by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
LEAWOOD — Everyone knows that marriage is much more than the ceremony and anniversaries.
Yet, few couples understand the “Catholic difference” in marriage and the building blocks for lifelong love.
But that’s the focus of the archdiocesan- wide Marriage Enrichment Conference to be held Oct. 6 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Leawood.
The day begins with Mass at 8:15 a.m., followed by coffee and doughnuts. The first session begins at 9:30 and features Greg Popcak, Ph.D., and his wife Lisa. The Popcaks are the authors of more than 20 books that apply timeless Catholic wisdom and cutting-edge psychological insights to the challenges of marriage, family and everyday life.
Together, they are the founders of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, a Catholic telecounseling practice geared toward helping Catholics around the globe. The conference, said Greg, takes couples back to basics within the church.
“Catholics don’t get to define what marriage means for them,” he said. “When you get married in the church, you’re not just asking the church to bless something you’ve decided to do. Rather, you are agreeing to spend your lives learning how to love each other the way God wants you to love each other, the way the church envisions love and intimacy.”
“When a couple stands at the altar on their wedding day, they are essentially saying, ‘I feel love for this person, but I don’t really know how to love them — not the way God wants me to. But I want to spend my life learning how to love this person, and I believe that the church has the ability to teach me to do that. That’s why we are here today.’”
The Popcaks, who have been married for 27 years and are the parents of three children, are popular guests on many Catholic radio and television programs. Their work has been featured in national media outlets and they are the hosts of the national radio program, More2Life on EWTN.
Their marriage advice recently caught the eye of an unlikely person — St. Michael pastor and vicar general for clergy, Father Brian Schieber.
But Father Schieber believes Greg and Lisa have a lot to teach everyone — including priests like himself.
“The Popcaks spoke at our annual priest convocation. They spoke about marriage and relationships. They offered so many practical tips, that I could relate in my own life,” said Father Schieber. “For example, in marriage, you have to learn to love your spouse. In order to love, you have to learn to communicate and handle conflict. This is something we all need to learn.”
The conference is aimed at couples of all stages, from the newly engaged to those celebrating golden anniversaries and beyond.
“The fact is, most Catholic couples have no idea what the Catholic vision of marriage is and why it matters to their day-to-day life. Most Catholic couples don’t pray together,” Greg said. “Other than going to Mass together, most Catholic couples don’t structure their days or their lives differently than any other couple.”
The conference is focused on helping all couples recognize how to make faith the source of the warmth in their relationship.
Mary Connor, the pastoral ministry coordinator for St. Michael, has been married for 26 years and knows that the preparation for a good marriage does not stop on your wedding day. It’s just the beginning, according to Connor.
“Saint Michael the Archangel is committed to supporting marriages after the altar and ‘I do,’” Connor said. “One of our super-priorities in our pastoral plan is strengthening marriage and family life. Strong marriages need to be rooted in faith, with God at the center.
“The Marriage Enrichment Conference will allow couples to take away valuable tools to be used to strengthen their marriage bond. It takes work to have a good marriage, but it is worth it.”
One of the tools Father Schieber learned about was the need to become more aware of your own emotions and learn effective coping skills.
“The Popcaks have some great information about the importance of praying together, even couples of different faiths,” Father Schieber said. “No matter what faith you are, these skills apply to everyone. Couples of different faiths need to find common ground and learn to pray together.”
In their book, “For Better. . . FOREVER!” the Popcaks describe the different stages marriages travel over the course of the couple’s life together. Each stage involves different challenges and requires the couple to learn new skills.
For example, said Greg, it’s important for married couples battling complacency to remember that “love doesn’t just die. To thrive, love needs to be nurtured, protected and nourished.”
Similarly, the age-old question — “How do I know if this person is right for me?” — may best be answered by asking this question: “Does this person know how to integrate their faith and everyday life?”
“Happy couples recognize that if you want to have a good marriage, you always have to be willing to learn something more about life, your partner or yourself,” said Greg.
“Research shows that happy couples argue as much as unhappy couples,” he continued. “They just work harder at taking care of each other during the arguments, encouraging each other through the arguments and working to find solutions together [instead of attacking and blaming].”
The conference is open to all married couples. Couples do not need to register for this event and there is no cost to attend.
For more information, visit the website at: stmichaelcp.org. Click on the link “Marriage Enrichment Conference with Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak” or contact Mary Connor at (913) 402-3920.