Take a deep breath and brace yourself before reading the following sentence:
The average married couple spends four minutes a day alone together, according to Christian counselor Juliet West.
This terrifying statistic doesn’t prove that couples are intentionally avoiding each other. But it does suggest they are torn apart by many distractions: children, work, friends, extended family, hobbies, and, yes, church and faith commitments.
A quick internet search will generate literally thousands of articles suggesting ways couples can be together more of the time…
- Share a hobby.
- Have dinner together every night.
- Set a regular time for a “date”.
- Plan a weekend getaway.
- Exercise together.
- Go to bed at the same time.
- Take a walk together.
- Go to Church together.
This last suggestion–going to Church together–appears to have a special power. According to a Harvard study, couples who go to Church together live longer, are happier and are less likely to get divorced.
Regnum Christi members Jeff and Val Sprague may not have read the Harvard study but they have strong feelings about the time commitment to each other as a couple. It even includes the time they spend evangelizing.
Residents of Greenwich, Connecticut, Jeff, and Val have been married 30 years. They are the parents of two daughters and are active parishioners of the Church of St. Patrick’s in Armonk, New York.
They incorporated into Regnum Christi–together–in November 2013. Val admits that she felt the call to Regnum Christi several years earlier, but wanted to wait to commit until Jeff was ready.
“We do everything as possible as we can as a couple,” Val explains. “For me to join Regnum Christi and work on all these wonderful apostolates while he sits at home … well … I knew that wasn’t what God was asking of me. I have been able to be the woman of Christ I have been called to be because of how Jeff has loved me. Without his love, I couldn’t be what I can be for Christ.”
“I went through a longer period of discernment,” Jeff admits. “But we have to be sure we are on the same page when we accept something that is going to be such a big part of our lifestyle.
“If we’re going to get involved in something outside of work we want it to be as a couple. That’s why I don’t go off and play golf all day Saturday–and why I wouldn’t want Val to spend her weekend off on an apostolate while I’m home alone.”
Val and Jeff work on the apostolate of fundraising (among other things) and believe they are most effective when they do their apostolic work as a couple. Both insist they are better servants of Christ as a team rather than as individuals.
That isn’t to say they don’t serve in individual apostolic roles when there is a special need–and they are comfortable it won’t conflict with the family.
Jeff is Founder and Managing Partner of Vertical Research Partners, an independent equity research and consulting firm headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. He has served a three-year term as Regnum Christi Local Director for the NY Tri-State area. Jeff’s personal apostolic work focuses on evangelizing men in the workplace through apostolates such as Holy Happy Hour (H3).
Val has served as a Regnum Christi Section Assistant. She is a Spiritual Guide and co-founded The Children’s Hope Chest, a non-profit, which supports youth become actively involved in helping children who suffer from poverty, neglect, abuse, and hunger. She has served in various ministries in her parish. And she co-chairs the territorial development committee with Fr. Mark Haydu, LC.
In 2016, Jeff and Val received the Graymoor Award from the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement for their devotion to serving the Lord and promulgating Catholic values in both their personal and work lives.
As a team, Jeff and Val are involved in the Regnum Christi couples apostolate (C4), which endeavors to help build strong Catholic marriages and to bring married couples closer to Christ. This work includes personal and group accompaniment, as well as facilitating retreats with the Legionaries of Christ.
It is this couples apostolate that has become the “sweet spot” for Jeff and Val. And they believe encouraging couples to work together in Regnum Christi could be a key to its future growth and success.
“Once we were in Regnum Christi we saw people involved in so many apostolates and activities, but in very few cases were couples active together,” Val recalls. “Everything seemed to be geared toward the individual.
“I had this inspiration; why not approach couples. Why don’t we do things specifically for couples?”
From that inspiration came C4: Catholic Couples Cocktails and Christ. Picture an encounter but rather than involving individual men or women, it involves married couples and has a bit of socializing along with the spiritual.
As anyone who has been around Regnum Christi for more than a cup of coffee would attest, this format is far removed from the traditional way of doing things. Wives typically are drawn to Regnum Christi before their husbands, who usually join later (if they join) and often are a bit resistant. Everyone knew that spouses wouldn’t open up and share their spiritual thoughts in a mixed group with their spouses present.
But as sometimes happens, things everyone knows turn out not to be true. Ten couples attended the first C4 gathering. The allegedly fearful husbands were assured that if they felt uncomfortable neither their wives nor other members would pester them to return.
However, no pestering was needed; all came back for more. In fact, there was a moment in that first meeting that Val and Jeff believe affirmed their conviction that a couples “encounter” would work. When it was time to begin the spiritual discussion they broke the men and women into two groups, thinking that the men might be a bit uneasy sharing in earshot of the women. But just a few minutes after the men had retired to a separate room they returned and said they wanted everyone to be together for the discussion.
“When we brought everyone together it was a really lively discussion,” Jeff recalls. “People wanted to grow spiritually and were open to sharing their thoughts and prayers.
“In the end, the couple doing things together is going to do better than the couple divided.”
The second C4 group started soon. And later a group was added for young couples with small children: C4 New Beginnings. Groups typically meet every six weeks or so.
Val says the formula for participation is simple: bring couples together who love each other and have a strong faith they want to deepen. The goal is to grow in spiritual intimacy–under the guidance of a Legionary priest.
Of course, what would encounter be without an occasional weekend retreat, so that has become part of the C4 process. It is organized every other year, based on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, but done by married couples. (And the venue is typically a resort rather than a retreat center. Picture a Saturday night reflection by a Legionary priest with 25 couples gathered around a bonfire.)
“It is such a joy to see couple respond and grow spiritually–together,” Val says. “I believe the Lord is calling us to do this.”