Dating as a practicing Catholic in the world today is not an easy feat, and although there are rewards in living out our faith authentically, there are definitely challenges. One of the beautiful aspects of our Catholic faith is the tradition of courtship and dating that, Godwilling, leads us to a deep and meaningful relationship with a significant other. On the flip side, because of the values that we hold as Catholics, the dating pool is quite small, and it can be difficult to find someone who shares the same desire to date with the intention of marriage.
One would think that living in New York, I would have an unlimited selection of possible candidates to date since there are approximately 19, 857, 492 people in the state as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in a July 2021 report, but according to a recent Pew Research Survey only 18% of Catholic adults are millennials. Then there arises the question of out of these millennials, how many are practicing Catholics? We know that not many of them are practicing Catholics since out of those surveyed only 40% of Catholics in New York attend Mass at least once a week, 58% of them believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 61% of those who affiliate with being a Catholic strongly favor or favor same-sex marriage.
When we look at statistics across the United States, we observe that the majority of Catholics are not faithful to the Magisterium, and support changes to key Church teachings that cannot be changed in the first place since they are the fruits of Divine Revelation. According to a report on “7 Facts about American Catholics,” published by the Pew Research Center, 76% of Catholics want the Church to allow birth control, 62% of Catholics want divorced Catholics to remarry without getting an annulment and be able to receive Holy Communion, 62% of Catholics support co-habitating Catholics to receive the Eucharist, 59% of Catholics feel women should be able to become priests, and 46% of Catholics recognize same-sex marriage.
One of the greatest challenges of dating as a Catholic who believes in the entirety of the Catholic faith, and not simply bits and pieces of the faith as a Cafeteria Catholic, is that at times it seems nearly impossible to find someone who shares my beliefs and values as a practicing Catholic. We live in a culture that celebrates sin. Society cheers on those who have sex before marriage in casual hookup situations where neither party respects the dignity of the human person, and when couples remain in non-committal relationships where neither member has the desire to get married or have children together. It becomes difficult to find someone who is also searching for a loving partner who shares in the yearning for a long-term, committed relationship that remains rock solid in faith. This is especially true for young adults who are trying to navigate their way, perhaps even for the first time, in the confusing world of dating.
I have managed to confront this challenge by being up front from the beginning about my Catholic values and beliefs. One would think that when dating other Catholics there would be no need to state one’s values or beliefs because all Catholics should share common ground, but the fact is that most often this is simply not the case. I know of one young woman who on her first date pulled the Catechism of the Catholic Church out of her purse and laid it on the table asking the gentleman various questions to find out where he stood on basic Catholic teachings.
Today, they are a happily married, faithful Catholic couple. This method may not work for everyone, but it sure worked for her. She made it clear that her faith was important to her, and that she was searching for someone who shared that same level of commitment, and understood the value in saving oneself for marriage. There was the possibility that her date could have been scared off by such an approach, but I have even found that it is much better to be honest up front in what I am searching for in a relationship rather than waste one another’s time in a relationship that will ultimately lead to nowhere.
According to Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body the human body is sacred by its very nature as a gift from God, and by the use of our bodies we have the ability to love, communicate, and connect with one another. He addressed his Wednesday audience on January 16, 1980 with the following words, “The human body includes right from the beginning…the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.”
Catholic dating, therefore, has the primary focus on both man and woman respecting the dignity of the human person, and understanding that there is the sanctity of the human body. The couple are called to reserve physical intimacy until marriage because as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 18-20, writes:
Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.
Catholicism views dating as a discernment period between a man and woman when the couple is placing God first in their relationship, and turning to Him to seek whether they are called to the vocation of marriage together. Marriage is a serious event in one’s life, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (1601).
I have come to appreciate the Catholic tradition of dating because there is significant emphasis on discernment. This is a stark contrast to the secular dating world where there is emphasis placed upon instant gratification and seeking pleasure. Catholic dating, on the other hand, stresses the importance of having a mindful and purposeful approach to relationships, which can possibly lead to marriage. The discernment process involves taking the time to truly and really get to know who someone is on the inside, not simply at the surface, making sure that the person shares the same values and beliefs, and taking the time to determine whether the relationship is a part of God’s plan in their lives.
The reward, hopefully at the end of the dating journey in the Catholic tradition, is a lifelong, loving, and sacramental marriage, which first began with a deep friendship, respect for one another, and shared Catholic values. According to data from 2010 and 2012 for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University “Adult Catholics stand out with only 28% of the ever-married having divorced at some point” while 42% of American adults that have no religious affiliation who have been married, have experienced a divorce during their lifetime.
Catholic dating encourages couples to help one another grow in virtue and holiness as the man and woman live out their Catholic faith together as they deepen their relationship with one another. The virtues that the couple strives to grow in are chastity, humility, forgiveness, and selflessness, which helps to lead them to a loving, long-lasting, and fruitful marriage.
Let us pray for all couples discerning a Catholic marriage that they may know God’s will for them in their lives, and for all single Catholics who are still searching for a faithful Catholic spouse that God may lead them to find him or her.