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Making the best use of Advent

Making the best use of Advent

The events in the world in recent weeks and months have certainly been devastating to see. As our calendars turn to December, we see the country of Jesus’ birth once again go through so much turmoil and become a place of war and disagreement. The now innumerable homeless people, and consequently refugees, are an incredibly stark reminder of the end of the Christmas story, which is often forgotten as the needles fall from our Christmas trees and we face the reality of a new year.

For us, the journey into Egypt is full of unspoken emotions – Joseph’s incredulity and fear after his vision of warning from the angels, and Mary’s palpable fear of safety for her new family, are incredibly thought-provoking. Sadly, these fears of safety for family life are a real concern for an innumerable number of people today. The Holy Family had to flee the threat of persecution, crossing an international border, fleeing with no more than the clothes on their back and very few, if any, possessions. History is once again repeating itself.

Fortunately, most of us will not be refugees in this sense this Christmas, but are we truly sharing with our spouses the challenges and fears that we have, for example for peaceful and honest communication within our immediate family? Or are we filled with anxieties about plans for time with the extended family over the Christmas period or is it anxiety about family security and stability as we turn the pages of our calendars to a new year?

These concerns and fears are truly significant for all who face them. Christmas is not defined by presents or other material aspects. Christmas is a time for the peace of Christ to truly live in our hearts, in our families and to impact our words and actions over the festive period. So, our challenge is to use this time of Advent to be truly present to our loved ones, to enable them to share their true feelings. We have to be courageous as we may not like what we hear – feelings of isolation and emotional homelessness. We have been gifted this time of Advent to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth rather than focussing on material possessions that at any time we may have to leave behind. Can we seize the moment and use this time to be ready in our relationships to openly welcome Christ into our hearts and our little Churches – our families?

We wish you all a very blessed and holy Christmas

Caroline & Michael L’Estrange

Retrouvaille England & Wales Coordinators



We have been robbed!

Robbed of a summer with no autumn to speak of and winter now thrust upon us.

Unfortunately, the impending dark winter nights can bring with it fear for many, fear of high energy bills, fear of getting sick, fear of seeing less of family and friends, fear of not getting out and about, fear of driving on icy roads, the list of fears becomes endless and the more we think the more fearful we become. We also tend to watch more television in the winter, very often bringing with it an added fearful element into our homes. News of war, natural disasters, and famine in other parts of the world add to our distress and fear thanks to the media. If we are not careful, we can be drawn into a downward spiral of fear and despair.

Thankfully as Christians we have the promise of hope. Hope is the glue that holds us together when times are tough. Scripture reminds us “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

Let us not lose sight of those encouraging words and embrace the word of God as we would a cosy blanket and on those long dark nights letting love and hope warm us. We are certainly going to use this time to read more scripture and make a conscious effort to pray more. We pray that you enjoy your” Wintering” and when Spring comes, as we know it will, you are ready to embrace it with renewed hope in your hearts.

Hope is:                 Fear is:

H helping              F false

O others                E evidence

P praying             A appearing

E everyday           R real


With warm hugs

Liz and Frank Smith

Worldwide Marriage Encounter England & Wales

Cultivate and Plant to Grow

Cultivate and Plant to Grow

As we drove home after returning our grandchildren to their parents, we followed a tractor carrying a huge cultivator.  Around us we noticed the fields had been cultivated and were spouting green shoots.  We reflected that after summer is over and we thank God for the harvest, we continue the cycle He has given us.  Cultivate, plant, grow, nurture, harvest.

In this month of October where will our focus be in the Lord’s vineyard?  Today’s Gospel was about two children being asked to work in the vineyard.  Oh, that’s us.   They made their choices – despite the first responses – one did and one didn’t.  We are called to cultivate relationships with couples whom we meet.  To plant the seeds of growth of love of our spouse and the Lord.

The tractor we followed had a huge cultivator, perhaps the plough had already been used there.  So, we wonder what do we need to do, what words do we need, what smiles, what attitudes in us will best enable us to plant the seeds of growth in couples whom we meet whether passing our house, at the school gate, in the shops or at church?  What can teach us a way to meet, engage and enthuse others to grow their married spirituality?

With a new copy of Magnificat, we looked at the lists of feasts and memorials in October.  We celebrate Mary’s patronage as Mother and wife.  We have St Francis, who cared for those unable to protect themselves; animals and the poor.  And John Henry Newman, whose prayer gives us personally a direction “Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shine: so to shine as to be a light for others.”  We pray that we may always be authentic to everyone we meet, paying particular care to those in need, and that we may be a light to illuminate and guide so that couples may grow closer to each other and the Lord.


