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Couple provides much-needed ‘continuing education’ for marriages

March 6, 2015
Rick DelVecchio

Saying “I do” at the altar was the last word on the sacrament of marriage for Greg and Julie Alexander – until painful, humbling experience taught them the real meaning of sacrificial love in a marital union.

The San Antonio, Texas, couple went on not only to resurrect their nearly failed marriage but also to create a resource for other couples to help them avoid the predictable mistakes that flow from a common spiritual blind spot – not to realize that a marriage of integrity models the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross.

The Alexanders see themselves as instructors in the prayerful and practical aspects of marriage. Providing what they call marital “continuing education,” they help fill what they say is a widespread need for ongoing marital formation. It was on the brink of divorce 16 years ago, investigating a possible annulment, when they realized that parishes typically do not follow up with couples or offer any organized support after vows are taken.

Rather than dissolve their marriage, they rose to the challenge put to them by their archdiocesan tribunal vicar. “What is God’s plan for marriage?” the priest asked.

Leaving behind the materialism that had governed their relationship and almost wrecked it, they turned to Scripture and to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Alexanders learned that the church has all the answers, but the problem was “we hadn’t heard it,” Julie said in an interview with Catholic San Francisco last week.

Co-founders and co-directors of Alexander House Apostolate, the parents of seven children are on a mission to proclaim the answers they found. They take to the road four to five times a year to meet with other couples – “to wake them up,” as Greg says – and to promote ongoing marriage formation in parishes. Traveling by RV, they are touring the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Rosa and San Jose dioceses this month, offering parish talks and workshops in what they call their “Covenant of Love Marriage Challenge” program.

The tour includes talks and workshops at St. Raphael Parish, March 19; St. Cecilia, March 23; Good Shepherd, March 24; St. Anne, March 25; St. Gabriel, March 26; and St. Hilary, March 27. All events are from 7-9 p.m.

The couple also will provide “Marriage on Fire” retreats at St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon, March 14 from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., and Our Lady of Angels Parish in Burlingame, March 21 from 3-9. For more information, visit marriage-onfire.com.

“We give couples a practical way of learning how to pray together,” said Julie, holding the couple’s 4-year-old son Justin in her lap. “Second, we help them understand God has a purpose, a plan.”

The program covers chastity, forgiveness and healing, communication and how partners can serve one another – “to assist each other in growing in holiness,” as Greg put it.

“One of the problems we find with couples is they’re unaware God even has a plan for marriage,” Greg said. “God’s ultimate plan is to experience his love through each other here on earth.”

The sacrament of matrimony, Greg said, “is the visible sign of an invisible reality.”

Not knowing this truth put the Alexanders’ marriage on shaky ground.

“Ignorance is not bliss, and that ignorance had caused so much hurt and pain even to the point of rejecting God’s plan,” Julie said.

Julie said the couple cohabitated before marriage. That turned out to be a consequential choice “that blocked us from getting to know the true person,” she said.

She added, “We didn’t have a relationship with God and we made each other our gods.”

“God desires to be a part of our marriage, and when we don’t do it, it’s a living hell,” Julie said.

The high divorce rate and the aversion to marriage among young people have their roots in such examples, the Alexanders said.

“We have not modeled it well,” Julie said.

Greg drew an analogy to basketball star Lebron James. “If we gave off the same impression of the awareness of our marriages, kids would emulate that,” he said.

He said that marital trouble such as he and his wife experienced “is God’s simple of way of allowing us to understand we got off track.”

Grace enters marriage when couples emulate Christ’s “dying to the self for the sake of the beloved,” Greg said. This leads to the emotional fulfillment that couples chase but never seem to grasp when their relationships are not based on sacrificial love.

“Enjoy your marriage,” Greg said “We can only do that by living the fullness of what God intended us to be.”

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