Two Remedies for the Decline of Marriage

The saints had marriages that brought Heaven to earth and earth back to Heaven

The canonization portrait of Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in St. Peter's Square, on Oct. 16, 2015.
The canonization portrait of Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in St. Peter's Square, on Oct. 16, 2015. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA)

Many young men have never formally asked a woman in person on a date, nor have they ever written a love letter. In fact, many married men have never written a love letter to their wife. This is a sad truth. Modern technologies combined with the pornification of the world have resulted in men who do not know how to pursue a woman purely, chastely and courageously.

Tragically, many young men have seen thousands of naked women on their phones or computers as early as the age of 5. And so, on their wedding night, the ancient demon, Asmodeus — the one who killed Sarah’s seven husbands in the book of Tobit — and his fellow minions have already neutered the impure man countless times, slaying his innocence (and his immortal soul if he does not repent). 

What should be the most glorious sight after the Holy Eucharist, his beautiful bride standing before him naked for the first time on his wedding night, has been tarnished. The new bridegroom now compares his bride to the many women he has seen before, possibly even hooked up with. His beautiful wife can never compete with these women. But there is hope. 

Can you imagine a world where the only woman a man has seen naked is his bride? And the same for a young lady — where the only man she has ever laid eyes on is her husband? 

The goal of every Catholic parent is to live and model this beatitude among others: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). When a young man is clean of heart, preparing for the sacrament of Matrimony with the greatest virtue, he will “see God” reflected in the utter beauty of his spouse. With the words from the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, the married man can say, “Thou has wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck. How beautiful are thy breasts, my sister, my spouse! Thy breasts are more beautiful than wine, and the sweet smell of thy ointments above all aromatic spices” (4:9–10). Make no mistake, the longing in every man’s heart to see his bride unveiled for the first time on his wedding night is a foreshadowing of the Beatific Vision. 

The current crisis in the culture with the rise of cohabitation, same-sex unions, no-fault divorce, postponed marriages and transgenderism stems from many factors. But there are some solutions to this madness, two of which will be discussed here. First, it begins when a husband and wife love each other fervently, and second, when they teach their children about the importance of courtship. 

When St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s husband returned from his travels, she was said to have kissed him “more than a thousand times on the mouth.” And she would often journey with her husband on his various business trips. She did not want to be separated from him.

And when St. Gianna’s husband Pietro went to the United States for almost three months, the couple wrote to each other nearly every day. In one letter on a different trip, Pietro wrote to St. Gianna, “I’m at the Hotel Des Indes, on the second floor, in a room just like the one we had in December for those wonderful nights of kisses and ineffable caresses and sweetest love.”

The saints were the greatest lovers and therefore they had the greatest marriages. Marriages that reflected the Blessed Trinity to their children. Marriages that brought Heaven to earth and earth back to Heaven.

Over time many married men stop pursuing their wives. They mistakenly “think” they have won the prize, so now they do not have to win their wife’s heart again. And so, the flames of affection die down through the years and the sentiments of love are often reduced to their anniversary and St. Valentine’s Day. 

But this is far from the truth. By virtue of his vows, a married man must pursue his wife as Christ loved the Church (see Ephesians 5). As Christ gives himself over daily at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, so too must a husband lay down his life for his bride every day of his life. It begins with acts of affection and words of endearment, ultimately culminating in sacrificial love, even the death of his own will. 

By showing daily acts of love for each other, a husband and wife reveal the splendor of marriage to their children. This affection then spills over to their children. What is the first thing you do, dear wife, when your husband comes home from work? What is the first thing you do, dear husband, when you see your wife? One hopes that some signs of affection and gratitude are shown. The lessening of our marriages certainly is tied to the way we reverence the Holy Eucharist. A similar awe and reverence that a man has for the Blessed Sacrament should captivate his heart when he enters the presence of his bride. 

And now we move to our second remedy for the decline of marriage. The trite saying, “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is also true with marriage. But the reality is that marriage is broken, and one of the clearest indicators of this brokenness is the rise in divorces and annulments combined with fewer and fewer people getting married. Recently, author John Clark addressed the issue of annulments in his great new release, Betrayed Without a Kiss: Defending Marriage after Years of Failed Leadership in the Church (TAN Books).

As seen time and again, what has stood the test of time is easily discarded for newer fads. In the 20th century, dating slowly began to replace courtship. The latter existed long before Christ’s time. Dating, which became aided by the automobile, became more centered on popularity back then rather than its emphasis on sex as is common today. Either way, dating has been a failed experiment because it seems only concerned with the present moment and with maximizing pleasure. 

On the other hand, courtship puts marriage front and center. In addition, courtship makes the father the guardian and watchman of his daughter’s soul. That is why a young man must seek the father’s permission to court and to marry his daughter. Today, many parents do not even meet their child’s future spouse until after the engagement.

For those looking to meet a virtuous spouse or help their children to do so, courtship is the surest way to set your marriage up for a lifetime of happiness. Through courtship, a couple grows in virtue, especially moderation and self-denial. While dating has “no rules,” courtship spells out clear guidelines and stages. In a world that wants pleasure now, courtship reminds us that the best things in life are worth waiting for. 

The decline of marriage will not be reversed quickly. And yet, one holy courtship lived with purity and one holy marriage lived with great affection can change the course of history, as seen in the lives of the saints. Now is the time to return to reclaim our sacred past, the path of the saints, which is courtship.

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