Annette and Paul O’Beirne

Equipes Notre Dame – Teams

Magnificat  ; a spiritual guide to develop prayer life. A monthly publication, paper or online, giving daily prayer, readings, meditations and reflections. www.uk.magnificat.net

When Autumn Leaves Begin to Fall . . .

When Autumn Leaves Begin to Fall . . .

We are approaching Autumn, with a different awareness this year – we’ve had a few funerals of friends and family and it’s highlighted for us that we are in the Autumn years of our lives. There’s been much joy amidst the sadness, the gatherings of family and friends, many blessings, and of course the questions that are raised for ourselves – do we seek to live each day to the fullest? Do I still seek to put you, my beloved, first in my life? Are we still trying to be ‘in it together ‘? On different days, we might give different answers, the heart is willing, but the flesh can be weak.
Spending time with children and grandchildren has been a gift, their vitality, their verve, all of life ahead of them, in the springtime of their days, they are a reminder to embrace each moment, each day.
As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there’s a time for everything under heaven. The 2nd reading on Sunday (Sept 3rd) asks us to ‘offer our living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God, not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do’ (Romans 12:1-2).
As God only ever wants what is the best for us, it is good that we continue to take time to listen to Him and listen to each other, then together we can discern how best to enjoy Autumn – quiet walks on the way or throwing leaves over each other and rejoicing that we still can? What are you rejoicing in today?

Brian and Maureen Devine
Coordinators, Two in One Flesh
Turning Over a New Leaf

Turning Over a New Leaf

One of the many pleasures of the summer break is snuggling down to read a book. This varies from the delight of reading something new, through to the more nuanced one of returning again and again to an old favourite. The latter practice provides the opportunity to understand the text better, to pay greater attention to the details and to find ourselves drawn more deeply into the narrative. It is an opportunity for new surprises and clarifications, where we recapture the magic of the story and better retain the tangled plots. It also means that we become more aware of how the book was written, of its language and words.

Books come in a variety of forms, some of which are easy to read and others that require time and patience. Of this, one form is associated with family, social history and legends, the Saga. The style is unpretentious and unadorned. They are great to read. These long and epic stories written in a poetic form also seem well suited to one of the greatest narratives ever written, the story of our married love. It is one where, as co-authors, we record the events and deeds of a shared life. This does, however, require some mutual editing and periodic revisions as memories may vary, especially when we were distracted by writing with one pen rather than two.

At times our shared story can be written carelessly and untidily, yet in the rereading we often discover a new vocabulary with which to write the onward narrative. As this is a living narrative it cannot be left to gather dust on the shelf but remains open to new entries and rereading of our past.  Returning to our never-ending story is surprisingly a healthy practice in which we can retaste the flavours and episodes of our shared love. It provides the opportunity to add footnotes to those passages where healing is needed and the chance to reveal more openly our love and care.

Rereading the story of our married love is not a process of careful editing and reframing of our past experiences: instead it is about noticing. Our journal of married life is not so much written in the form of a love story, rather it is a book about love, which is much more complex, exciting and enhancing. Fairy Tales tell us that ‘they lived happily ever after’, whereas these living narratives of married love began with the words ‘ I do’, the complexity of which are discovered afresh on each and every page.

Roger Carr-Jones
Chair, Catholic Marriage Care
Gifts in our Marriages

Gifts in our Marriages

Pentecost (28 May) is a time of gifts – the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church and to all Christians. How often do we think about using these gifts (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord) in our marriages? They can all be applied to married life and help us to live our marriages in the image and likeness of the love of God for His people, the Church.

Wisdom helps us guide our thoughts and learn from our previous experiences. What previous experience has really helped me to grow in my marriage?

Understanding of our spouse is a gift we need every single day; understanding of how conversations, events and our words and actions can have a deep impact on them.

Counsel is the gift that helps us understand the will of God in difficult situations – is there a difficult situation in your marriage that you need to pray about and ask God to guide you in?

Fortitude acts as the glue that holds a couple together when the world tries to pull them apart. This can be in sickness, times of financial difficulty, anxiety, or disagreement. At these times it takes every fibre of our being to deal with conflict respectfully and hang in there.

