From an Engaging Retreat to Engaged On Retreat: A Couple Commits to Marriage at TOB 1​

From an Engaging Retreat to Engaged On Retreat: A Couple Commits to Marriage at TOB 1​

In June, we had the wonderful opportunity to take the next step in our relationship from dating to engagement, while taking the Theology of the Body 1: A Head and Heart Immersion course at the Black Rock Retreat Center. In many ways, our engagement was the end of one journey, the beginning of another, and the continuation of a third, each of which revolves around understanding what we were made for and how God is calling us to love.

We started dating two years ago, and within our first year of dating, we were asked to teach Theology of the Body (TOB) to the 7th grade Confirmation candidates at our parish. The opportunity to teach also gave us the opportunity to understand and learn the teaching on a deeper level. As we prepared to teach TOB, we strengthened our spiritual understanding and commitment to living it out in our relationship. TOB helped us to understand what the sacrament of marriage was calling us to live out and helped us to discern that we felt God calling us to serve and love each other and God through that sacrament.

Teaching TOB also served as an ongoing challenge and source of accountability for living out the teaching. There were times after wrapping up a lesson that we reiterated the very things we said to our students to each other. We experienced the call to live out what we were teaching and to recognize that TOB is about giving and receiving love in the proper way.

There were other times when we would have a heated disagreement while driving to the parish to teach. We would enter the classroom, teach the lesson and then leave knowing that we still needed to figure out our own problems. There was a constant call to allow the Theology of the Body to move from our heads to our hearts and to allow God into all aspects of our relationship. God’s invitation to go deeper and ongoing conversion were always present as we learned, taught and discerned.

When given the opportunity from our parish to take the TOB1 course, we both eagerly signed up. While we knew this would help us be able to pass on the beautiful teaching to others, we also saw this as an opportunity for us to strengthen our relationship as we looked towards marriage. While at the course we were reminded that TOB ultimately needs to start with us as individuals and we need to set aside the tendency to focus on how to share the teaching. Personal acceptance and conversion needs to precede any evangelization. Theology of the Body has transformed our relationship and has continually challenged us to live a life of holiness within our relationship. We knew that TOB played a part in our relationship thus far, and we wanted it to continue to be a foundation for us moving forward.  Recognizing our need for God’s grace and mercy as well as the prayer of others, the TOB course seemed like the perfect place to begin our next step as a couple.

[FROM PAUL:] As for the actual proposal, Covid affected the original plan to propose when we were with our families. When that plan changed, the Theology of the Body Institute was the obvious choice. Our two-year anniversary from the day we met fell on Tuesday of the course. I had hoped to propose at a grotto with a statue of the Blessed Virgin nearby or an outdoor Stations of the Cross. When I realized that the retreat center was not Catholic, I spent some time on Sunday and Monday scoping out potential spots. The sports field with the three crosses stood out as a great place to ask the question. After a short walk before breakfast, I got down on one knee and asked Katie for her hand in marriage. Later that night Christopher found out and made an announcement during one of the sessions. Looking back we are glad that the proposal plan was changed and that it happened while at a TOB course.

In today’s fast-paced and social media-driven culture, it can be easy to get swept up in the need to share everything immediately. It was beautiful to have five great days filled with daily Mass, prayer, adoration, community, no social media and St. Pope John Paul II’s beautiful teaching before being swept up in wedding planning and marriage preparation. The dating phase ended, and our engagement began in a week-long bubble of grace, mercy, love, faith and community. There was certainly a calm and stillness that followed the proposal which we will always cherish.

While one period of lives ended and another began, a third period simply continued. We continue to fall in love with the Gospel message of the Theology of the Body and we seek to let God transform us through it. The Gospel, which is present within the Theology of the Body, requires ongoing conversion. Just as our faith grows and develops as we experience life and its many challenges, so does our understanding of TOB. We understand and experience TOB in the context of dating which has its own challenges and joys.

As we prepare for marriage, we can only imagine what our future holds, but we know that after giving ourselves to each other at the altar the journey will have only just begun. The challenges we will face in marriage will likely be vastly different from what we imagine now and we look forward to understanding and living the Theology of the Body more deeply in the context of marriage.

Jesus calls us to pick up our crosses and to follow him daily. Just as discipleship is a daily decision, so are the marriage vows meant to be echoed through the marriage. We hope that, by embracing this amazing teaching and by starting our engagement and marriage on a strong foundation, we will be ready to continue to grow, learn, repent, forgive, sacrifice and love for the rest of our lives.

We are grateful for the Theology of the Body Institute and Christopher West for opening up TOB to our hearts and minds, and we look forward to returning to Black Rock for more courses as we strive for holiness through marriage. Please keep us in your prayers!

Paul Cillo and Katie Leavy are members of Our Mother of Consolation in Philadelphia, PA.

Photos by Sarah Pennington.

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