When we read the Gospels, we find Christ saying many difficult things. One of the challenging things he gives us is his teaching on marriage. We hear Christ say things like, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk 10:9) to describe the indissolubility of marriage.
Christ’s sayings on marriage are so difficult that even the disciples struggled with them and came to the conclusion that it would be better for man not to marry. (Mt 19:10)
Many people today might feel the same as the disciples. One look at the current statistics on divorce in the United States tells a bleak story. Many young people today are not even getting married. Instead, they are opting for cohabitation or civil unions. Many people find themselves asking the question, “Why bother with a marriage in the Church when so many marriages end in divorce anyway?”
The Church, in her wisdom, understands this struggle and explains in the Catechism of the Catholic Church how Christ is the answer to this question.
This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy…By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and the grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. The grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life. (1615, emphasis added)
In Christ and through the grace of his sacraments, there is hope, especially for a world wounded by broken relationships and marriages.
Through their journey to a sacramental marriage, Gerardo and Bernice Robledo have come to experience this hope and grace of God in their lives firsthand.
From Athens, Texas, Gerardo and Bernice are high school sweethearts and have known each other since they were 15 years old. They lived together for several years and were civilly married for about seven years before making the decision to follow the teachings of Christ and pursue the sacrament of marriage in the Church. Their story is one of hope, healing, and God’s grace working in their lives and marriage.
From the time they met in high school until their early 20s, Bernice and Gerardo were almost inseparable. They grew up together, moved to North Dakota and back for a work opportunity, and experienced many ups and downs in their relationship. Things changed in 2011, though, when they went through a breakup that lasted for six months.
“There was just so much brokenness in our relationship,” Bernice said, reflecting on that time.
But even in the brokenness, God was working in their lives. It was during this breakup that God began working on Bernice’s heart to bring her to the Catholic Church.
Though they were both baptized as children, Gerardo and Bernice have different faith stories. Gerardo grew up attending Mass and completed religious education classes to receive the sacraments.
“After I did my confirmation, I kinda got away from it,” Gerardo explained. “I guess you could say I was a bad Catholic after that. I quit going to Mass, and I just veered off a little bit.” It wasn’t until later as an adult that Gerardo returned to the Catholic faith.
Though baptized as a child, Bernice described how her mother would take her to different churches during her childhood. This confused Bernice about which religion to practice, so she bounced from religion to religion throughout her youth.
During the painful time of their breakup, Bernice stayed with a friend who was Catholic.
“I remember going to Mass with them,” Bernice explained. “I remember I would just pray. I knew I had to pray to God. I knew that he was going to get me through this. Whatever his will is for me, he would just give me the strength that I needed. If me and Gerardo are meant to be, then he will bring us back together. And that’s eventually what happened. That door was opened for my conversion, to learn more about the Catholic faith, and he brought us back together after that.”
Shortly after, Bernice and Gerardo moved in together and became pregnant with their first child, Emily. Their desire to have Emily baptized got them to continue to think about their faith. “We knew it’s what we needed to do,” Bernice explained.
God was clearly pulling on the hearts of Bernice and Gerardo, drawing them to himself, but there was still a struggle to make the commitment to follow the teachings of the Church in their relationship.
After Emily’s birth, Bernice and Gerardo were civilly married on July 3, 2014, and discussed getting married in the Church. But they still had hesitations.
“We still weren’t 100 percent into it,” Gerardo explained. Bernice had started taking classes at the parish to prepare for confirmation and first Communion. “Obviously,” Gerardo continued, “she was doing everything that she felt like was needed to be done for us to get married. But part of me was still having doubts. Basically based on the rough past that we had had.”
Conversion is a process as we learn to respond to the grace God pours into our lives. Sometimes, we make great strides forward and sometimes we fall backwards.
“My conversion and Gerardo getting back to his Catholic Faith, it didn’t happen overnight,” Bernice remembered. “It was a process.”
It wasn’t until their second daughter, Julissa, was 3 years old that Bernice and Gerardo began going to Mass every weekend. One weekend in particular was pivotal in their journey towards a sacramental marriage.