Knowledge – we are talking about deep and true knowledge of our spouse. Is there anything you need to share with your spouse to enable them to truly know you? Have your brought expectations from your family of origin that affect your behaviours and attitudes in your marriage.

Reverence (piety) enables a marriage to be faith-filled. As a couple we may be in different places on our faith journey, or may not share the same faith, but we do share that instinctive desire of wanting good for our spouse, of loving each other and putting the other first.

Fear of the Lord – if we pray, do we pray for our spouse or pray together for us and our family?

Let us pray for the gifts of the Spirit at this time in the Church’s year.


Caroline & Michael L’Estrange 
Preparing to Celebrate

Preparing to Celebrate

With an ‘0’ birthday coming up at Easter the idea of celebrating with family and friends is in mind.  We’ll need to think carefully about what we organise; where, what, how, when … and more.

So much more so, we can look at how we celebrate the resurrection at Easter.  We’d like to give it special consideration so that it will be the best when we get there.

Our 40 days of Lent have the usual mainstays of Prayer, Penance and Helping Others.  Lent is a Springtime when we see new growth coming through and we focus on the growth of our relationship by switching off the distractions.

How can we switch off the distractions to building our married love?  … so that we can celebrate new life with our spouse?

  • Is our prayer with each other such that we really listen and really speak with heart?
  • Is our penance such that we stop that sharp response; we probably heard it wrongly anyway!
  • Is our helping others that we engage with those we meet at soul level, are we open to the Holy Spirit and respond with care from our soul …. and leave out our opinion or fixes?

As we see the Lenten growth appear, let us ensure that we nurture the growth of our partner, ourselves and others through really listening to them, to God and others.  Then we will feel really ready for that big celebration at Easter.


Annette and Paul O’Beirne

Equipes Notre-Dame  – Teams


Be my Valentine

Be my Valentine


If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Some of you may be familiar with the above excerpt from the opening scene of Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. Orsino is head over heels in love with Olivia. Orsino asks for there to be an excess of music. He hopes that it will cure him of his obsession with his love for Olivia in the same way that eating too much food can make someone sick. It turns out that, Orsino’s love is not genuine. He just likes the idea of being in love. He is a bit of a dreamer.

We know that we need to move on from just the idea of being in love to a real love. The willingness and the decision to love every day is necessary to achieve this.

Mature love grows out of a developing intimacy and tenderness. Strong feelings develop from a deep tenderness rather than heightened passion or infatuation. After the fantasies and illusions begin to fade, it is possible what follows is something much better: a real, sustainable love.

When you are in love with just the idea, deep feelings will be temporary. Intense adoration will eventually give way to indifference as you become bored with your partner. Liking the idea of being in love with someone today is not a guarantee that you will feel the same way forever: As tasks, bills, children, conflicts, and other realities of long-term commitment begin to materialise over time.

Loving someone is long-lasting. Even when your partner disappoints you or your relationship becomes distant, you will continue to care about them on some level. Growing to love the real person and accepting who they are, with both strengths and weaknesses, can make a wonderful difference in your relationship. Deciding to love will make your relationship a lasting source of comfort, emotional safety, and a source of joy. When you see each other realistically and come to know each other well, you are less likely to disappoint each other.

As a reminder this year Marriage Week UK is taking place 7th-14th February.

Paul and Bianca Smith
Marriage Encounter
February 2023
A parcel of delights: unwrapping married love

A parcel of delights: unwrapping married love

One of the many party games I liked as a child was pass-the-parcel. It is a seemingly simple game with the main prize hidden amongst many layers of wrapping paper. However, if we look carefully, we will notice the layers of paper are different in colour and design and the parcel carefully constructed. Again, every so often an unexpected small surprise is hidden within the folds. The process is accompanied by music which periodically stops, so that a new layer is unwrapped. Whilst there is a certain simplicity to the game the moment of discovery of a hidden gift fills the participant with wonder and joy. In a similar way married love is not unlike a vast ‘pass-the-parcel’, one which is experienced over a life-time.

When we first fall in love, we believe we have discovered the central prize at the heart of the wrapping paper. However, falling in love lies outside our control, whereas growing in love is the decision that enables us to unwrap aspects of our personal and shared relationship. As we grow in mutual love and self-giving, we discover that the game of married love is more complex and nuanced than we could ever have imagined. There are those moments when the music is discordant or we mishear the rhythm tearing the layers carelessly and missing the gifts. Yet, each year learning from our mistakes, we continue unwrapping new layers of our mutual love, becoming more aware of ways in which we delight in the giftedness and ongoing offering forgiveness of each other.

At the beginning of a new year, it is good to look back at the layers of our married love that have been revealed, the colours and the texture of our narrative and to turn once again in excitement to know that in this life new layers remain yet to be discovered. As the different layers are stripped away, we will discover that our unique parcel-of-love is filled with the delight of continually growing closer to one another and finding the prize at the heart of the parcel.

Dcn Roger Carr-Jones

Chair- Marriage Care

Four Weeks of Advent Preparation

Four Weeks of Advent Preparation

Advent a time of waiting, preparing and getting ready to celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas. How many times have we all said, ‘We’re going to do Advent differently this year?’ or ‘We’re going to focus on the real reason for the season’. This is easier said than done as we are all constantly being bombarded by adverts of everything you need to buy to have the ‘best’ Christmas.

The challenge for us is to put that all to one side and to truly focus on and prepare in prayer for Christmas. Thankfully the Church gives us four weeks to prepare ourselves.

In the first week, let us think about the Patriarchs, our biblical ancestors – as a couple perhaps you could spend some time reflecting on your family of origin – what Christmas traditions from your childhood do you want to embed in your family, so that the next generation continue them? What new traditions do you have that you would like to see continued?

In the second week in Advent, let us think about the Prophets, those who spoke the truth and made a stand about what is right – what choices are we making in our preparations – are we choosing to support companies who make ethical and sustainable choices? Can we support our favourite charity by buying our Christmas cards through them?

The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday. This expresses the joy of anticipation at the approach of the Christmas celebration – as a family what does the birth of Christ signify to you? Have a family sharing on this question and share your thoughts, feelings and maybe there will be some questions.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we turn to Mary, Jesus’ Mother. Mary is an incredible figure, so brave, so willing to entrust herself and her life to God. Mary was prepared to be open to the Angel’s message. Would we be open? Would we even hear an Angel’s message? Can you take some time to be still, to be quiet and reflect on the real meaning of Christmas and what it might mean for you as an individual, in your marriage and for your family?

We wish you all a very blessed and holy Christmas,


Caroline & Michael L’Estrange

Retrouvaille England & Wales Co-ordinators

One Day at a Time – reflecting on life and death

One Day at a Time

Couple looing out to sunset

All of us reading this will most likely have experienced someone close to us dying; a relative or good friend maybe. You’ll also know that death is never an easy conversation to have with others, but it is a reality for all of us.
Many years ago we were encouraged as a couple in our 30’s, to talk about and share, as best we could, about one of us dying. The idea then, was to have us focus in on that unavoidable eventuality, in order to help us ‘realise’ in the NOW how we felt about each other. As was hoped, it turned out to be a truly ’life-giving’ and life changing experience for us.
Initially, getting to imagine such a seemingly far fetched scenario proved extremely difficult. We chose to visit a graveyard where both of us could sit out of sight of one another. When separated, we prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and were eventually able to settle down into a quiet, contemplative mindset on the process of dying and the death of the other and how we were left feeling. We’d brought pens and paper with us and wrote our individual experiences down.
When we reunited, we were both deeply moved but after a while we were able to pass what we’d written across to one another. It was an extremely heartfelt, emotional period of time, lots of tears, holding each other and tenderness.
But strangely it was also incredibly uplifting and both of us were powerfully touched by the strength of our love and the depth of our faith. That whole experience and especially reading through those reflections, taught us to seek to ‘live in the moment’, value each day together, always try to part lovingly, AND to live our YES to one another ’til death us do part’, and perhaps even beyond that, who knows?

Maureen and Brian Devine
Marriage Matters

Helping the World Go Round

October is the month when we notice a cooling down.  Some wind, some rain and leaves fall and turn to mush.  Yet it is the month for making sure our actions are effective and on track; that is, given that last month, September, for many was the start of a new year, new plans and new relationships.

October is traditionally the month of Mary – and Justice & Peace, World Mission, and Prisoners and their families.  For us, we find that we need the example of others to inspire, to motivate and to sustain our efforts.  We hope that we will be able to guide our children to happy adulthood and that they will see good role models.

