Catholic Marriage is for Keeps
My baby sister is engaged and, though I’m thrilled that her fiancé is Catholic and a decent fellow, I’m worried about her frequent offhand comments such as, “I love him, but if he ever does (fill-in-the-blank), that’s it for me!” Can you offer some pointers on how to best communicate to her the permanence of marriage?
Tom: Whenever discussing marriage with someone headed that way, it never hurts to begin by asking her why she wants to marry that particular man. She will, no doubt, say that she loves him — but why does she want to marry him? In other words, what purpose does the marriage serve? Unless it is to create an unconditional, permanent covenantal bond between them, it really doesn’t change anything about their relationship. After all, presumably, they already do loving things for each other, and they are already free to end the relationship if the going gets tough. If marriage does not add permanence, what exactly does it add?
She could answer that it adds God’s grace to their relationship. If so, though, isn’t it precisely the point of receiving that grace that it should reinforce their permanence? If the grace of Christ isn’t going to keep them bound together, what’s the point of asking for it in a ceremony?
In marriage, spouses are called to love one another as Christ loves us. His love is one of total self-donation; just look to the cross for evidence of that. The Lord wants spouses to do no less than that for each other. Christ has placed no conditions upon his love for us; nor should we place conditions upon our spouses.
Caroline: If we begin our marriages with an exit strategy already in place, how will we ever make it? We believe that understanding that marriage is forever is the key not just to staying together, but to having a fulfilling relationship. Knowing that we’ll be together no matter what forces us to work out conflicts. After all, we have to — since neither of us is going anywhere! It also frees us up to tackle the big issues or other tense situations. We aren’t trying to avoid the discussion out of fear that the other will leave when it gets too difficult.
Encourage your sister to take advantage of all the good marriage-preparation programs that are available. Tell her not to settle for the bare minimum of the diocesan requirement. (First ask a trusted priest about which programs in your area are the most solid.) You can always slip her a good book or two (one of our favorite tactics). We especially like John Kippley’s Marriage Is For Keeps, written specifically for students and engaged couples. The title alone should indicate that it will address your concern.
Of course, keep praying for your sister and for all married couples, that they may be filled with the grace of the sacrament and thereby be equipped to overcome all obstacles.
The McDonalds are family-life coordinators for the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama.