and hopefully there will be something long lasting.”

An ongoing small group to keep the discussions and growth alive is another aspect the three couples hope to implement after the retreat. Magliocco challenges couples to come for the weekend and watch God’s blessings on their marriage unfold.

“Give God this one weekend in your life and God will bless you,” he said. “Your faith will grow; you will grow closer to each other if you just make this one life changing decision.”