Local Parishes

Newlyweds enthusiastic about new formation program

Deacon John Weist presents a topic for discussion during a session of Marriage Mystagogy, a 12-week formation program for newlyweds. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

LEAWOOD — “I think this is one of the best things happening at our parish,” said Father Brian Schieber, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel here. “And I want to encourage my brother priests and surrounding pastors to find out what Deacon John and Zena [Weist] are doing.”

In an effort to respond to one of the super priorities for the archdiocese — strengthening marriage and family — St. Michael parishioners Deacon John and Zena Weist have developed a 12-week formation program for newlyweds called Marriage Mystagogy.

These newlywed couples are participating in a 12-week formation program at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood called Marriage Mystagogy. The program was developed by Deacon John and Zena Weist (right). LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Many Catholics may be familiar with the term “mystagogy” because it is applied to a period from Easter to Pentecost when newly initiated Catholics grow their faith through prayer, learning and practicing with other believers.

“We have excellent marriage prep programs,” said Deacon Weist, “but just as we do for the sacraments of initiation, we thought we should offer this for the sacrament of marriage.

“So our couples, now that they’re married, have the lived experience. How is this sacrament affecting day-to-day life? And how are we seeing these graces received in the sacrament helping us in our marriage?”

Called to go deeper

The idea for Marriage Mystagogy started in 2019 when the Weists were invited to join Father Schieber at a marriage conference in Italy called “Mistero Grande.”

“Following that conference,” said Deacon Weist, “the Holy Spirit was working in us and we just felt that we were being called to go deeper into marriage enrichment.

“We landed on this realization that we wanted to do it with newlyweds.”

Deacon John Weist and his wife Zena, left, chat with a newly married couple during the Marriage Mystagogy program at St. Michael. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

The group meets once a week, for two hours, over the course of three months.

Through the use of Scripture and the book “Signs of Love” by Renzo Bonetti, the group explores the deeper meaning of the sacrament of marriage.

There are larger discussions and then breakouts into small groups to consider specific topics.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the domestic church — just another term for the family, and the universal church,” said Deacon Weist. “In the universal church, when we go to Mass,  we have prayer, forgiveness, the presence of Jesus, we have fellowship.

“Well, all those same things should be happening in the domestic church. So, we draw those parallels.”

Each week, a couple will present their personal salvation story — how they did or didn’t grow up in the faith, how they met and what the faith looks like now for them as a couple.

“It’s a way for us to get to know each other a little more deeply,” said Deacon Weist.

Brett and Elissa Duncan share a laugh during the Marriage Mystagogy program. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

The Weists are assisted by mentor couples who have been through the program or are mentors in the Witness for Love premarriage program.

“We’ve been married 25 years,” said Annette Berglund who is a mentor along with her husband Michael. “Really, marriage and our love for each other is the closest representation on earth to God’s love.

“So, welcoming people into our home, loving people in our home, showing forgiveness and mercy to people in our home is a reflection to the world of who God is.

“When you realize how important your marriage is from that aspect, you look at it differently.”

The program wraps up with couples attending Sunday evening Mass together and then sharing a meal in the parish hall.

Connecting couples to parish life

A secondary goal of Marriage Mystagogy is to help couples walk with other newlyweds and form relationships that help them connect to parish life.

“We have a break for them to socialize,” said Zena. “The first week, it is a very quiet break, but after that, John and I have to reel them in because they are so chatty — which is what we want.”

“They’re all in the same boat trying to figure out how to live Christian marriage,” added Father Schieber. “This formation is amazing and the response we are getting among young couples shows a hunger for it.”

Connor Bowen shares with a small group during Marriage Mystagogy while his wife Elizabeth looks on. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

This is the third cohort of Marriage Mystagogy and those completing the program have increased from 10 couples initially to 25 currently.

The success of the program is reflected in comments made by participants.

“It’s made us more intentional about praying together every night and really daily,” said Connor Bowen.

“It’s really helped me think about life as a domestic liturgy,” said Katie Ohlhaut. “So, inside of our family, every single thing we do is part of a liturgy within the broader church’s liturgy as well.”

The ultimate goal is to spread this program throughout the archdiocese.

“These first three cohorts have kind of been our pilot,” said Zena. “We’ve grown with each one, and we’re trying to get to a point where we can get a curriculum and train others at other parishes.”

That’s Father Schieber’s goal as well.

“A lot of the questions of marriage, or any vocation, don’t surface until you really start living it,” he said. “And so, this is providing formation to young couples to help them live out the Catholic vision of marriage.”

“Every parish doesn’t need to have this,” he continued. “But we could make this one of the hubs for Johnson County to invite other couples from other parishes to participate.”

“I’d like to spread this.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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