"When asked who to choose as a mentor couple, it was a no-brainer for us. Their love for God and putting Him right at the center of their family is exactly the type of environment we want to have for our family."
Meghan said the mentorship and the program of Witness to Love brought a "self-awareness" to their marriage that they hadn't had before. It gave them tools to know and love their spouse better, and to work on virtues together.
"It was both challenging and rewarding. It in a way forced you to have those difficult conversations you don't necessarily want to have," she said.
"While we have been civilly married for two years, we are nowhere close to having it all figured out! The workbook provided great tools to give you insight on how you are wired and how your spouse is wired so you can better understand each other and how to handle situations, or discover what things you need to work on that you didn't think was even an issue," she added.
Brendon said the program changed their relationship by emphasizing that "it takes three to get married" - the couple and God.
"We are much more open in sharing what's on our hearts so that we can pray for each other and build each other up," he said.
Much of the content of Witness to Love is virtue-based. It encourages couples to examine different virtues - love, honor, courage, respect, humility, and so on - and how those virtues can best be lived out in a marriage.
"By learning the virtues, you are growing closer to God and understanding fully how much He loves you and how you need to love your spouse in return, because God loves your spouse that much and He put you together by His grace," Meghan said. "Doing that, well, that's what gets you closer to Heaven - knowing how to love and accept someone for all of who they are."
Meghan and Brendon's marriage will be blessed in the Church this March. Meghan said she would "absolutely" recommend the Witness to Love mentorship program to other couples in similar situations.
"It's definitely something I'll want to reference going forward in our marriage," she said.
Responding to the needs of the Church
When Bishop Joseph Strickland was first made bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas in 2012, strengthening marriage and family life was one of his top priorities.
"I wanted to really focus on marriage formation because in some ways I think we find ourselves needing to rebuild Christian society, and the stronger the marriages are, the stronger the families will be, the stronger (the faith of) the children will be, and I think that's where we can begin of a joyful revolution of deeper faith," Strickland told CNA.
About a year ago, the Diocese of Tyler began using Witness to Love's marriage prep program - "I liked the solid theology on marriage and the beautiful presentation of what the sacrament of marriage is about for us as Catholics," Strickland said.
Located in a minority-Catholic area, Strickland said he sees the need for good convalidation formation continuing to grow, as more couples delay marriage, or decide to come back to the Church later in life.
"There are so many couples that need convalidation, and we're really encouraging and wanting to support those couples," he said.
Having worked on a marriage tribunal for years, Strickland said what appealed to him about Witness to Love, besides being theologically sound, was that it didn't feel as "bureaucratic" as some other marriage and convalidation programs.
"You're having to talk about this very personal information with a priest that you don't know, maybe you don't feel you're that comfortable with them, maybe you're not Catholic or haven't been practicing your Catholic faith for a long time," he said.
"So I think to have the mentor couple, who would be someone who is faithfully living their Catholic faith, to help them feel like they're welcome and to navigate any issues they might have...would be important especially for couples who may have been married civilly for quite some time and have had a number of kids and are having to negotiate some significant complexities."
Mary Rose said the mentor couple relationship is so key to Witness to Love because it works both ways - the convalidating couple receives formation, but the mentoring couple is also challenged to examine their marriage and "step it up", so to speak, in order to be a good example. She said some mentor couples have told her that being asked to mentor another couple is what saved their own marriage.
"It's kind of a dead end if you don't open at least a crack for the Holy Spirit, and in Witness to Love that risk has always been allowing the couples to choose their own mentor," she said.
"But it's that invitation, that personal relationship - it's a two-for-one evangelization effort that has made all the difference and transformed parish communities, because instead of a couple coming through the Church and never seeing them again, their mentor's marriage is renewed, the community is renewed."
This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 10, 2019.