In the lead-up to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the U.S., we are launching #FrancisontheFamily, a Diocesan-wide campaign that focuses on the catechesis of #PopeFrancis pertaining to family life. We have chosen to highlight some of Francis’ most repeated challenges to us – encounter, accompany, witness, and welcome – as a way of sharing the joy of family life.
By: Rev. James Searby, Guest Contributor
“This is crazy! Have I lost my mind?” You keep asking yourself as you walk home. “What an incredible night. I didn’t think it could get any better and yet, it always does.” Your mind is reeling as you step into your apartment, throw down your keys and drop into bed. You’ve been dating for a while now and it just keeps getting better. The next morning, while holding on for dear life in metro car driven by a conductor with break issues, you replay every moment of last evening and it hits you. You’re in love! You can’t imagine life without the person, they are your best friend and have your heart, it’s theirs, it’s taken. You begin to ask the question. It’s a question that every heart asks at that moment. A question that will alter the fabric of your reality. A question that will answer the deepest need of your heart—the need to be loved and to love. You ask it with excitement and some fear, “Am I ready to get married?”
This question is an important one to be sure of and the answer is even more important. Allow me to answer it for you: No, you are not. No one can ever be completely ready for marriage. In an age where we want certainty and risk reduction in every area of life, we also hope for it in our vocation.
Marriage is a lifetime of total self-sacrifice, radically loving your spouse (and, through that love, your children) in the day-in-day-out things of everyday life. There is never a break in that love, there is never a moment where it is OK to live a, “do whatever you want,” independence again.
In effect, certain so-called “independent freedoms” are lost but real interdependent freedom is found. Is anyone ever fully “ready” to live the challenge of a faithful, fruitful, permanent and totally committed type of love? No way! That kind of love can only be learned by actually doing it and with the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage.
The formation is in the forming. Choosing that love in the small, seemingly insignificant moments of everyday life is what makes someone ready for marriage. It capacitates them. A married person is always in the process of being formed in love. So the question must not be, “Am I ready to get married?” The question must rather be, “Am I ready, willing and able to make the choice to choose to love in marriage?”
- Am I spiritually maturing?
- Am I hardworking and responsible with my money and time?
- Do I have the ability to think about others and serve them without always asking, “What’s in it for me?”
- Am I able to deny myself comforts and conveniences?
- Do I care about and listen to my significant other for their sake and their good or for my own?
Expectations Be Gone
Remember going on family vacations when you were a kid? Do you remember the expectations and possibilities that would swirl around your head? There would be new adventures, experiences, friends, transformations and transfigurations. In effect what we hoped for was—heaven. We all hold expectations for life, expectations that make us hope for heaven and expectations that make us think we will find heaven here. Such expectation can seep into our vocation as well.
We can come to believe that we will become the perfect version of ourselves, able to conquer any problem. Overcome any obstacle. Similarly, we can also say that we will find someone who has reached this very same situation and, when we do, all will be right with the world. We realize these expectations are impossible. Yet, we also very often operate on these expectations, searching for “the one.”
If we mix this unrealistic, idealized expectation into the fears of “readiness” for marriage it can create a perfect storm that leads away from commitment and makes us doubt every potential spouse. One sign of readiness for marriage is the ability to grasp that it is in the very choice and act of marriage that we become better versions of ourselves since we are made to love and be loved.
There’s a great scene in the film “As Good as it Gets” when Jack Nicholson looks into Helen Hunt’s eyes and perfectly iterates this point. He turns to her in his Nicholsonian deadpan and says, “You make me want to be a better man.” That is the answer to the expectation game. It is not in being a better man or woman that we find the hopeful, heavenly experience of life, it is struggling for a lifetime that we move closer to becoming it. As Shakespeare observed, “If men could be contented to be what they are, there were no fear in marriage” (All’s Well that Ends Well).
Some years ago, while working in the New York City entertainment world, I had the chance to spend some time with Robert De Niro. He came to a show and brought two of his kids with him. I’ll never forget the experience. Here was this iconic actor, a man at the top of his game, famous the world over, and he was holding his kids, checking their diapers and struggling to lull them into a more peaceful state. It was beautiful. Are you ready to do this, too? Are you ready to be open to the lively challenges of parenting? Since an essential purpose of marriage is having children, God willing, is this an aspect of marriage that you are willing to live wholeheartedly?
Children are beautiful and they demand our constant attention, constant love and constant selflessness. Children challenge their father and mother to love one another and then together, love their children with that unified, selfless love. They are the answer to our “selfie-world,” where relationships can too often become self-referential vanity fairs. Are you ready for that? Do you want that beautiful, selfless life?
If the answer to these questions is “Yes” then “Be not afraid.” There is a brash adventurer in every married man and woman. Are you called to be one of them?
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