Wedding season is upon us! Whether you're a guest, a bridesmaid, or the bride herself, it can be tough finding resources to understand the Sacrament of Marriage. Or at least, it was. Cue Stephanie Calis, a young mother of three (with her first little gal due in September!), author of Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner and co-founder of Spoken Bride, a website dedicated to enriching the way we understand this lace and rosy sacrament.
We got the chance to interview Stephanie on her upcoming one year anniversary since Invited hit the shelves and Spoken Bride broke onto the scene.
1) Where did you come up with the idea to write Invited?
So I started a blog for Catholic brides, Captive the Heart, a few months after my wedding when I was unemployed and looking for a creative project. About a year later, my blog had grown a bit and I was approached by the sisters from Pauline Books and Media. The sisters envisioned a book that could fill a need in their market for combining the practical, secular aspects of wedding planning with needs particular to Catholic brides.
I am basically a walking St. John Paul II cliché. My introduction to his ideas in Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body talks took root in college, and I started seeing the realities and fruits of his thought later in my young adult life. I think his spirituality, centered on the identity and freedom of the human person, informs a lot of my own thought and ideas unconsciously after so many years of familiarity, but I did want to make a conscious effort to include these principles in my book. As I prepared my book proposal, I felt drawn to addressing couples’, particularly brides’, emotional and spiritual needs alongside just the basics of wedding planning, and chose to include sections on beauty and femininity, chastity, sacrificial love, Theology of the Body, and transitioning into newlywed life.
2) What resources were available for Catholic brides, if any, when you were preparing for marriage?
My wedding was in 2011, about six months before Pinterest was around...this statement shouldn’t make me feel old and married, but it does! The amount of visual inspiration and practical infographics available these days is a great resource for answering questions brides might have about things like booking vendors and creating a day-of timeline. During my engagement, there didn’t seem to be many resources out there like these to address basic planning matters, let alone questions about getting married in the Church.
My hope while writing Invited was to help brides create both a spiritual and practical game plan for their engagements, weddings, and marriages; something I didn’t have when it was my turn. While I was writing, I tried to ask myself often what sorts of matters I wished I would have had answers for, as well as things I might have done differently at my wedding, if I’d had more planning knowledge at my disposal.
3) What was your writing process like?
It was a huge surprise and a gift being approached by Pauline to write this book, but after the initial excitement wore off, I wondered a lot about what a first-time author should be doing with her time in regard to writing consistently...did other people go through three cups of tea while accomplishing a half-page of text?? As time passed, I felt the pressure of completion and deadlines, some external and some self-imposed, particularly as I prepared for the birth of my first child around the time my manuscript draft was due.
As a blogger, you’re constantly producing new content, some of which is less trendy or time-sensitive, and some of which is more on current topics that don’t stay relevant forever. One of my biggest challenges with writing a book was ensuring that the material and language strike a note of more permanence and timelessness than I was used to. I wrote nearly all of the manuscript during a maternity leave that turned into stay-at-home motherhood, while my son slept on my lap with white noise playing on the computer!
3) How did you get involved with Spoken Bride?
Around the time of my book release, I’d been feeling pulled toward renewing my dedication to writing, which had fallen by the wayside, and to somehow expand my reach creatively and from a marketing standpoint. My friends Jiza Zito and Elissa Voss, two gifted Catholic wedding photographers, had been having some conversations with other Catholic wedding professionals about the deep need for community and connection among Catholic wedding vendors and the brides they work with, and for a resource that provides visually gorgeous wedding inspiration made all the more beautiful by a holy liturgy and Christ-like love. The three of us started wondering what these inspirations might turn into.
The Holy Spirit shortly took over when we realized how many were willing to get on board with this ministry and our team began to grow. Spoken Bride launched in May 2016 in honor of Our Lady, the purest, most radiant bride. Our team views this project foremost as a ministry and community and asks for Our Lady’s intercession and the prayers of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux and the first married saints from modern times.
From the start, our team has desired that Spoken Bride convey authentic love through storytelling and beautiful wedding images, along with substantial and interesting content for brides-to-be and newlyweds. The Church is universal, yet every person and every story within it is unique and unrepeatable. It's the heart of where the universal and the personal meet that we want so much to capture and bring to our brides, and it’s what we hope makes our features distinctive from other wedding sites. We love learning and sharing our couples' stories, in whatever cries of the heart, saintly intercession, and divine providence those stories entail.
4) Do you have any future projects in the works?
We have some big dreams for Spoken Bride this upcoming year, particularly the development of a shop and retreat opportunities. On my personal writing front, I’ve had it on my heart lately to come up with some sort of marriage prep resource directed specifically at couples returning to the Church for their weddings, who may not have totally adhered to the faith in the past and who might not feel particularly warmly toward certain teachings and traditions. I’ve seen such a need in the Church for catechesis and evangelization that seeks relationship first and conversion second, especially in this area; once the first is established, the second is much more likely to follow and to be received with open ears.
5) What would be your top three pieces of advice, in one sentence each, for those preparing for the Sacrament of marriage?
Saving sexual intimacy for marriage is serious, yet times when you fall, to whatever extent, are rooted in a good desire to give of yourself completely to the one you love--hold yourselves and each other to high standards and find ways to actively practice vigilance and self-control, but be forgiving of yourselves and run to the Father’s mercy as often as you need to. Second, try to use engagement well and intentionally, not just as a time to get through. Above all, find and live out concrete ways of sacrificing for each other now–-these habits strengthen you in self-gift and, though it might not sound like the most romantic thing, practicing sacrifice truly deepens your love and fixes your eyes on Christ’s own love for us.
Overall, in my work and in my personal interactions, I desire to present the truth, beauty, and goodness of Catholic marriage--and the Catholic faith in general--not as a set of rules or a list of “Nos,” but as that one, pivotal “Yes,” an invitation and not a directive, one so profoundly beautiful that it largely speaks for itself and speaks to the heart. I’ve seen for myself that even among the non-religious or those who might hold different social opinions about what and who constitutes a marriage, there is something so tangibly powerful and joyful about the pure love of a holy couple at their wedding Mass.
Through Invited and Spoken Bride, my goal is to guide, inspire, and educate Catholic brides and their fiancés by combining the practical and the spiritual, all while invoking the beauty of God the Father. My hope is to do this with a spirit of community, sisterhood, and prayer, as a response to the spirit of competition, comparison, and insecurity that can sometimes overtake wedding plans. Held in the proper perspective, i.e. not allowing materialism or surface-level concerns to dominate, a beautiful wedding Mass and reception is a worthy pursuit and a reflection of the divine.
Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner is available through Amazon and Pauline Books and Media.
Spoken Bride continually accepts Catholic engagement and wedding submissions from brides, photographers, and other wedding professionals, as well as written pieces for the blog. If you would like to read some of Stephanie's work, check it out at spokenbride.com.