We Want to Evangelize and Often Feel Like We Fail
So many of us have siblings or parents or children with whom we long to share the joy of life in Christ. I do. I’m one of eight children and, for various reasons, though each of us received the Sacraments, only three of us are still devout Catholics.
Perhaps, like I have, you’ve tried without success to invite them into the heart of Jesus, and you’ve learned that it’s best to keep silent and simply pray for them.
This unceasing desire to evangelize our family and our friends is a good one. It comes from Our Lord Himself, from His many Gospel adjurations to search for lost sheep and be leaven in the dough and go to the margins and bring in those who are on the fringes. And, while maybe our own efforts to evangelize our families have met with cold rebuffs, the good news is that your local parish has three excellent opportunities to reach those on the margins because, during the following three points of contact, those on the margins are brought to the parish. Those three points of contact are: Marriage prep, Baptism prep, and at a funeral; a quinceanera might be a fourth point of contact, for Hispanic Catholics.
Marriage Prep Is An Opportunity For Evangelization and Discipleship
Today, I focus on marriage prep, and its very fertile opportunity for evangelization. Let’s start with the current situation. Over the past 40 years, most Catholic marriage preparation programs have not changed much, whether it be attending a mandatory class or participating in a weekend retreat. However, today’s engaged couples have changed. Significantly. Consider the following:
- Cohabitation is up 900% since the 1960s
- The average age for first marriage is between 27 and 29
- Only 1/3 of self-described Catholic millennials attend Mass weekly
- 35% of adult millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated (“nones”)
If the current model is not working, why not adjust the standard Marriage-Prep model, therefore, to meet the needs of today’s engaged couples?
Witness to Love’s Marriage Catechumenate
The good news is that there is a new crop of a Marriage-Prep programs that seek to do just that, and my favorite one is Witness to Love. I first encountered Witness to Love when its founder, Mary-Rose Verret, was invited to speak at my parish, St. Williams. As she spoke about the amazing fruits of Witness to Love, I was so moved that I asked her to consider inviting me to intern. She not only did that–she offered me a job, my dream job as the Parish Outreach Coordinator for Witness to Love! It was what you’d call a win-win situation. 🙂
Allow me to first describe the key dynamic of WTL, then share with you some of the amazing fruits of this ministry.
Mary-Rose, and her husband, Ryan, after working with hundreds of engaged couples, realized that the classroom model for marriage prep was simply not reaching couples. They became convinced that the most effective marriage-prep is one grounded in personal discipleship, one in which engaged couples form personal friendships with veteran married couples who will become a source of strength, wisdom, and encouragement after the wedding. Just as Our Lord drew his disciples into the very depths of His heart through sharing meals and journeying with them, the same thing can happen with engaged couples. Through relational discipleship, engaged couples can be invited into relationship with Jesus Christ and drawn into the very heart of the Church, becoming themselves intentional disciples who can evangelize within their parishes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.
That is what “Marriage Catechumenate” means.
Let me say that again. The Marriage-Prep-Catechumante model draws upon the conviction that through relational discipleship, engaged couples can be invited into relationship with Jesus Christ and drawn into the very heart of the Church, becoming themselves intentional disciples who can evangelize within their parishes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.
Marriage Prep is one of those three excellent opportunities when those on the margins actually come to the parish office! They do the work for us! They are standing at the parish Welcome Desk and ready to be invited into the heart of Christ. Through Witness to Love’s relational discipleship model, parishes don’t miss an opportunity to welcome those marginalized engaged couples into relationship with Jesus Christ and into the life of the parish.
Even more exciting, as these engaged couples are set afire with the Good News, they become instruments of evangelization and new life in the parish. I shared above about the Marriage-Catechumenate dynamic, now let me turn to the grace-filled fruits of WTL.
Many pastors have shared with Mary-Rose that Witness to Love has transformed their parish. Before the parish adopted WTL, they tell us, they were jaded about Marriage-Prep; they felt like a “drive-through Sacrament distributor”.
However, as engaged couples encounter the kerygma for the first time and become zealous, Jesus-loving Catholics, they blossom into young families who are generously open to life. Lots of babies are born into the parish, so Baptisms increase. That means that new Godparents go through Baptism-training classes (another excellent point of contact where those on the margins are brought into the parish, where they can be offered the kerygma).
It, also, means that these newly-married couples invite their friends to Mass, and, if the parish has Adult Faith Formation, as well as Small Groups, those same friends can enter into relationship with Our Lord and His Sacraments, as well. A “catechumenate model” of Marriage-Prep ministry becomes a huge evangelization net, and pastors who were previously jaded are very excited about meeting with engaged couples.
You can view an interview here with a real-life pastor whose parish was transformed by Witness to Love.
One of the most common objections to Witness to Love is that engaged couples CHOOSE their mentor couple, provided that the mentor couple has been married for five years and is in good standing in the parish. What if the chosen mentor couple contracepts? What if they are not properly formed in Church teaching? These are valid concerns.
Again, if the goal is to evangelize every Catholic who does not already know the joy of life in Christ, the same principle that applies to engaged couples, also, applies to those who are already in the pews. Witness to Love does not invite mentor couples to convey Catholic doctrine on marriage and sexuality; that is the role of the pastor or marriage prep deacon. Rather, mentor and engaged couple, traverse a carefully crafted course of study on the classical virtues, particularly those virtues that are necessary for married life–friendship, forgiveness, humility, fortitude, etc.
Simply in learning about the virtues, mentor and engaged couples are already learning about living Christian marriage well, and many mentor couples have shared with WTL that their marriages were reinvigorated and that their love was deepened and renewed. And, again, if your parish has an Adult Faith Formation program, as well as Small Groups, mentor couples can be invited into those, as well; mentorship offers parishes another point of contact with people in the pews, and is an excellent opportunity for ongoing evangelization.
I feel like I’ve already said enough above about the amazing fruits of conversion and joy among engaged couples who participate in Witness to Love. However, if you’d like to hear more, check out the Witness to Love website or comment below, and I’d be happy to provide more examples.
Catherine Rose is wife to Devin Rose, and works as the Parish Outreach Coordinator for Witness to Love; she is blessed with two children, as well as three who are in the arms of Jesus.