With more couples choosing to use contraception and live together before marriage, the Catholic definition of marriage is more at risk than ever, says Christian Meert, who with his wife Christine heads the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

The problem for many couples, he said, is often a fundamental lack of knowledge about what Christ and the Catholic Church require of married couples, he said.

"Everything they are getting from the media and the rest of society is going against everything we believe in," he said. "The people we are getting have a strong desire to do the right thing . . . but in general their religious background is very shallow."

He and his wife see this trend constantly as they work with couples both through their office and through their business - CatholicMarriagePrep.com, an online marriage preparation course designed for couples who are separated by distance or schedules and can't take the classes together at their local church.

The couples who go through their preparation program often come from broken homes, Meert said. While many have a strong desire to live in accordance to the church, they often are unsure what that means. That's where he and his wife step in. One of the best ways to save traditional marriages, they believe, is to ensure that there are more strong marriages based on the teachings of the church.

"We're trying to give them something that's Christ-centered," he said. "Something that is going to hold them together for life."

After seven years and mentoring more than 10,000 couples from countries around the world, Meert said that the program is seeing results.

In 2012, 78 percent of couples anonymously polled through the site after taking the program said they planned to abstain from sex until marriage.

"When you talk about abstinence, the general numbers are that 70 to 80 percent of couples are in cohabitation and 90 percent have premarital sex," he said. "When you get the incredible number of 78 percent that want to remain abstinent, it means that they really want to do it right."

Also according to the survey, 64 percent of couples in 2012 said they planned to use natural family planning in their marriage. Natural family planning is a church-approved method of family planning that monitors the woman's fertility cycle to both help achieve or avoid pregnancy.

"I think that's good," Meert said. "When we start, only a very small percentage of couples have even heard about it (natural family planning) and then you talk to them and explain what it is and they want it."

Thus far, the Meerts' program has won the endorsement of bishops who find the content sound and in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. In February, Diocese of Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan endorsed the program in a letter he sent to every bishop in the country.

"It is a comprehensive and well-designed program that stresses the spiritual and sacramental dimensions of marriage and deals in a very straightforward and orthodox manner with those issues that threaten Holy Matrimony, especially contraception and cohabitation," he wrote in the Feb. 21 letter.

In the program, couples are paired with mentor couples and walked through Scripture to understand where God is calling for their marriage to be, Meert said. They are encouraged to have long discussions about their faith and other topics and are slowly taught what it means to be married in the Catholic Church.

"Most see that God cares for them. God loves them, and he's asking them to remain abstinent out of love," Meert said. "But that can't be done in a minute. We have to be patient and we have to give them time to reflect and process the information because they are receiving it for the first time.

"When they are ready for the truth, they want it."

For more information on Catholic Marriage Prep, visit www.catholicmarriageprep.com or call toll free at 866-425-7193.

Posted with permission from The Colorado Catholic Herald, official publication of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado.