By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
MOSS BLUFF — Troy and Jessica Findley of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Vinton summed up the recent Together in Holiness marriage enrichment day with one word: gift.
“To spend time with God and each other in community like this knowing we are going home more strengthened for the family is a gift. It has been a blessing,” Troy said about the event held at Camp Karol of Saint Charles Center on April 29.
The Findleys, who will be married 21 years this summer, joined more than 55 other couples — from newly married to more than 50 years — for the conference presented by the St. John Paul II Foundation and the Diocese of Lake Charles.
“When you think about family life, our seven children (ages 20 to 10 years) are the seven most important reasons to set aside days like this for our marriage,” Troy remarked, noting their family’s habit of praying together is essential.
The third annual conference featured a mix of guest speakers with a focus on the theme, “Family, a Believing and Evangelizing Community.” Mass was celebrated by Bishop Glen John Provost, and time was set aside for Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and private time for the couples.
Together in Holiness is an initiative of the St. John Paul II Foundation that inspires spouses to grow together in holiness and empowers parents to form their children in the Catholic faith.
Jessica said the day helped her and Troy refocus on their personal prayer life and couple prayer in addition to family prayer.
“It is important to set aside time together to grow in our marriage and make a conscious effort every morning to be available for each other, to serve each other, not just receive from the other,” she emphasized.
Owen and Erin Clanton, parishioners of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Lake Charles and members of Domestic Church, were featured on a panel with their pastor, Father Nathan Long, for the presentation, “Enkindling and Fanning the Flame: How to Pass on the Faith to Your Children.” Their overall message was for parents to “show up” each day for their children.
“What we are trying to do with our children is model our faith,” said Erin. “Are we perfect at it? No, but we show up each day being present in their lives and giving them the time that they need from us.”
Figuring out the right time to pray as family looks different with each family, said Owen, but he noted that time is the key element amid the reality of family life.
Using the analogy, iron sharpens iron, Owen said, “Erin and I have made the decision that we are going to try sharpening each other to get each other to Heaven while trying to get our children to Heaven, too.”
No matter if you are already in a family prayer routine or just getting your feet wet, Father Long cautioned couples not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
“Don’t let what your expectation is of family prayer or couple prayer overcome what you are not seeing, which is a lot of good. Just start somewhere. God is OK with that,” said Father Long, warning spouses not to sacrifice individual prayer for couple prayer. “You need to do both because one will strengthen the other.”
This is the second year for Michael Lavine to attend with his wife, Ashley. Also parishioners of St. Margaret, they have been married for 15 years and recognize that their responsibility to keep the Church strong is by keeping the family strong.
“Every marriage needs prayer, and this conference strengthens us with our prayer life which will strengthen our marriage,” said Michael. “To express my love for Jesus Christ with my wife and for us to express that love together helps our relationship. To see other Catholic couples want to do the same thing is very exciting to see as well.”
The local panel with Father Long resonated with Andres Noguera and Darcy Garcia, parishioners of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church. The two have been married 30 years with two sons, ages 27 and 25.
Andres picked up on something Father Long said about children carrying on the Catholic faith and that parents are typically not the main influencers in their children’s lives after the age of 18.
“My wife and I are empty nesters,” said Andres, “My message to my sons has evolved as they have grown up. I tell them that their goal is to find a good partner to create a family and a home with. There comes a time when it is our job to talk to God so our children can find the right influencers in their lives.”
Brad and Nicole Foreman, parishioners of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception were glad the timing of Together in Holiness worked out with their schedules this year. They will be married 23 years on June 30 and welcomed the opportunity to reaffirm things they are already doing such as praying nightly family rosaries with their six children ranging from 21 to 6 years old.
“When Father Long talked about ‘just starting’ when it comes to praying as a family, that's really the biggest step, just doing it, taking that step to pray with the family, then you can go from there,” said Brad.
Nicole said while many people are willing to fight battles, it is time for married couples to fight the battle they are in right now so other people will want to get married and keep the family unit strong.
After learning about the event on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lake Charles Facebook page, Samuel and Meredith Fulkerson from the Diocese of Lafayette were excited to spend the day together. Available childcare sealed the deal for them to travel from Estherwood to Moss Bluff.
After five years of marriage, the Fulkersons share a similar connection with other families by trying to grow in their faith even when it feels like the whole world is crashing down sometimes.
“Today made me realize when we are at home with our five children, 6 years and younger, and one is crying and pitching a fit and we are asking ourselves what we are doing wrong, in reality, it is just life. We are not the only ones going through that,” said Samuel. “We might not always know what the right way is other than having this Catholic community in our lives. That is the right way.”
Even after being married nearly 52 years with two sons, Pat and Barbara Diamond of St. Martin de Porres Parish know the importance of keeping God in their marriage. It’s their advice to younger couples just starting out.
“Marriage is not a two-way street; it’s a three-way street,” said Pat. “When you can’t talk to your spouse, you can talk to God to help each other get through the tough times.”
Barbara recalls learning a message early on in their marriage that still applies more than 50 years later. “Couples must decide every day to love. It’s a decision, not a feeling or emotion,” she said while her husband affirmed making that decision is something they have always done throughout their marriage.
Other topics and speakers for the day included “The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Prophetic Mission of the Family,” by Larry G. Freeney, Director of Education and Assessments, Rejoice Counseling Apostolate; and “Becoming Witnesses to the Joy of Eucharistic Love,” by Ryan Hanning, Ph.D., Fellow, San Juan Diego Institute.
Learn more about the St. John Paul II Foundation and its initiative, Together in Holiness at https://forlifeandfamily.org/together-in-holiness/.