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No time for a marriage retreat? Try this to strengthen your union



Lindsay Schlegel - published on 11/14/19

CanaFeast is an at-home program for busy couples and it's strengthening relationships.

In the marriage prep courses my husband and I teach, we urge couples to face small but troubling issues in their relationships before they turn into more serious problems. Ten years into our own marriage now, we’ve learned that it takes work to remain joyful and to have a peaceful home. This is easy to say to a group of people in the midst of embarking on a new stage of life and who are guaranteed cookies at lunchtime. It’s no surprise that it’s harder to do the work of maintaining a healthy marriage once being together becomes the norm and life picks up speed.

Moral theologian Dr. Sarah Bartel—co-host of Enduring Love, a marriage and family life radio show for Sacred Heart Radio, and co-editor of A Catechism of Marriage and Family Life—and her husband, Nathan, recognized the challenge of fitting marriage enrichment into daily life. In an exclusive interview, they told me, “After years of [theological] studies, the demands of having young kids, challenging jobs, a cross-country move, and financial pressures, we found ourselves tired, uninspired, and distant in our marriage.” They seized an opportunity to go on a Theology of the Body-inspired marriage retreat, and rediscovered grace in their marriage. 

Wanting to share their newfound appreciation for the sacrament of matrimony, but aware of the limitations that prevent many couples from getting away, they founded CanaFeast, a marriage enrichment community for those in their first 15 years of marriage. Rather than struggle to plan a full weekend away from home, after which some couples experience a retreat high that can fade away, CanaFeast works as a steady injection of theology and encouragement to strengthen marriages, and thus families and the world at large. 

The Bartels explained that members receive access to self-paced videos that form a kind of mini-retreat, combining “solid theology and spirituality of marriage and family with the best research and teachings from the social sciences.” Each month tackles a different theme and includes a “behind the scenes” video that shows the Bartels living out that theme. Additional resources and options for question and answer are also available. 

“A lot of great couples that we know feel the accumulated effects of stress, kids, work, and commitments at church and in the community as their own relationship gets put on the back burner,” say the Bartels. “They just need encouragement and a structure for making time for their own relationship to make their sacrament come alive and shine brighter.”

Creating CanaFeast has continued to strengthen their marriage as well, proving that a marriage being fruitful doesn’t only mean producing biological children. “We absolutely love seeing couples discover each other and discover God in their relationships in new ways. It energizes us and renews us and reminds us that God is constantly at work in the sacramental reality of our own marriage.” 

The Bartels hope that in bringing together like-minded Catholics who want to be intentional about living out their marriage vows and following God through their vocations, participants can “discover and joyfully embrace who God is calling them to be in their marriage and family.”

Marriage truly is the foundation of the family, and the Bartels are confident that encouraging strong and faithful Catholic marriages will benefit future generations. “Imagine how generously our children will embrace and succeed at their vocations in life if they’re raised by parents who are clearly in love, full of joy, and full of faith,” they told me. “What greater gift can parents give their children than that?”

CanaFeast opens membership enrollment just a few times a year. You can sign up for the waitlist at to receive a notification the next time the opportunity is available. Those on the waitlist will receive a free guide to couple prayer and weekly emails encouraging growth in their marriage. For more on CanaFeast, read their blog, follow their Facebook page, and find them on Instagram.


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