Welcome to my last Uniquely Catholic Brides and Brides-to-Be post! I’ve absolutely loved sharing the incredible and faith filled stories of these brides and brides-to-be with you, but it’s about time I wrap it up and focus more on my own marriage preparation and wedding planning journey! It’s so fitting that I end this series featuring Stephanie Calis, who was an inspiring factor in the series to begin with and who’s new ministry, Spoken Bride, is a great resource for me to leave you with!
I’m so blessed to know Stephanie and I’m so honored to have the chance to share her story here:
Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m a 27-year-old mama of two and am celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary this summer! I started blogging about Catholic weddings and relationships at Captive the Heart during the first year I was married, and my blog led to a book project, Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner with Pauline Media that was just released this April.
Tell us about your husband, how you met, and your love story.
My husband Andrew sat two seats away from me in our college British Literature class during my junior year. He always had (to me, at least) the sharpest, most original point of view on whatever we were reading, and I remember wishing so much for an opportunity to talk to him–not in an On-October-3rd-he-asked-me-what-day-it-was kind of way, but in the sense that I felt like Andrew was the kind of person I could
sit down and talk with and never, ever run out of things to say.
At the time, I was in a relationship that was spiritual on the exterior–my boyfriend and did things like go to daily Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours together, and we even went on a retreat where the only people we knew were each other–but that gave me a lot of unrest, due to sins against chastity, some struggles on his part with anger and problem-solving, and just general compatibility, on the interior. Andrew and I became friends that semester and kept in touch over email after he graduated, and the more we talked, the more I felt such deep peace in his presence and such a fascination with everything about him. My boyfriend and I broke up, and even though Andrew and I hadn’t so much as hinted out loud that we had feelings for each other, it was so clear to me that we’d end up together. He asked me out over coffee one day soon after my breakup, but I said no, at least for the time, because I knew I needed to refocus my spiritual life and to consider how I wanted and needed to conduct myself, for the better, in my next relationship, knowing this next one was it.
So we both prayed, and the day after the Feast of St. Therese, I knew Therese was telling us it was time. From the start, I felt so cherished and respected by Andrew and like he was so genuinely interested in everything I had to say–I didn’t think I could possibly be as interesting as I found him! We still love to talk for hours, and I know every girl says things like this about her fiance or husband, but in my eyes he is the most honest, sacrificial, creative, and loving man I’ve ever met.
When you were dating, in what ways did you cultivate a faith life together?
We went to a Catholic college and were fortunate to have multiple daily opportunities for Mass and the sacraments. By the time we started dating, I was a senior and Andrew was living and working nearby, so we didn’t get to go to daily Mass together too often–he was usually at work in the middle of the day, when I went to Mass, but I always included him in my Mass intentions. We did get to see each other most nights during the week, where Andrew would come to campus and have dinner with me and my roommates, or where he’d pick me up and I’d have dinner with him and his family. I feel like the fact that I got to know his parents and siblings early on in our relationship was really special, a chance to know Andrew more through them, in a way that’s usually rarer when you date in college. We ended almost all of our times together with a Rosary walk, even when there was snow on the ground. Over time we added more and more saints to a personal litany we’d recite at the end of the Rosary, and now it’s up to 23 of them! As we pray for each saint’s intercession, I love thinking back on the times in our relationship when a certain saint became significant to us. We found that learning to pray together is awkward sometimes, even when you feel perfectly free talking to each other in almost every other way. The Rosary was a comfortable place to start because it gives you a script! As our relationship deepened, we started to pray more spontaneously, as well.
Overall, when I think of the biggest markers of our faith life in the beginning, three things stand out to me. First, we made it a priority to go to confession together every two weeks, which I now see opened our relationship to so many graces in the form of imitating God’s mercy in how we treated each other. Second, we read Edward Sri’s book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, which breaks down JPII’s Love and Responsibility, together. I introduced the book to Andrew after learning about Love and Responsibility on a retreat, and we were amazed at the depth and perception to which the Pope, and Dr. Sri, understand the human heart and why it causes us to fall into certain habits, for good or for bad, in our dating and married relationships. The book led each of us to a deeper sense of self-knowledge and self-examination, and John Paul’s ideas formed so many of the principles that I now see we’ve cemented our relationship on, particularly regarding sacrifice for love of the other. Third, Andrew and I decided we wanted to make a habit of offering up the hard parts of our days for each other’s intentions. Knowing I could give over my small inconveniences and more major trials to Jesus and Mary, hopefully for Andrew’s good, meant a lot to me, especially during our long-distance engagement when our days were lived so separately.
