Courtship – Discerning through Tribulation
In my last article, I mentioned a few points that will help a couple build a good foundation for marriage. And yet, no matter how strong our foundation is, we will always run into trials and tribulations. When we are in a courtship, how do we properly discern whether a person is good for us and could be “the one”, or if they may not be the person God wills for us to marry? It can be a very difficult process, but with the assistance of prayer and the advice of those around us, the journey to the sacrament of marriage can be a peaceful one. If we are willing to conform to the will of God by using tact and common sense, the road to marriage will no longer be paved with worry and anxiety. Below are a few guidelines one can follow while courting, in order to find the person who will help us one day get to Heaven.
Putting Religion First
Venerable Fulton Sheen once told us, "You will never be happy if your happiness depends on getting solely what you want. Change the focus. Get a new center. Will what God wills, and your joy no man shall take from you.” If we do not put God and our salvation with our partner first in a relationship, what is the point of anything? What is the purpose of living on this earth and indulging in sinful ways, all to later perish forever? We must make sure that our first priority is taking the Catholic Faith seriously.
If there is anything to consider first, it is if our partner lives for Christ and His Church. We need to ask ourselves important questions in order to discern if this person will be beneficial to our souls. Do they inspire us to be a better person? Will they help us get to Heaven? We may not realize it now, but if we end up courting someone who is indifferent to the Faith, or even against religion, there will be more difficulties in the future. There is a principle that those who we spend time with will always influence us and help form our character. If we want to keep our Faith when married, and our spouse keeps questioning us and refusing to go to Mass, it will affect us in some way.
If the person does have the same religious beliefs as us, we need to look for necessary qualities that pertain to every good practicing Catholic. They should help you grow closer to God and sanctification, as well as treasure the Faith as much as you do. St. Bernard tells us, "Thus understanding and love, that is, the knowledge of and delight in the truth, are, as it were, the two arms of the soul, with which it embraces and comprehends with all the saints the length and breath, the height and depth, that is the eternity, the love, the goodness, and the wisdom of God." Let us then put God first and try our best to find someone who will help us grow closer to Him.
Respectful in All Things
A second point that is very important when discerning who to marry is if the person is considerate of your emotions and respectful of your wishes. Traditional Catholics can often get too scrupulous when it comes to feelings and emotions, which leads them to discredit their importance. Though it is true that feelings are fleeting, God has given them to us for many reasons. They help us persevere with a spirit of joy, discern the will of God throughout our lives based on our needs, and teach us to be considerate of other's feelings. It is essential in a marriage to build a foundation of consideration towards the other person, not because life revolves around emotions, but because we owe it to them in charity.
Our Blessed Lord had feelings just like we do, and recognized His need for an angel to be by His side in His agony in the garden. Questions need to be discussed such as: Does this person care when they have offended or hurt you? Do they respect your wishes to stay pure in preparation for marriage? Of course, there will be times where one person will upset the other, or a disagreement will occur, but this is inevitable in our fallen state. Nonetheless, common sense and tact must be employed. God will always bring greater good out of such suffering, as St. Ignatius of Loyola shows us: "If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ." Pray for the grace to find someone who will care for you, just as Our Blessed Lord cares for you always.
Goals for the Future
A final important point we need to consider when looking for a spouse is if their goals for the future are beneficial ones and complement our own. "Future goals" is a very large topic, but there are some basics for which we must look. When a courtship has been established, the picture of the future should be discussed between the two. For example, both parties should be open to as many children as God wills, not fixing a number and opening the door for sins of contraceptives and the like. They need to agree on where they will live, and if there is going to be enough income to cover everything as time goes on. All the different aspects of marriage in the practical sense must be taken into consideration, in order not to be rash and end up in a tricky situation. There is no need necessarily for a lengthy courtship (St. Alphonsus Liguori said one year maximum), but a courtship with the proper goals is essential. In preparation for marriage, prayers should be said for all of these intentions in order to have a happy life with the one you love.
Let us pray to God for guidance and inspiration in discerning who our future spouse will be, since if we follow His will He will never fail to provide for us in everything we need. And in praying to God, may we always pray through Our Lady who will never leave our side.
"In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not Her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of Her prayer, neglect not to walk in Her footsteps. With Her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking Her, you shall never lose heart; so long as She is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while She holds your hand, you cannot fall, under Her protection you have nothing to fear; if She walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if She shows you favor, you shall reach the goal." (St. Bernard of Clairvaux).