A Catechumenate for Marriage Prep

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:

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

CatholicSFthumbnailThe 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.

Resized3Let 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.

Pastors

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.

Mentor Couples

cnaOne 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.

Engaged Couples

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.

Familyphoto1Catherine 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.

Failure

IMG_0991The only fights that Devin and I had during our first few years of marriage were about vision, namely, my global ambitions that majorly stressed Devin out.

We fought when I was convinced that were supposed to move to Washington, DC, where I would earn my PhD in Psychology at the Institute for Psychological Sciences and become a dynamic Catholic psychologist who would heal the culture of death.

We fought when I was convinced that God was calling us to move to India, where Devin could work for his company’s branch in Bangalore and where I could minister to the needs of the India I love.

We fought when Devin reminded me that Jesus does not call us to be successful, only faithful, and when he exhorted me to imitate Saint Therese’s “little way” of doing small things with great love. I did not want small things.  The harvest was great but the laborers few and I wanted to go all in for Jesus.

You get the picture.  I think big. I have always been this way.  Even as a child, I saw my friends’ families imploding through divorce and began to brainstorm ways to save marriage and heal families.  I opened wide my arms to the world during my undergrad days at the University of Notre Dame, logging time at an orphanage in Honduras, loving street children in Vietnam, and weeping for women in India.

And, when I graduated with a BA in Theology from Notre Dame, I was convinced that this was just the beginning.  I saw a world dying for lack of Christ and bleeding from myriad wounds and wanted to pour out my life in service of the Church. I was convinced that a PhD, public speaking and writing, adopting and loving, consulting with the Vatican, etc., were all part of God’s plan for me.  I wanted to embrace the world and make room in my heart for every unwanted person. No doubt, my motives were tinged with arrogance, as if God needed me to help save the world.  But, something deeper burned in me, a joy at the prospect of giving everything for the Kingdom and spending my life in holy poverty amidst the communion of believers.

failureSo, as Devin recounted in his post earlier this month, three years into our marriage, we excitedly adopted three beautiful children from the foster system.  It was only the beginning, I was sure, of what would become a family that witnessed to life and to love.  I could not wait to have enough children to fill a shuttle bus; who needs a 15-passenger van, I thought, when I could have a small bus with a nifty folding door.  Devin and I would talk for hours about buying a farm and filling it with children and laughter and song and beauty.  Our hearts burned within us as we shared about our vision of “redemptive parenting,” of redeeming these children from their broken pasts and giving them a future full of hope.  We knew that it would be difficult but were eager to lay down our lives for Christ.

It worked for a few years.  We were a well-oiled machine, with protocols for everything, from buying groceries efficiently to brushing four pediatric pairs of teeth in the morning to Montessori home-schooling.  We were sure that this was God’s will for us and were filled with joy at the prospect, even as we sat numbly each evening, staring at the wall in exhaustion. It was incredibly messy.  We were constantly managing screaming children who flailed on the floor.  We were constantly cleaning up poop, on the walls and floor and hands.  We were constantly humiliated in public by children-crawling-under-over-through-jumping-screaming-hitting. But, we ended each day with hope that we would reach our children’s hearts and win them for Love.

I had these dreams for big things, but God told me to go silent for years so I could connect with my children. I deleted my Facebook account; I quit blogging; I quit trying to do anything but learn how I could help my children connect and heal.

And, I confess, I simply don’t understand it. I simply don’t understand how it could have been God’s will for us only for a season, and not for our entire lives.  But, it simply is.  I remember walking up to receive Holy Communion in July 2011, before my panic attacks started and before everything began to really fall apart, when, out of nowhere, the Holy Spirit said, “Are you willing to give them up?”  I couldn’t breathe (because, dang, I loved my children) but said immediately, “Yes, Lord, but please don’t ask that of me.”  And, then I forgot about it, until months later. After I had developed acute PTSD.  After we realized that each of the children had RAD and that we were simply not able to meet their needs.