How did he propose?
I consider it a huge grace that Andrew and I both felt the clarity we did that we were called to marry each other within the first month or two of dating; every couple is different, but I think that immediate certainty was necessary for both of us after having been in over-analytical, indecisive relationships in the past. After my college graduation, I had signed on for a missionary year as a pro-life and chastity speaker, and Andrew was headed to grad school six hours away to earn his Masters Degree in English. We had talked about getting engaged around Christmas of that year.
I graduated and headed off to summer training for my mission, and saw Andrew again for the first time at his new nephew’s baptism, which was also when we’d decided to belatedly celebrate my birthday. We ended up leaving the baptism reception early because Andrew had a fever and a scratch he’d gotten earlier that week was swelling showing signs of being infected. This is a big deal if you know him–in all the time we’ve been together, I think that’s the only time he’s agreed to see a doctor! I mention this only because I’d had no idea that Andrew was going to propose that weekend, and he told me later that with the pain and swelling in his arm he could barely reach into his pocket to pull out the ring! Anyway, I spent the night at his family’s house, and we went to Mass together the next morning on our college campus, which wasn’t unusual for us. We ate the picnic lunch we’d packed, and Andrew gave me my birthday present, a journal he’d filled in with poems and prayers he’d written for me. True to form, he asked me to go on a Rosary walk with him.
There’s a lot of statues of Our Lady on campus, but one there’s one in particular that we’d often stop at during our walks. As we prayed that day, I kept trying to pull Andrew toward the statue, and he kept redirecting me. He finally led us there toward the end of the Rosary, and before our mother in heaven, we said the Memorare, our favorite prayer, and Andrew started saying all these beautiful things that I wish I could remember word for word. The thing is, he always said (and still says) the most beautiful things, and I didn’t know what he was up to until the actual words “Will you marry me?” came out of his mouth! I said, “Yes; of course!” followed immediately by, “Does anyone know about this?” His timing took me completely by surprise! We prayed together for the life ahead of us while still at the statue before going off to call our families and friends!
How did you two prepare for the Sacrament of Marriage? How did you balance wedding planning with marriage preparation?
Being engaged long-distance wasn’t just rough in the expected emotional ways; for us, fighting the temptation to spend every second of our visits together checking off wedding things was also pretty hard. We tried to make our entire gift registry in one afternoon, which I do not recommend! Finding a balance between quality time and wedding-mode time was hard. I have to admit that I’m not sure we ever really mastered that balance, but I will say splitting up tasks and working on them when we were apart freed up a lot of time to just enjoy being together and to visit friends and family when we had weekends together. For me, dividing and delegating tasks was a really good exercise in trust–as the bride, it’s so easy to unintentionally take control of every aspect of wedding planning, but this helped me make an effort to remember it was Andrew’s wedding, too.
For our marriage prep, we did Pre-Cana with our former professor and his wife, whom we asked to mentor us because we anticipated the first few years of our marriage looking a lot like theirs–Andrew’s dream is to teach college English, and many years of grad school, with their accompanying low pay, frequent moves, and professional uncertainty, is the means to get there. He currently has two years left, God willing, before completing his Ph.D. We wanted to talk with a couple who’d experienced a similar time of extended school and its demands while starting their family. We also signed up for a Natural Family Planning course early in our engagement, our intention being that the longer I’d been charting my cycle before our wedding, the easier and more familiar NFP would feel to us after our wedding.
What was your favorite reading during your wedding liturgy? Why?
