On New Year’s Eve we traveled with friends to celebrate the ringing in of 2014 in Philadelphia. It was here that around 8:30 p.m., under the Ben Franklin Bridge, after ten years of friendship and three years of courtship, we got engaged. It was tremendously exciting. For us, this was something we had both been looking for, and we finally found it in each other. We got on our respective cell phones to call our families and inform them of the good news.
Upon our return to the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Coordinator for Marriage Ministry, Mrs. Ana Puente, informed us that Pope Francis was gathering engaged couples in Rome for a conference of sorts. The event would take place on the upcoming Valentine’s Day and was entitled “The Joy of Yes, Forever.” This would be a chance for us to gather with about 15,000 engaged couples and we would have the rare chance to receive advice for our own marriage and catechesis on the sacrament from Pope Francis himself!
We had a lot of questions: How could we take off from work? How could we afford it? Would the travel be too difficult? In many ways, I believe these were very similar questions that Joseph and Mary must have had as they began their lives together and ultimately made their journey to Bethlehem. We had faith. Not to say it was easy, but we made it work. A few weeks later, we were flying Al Italia and on our way to meet with the Pontiff.
The weather had been brutal back in the Diocese of Brooklyn, but in Rome it was like a beautiful spring day. On Valentine’s Day at 8:00 a.m., together with couples from all over the globe, we made our way through Vatican security and found seats in the third row, maybe one hundred feet from where the Holy Father would sit and address us.
Once we were seated, we noticed that in our excitement to get in and get seats that we missed receiving a packet from the attendants at the entrances. The packets were a gift, a gift from Pope Francis. All the couples in attendance were given a special pillow to use for their wedding bands on the day of their wedding, a gift from the Holy Father. Thankfully we were able to get a pillow too. This token is something very special that we will keep with us not only for our wedding day, but as a reminder that our faith will always play a large part in our marriage.
This wasn’t a conference where the Holy Father got up, gave a keynote for 45 minutes, took questions and walked out. There were a few people who got up and reflected on marriage, one of whom was a famous Italian comedian! Not something we were expecting. They also had a wonderful choir who sang songs in Italian, Spanish and English.
Once Pope Francis arrived, three lucky engaged couples from different parts of Europe were given the opportunity to present one question each to His Holiness about a Catholic engagement, wedding, and marriage. Pope Francis said A LOT, but here are a few topics that spoke to us and we wanted to share:
1) Marriage is more than saying “Yes.” Of course when we got engaged, we chose to say “yes” to one another. But, we also chose to say “no.” As we prepare for marriage, we have to understand that we say “no” to ourselves. No longer are we individuals, we are two who have become one. We say “no” to a life of selfishness and welcome a shared life, one that gives to each other. Sometimes this will be harder than others, but it is something that is important if we are to understand our vocation as a Catholic married couple.
2) Marriage is about more than just a wedding. Of course the planning of the wedding day can be a lot of fun and excitement (okay, and admittedly some headaches!). We’ve enjoyed planning the liturgy, picking a venue, and Paul’s favorite part, the food sampling, but it’s about more than that. It’s about preparing for a marriage. Learning to say “I am sorry” and learning to accept apologies, learning to compromise, learning to accept each other as we are. This is why the work of Marriage Ministry is so important. The Pre-Cana program for the Diocese of Brooklyn works to prepare couples, like ourselves, for this sacrament and how to live out our vocation as a married Catholic couple.
3) Marriage is about making each other better. The Holy Father reminded us that we are called to bring out the best of each other. Of course we want to make ourselves a better man/husband and woman/wife, but more so to bring us each closer to Christ. The Holy Father said that we should bring the best out of each other. Life isn’t always easy, as Mark Hart (of Life Teen fame) humorously put it, “Jesus invited us to the feast, but He never said it would be a picnic.” We need to be there for each other in those times of need.
Being with 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square with the Holy Father, learning about our new vocation was spectacular. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we are both grateful for. Please, keep us in your prayers as we prepare for our marriage as we will keep you all in ours.
About the authors: Paul Morisi is the Coordinator for Adolescent and Young Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Alison Laird is a Kindergarten Teacher at Saint Savior Catholic Academy in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The couple met in a parish youth program 10 years ago this June and will get married on February 15, 2015 at Saint Mary Gate of Heaven Church in Ozone Park, NY.