The Facts of Life Series: Romance and Marriage
So much of life is a promise. A panorama of possibility. An expanse of excitement and exploration. A hope for happiness and a search for meaning and fulfillment. An adventure of being and becoming. A quest for timeless truth and timely wisdom. A search for true goodness and real beauty. A life lived in the immediacy of the moment and in the fullness of eternity.
And, a fascinating part of life’s many promises and possibilities is the inherent idea of individual decisions and efforts. For this is where life’s panorama becomes personally possible and practically real. This is where we each discover our giftings and our deficiencies, our strengths and our weaknesses, our virtues and our vices, our interests and inclinations and even our idiosyncracies. This is where we each learn how to live life within the confines of our natural capabilities, the diligence of our desire and the strength of our will. For nothing of worth ever comes from passivity. Nor is anything ever achieved without a clear and constant vision and a relentless will.
But what is really worth our dedication, our willful pursuit, our deepest desires for the life we must live? What are the true ends of life and how do we realize and experience them in the here and now? Well, the answer lies in discovering God’s general calling for our life and following His particular practical plan day by day. And, as general callings go, there are basically three possibilities: the priesthood, the consecrated life, the married life.
For most of us marriage is our likely calling. And that typically begins with the possibility and promise of romance. This is where we begin our quest for marital love. The depth and breadth of true romance and real love. The unique particular love of our calling. The one who we will give ourselves to, the one who will love us in a fullness and in a manner as no other person ever will. And, romance is where it all begins.
For romance finds its fulfillment in the fullness of true love and marriage. For when it comes to romance and marriage, it all comes down to love. For most of us, it goes without saying. Of course, marriage is about love. True enough. But, so too is romance. For romance is where the quest for marital love begins. That special and unique love between a man and a woman exclusively committed to each for the rest of their lives. A love unique to your marital calling, just as a priest’s love is unique to his.
So, romance is the first stage of marital love, a seeking and discerning stage. A stage whose purpose is to confirm God’s leading to married life and to discover His intended spouse for your life’s calling, your life’s one true love. But, this discernment process must be pursued with the mindfulness and meaning integral to your calling, just as our priests do. For those callings never lose sight of the point of the discernment process, the real end that is the point and plan of the requisite rigor of your role in the temporal reality of God’s Kingdom.
So, “dating” isn’t just dating in the common cultural sense of the word. “Dating” is a deliberate search for your life’s love. It is recognizing and realizing the reality of real romance. For dating is a process of discernment. While its first focus may begin with some form of attraction and enjoyment, curiosity and chemistry, it will only end in one of two ways.
It will end by recognizing this romantic possibility has no real future. Or, it may gradually grow into a mature romance, whose focus is more committed and serious, though no less fun. For the romantic process should entail the simple and sublime enjoyment of each other’s company, as well as a growing and stronger sense of compatibility and affability, of similarity and complementarity, a shared vision and philosophy and a shared faith.
When dating is discernment, it should reveal a love not merely of affection and attraction. It should also reveal a breadth and depth of love in all its many forms and its many feelings. It should reveal the robust reality of mature romantic love in its fullest form. It should portend the possibilities of mature love with all its many duties and disciplines, with all its many challenges and comforts, with all its many responsibilities and joys. For true romantic love is a love for a life time, just as marriage is.
For the wedding vows affirm the true essence and the real realities of romantic love’s promise and fulfillment in sacramental marriage and in married life. When each person pledges the full richness and deep commitment of their lifetime love, it is a summary of their love and the promise of their fruitful future and their enduring end. It is a pledge of intimate romance, abiding affection and a constancy of commitment with eyes wide open to the virtues and vicissitudes of deep and daily love.
For your pledge “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” is a summary of the breadth and depth, the immediacy and continual commitment that real romantic love truly is. For romance ends in marriage, or it just ends. And, the real end of romance is marriage. Romance of any other type is a possibility explored and examined over time and circumstance leading to a recognition that there is no future to this romantic relationship. And, so it just ends.
For marriage is the fullness of romantic love, not the death of it. Marriage is a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman exclusively and without exception. It is not, nor can it ever be anything else. It is a sacramental union and a contractual one. And, as the vows proclaim, it is an enduring union of romantic love unto death, as the nature and essence of a divine calling to romantic love means. This is His plan. It is not to be altered or trifled with, for its fundamental reality is love not mere duty, not a contractual obligation.
And, such a calling to romantic love is to be fruitful, blessed by as many offspring as God will provide. For marriage is a providential calling that must be open to His providential creative acts. Here too is the fruit of your calling to romantic marriage, as God blesses your union with children and charges you to raise them in the fullness of the Catholic faith and into an intimate and mature relationship with Him.
And, this charge should entail a truly Catholic, Catholic education, wherever it is available. For all the commonsense practical responsibilities of proper parenting are integral to your calling in marriage, including the rearing and education of the children God gives. Just as a priest is responsible for the pastoral needs of his flock, so you must tend to the needs of your children including, their metaphysical and moral needs, their spiritual and educational needs, their emotional, their intellectual, cultural and biological needs. And, a loving Catholic home, an orthodox and active parish and a Catholic school, whose curricula is rich, rigorous and religiously informed, is how best to fulfill the marriage pledge about the duties of parenting.
Yet, when is it best to begin discerning your calling and the romantic search? Well, the sooner the better. For the more time you dedicate to discerning your calling, the more certain you will become with it and the sooner you can begin to pursue it. This and many other practical concerns should stimulate more young people to not only begin the discernment process sooner, but to make decisions sooner, as well.
And, when it comes to marriage, marriage whenever possible, should be of a foundational nature, happening earlier, nearer the beginning of adult life, rather than after the lengthy educational preparation and initial periods of establishing a professional career. These delays often lead to premarital sexual activity, smaller families, a priority of financial security and a disproportionate emphasis on creature comforts, at the expense of the more intangible comforts of family life and faithful familial fecundity.
The fact of life is you are intentionally and providentially alive. The primary fact of life is that God has a plan for you. And, if it is to married life, it begins with romance. Purposeful and personal romance. For romance is love’s introduction, love’s prelude, its overture to the symphony of loving marriage. For marriage is the point of romance and its fulfillment.
The facts are simple. Dating is a time to discern your calling and to discover your intended partner, if marriage is His plan for you. It is not a period of time for libertine promiscuity, nor is it a mere social activity, while preparing for a career. It is a purposeful period of romantic exploration and maturity, whose end should never be ignored or deferred. The point of romance is love. And, true romantic and full-bodied love only finds its fulfillment in a faithful and faith-filled marriage.
For the promise of romance’s true love finds its first fruits in fervent fidelity. But, the panorama of marriage’s real love finds its maturity in passionate fecundity, in abiding in love’s many profundities and verities that only come with the passage of time and the shared adventures of a faith filled and inspired marriage. For romance begins the quest of your calling. And, marriage is your quest. Your calling’s story. Your joint adventure with each other and with God, in full view before your children. An everyday epic of love’s wonder and God’s intention and intimacy.
We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.