When Jim and Maureen Otremba began dating as graduate students at St. John’s University in Collegeville, they spent enough time at St. John’s Abbey Church to realize that wherever their relationship took them they’d never be closer to each other than in the Eucharist.
The profound intimacy at the heart of the Eucharist has been a point for conversation and reflection ever since, Maureen said. The Otrembas, who now live in Sauk Rapids with their three children, have turned this conversation point into the basis for a retreat for Catholic married couples designed to help improve intimacy and forgiveness.
Combining theological training with their own lived experiences and those of others, they will show how the Mass is a model for marriage at their skills-based day retreat, entitled “The Foundational Intimacy: Eucharist as the Model for Marriage,” at St. Joseph in Delano on Oct. 8.
“What hasn’t been done to my knowledge is to let the liturgical flow of the Mass inform marriages, and that’s what we’re doing here,” said Jim, a licensed independent clinical social worker with master’s degrees in divinity and applied psychology. “Every one of these parts of the Mass has a profound instructional thesis for our marriage, profound truths for our marriage if we’re willing to look at them.”
Mass can be a source of weekly marriage enrichment if it is approached from the right perspective, said Maureen, a parish pastoral worker in the St. Cloud diocese who holds a master’s degree in theology. The couple has spoken and written extensively on marriage and engaged topics.
During the retreat, the Otrembas identify major parts of the liturgy that offer insights for the marital relationship. The gathering of the Mass, as well as marriage, contains both predictability and possibility, she said.
“We even talk about where people sit in the church and even when we’re approaching the building,” Maureen said. “Most of that’s pretty predictable because we’re creatures of habit. But there is a degree of possibility as well, where things can be a little different and we need to be open to where God might be leading.”
A look at the penitential act of the Mass (formerly the penitential rite) reveals the importance of forgiveness fundamentals in both the Christian community at large and in marriage, she said.
The third part of the Mass examined is the Liturgy of the Word, where the couple show how each individual’s story and the stories of other church members have a parallel in the story of a married couple.
During discussion on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the couple presents eight foundational intimacies that precede sexual intimacy, including emotional, intellectual, spiritual and verbal intimacy.
Noting that we pray a number of prayers before receiving the Eucharist, Jim said, “If we could apply that insight that the Eucharist offers every time we gather to our marriages, it would greatly enhance our intimacy.”
For all married couples
The retreat is skills-based, he said, “because we want couples to walk away with information they can act on this very day.”
Retreatants will learn, among other skills, specific steps for forgiveness and reconciliation. They’ll also learn the importance of different kinds of intimacies, their spouse’s preferred intimacies and communication skills, Jim said.
“If I know my spouse’s preferred form of intimacy, that their top three are verbal, verbal, verbal, I’d better be learning some communication skills,” he said.
While the Otrembas’ instruction doesn’t overlap very much with Blessed John Paul II’s teaching on sexuality and marriage — the Theology of the Body — Jim noted that the couple’s program appears to be in line with the teaching. It’s also rooted in eucharistic theology and synthesizes church teaching, he said.
Couples at all stages can benefit from learning how to get more out of the Mass and their marriage, whether their marriage is good or rocky, Jim said.
Maureen added, “We hope that it will speak to anyone regardless of where they are in their marriage. I really believe that the Holy Spirit will do that, speak to the couple wherever they are on their journey.”
Want to know more?
- What: “The Foundational Intimacy: Eucharist as the Model for Marriage”
- When: Oct. 8, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Where: St. Joseph Church, 401 N. River St., Delano
- Cost: $35 per couple; child care available
- For more information or to sign up, call (763) 972-8818 or email firstname.lastname@example.org