This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of The Four Marks in the regular column "The Restoration." "The Restoration" is a monthly column dedicated to restoring Christian ideals in our modern culture. To learn more about the newspaper, or to subscribe, please click here.
Throughout the years when I’ve talked to clergy and laymen about how different the Church was prior to Vatican II, somewhere in the conversation I’ve reached a moment where I would be transported back to the described situation: a packed to the gills church on a Sunday – the Traditional Mass a norm – people voting and living as Catholics.
However, when it comes to dating in the Post Vatican II era, I am often the adult explaining to my older friends and family that this isn’t my grandma’s, or even my mother’s, courtship anymore.
Things are radically different. Yes, there are no longer packed Sunday churches – a prime spot to find a future spouse. Churches are much smaller, and filled with an interesting array of mismatched puzzle pieces – people like myself who came over from the Novus Ordo and are considered “staunch” because we’ve been on the other side and won’t have anything to do with the New Religion and its works and pomps; people who have been raised their entire lives in the Traditional Mass, who are sometimes lax and often incapable of grasping just how deep the problem is outside of their chapels; and all sorts of people in between. Yet one unifying sentiment that runs through all of these single people is – I want someone who satisfies x, y, and z, among other things, on “my list.”
After a decade of dating, I’ve come to realize that the dating situation is a lot like our priestly situation. Bishop Dolan recently told me in an interview: “If this were ordinary times, I wouldn’t be a bishop. I have no illusions about that.” He has grasped that because we are in extraordinary times, he doesn’t get to do what he would have wanted to do, which is be a simple parish priest – or even earlier – a simple Cistercian monk.
I would exhort my fellow single Trads – from 18 to 40 – in the same way. These aren’t normal times – you can’t have your knights in shining armor or your courtly ladies of times past. Now, I’m not one to advocate, as some imprudent people do, that if you are a man and you find a Catholic woman who will marry you, that that is all you need for a successful marriage. I am just reiterating that the “unconditional surrender” attitude regarding finding a spouse which many of us have been infected with vis-à-vis the modern world is simply NOT a Catholic attitude. It wouldn’t be a Catholic attitude even in the packed parishes of the 1920s or earlier.
To seek perfection (at least in your own notions) in a future spouse is to misunderstand the very basic point of marriage. Marriage is not about “compatibility” or about “being fulfilled” or “finding your soulmate.” These are all great things, and extremely attractive, and totally unavoidable to anyone who walks around our world today. It is supremely ironic that the world that peddles such “requirements” for marriage is so unsuccessful in marriage. Is its advice really what we want to take?
So, instead of referring to the simplistic and insipid lists that most of us write out, like “good looking, sense of humor, blah blah” (incidentally, has anyone ever wondered about how silly it is to put “sense of humor” on your list? What, like there is anyone who doesn’t want someone with a sense of humor?), let us re-examine our lists by looking at the endgame first. Here is what Pope Pius XI listed as the fruits of matrimony:
2. In order, however, that amongst men of every nation and every age the desired fruits may be obtained from this renewal of matrimony, it is necessary, first of all, that men's minds be illuminated with the true doctrine of Christ regarding it; and secondly, that Christian spouses, the weakness of their wills strengthened by the internal grace of God, shape all their ways of thinking and of acting in conformity with that pure law of Christ so as to obtain true peace and happiness for themselves and for their families.
(Casti Connubii, PP 2)
Marriage is really much simpler than we moderns make it. If the fruits of marriage are what are listed here by Pope Pius XI, then what is considered normative is to find someone of the Catholic Faith. That’s requirement #1.
Secondly, is there a mutual attraction? This is much more basic for men than it is for women. Some younger Trads have not yet figured out that men love directly and immediately, and that women love indirectly and holistically, but that’s for another article. Suffice to say, there must be, at base, a mutual physical attraction. Requirement #2.
Finally, do both of you know and love your Faith and desire to give that knowledge and love to your future children? Requirement #3.
If those Three Requirements are fulfilled, my friends, I really think you have what is necessary for a successful marriage, with the grace of God. In the Western world we seem to have a bias towards a sort of romantic sentimentality regarding love before marriage. Archbishop Djajasepoetra of Jakarta, a Council Father, objected to the new notions of marriage promoted in Gaudium et Spes:
“The schema is too Occidental…You in the West find it quite natural for those in love to marry. But you are the exceptions if humanity as a whole is considered. Our people love one another because they are married, which is not quite the same thing. We differ from Westerners in that our marriages are contracted not out of love but by the will of parents or tribe. We marry to continue the race.”
Now, I’m not saying we should dump our Western culture – but in the shipwreck of today, don’t our attitudes demand re-examination? Perfection is in heaven, not here on earth. If you are looking for perfection in your future spouse I assure you that most of you will either be disappointed in the person you marry, or as is the fate of many “uncompromising” Trads these days – marry very late or not at all.
I started this article with an analogy to the clergy – those who are called to the most important vocation. I will end with an analogy to them. Bp. Dolan said that because of the times, he is a bishop. God asked of him something that would not have been asked of him in normal times. So too I exhort my fellow single Trads. Perhaps in another time you could have had everything you wanted on your list – if that were even possible and if that were even the Catholic thing to do – but in this time God needs clergy and God needs Catholic families – not your selfishness, stubbornness, and complacency with your single lifestyle. I, too, stand guilty of these charges, at (many) times.
So get on with it already.
How to meet? Through informal social networks – I propose that 5 or 10 or 20 married women form an informal private facebook or Ning or email group in order to facilitate matchmaking. Single people could send in a simple one page profile about themselves and this group could act like an executive board and help arrange for introductions. Again, you wouldn’t be responsible for making people get married, only for making an introduction. It seems that our good-hearted Catholic men are shy and could use a hand up so that they can perhaps discover this inactive part of their manhood. If you are sincerely interested in helping with this, are internet-capable, and can work within the framework I’ve listed above, please email me.
This is in addition to facebook, occasional youth gatherings, and our ordinary parish life (an option unavailable to many eligible single Trads).
In all this, the most powerful weapon we have is prayer. Be persistent and ask Our Lord to reveal His Will to you – and perhaps your future spouse too.
St. Raphael, pray for us.