Ever since Eve plucked the apple from the Tree of Life, we've been blaming someone or something else for our sins, our failings. But, before one enters into the lasting commitment of marriage, one must take accountability. Remember, Eve didn't do it herself, for she was one with Adam (cf. Genesis 2: 18-24) and together they defied the will of God by giving in to pride. They can blame the serpent all they want, but ultimately, they had to be accountable for their act. So also today, we have to be accountable for whatever we do, whatever we say. That begins with the words "I do...until death do us part." It's easy to say it, the true test is in living it. We can't live it unless we truly believe what we are saying and follow through completely and totally.
Exploring the Possibilities during the Dating Period
Young dating couples need to realize how sacred sex is. It is not something that is trivial, not something everybody is doing, not something to take lightly. Satan is the great mocker. He tries to take everything that is good and turn it to bad. So also with sex. With him the glorious union of husband and wife are mocked outside of the matrimonial bond by defiling sex, making it prurient and sinful. It is no longer love then. It is pure, unadulterated lust. This is not what God intended. The more experimentations with the profane, the more people fall into a deep malaise. The more it is flaunted, the more dangers arise such as AIDs, venereal disease. These are the visible consequences of sin, but they are merely surface compared to what mortal sin does to the soul!
And mortal sin is no way to begin and conduct courtships. Patience, purity and perseverance begins in the courtship. Note that this is the step after the proverbial period of dating in which young men and women are able to experience in a non-threatening way the social aspect of their lives. In this process they will meet many whom they will be attracted to in one way or the other. If they maintain patience, purity and perseverance they will, when God so deigns, discover a person who attracts them more than others and is likewise mutally attracted to them and possesses the same spiritual qualities they do. This cannot be emphasized enough for it is the foundation for a solid, holy marriage.
That is why the Church has in the past and must in the present as well as the future provide avenues for teens and young adults that affords them the opportunity to meet likeminded peers who will uphold the teachings of the Church regarding the sixth and ninth commandments and emphasize the virtue of chastity and other virtues that help form the total person who is ready to enter into the sacred union of matrimony with a mature perspective on what to expect and to do. Though most parishes have youth groups and young adult groups, too often these become cliques and deadend sources for young trees and flowers who want to bloom more but are prohibited by the array they are faced with. Sadly, if these resources dry up, they turn to other venues that cannot protect them, cannot nurture them and many can lose their way. This is especially true in many of America's Catholic universities today. Other than Franciscan University at Steubenville, Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, Ave Maria in Michigan, Magdalen College in Concord, New
Hampshire, The University of Dallas in Irvine, Texas, The Catholic University of America in
Washington D.C, Thomas More College in New Hampshire, and maybe a handful of other loyal colleges that are obedient to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Catholic students must take great care in filtering out the liberal and rationalistic curriculum and mindset of many higher institutions of learning that are Catholic in name only. That is why it is so important these young adults choose their education wisely and, before they head out on their own, have a strong foundation and knowledge of Church teaching before being submitted to the many heresies being fostered by Catholic universities today.
That said, we can only pray that the Church officially or unofficially will stay in step with the needs of the young adults today without compromising values and virtues. In fact, the Church is their only hope for the
problem today is that so few save themselves for the right person. The "in-thing" in today's amoral society is to have sex with multiple partners under the false politically correct assumption that "you should know what you're getting into." First of all this is totally false. It is the mantra of the world, the flesh and the devil. It is an act that no Catholic, no Christian, no person who believes fully in God's laws can attempt or allow themselves to be tempted towards. We are all temples of the Holy Spirit and through this wondrous, beautiful fact, we not only must be chaste before being presented in all our purity and fullness to our spouse to be, but must want to be pure and holy for the love of our life. Therefore from our teens on, we need to vehemently protect that virginity regardless of what others say, for God has made it so through the Ten Commandments. They are not suggestions and we must respond obediently to God's will or suffer the consequences.
Cultivating the Courtship
As the young couple grows more attached together it transcends just dating to become courtship. Courtship is that time when the focus is not on finding others, but in the discovery that they believe they have found a possible mate whom they might be willing to spend the rest of their lives with, whom they might be willing to give themselves totally to in uncompromising love. The more time they spend discovering the qualities of each other, the more care they must take to prevent placing themselves in the occasion of sin for the physical attraction can be overwhelming. Great caution must be taken by both parties to preserve their virginity at all costs. This again is where God is so vital in their lives. They must place themselves under the protection of the Father, asking the Son to guide them in a chaste love, and call upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify their relationship. Through this sacrifice, this "holding back," this saving themselves for the sacred marriage bed, they will become ever more attracted to each other. When that point comes and through prayer they realize mutually they are ready to totally commit to each other, then the engagement process begins.
Enhancing the Engagement
In this stratosphere, the couple is radiantly in love and it shows. This is the time to seek out a spiritual director whether it be their pastor or someone else who they know, who can truly guide them on their path toward marital bliss. It might be noted that once you find the right spiritual director, never let him go. We have consulted with many priests over the years, have had many confessors because of location, but one priest remains our spiritual director always and that is Father Al Svobodny, OMI, whom we regard as a treasure from God. We can only hope and pray that all couples will be as blessed as we have been to be gifted with such a wise, witty, loving and caring spiritual counselor. We can honestly say that we would not have been able to blossom, not been able to love each other fully were it not for Fr. Al. In fact, dare say we, we could easily have been divorced earlier in our marriage had it not been for our own commitment to God and the steady guidance of Fr. Al with whom we have always shared everything including his careful discernment of this series on conjugal love.
