One of the privileges we have at Campus Ministry is to prepare young couples for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It is so exciting and life-giving to walk with students at the beginning of their marital journey. In many parishes, to have a young couple, both Catholic, both never married before and both having a solid understanding of the theology of marriage, well, those situations are few and far between.
At UD, you make my job very easy. There is a refreshing simplicity to how we are able to approach the formation process. However, there are a few things that come up quite regularly, and I’m grateful for this platform from which to address two of them today.
The first is at the beginning of dating. I think in some cases, we have taken “dating to discern marriage” to an extreme. I see many students stuck in analysis paralysis, afraid to date someone because they are unsure if they have found “the one,” even before the first date. Or other students who place so much pressure on new relationships that they inhibit the relationship from progressing organically.
Some have such a hyper-spiritualized view of dating, they forget dating can be fun — in fact, it’s quite healthy. Add to this the unique challenges of dating while being a full time student and we have a very unique dating environment.
In fact, two of the questions I ask in the marriage preparation process that most couples have trouble answering are: “Describe how you date?” and “Tell me what you like about the other person other than their faith.” It is important to pray, go to Mass and have long conversations about the big things in life: faith, family, career, dreams, fears etc,. But often, that’s the only form of dating UD couples engage in.
It’s also important to learn to talk about the less important things in life. It is important to share a variety of experiences with them outside of the church. Take your sweet and docile girlfriend to an escape room and see how her temperament changes when she’s locked in a room with you for 30 minutes. Take your boyfriend and volunteer in a seniors’ residence or with young children to see how he cares for the vulnerable. Get out there and engage in activities that are outside your comfort zone, you won’t regret it.
The second point is for those who have navigated the challenging UD dating scene and discerned marriage. Often couples do not engage in premarital counseling or structured engagement discernment, so the first formal contact the Church has with their relationship is when they request marriage preparation. This is when the Church is able to join the process of preparation and further discernment, so couples should be excited and open to guidance from Holy Mother Church, even at this stage of their relationship.
Not every couple dates “well,” and this is a great opportunity for the Church to help them address any areas of weakness in their discernment. While some may think we are only interested in the more juridical aspects of the proposed marriage, to see if there are any impediments and determining the quality of their consent, we also want to help them establish a firm foundation upon which to have a happy and healthy marriage that goes “the distance.”
Unlike civil marriage, Catholic marriage is constituted of both the short and long game; they are inseparable. Part of the marriage preparation process is to remind couples that all the grace necessary to make it till “death do you part” is available through the Sacraments, but that together they must tap into that endless resource.