It's hard for faithful Catholics to get a date for Saint Valentine's Day these days. But it's also hard to get a date for any day.
Most of my faithful, guy friends almost never ask a woman on a date. And most of my lovely, holy, female friends almost never get asked on a date. That makes Valentine's Day a lonely day. What gives?
There is a terrible stigma in the Church today against dating. It is connected to the stigma of singleness. In order to avoid the term "single," we employ the euphemism "young adult." Reliance on the euphemism skirts both the unique need of singles (of all ages) to be drawn into the family life of the Church and our need to be prepared for vocations to marriage and consecrated life. In our ministries to young adults (which are often great ministries, especially in my hometown), we frequently hear disclaimers like, "this is not a pick-up joint; this is not a meat-market; this is not a singles ministry; this is not a place for dating; this is about Jesus and growing in our faith."
Occasionally someone will acknowledge singleness to the extent of granting that, while we should not be dating, it would be okay for us to pursue serious courtship that was focused upon preparation for marriage. But the guys I know don't know how to begin courtship with a woman if they're not supposed to ask her on a date for dinner and have a chance to get to know her better. And they are sincere and faithful and don't want to violate the steady stream of admonitions from fine people in fine ministries saying that we should focus on Jesus and not on dating or pursuing members of the opposite sex.
So, they don't ask women on dates, and don't get married, and we all get older and don't have anyone for whom to buy flowers or chocolates or corny, romantic cards on Valentine's Day. And my lovely, holy, female friends ask me all the time, "what's wrong with these guys? Why won't they be manly men and ask women on dates?"
The problem is that even manly men need role models, and no one is setting the example and encouraging them to ask women on dates. No one, that is, except my manly friend, West Point grad, and strong, pro-life champion, Larry. He started what he calls Larry's Club. Guys in Larry's club have to be devoted to Mary, the Mother of life, and to her Son, and they have to ask at least one faithful, Catholic woman on a date every month.
Larry's club has one more requirement — no unlicensed dating. All of the guys, and the gals they date, are required to get a dating license from http://www.godofdesire.com/. Larry and I developed a 24 question, multiple choice, dating license test. Those who pass the test can print their licenses right from the web site. It's fun and funny and very serious too. Those who don't pass the test can study the dating and courtship principles at the site, all of which are based on John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and then they'll be ready to pass the test and begin pursuing God through the attractions and desires he has given us toward one another.
Larry and I believe — and we believe John Paul's writing supports this — that the key to dating and courtship and ministering to singles is to get singles out of isolation and into life in God's Church, God's family. Life alone is really no life at all. It is not good for the man to be alone. The model in Genesis is for a man to leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife — from family to family, and all within the larger extended family of community and Church. This is God's model. And this is the key formational need of singles — to be brought out of isolation and into God's family and encouraged to form families and taught how to form families.
Larry's club and the dating and courtship principles, both found at http://www.godofdesire.com/, are intended to make this compelling, concrete and fun. We need to teach singles that dating for God's glory and in pursuit of one's vocation is every bit as holy and valuable as going to Mass, or praying the Rosary. Jesus and Mary want us to be drawn to each other, to long for each other, to fall in love with each other and form holy, fruitful, Catholic families. As a Church, God's family, we must create environments that foster and encourage those values.
A group of us will be getting together this evening to celebrate Valentine's Day in just such a setting. We're having "Valentine's dinner and a date with Jesus and Mary." This is a chance for single Catholics to come together and be brothers and sisters to each other, to help each other deal with Valentine's Day without a valentine by, in a certain sense, being a group valentine for each other.
We will give everyone a copy of Pope Benedict's lovely encyclical on love, from which we'll have some readings throughout the evening in alternating male and female voices. The men will get a Valentine's card from Mary and the women will get one from Jesus. Some of the members of Larry's Club are making sure that all of the ladies at the dinner receive a rose. We are supporting each other in our pursuit of our vocations to marriage or to consecrated life. We are supporting each other in our longing for love.
We're encouraging the men to practice true devotion to Mary, the model of womanhood and of fruitful love, and to pursue relationships with women who model the virtues of Mary. We're encouraging the men to pray their rosaries daily, and to have an intimate relationship with Mary, whose beauty and goodness can do so much to fill up our longing for a woman with whom to share our lives.
As men seek a woman like Mary, we're encouraging women to seek a man like Jesus. Women must raise the bar in what they look for in a man. Our lovely, holy sisters deserve nothing less than a man who will pick up the bar of the cross, and carry it together with Christ — a man who will lay down his life in a sacrifice of love for them, honoring and fostering and protecting the purity of their minds and hearts and spirits.
We can't do any of this alone, or even one-on-one with that special someone. We must live family life if we are to form fruitful families. Not only must we live that life in our biological families, but we must live it in God's family. We must live as daughters and sisters and mothers, as sons and brothers and fathers, in the family of God. And then, especially when we encourage and support each other in dating and courtship and forming families of our own, we'll be able to create a world in which everyone will have someone for whom to buy flowers and chocolates and corny, romantic cards on the 14th of February.
Guys, join Larry's club. Gals, get a dating license and don't date anyone who doesn't have one. And may we all have Jesus and Mary for our Valentines.