We chose the story of Sarah and Tobias’ marriage, from the Book of Tobit, for our first reading. For a long time before I met Andrew, I’d had a devotion to the archangel Raphael, who basically sets up Tobias with Sarah after her prior seven husbands have died before their marriage was consummated. Tobias is a man set apart, not only because of Raphael’s hand and his message that the marriage is what God intends, but because of his integrity. The reading is the scene of Tobias and Sarah praying over their marriage, and he says, “I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her” (Tobit 8:7). The image of a husband and wife willing to stare death in the face for the sake of love was, and is, so beautiful to us. Our son Aaron’s middle name is Tobias, and we hope that whatever his future vocation, he’ll imitate that same pure love for his bride.
Did you incorporate any special family traditions into your special day?
The first ones that come to mind are food! For our favors, we made bookmarks with a few of our favorite quotes from Scripture and literature (we wanted to honor the fact that we love to read and met in English!), and also gave our guests a treat from each of our families. Andrew’s family is Palestinian and Jordan almonds are a traditional wedding candy in Arabic culture; you give each guest five almonds, one each to symbolize long life, health, happiness, wealth, and children for the bride and groom. For my side, we served cookies my grandma has made constantly for my whole life. Another tradition in my family is that my dad and his three brothers have always done this ridiculous/hilarious dance routine to “Y.M.C.A” at any major get-together, and at our reception, they surprised everyone with shirts they’d made, one letter each, under their dress clothes!
How was your wedding day a means of evangelization to your guests?
We really wanted our wedding to help us and our guests experience the Mass through all five senses, through a beautiful chapel and music, incense, and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, while meeting them where they are. I think that true faith and beauty, as exhibited by the bride and groom and by the liturgy, are hard to ignore, so we wanted to let those things speak for themselves and hoped that it would reach out to the heart of our guests, wherever they’d been and where they were spiritually. Concretely, we had our two priests hear confessions for the hour before the Mass, and my boss gave us a beautiful crucifix from Rome as a wedding gift that we were going to have blessed during the Rite of Marriage, but we forgot to bring it inside the church! I didn’t know what any of the speeches would contain, but Andrew’s brother, the Best Man, said some really beautiful, motivating things about sacrificial, Christ-like love in marriage.
What was your favorite way that the Catholic faith was made manifest on your wedding day?
I’m blushing writing this, but, uh, can I say my favorite way was on our wedding night? Waiting until marriage to share sexual intimacy was really, really hard, but the fruits of that sacrifice were, and are, indescribable. I actually count waiting for marriage as the proudest accomplishment of my life, more than any recognition or awards or anything like that–not because Andrew and I are better than anyone else with a different past or because we haven’t sinned against chastity or against each other in other ways, but because the freedom to make ourselves a complete gift to one another, and with it the deeper understanding of how beautifully incarnational the sacraments are, is such a source of joy in our lives. If the word manifest means to make visible, then being able to see, sense, and live out our wedding vows in the flesh truly was a visible sign of the sacrament we’d just entered into.
As husband and wife now, what are some ways that you continue to cultivate your faith lives together?
We have kept up our traditions of Rosary walks and of offering up the inconveniences of our days for each
other, both of which I appreciate in a new way since having babies and as Andrew navigates the huge time commitment of academic life while balancing it with our family. We pray together before bed, which I love doing in person instead of over the phone like we did when we were engaged, and try to do spiritual reading together–we set out to read Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light for Lent, and even though we didn’t finish it before Easter, we’re still making our way through. Something I’ve loved in our marriage, as well, is that we’ve had a lot of opportunities to do ministry together that just weren’t possible in the past with long-distance dating. Since our wedding, we’ve become certified to teach NFP and have given talks on Engaged retreats. Recently we’ve been dreaming of being a Pre-Cana sponsor couple and plan to see if we can mentor engaged couples at our alma mater.
Do you have any tips or advice for Catholic brides-to-be?
Go easy on yourself with chastity, try to use engagement well and not just as a time to get through, find and actually practice concrete ways of sacrificing for each other now–that’s what lasts, and what I find more romantic than ever now after a few years of marriage.
Steph, thanks so much for sharing with us! Please keep doing what you do to help Catholic brides everywhere. Everyone, make sure you head over to Spoken Bride for beautiful, expert and distinctively Catholic wedding content!
*** Engagement and wedding photos taken by Natalie Franke Photography