I Do… Love You

Sept. 2-8, 2004
I Do… Love You
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Syracuse Diocese Offers Various Marriage Prep Programs

Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, has presided over more than 500 marriages in the last 10 years. His wedding preparation book Together for Life has sold more than seven million copies and is used by over half the couples married in the Catholic Church in the U.S. each year. He knows about real love and understands that it takes hard work to build a successful marriage. For most couples, this effort begins long before they walk down the aisle.

“The Catholic Church wants to encourage and help brides and grooms with marriage preparation,” said Father Champlin. “I am here to help the couples in whatever way I can.” While the marriage preparation process varies from parish to parish, the Catholic Church requires that all couples begin with participating in marriage preparation classes and/or retreats. The priest generally meets with the couple beforehand to learn a little more about them. During this informal get together, Father Champlin asks the prospective bride and groom “ice-breaking questions” about work, how they met, how they got engaged and who said “I love you” first. He said that the most profound question that he asks both the man and woman is, “Why do you want to marry this person?” “The common answer by the bride is, ‘He is my best friend,’” Father Champlin said. “The man usually says something similar.” Father Champlin noted that this response is different from the one he used to hear when he was first working with engaged couples after he was ordained. “The answer used to be based more on emotion and infatuation,” he said. “Now it’s because they truly feel that they are each other’s best friends. This is a good basis for a marriage.”

It is also typical for the prospective bride and groom to take a compatibility test which gives an assessment of the relationship and possible areas of weakness. Cathedral uses a survey called FOCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding & Study). “The survey gives couples a chance to see areas where they agree and disagree,” said Father Champlin. He recalled the first couple he had who completed the survey. “The young lady hurried through it [the survey]. The man took his time,” said Father Champlin. “It showed something about both of them –– she is a quick decision maker and he is a ponderer.” Couples can use this information when making major life decisions.

“Let’s say, for example, this same couple goes to buy a car. She will say, ‘I want that one.’ He will look around,” Father Champlin said. In his 48-and-a-half years dealing with couples, Father Champlin has learned that he cannot predict those couples who will stay together and those who will separate. “It’s a mystery. The couples you think are going to last forever break up in three years,” he said. “When you meet them you see a few externals, but you never really know.”

Father Champlin explained that Cathedral gives couples three options for marriage preparation: Engaged Encounter Weekend, the diocesan Pre-Cana Program and the One-to-One Program. He said that about 70 percent of the couples he has dealt with choose to complete the Pre-Cana Program. This one-day event gives couples the opportunity to look at their relationship seriously and focus on areas that may need improvement, as well as build on the stronger aspects of the relationship.

According to Father Champlin, there are already 40 to 50 weddings booked at the Cathedral for the year 2005. He tries to add a special touch to each ceremony by asking the prospective bride and groom to write letters to each other. He incorporates pieces of the letters into his homily. He has even compiled some of these letters in a book he titled, From the Heart. “The couples have enjoyed writing their remarks and their families and guests are deeply moved,” he said. “It adds a special touch to the ceremonies.”

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