All I can say is that, all at once, the grace ended in July 2011.  It felt as if Devin and I were living in the fullness of God’s will, with all the exhaustion and messiness that entailed, and, suddenly, it ceased being God’s will for us.  The oil in our lamp suddenly ran dry and left us gasping and weak. It still boggles my mind, but I have peace in the deep certainty that, despite the assumptions that Devin and I made about being the “forever family” for our adopted children, we were only to be their temporary parents who would deliver them to their perfect families.

For those well-versed in the book of Job, you know that, after Our Lord had allowed Job to lose everything, even the support of friends, God blessed Job tenfold, with even more wealth and family than he had before. So, I confess that, after Devin and I placed our three children with new families and after we learned that Josephine would be our last baby, due to my condition which necessitated a hysterectomy when she was born, I began to expect an outpouring of blessings. I was convinced that, now, I would be blessed with an abundance of spiritual maternity to replace the physical maternity that I had lost.  I felt joy at the thought of countless spiritual children and expected that, now, my hopes for ministry would surely begin.

WP_000794And….no.

Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the laborers build.” The fact is that the Lord has simply not built in or through me in any sort of quantifiable and big way. A completed book outline lies on the desk in front of me, but I cannot launch it. My graduate degree in Theology remains unfinished; okay, let’s be honest, it’s not even started–I was accepted to the Augustine Institute two years ago and have not yet completed one class. Devin and I had big dreams about moving to our farm and working with the diocese to bring a religious community nearby, so that we could foster an agrarian Catholic culture in our small Texas town, but, so far, nothing from the diocese.

My husband tells me, that I dream too big and wait too impatiently.  He is right. I have learned this, but it is still a mystery to me.  I boggles my mind that, with the world bleeding and so many people in pain, Our Lord is most pleased by an “I” who is hidden and not especially productive.  The fact is that, for whatever is His mysterious purpose, it has pleased Our Lord to render me fruitless, physically and ministerially, though certainly not spiritually.

And, to be honest, there is absolutely nothing that God could ask of me that would be more difficult. I would gladly give my body to be burned and pour out my blood to ease the sufferings of others, but to sit at home and to simply to be ordinary is almost more than I can bear. I have two children, a boy and a girl. Average. I am a stay-at-home mother and a Catholic who is not especially devout these days. Average. (Absolutely no disrespect to full-time mothers here–we know how hard we work, but, you know, I dream many days of serving at the UN) Africa needs clean drinking water and Russia needs post-abortion ministry (among many other needs) and women in India need micro-loans and safety from rapists, and God wants me to be hidden and ordinary?  Oh, the pain of that.

Some days, I want to glare at the sky and shout, “Are you kidding me?” I feel myself bursting with gifts to give, with a wealth of knowledge about the “adequate anthropology” of the theology of the body, with eager energy to evangelize apathetic Catholics and apathetic parishes, with agrarian skills and a heart keen to build a Catholic peasant culture. And, all I can do is keep offering up my ordinariness, as I cheerfully change diapers and wash dishes and love my wonderful husband in ten thousand little ways.

Yesterday on Relevant Radio (our local Catholic station), a commentator read aloud from the Gospel parable where Jesus describes the servants who are given coins to manage during the king’s absence.  And, I started crying as I drove. I don’t get to be the servant who invests her ten talents and earns ten more. I don’t even get the infamy of being the bad servant who buries her coin and is thrown out into the darkness.  I am the little servant who invests her one coin and gets one back.

Now and then, the sorrow at being made to sit still when the world dies is almost too great to bear, and I entrust myself to the mercy of God, who promises in the trial to provide a way out so that we may be able to bear it.  But, most days now, I am content that I am pleasing God in simple and slow and gentle.  The heroism that is asked of me is to accept that I am not invited to evangelize the masses. Even though Devin’s exhortation to follow the missionary example of Saint Therese, namely, to give my life in the little and hidden, used to anger me, it has turned out to be prophetic and true.  Saint Therese is my friend now, and I understand her heart for the missions and the absolute sacrifice she made in being obedient to silence and simplicity.

Brittany4So, truly, glory to God who knows His good purpose and draws us to be as fruitful as possible in the way that only He understands.