Sometimes things go well, and sometimes they don’t.  And often there’s no rationality to our response to situations.  We can cope with a car breakdown, a theft, … but we can’t find a pen … and we lose control!  It takes a while to recover composure and get back on track.  We need to remind ourselves more of Mary’s composure in the face of what she was not expecting … pregnancy, forced migration, losing her child for three days, the torture and death of her son.

So, we can ask ourselves and our other half when we have a ‘sit down’† this month …. How do you see me reacting to the unexpected?  How might we take on the faith of Mary to be more resilient?  How can we play our part in the world for Justice and Peace, for Mission and for families in the most difficult situations?

We are called to be a light in the world; how can we, as a couple, be effective as an example to others, to enable and help other couples and families, and to be role models to young people we encounter?  Then we might also help reduce friction and ‘Help the World Go Round’


†What’s a “Sit Down” ?  It’s planned couple time, often about two hours, when we sit down, light a candle, ask each other “how are you” … that is “how are you… really” – it’s a time for listening with hearts rather than with ears!   Couples in Teams plan this special time each month, everyone can try it.


Annette and Paul O’Beirne

Teams – Equipes Notre-Dame


Couple together, Tenderness, Reflection


We know there are times when we need to move on from loving feelings, where the other is always seen in their best light, to a real love, which takes account of our imperfections. We need to move also from disillusionment to the decision to love, to live our deep-seated values with a determination to decide for all time, because there is no room for superficial love. The willingness to love is necessary and one way to show this willingness to love is through tenderness.

Tenderness is affection, such as a hug, a cuddle, a caress. It makes it possible to express our vulnerability, our fragility, and to find a response to physical, psychological, and spiritual acceptance. Tenderness leads us to the essence of the other. It makes us aware of our partner’s existence, an understanding of them in all their aspects, both strengths and weaknesses. In this way, the heart of stone can be transformed into a heart of flesh. In other words, the underlying rigidity is transformed into our essential humanity.

Tenderness is a sweet internal strength, a sign of emotional maturity, a light. It only blossoms in hearts that are free, which are capable of giving and receiving love. It touches both men and women: our profound humanity and our call to love, to intimacy and communion. Tenderness, in its most profound nature, brings together two fundamental, permanent feelings written on our human hearts: the knowledge that we are loved and the desire to love. Desire and tenderness are born from the senses and become words and values: it is with words that we as lovers are recognised in our bodies, our feelings, and our values. And it is by the circulation of words that we will all nourish our relationships and bring them alive.

Paul and Bianca Smith

Marriage Encounter

September 2022

Four important things for a couple to remember that could really impact their marriage.

Four important things for a couple to remember that could really impact their marriage.

If you are part of a married couple, you may both be Christians, you may be a marriage of two different faiths, or perhaps a marriage of a Christian and an agnostic or atheist. The following applies to all couples in all their uniqueness…

1 – KEEP THE CONNECTION – every day, no matter how busy:

· Start the day by finding out at least one thing that’s happening in the other’s day.

· When you come back together again, touch, look directly at each other.

· Later, sit down to give focussed attention

· Always be real, honest, and open with your thoughts, feelings, and needs.

Unspoken messages: I’m interested in you; you’re special to me; I’m glad we’re together.


2 – NURTURE THE CONNECTION – when there’s more time:

· Do something together e.g. a project

· Give longer time to focus on listening and speaking to each other.

· When there is tension between you, or a difficult issue to deal with, always be real, honest, and open with your thoughts, feelings, and needs – don’t be afraid to be vulnerable – this builds intimacy – IN-TO-ME-SEE.

Unspoken messages: I’m here for you; I respect the way you see things; I want to understand.



· Notice the positive qualities of the other and tell them.

· Show your affection and care in tangible ways e.g. acts of service

Unspoken messages: I value you; I want to share our lives.



· Notice what you are genuinely grateful for

· Look for what’s special in your partner and others.

· Notice the positives and enjoy them – and perhaps vocalise this.

This changes the atmosphere. Grace and forgiveness enter our life – for ourselves and for others. We begin to appreciate all the blessings we constantly receive.


Even when God is not overtly acknowledged, we know that the longing for love, peace, and fulfilment, shared by us all, is of God. In difficult times, we can call directly on God for the grace that comes from our marriage commitment. That grace will come in tangible ways – the unfathomable gift of God’s love for us.


This is written  by Teresa Weeks a volunteer Relationship Counsellor and Marriage Preparation Facilitator with Marriage Care. Teresa and her husband Clive are also members of Teams.

© 2023