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.


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.

A New App to Pray Novenas

Introducing, my first native iOS app, Pray: the Catholic Novena App.

This app was a long time in the making, but came at a providential time, as I’ll relate shortly.

The Story of Pray Catholic Novenas App

I’m a computer programmer, have been for twenty years. A few years ago I moved in across the street from another programmer, Chad.

Novenas to pray
Novenas to pray

We got to be friends and realized we had lots in common in regard to software development. He was working as the CTO of a startup company and programmed their mobile app, a really sleek iPhone app for college students to make connections with each other.

I was interested in learning iPhone development; he was interested in doing a project that would be part of his portfolio, since all the other apps he had made were for other companies.

So we decided to partner together, and Devoted Coders was born.

He taught me the Swift programming language and let me hack out the first chunks of the app. At the time, it was going to be a general purpose Catholic app, like Laudate or iPieta.

I’ve appreciated these Catholic apps to do things like read the daily gospel reading, but I’ve always cringed a bit with the usability. Most of these apps have big clunky icons, long listviews of text, and the ever-spinning activity indicator. (Does it really take that long to open up the USCCB daily reading pages in a web browser?)

Chad had honed his skills on professional apps that had to be instantly usable by people with little patience and attention span. So we started designing the app and realized that making another “kitchen sink” Catholic app wouldn’t be very valuable.

I shared with him about novenas, how you pray for nine days and ask a saint to pray for you during that time for some particular intention. He, not being religious, had never heard of novenas before but loved the idea of people praying together for a certain request.

We decided to just make a simple app that helped people pray novenas.

And Pray: the Catholic Novena app was born.

The Pain Points of Novenas

I explained to him the pitfalls of praying novenas:

  • You forget to pray one or more days
  • You forget which day you are on
  • You have to mentally compile each day’s prayer, intro-day prayers-concluding prayer
  • It’s hard to sync up with your friends and family to pray together

But an app is perfectly suited to solving such problems:

  • It can remind you each day to pray
  • It compiles the prayer for you
  • It takes you to the right day’s prayer
  • It helps you catch up if you get behind
  • It enables you to invite friends to pray a novena with you

So we started out with crayola drawings of the screens, discussed them, refined them, mocked them up, and then implemented them using Apple’s storyboards.

The Three Hail Marys novena
The Three Hail Marys novena

Chad applied his design and aesthetic skills to the usability, look and feel and touch, and we made a prototype. Along the way I explained more about novenas to him.

He wanted Protestants to use the novena app too, but I told him Protestants don’t believe in asking for prayers from saints. A discussion began about Catholic-Protestant differences, where they came from, how we can know which is truer, and so on.

Even if most Protestants wouldn’t use this app, though, Catholics would. And I have even had some Protestants indicate they would be willing to try it out, as several novenas are directly to Jesus or the Holy Spirit in any case.

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1X8HXYg”]He wanted Protestants to use the novena app; I told him Protestants don’t believe in asking for prayers from saints[/tweetthis]

Then It Got Personal

We published the app on Saturday. Then I invited a handful of friends to try it out as beta testers and give us feedback.

Three days later my daughter got a bump on her face, and we took her into the hospital. The ER doctors took a blood sample then a CT scan, then they disappeared and we didn’t hear from them. We saw them looking in our room window with very concerned looks.

We asked them what was going on and they said they didn’t have any results back yet. We know now that they did but were waiting on the oncology doctor to come down to the ER to speak with us.

My daughter had leukemia.

josephinecComplete shock. A whirlwind next few days of bone marrow extractions, spinal taps, tests, and chemotherapy.

Friends began to hear the news and they all wanted to pray. Many wanted to pray novenas. Which saint? they asked. So I sent them the link to the new app and said pick anyone you want.

A few days later I had some time at night and added St. Josephine Bakhita, my daughter’s namesake, to the app.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that so many friends were praying novenas with me for my daughter.

A week later, we are still in the hospital. But we’ve had positive signs of how she is responding to the chemotherapy.

A Real App for Real Needs

It’s so simple, but novenas are one of the Church’s traditions for praying together for a request. While there are several novena apps in the App Store, none had the elegance, usability, or helpfulness of our app. And some of them cost money; our app is free.

So please do try out our new app for praying novenas. And if you pray the St. Josephine one, please consider adding my daughter’s healing to your intentions.

God bless,