God and The List



Death Cab for Cutie, Dane Cook, and ranch hands in love are all “in” for 2006. Kirsten Dunst, Red Bull, and Xbox 360 are all “out” — at least, according to the “The List” in the Washington Post.

Do you have a list for 2006? Some of us are list makers, and some are not.

Sometimes, this can be a temperament issue. Highly organized people often thrive on checking items off their to-do lists. The most organized and pro-active people I have ever met are most often choleric-melancholics. Cholerics are highly productive, but may or may not be list-makers. Melancholics find comfort in having lists, which they may or may not take action on! Sanguines are sometimes so free-wheeling and flexible that they claim they don’t “need” lists and phlegmatics sometimes think that making a list takes too much energy.

But it is not always a temperament issue. And it is not always about time management. Many singles have a list (whether conscious or unconscious) of what they are looking for in a spouse. This isn’t always a good thing.

An unmarried friend of mine confided in me once that she wondered whether her high standards could perhaps diminish her chances of finding a husband. While she didn’t want to lower her standards (especially on moral issues), she wondered whether she might be so idealistic that nobody on earth could actually meet her expectations.

The fact that she was thinking about this at all was a definite plus. Our contemporary society is so steeped in a materialistic, utilitarian world view, that even we Catholics sometimes don’t realize how it affects our own perceptions. Take the list, for example, whether conscious or unconscious. I want to meet a Catholic man or woman, one who believes what I believe, and who accepts all the doctrines that I accept. I want him or her to be attractive, intelligent, and productive. I want him or her to be financially and emotionally stable. I would prefer that he or she attend daily Mass, but I could make do with one or two times per week. I don’t care if he or she has brown or blonde hair, though.

Hmmm. This doesn’t leave much to serendipity, does it? Or grace? Tolkien once said, “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates.”

High standards and agreement on critical value issues are important factors. We aren’t advocating lowering our ethical standards or compromising our faith and morals. Yet, in creating a list and then evaluating the people we meet based upon it, are we perhaps objectifying the other person? Has materialism and utilitarianism subtlety infiltrated our consciousness?

Created in the image and likeness of God, human beings are not only rational and free, we are drawn to seeking truth, beauty, and love. By our very nature, we are social beings, made for relationships. The image of God in fact is the Trinity, the perfect relationship of creative, expressive, life-giving, unselfish love! And, though our likeness to God was destroyed by sin, we are called to be in a relationship with God himself; through our participation in Christ’s life, we will be restored to glory, to the likeness of God (CCC, 705). Created in His image and likeness, man is “the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). What God has wanted for its own sake, so should we value for its own sake. No human being should ever be used as a means or an instrument, or desired as an object. We have to continually fight the materialism and utilitarianism of our contemporary culture — the prevalence of abortion and contraception, fear of suffering and aging, an overvaluation of fitness and Hollywood-style beauty, genetic manipulation, “mercy” killing and pornography.

And, sometimes we have to fight it in ourselves: Am I interested in meeting that person because I think he might be a potential business partner or marriage partner? Do I have a list of requirements in my mind, before I will enter into a relationship? What about the value of just getting to know someone — for his own sake? When a young woman says, “I will only date someone that I believe is a potential marriage partner,” is she perhaps forgetting the inherent value in simply being with or relating to another person? If a man says he will only correspond with an attractive woman, is this being utilitarian? Are my standards set impossibly high?

The best approach is a balanced one. It is good to know what you are looking for — so long as you aren’t paralyzed by it. It is excellent to keep high standards, but make sure that your heart remains open to love and to the whisper of the Holy Spirit. Examine your intentions: Am I viewing that person merely as someone potentially useful to me? Or am I treating him with all the dignity he deserves as a child of God?

Remember that Tobias was told to have high standards for his future wife, which he respected. His father told him to beware of all immorality, to not be proud, and to take his wife from among his own tribe. Tobias respected these commands. Now, he must have been a bit surprised when he met Sarah. On the plus side, Sarah was beautiful, sensible, and a member of his own tribe. However, she had some really major strikes against her: A demon was in love with her, she had been married seven times already, and each time the demon killed the groom in the bridal chamber! Talk about taking a chance! But Tobias trusted in God and in the words of the angel Raphael (who appeared as an ordinary man) and fell in love with Sarah. Raphael assured him that they would be married, the demon would flee and God would have mercy on them: “Do not be afraid, for she was destined for you from all eternity” (Tobit 6:15-17).

Ultimately, we don’t really know what is best for ourselves. Any list we can make will probably be limited to the circumstances and the perspective of the present moment. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families that we are mysteries even to ourselves. Until we know Christ — intimately, personally — we cannot begin to know who we really are. But with Christ’s grace, through daily prayer and meditation on the Scriptures, God will begin to reveal his plan for us. And so we can embark on this great adventure of life and love. Ultimately, we will discover ourselves in the “sincere gift of self.” Tobias risked his very life in marrying Sarah — but he trusted in God, respected his father’s wishes, and loved Sarah for her own sake: “O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity” (Tobit 8:7).

Laraine Bennett is a freelance writer with articles published in Catholic Faith & Family, Ligourian, New Oxford Review, and the National Catholic Register. Together with her husband, Art, she co-authored The Temperament God Gave You (2005 Sophia Institute Press). Laraine has a BA in Philosophy from Santa Clara University and an MA in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Laraine and her husband have been married for 28 years. They have four children — one of each temperament.

This article has been re-published with written authorization of Catholic Match, LLC.

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Match, LLC. This article may not be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted, or distributed in any way without written authorization of Catholic Match, LLC.

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