It is that same conjugal love that an engaged couple can look forward to. Once the engagement has commenced, the most important factors between the potential husband and wife is respect and trust in God and each other. Once this develops, love, if it is in the Divine Will, will flourish and you will know. Oh, will you know! The radiance that pre-cana couples eminate is evidence of that. They are glowing with love for each other and everyone can see it. During this heightened time of awareness and the stimulation of the senses, great care must be taken to preserve and cherish the trust and evolving love. Patience is paramount. Think again, of the tree. What if the tree, in all his massive masculinity, would overpower the flower. He would greatly bruise her and prevent her from fully blooming. So also the flower, if she were to tease the tree without care, the tree could lean the wrong way and grow crooked. In either case, it would be hurting the harmony of the two in God's symphony of nature. In the same way, the young man must take great care in protecting and respecting his beloved before their wedding day. Also, the young maiden must take great precaution not to lure him into sin and temptation by her charms and manner of dress. Great care and concern for a chaste relationship must be cultivated. If so done, then it leads to a holy, wholly person ready for the grave and great responsibility of the married state.
The Enlightened Engagement Hour Devotion
Just as we present married couples with a special Rosary of Conjugal Love, we offer a specific, well-thought out and inspired blueprint of prayer for engaged couples that brings the couple closer to God in an atmosphere where they can truly pray from their heart as one. Few enjoy kneeling for a length of time, many can get distracted by the repetition of the Rosary, others have a difficult time meditating. The special Rosary of Engagement is intended for the hearts of the bride-to-be and the groom-to-be to beat as one, melding that heart with the Two Hearts so they can beat in rhythm with the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of Mary. This "Enlightened Engagement Hour" begins with a cleansing of the hands for they must come together for this special time with a clean heart and the washing of hands represents their promise to each other of that. We recommend a quiet place, a church is ideal before the Blessed Sacrament if they are alone. We say this because it is very special, very private between the engaged couple and God. It is not meant to distract anyone. Therefore, often the best place is in a special area of the home of either partner which will be treated with special reverence. Here a special shrine can be set aside for them to convene near their special altar. On this reverent table should be a bible, a crucifix and a statue of Our Lady. Any other special saints are encouraged, especially their patron saints, saints who particularly inspire them or who they want to emulate, and medals they may have. It doesn't hurt to place a picture or statue of Saint Michael or the Guardian Angel there as a reminder of their role as guardians over them, guarding their purity and love. A picture of the Holy Family is always encouraged. If they want to light a special vigil candle that is alright, too. Whatever the couple decides on, it is their special altar and is a preparation for making a home together. It is important to remember that before they can be one physically, they need to be one spiritually in the heart. That is the emphasis of the Enlightened Engagement Hour. It is an expression of their love for God and each other in proclaiming that God comes first.
They begin with the Sign of the Cross, the Act of Contrition and the Memorare, the beautiful prayer to the Blessed Mother composed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. They then read together the same scriptural passage as the Conjugal Couples do - Ephesians 5: 21-33, which is the Apostle Paul's loving and heartfelt words to husbands and wives. Each extemporizes a prayer from the heart as the Holy Spirit guides them in responding to what they just read.
Then the couple is invited to pray the Rosary together. But rather than kneeling together for the entire Rosary, we suggest they kneel side by side holding hands as they will when they kneel before the altar on their wedding day. Together they pray the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father for the intentions of the Holy Father, the three Hail Mary's for an increase in Faith, Hope and Charity and the Glory Be followed by the Fatima Prayer. For all Glory Be's, the Fatima Prayer and Our Father's they say it together. At the Amen of each Glory Be they are to kiss each other chastely on the hand. Before each decade alternately announce the mystery and pray the Lord's Prayer together. The groom-to-be says the first part of the Hail Mary for the first five, with the bride-to-be responding. Then they switch with the bride-to-be leading the Hail Mary and the groom-to-be following. This process of reciting aloud is to be followed throughout the Rosary.
- 1st DECADE: They continue kneeling and holding each others hand.
- 2nd DECADE: The couple stand and face each other, gazing into each other's eyes as they repeat the same procedure as the first decade.
- 3rd DECADE: The couple hold together a large crucifix (one sizeable enough to fit in the hands - preferably about 10-18 inches and one that is their's for life). There they share in kissing the Five Precious Wounds twice throughout the ten Hail Mary's. During the first five the bride-to-be kisses first Our Lord's right hand, then His left, then His feet, then His sacred skull pierced by the crown of thorns, and finally His side where a lance pierced Him, causing blood and water to pour fourth as a Font of Mercy for all generations. This same procedure is repeated by the groom-to-be on the last five Hail Mary's.
- 4th DECADE: They face each other and the one who is reciting may gently touch the lips of the other, while the one listening touches the ears. They are to touch nothing else. This tender touch of the closed lips is to remind them to always speak of God first and always tenderly toward each other, thinking before they say anything. The tender touch of the ears is to remind them to always listen to God and to develop the art of truly hearing each other.
- 5th DECADE: The couple stand facing the altar with arms around each other and eyes closed so they can hear each other's prayers as they alternate the Hail Mary's.
After this, they are to kneel for the Salve Regina and prayer at the end of the Rosary. They then pray the Prayer of Saint Michael together and the Prayer of Saint Francis. It is also vital that they attend Mass together each Sunday, and even daily when possible. The Life of the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will always sustain them greater. We also highly recommend the engaged couple consider taking the 33 day DeMontfort Consecration to Mary, preferably before they are married. We can guarantee that if engaged couples do this regularly, great graces will be theirs, their love will be nurtured with God's love and fears of worldly distractions and obstacles will evaporate in the constant growing, maturing love of their relationship with God and each other that will grow throughout their marriage. If they practice this special "Rosary of Engagement Hour" they will appreciate all the more the "Rosary of Conjugal Love Hour" and their marriage will be greatly blessed.
NEXT: Chapter Three: The Necessary On-going Pruning Process