Good news: Spouses don’t need special powers to create a super marriage. In their book The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime, co-authors Karee and Manuel Santos show couples how they can defeat the foes that would rob a marriage of its joy.

The “four keys” of the book’s title are four qualities of the Christlike love that married and soon-to-be-married couples are called to practice. Just as Christ’s love for us is distinctively “faithful, free, fruitful and total,” explain the Santoses, so should be the love shared by a couple in a sacramental union.

Sarah Reinhard, author, Register blogger and writer at SnoringScholar.com, agrees. “Love is an action,” she says. “This is something that Pope Francis has stressed and that the Santoses remind us of. They show us all how to love with our will, and they give us ways to put our love into practice.”

 

Tips for a Joyful Marriage

The Four Keys to Everlasting Love is filled with helpful tips and relatable witness, “keeping it real and approachable, which is useful for anyone in the trenches,” says Reinhard. “And aren’t we all?”

This marriage-advice book with a difference delves into the Church’s teaching on each of 10 practical points identified by the Pontifical Council for the Family as being helpful to married couples. Chapter-by-chapter “bonus materials,” appropriate both for individual couples and those gathering in small groups, include “Conversation Starters,” an “Action Plan” and a “Catechism Corner.” Printable worksheets are also available at the online “community to support Catholic marriages,” Can We Cana? (https://CanWeCana.blogspot.com/)

“By encouraging couples to gather together in community to learn about [marriage] issues,” says Karee, “our book motivates people to help themselves and help each other at the same time.”

Karee and Manuel regularly share their insights with other couples at the “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage” program sponsored by the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

Observes program coordinator Jill Cherrey, “The Santoses are very gifted at maintaining an extremely positive and encouraging tone, while going deep and staying very real. It is a tough balance to strike, but is the only true way to serve a culture that is just struggling to realize the promises God offers through marriage.”

The Four Keys to Everlasting Love also includes case studies from Manuel’s counseling practice, along with insightful diagnoses that speak to common marital problems.

“I have seen so many things that can cause discord,” says Karee. “Sexual problems, addictions to pornography or alcohol, lack of forgiveness, religious differences, chronic unemployment or workaholism, arguments over money and interfering in-laws.”

Although The Four Keys addresses each of these problems, it isn’t a book meant only for couples in crisis; rather, it presents a beautiful image of married love that will inspire and equip even happy couples to strive for a more joy-filled marriage.

A similarly touching description of marriage is to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).

“Pope Francis’ riff off St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (‘Love is patient; love is kind ...’) shows us how to achieve a stirring scriptural vision of love in everyday married life,” says Karee, adding that “the entire document contains a lot of homespun practical wisdom about how to live a happier, holier marriage.”

 

Mercy in Marriage

“Homespun practical wisdom” can be found in other marriage books, too. Steve Bollman, founder of Paradisus Dei ministries, is author of The Choice Wine: 7 Steps to a Superabundant Marriage, which considers both the science and the sensibility of married love, with a focus on mercy.

“Even secular sociologists have discovered that mercy is more important in the spousal relationship than any other relationship,” Bollman says.

Sociology is one of several disciplines whose findings are explored in Bollman’s book. Citing scientific data that points to the transformative power of marriage, The Choice Wine includes intriguing information on the brain functions that are important in a spousal relationship. Readers who think they would be bored by explanations of such things as anterior cingulated cortices will be pleasantly surprised: Many of the descriptions, especially those of the science behind the spousal union, are more fascinating than fiction.

Drawing on the wisdom of his father-in-law, Riley, and inspired by the sublime marriage of Riley and his wife, Rose Mary, Bollman identifies seven deceptively simple steps to marital happiness. By following these steps, a couple can “taste the choice wine,” that is, experience the superabundant joy that God wills for them.

Robert and Annette Judge, who are parishioners at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, are one couple taking those seven steps. They recently took part in “The Choice Wine” marriage-enrichment program, which is a nine-week, interactive, multimedia series that shows couples “how to virtually divorce-proof their marriages and realize a foretaste of paradise in their families.” The program has been successfully implemented in parishes all across the United States.

Says Robert, “Having read theology of the body, and understanding what Christ truly intended for marriage, I welcomed the opportunity to explore the true beauty of Christian marriage through ‘The Choice Wine’ marriage-enrichment program.”

He and his wife were impressed by “the social science that backs up the Church’s teachings” and were pleased at the “faithfulness” of the program to those teachings, he says.

“The program should be required for Catholic marriage preparation,” adds Robert. “Think about this: We take continuing education for our jobs, but when do we take the chance to continue our education for the most important human relationship in our lives?” 

So important is that relationship that, as Bollman points out, “Pope Francis presents the love of spouses to be an image of the sacrificial love of Christ. As such, he is already anticipating St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and offered himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25). Pope Francis certainly has a high regard for marriage, which is truly needed in modern Western society.”

 

Chaste Courtship

Indeed, it is most sorely needed, says Jeff Mirus, president of Trinity Communications, which runs CatholicCulture.org.

“Our society is (if possible) even more steeped in shallow notions of sex and marriage than 10 or 15 years ago, and even the great majority of Catholics are influenced by the pervasive secularism of our larger culture,” Mirus explains. In order to turn the tide, “an authentic vision of Catholic growth and family life” is necessary.

Helping to advance that vision, says Mirus, is Father T.G. Morrow’s book Christian Dating in a Godless World.

Father Morrow covers a variety of subjects, ranging from “Choosing Mr. Right” to “Children: The Fruit of Marriage.” Also discussed are issues — among them pornography, poor communication and infidelity — that can affect couples both before and after marriage, thus contributing to what Pope Francis has called the destabilization of the family.

“Pope Francis highlighted a number of the challenges facing families in Amoris Laetitia,” says Mirus, “and there is no question that young men and women will benefit from checking their attitudes against Christian principles.”

Father Morrow presents those Christian principles in a forthright yet engaging manner, drawing on his own experience as a young man who spent “many years” dating. To those who would question the good priest’s credentials as an adviser on courtship, Father Morrow replies, “It has been awhile, but I have a good memory.”

This book gives solid guidance for forming a complete “plan of action for [one’s] dating life,” from where to find Catholic friends and how to show affection to when to reveal past sins and why men and women have unique roles in courtship.

Father Morrow’s insights, informed by his work as a chaplain to single Catholics, are summarized at the end of each chapter. Appendices include a sample program for a Catholic wedding.

The chapter on “Understanding Love” is a crystal-clear elucidation of the four types of love and a call to “cultivate agape” as a basis for good relationships. “No other earthly delight,” asserts Father Morrow, “can exceed that of good relationships.”

Indeed, good, chaste relationships are the basis of a Christian culture. In order for a culture to be restored, it is important for women to “live the dignity of chastity,” since, according to Venerable Fulton Sheen, “the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood.” Women wanting to reclaim their feminine dignity and have the courage to be countercultural will find plenty of encouragement and solid advice in Father Morrow’s book. “Above all,” says the author, “women can find the confidence to reject the bad treatment that often goes along with unchaste courtship.”

As Mirus contends, young women and young men have much to gain from “learning restraint and modesty and going through a genuinely Christian courtship in preparation for the trials of marriage.”

Celeste Behe writes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.