That weekend, their daughters were staying with Gerardo’s parents, so Bernice and Gerardo were able to attend Mass together. Gerardo pointed out how this was a blessing, saying, “You know how it is sometimes in Mass, you have to juggle with a baby and you can’t really focus. That day, it was just meant for me and [Bernice] to be by ourselves so that we could hear that homily.”
In his homily, the pastor talked about how God loves each of us, no matter what our past has been. The pastor explained how God desires for each of us to return to him, and how God’s grace and mercy are always available to us. We just have to make the decision to respond to God’s love through repentance.
“It really really got to us,” Bernice remembered. “One reason that kept me away from the Catholic Church was I didn’t feel worthy. Can God really love me? With all the stuff that I’ve done, God can’t love me!”
But this homily helped Bernice understand. “I was so wrong,” she explained. “Just that homily we heard that day, tears were just streaming down my face. This blindfold was taken off my eyes and I could see. I needed that homily.”
After this, there was no turning back. They recognized that they needed God’s grace in their lives, so they reached out to their pastor. After completing the Three to Get Married Marriage Formation retreat and the Witness to Love Mentor Couple program, offered by the Diocese of Tyler, Bernice and Gerardo were married in the Catholic Church on June 12, 2020.
The marriage formation process was influential for Bernice and Gerardo. “I was completely blown away by how much it helped us,” Bernice explained. “It opened our eyes to so much. It was awesome. It’s like God wanted us to go through preparation. We needed that to get to right now.”
“Everybody should go through [the marriage formation program],” Gerardo said, expressing his gratitude. “Even my friend, I was mentioning to him and he was kind of jealous of the fact that whenever they got married they didn’t have this type of preparation. It’s a beautiful experience. Something I’ll never forget.”
With the grace of the sacrament of marriage, Bernice and Gerardo have experienced a difference in their relationship. “When we were civilly married, we felt like we were OK. But it was completely different,” Bernice explained. “Once we got married through the Church, we really experienced God’s grace …” Before she could finish her sentence, Gerardo completed it, saying, “… working through us.”
They can see God’s grace in everything and have experienced the fruits of marriage: joy, patience, self-control, peace in their relationship, and the most joyful gift of all, the birth of their son, Aaron.
In addition, now that they are living in God’s grace, they are able to receive holy Communion at Mass.
“That was a big one,” Gerardo said. “We would go to church as a family, and my oldest would notice we were the only family that wasn’t receiving Communion. We wanted to get married [in the Church] so that we could receive Communion and to be a good example for our daughters.”
Although Gerardo and Bernice have experienced the graces of the sacrament, they also recognize they are not a perfect couple. “In marriage, you have to work at it,” Bernice explained. “Having that grace from God really helps. Not everything is going to be perfect, but having him at the center of our marriage, it just makes it so much easier.”
“Just because we received the sacrament of marriage doesn’t mean that everything is going to be perfect all the time,” Gerardo confirmed. “We’re still going to go through our difficulties and tough times. But with God’s grace, that grace we received throughout the sacrament, everything is so much easier. We have that solid foundation that he’s given us that we didn’t have before. So now it’s joyful and meaningful, and through those hard times, we’ve got this. God is going to help us through this.”
In a world that experiences so much brokenness around marriage, many people are often hesitant to get married. Bernice and Gerardo’s story can give those sitting on the fence about marriage hope in the grace that God wants to give them.
“Sometimes in life, you get to where you’re doing things the wrong way,” Gerardo said, reflecting on their story. “And then you finally learn to do things the right way, that’s kind of what our story is. That’s all because of God.”
“We look back on our lives and I think, ‘Wow, we went through so much,’” Bernice concludes. “So much brokenness. And pain. A lot of pain in our relationship.”
As tears welled up in her eyes, Bernice continued, “To look at where we’re at now, I couldn’t be happier. And it was so worth it. God knew. We went through all that pain, but now, we really do feel that completeness between us and our family. With God’s grace, that grace we receive through the sacrament, now it’s joyful and meaningful. And through those hard times, God is going to help us.”
If you or someone you know has questions about marriage or marriage formation in the Diocese of Tyler, visit stphilipinstitute.org/family-life.
Bernice and Gerardo share more of their story is this short video by the St. Philip Institute. You can view that video here.
Feature Image Photography: Robin Daniel’s Photography.