2K16- the height of romance! Let’s be honest, dating in 2016 is, for the most part, nowhere near the glory days of taffeta and tailcoats, outings at the opera, and beautifully written love letters sent via carrier pigeon.
My friends and I often reflect and, unfortunately, lament our experiences of dating in the modern age. For us, the last few years have consisted of unengaging dates, “potentials” that were met at bars only to fizzle out over texting after a few days, undefined relationships, scanning the faces at church for guys our age, and the unfulfilling cycle of downloading Hinge “just to see what’s out there” and deleting it 36 hours later feeling emptier than before.
Loss of Purpose
So many of our problems when it comes to modern dating and relationships stem from having lost sight of its purpose. Dating apps encourage a one second assessment of a person’s value based on their looks, and if we are feeling ambitious, we will scroll through a quick biography to see if we seem compatible. Our snap judgement seems only to answer the question: “is this person useful to me?” Depending on what we are after- “Is he cute enough to go on a date with?” or “Do I think he would make a good husband?” In either case we are looking to serve ourselves. How selfish we have become!
The Marriage Sacrament
When it comes down to it, marriage is a sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the sacraments are
“perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature… they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify” (1084).
Later it says of the marriage sacrament:
“The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love that Christ has loved his Church” (1661).
Sacraments are meant to mirror something of who God is, and the sacrament of marriage is meant to reflect the relationship between God and the Church. What a beautiful image, but quite a tall order for all of us on earth.
Christ the Groom
Let’s look at the perfect being in this relationship, Christ, for an understanding of what we are meant to be in a marriage. What did Christ do for the Church? He died. In the marriage relationship between Christ and the Church, Jesus models total sacrifice for his bride. In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia), Pope Francis says of the sacrament,
“Infused by the Holy Spirit, this powerful love is a reflection of the unbroken covenant between Christ and humanity that culminated in his self-sacrifice on the cross.” (Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 120)
When we are looking for our future spouse are we preparing ourselves for this idealized version of what we believe marriage to be and what we will get out of our spouse? Or are we preparing to offer up ourselves as a sacrifice as Jesus does for the Church?
Setting Aside Illusions
I recently heard a beautiful talk on dating, marriage, and mercy at a Theology on Tap given by a newly married couple, David and Rachel Leininger. I think they nailed it when they shared, “In the church, we got married underneath the cross. Our Gospel reading was the Crucifixion of Jesus. Our wedding rings are bands of branches, crowns of thorns we wear every day because marriage is a continual call to lay down your life for the sake of your spouse. In the best way possible, your spouse becomes the cross you carry.” The cross becomes a way of purification. Jesus sacrificed in order to purify his spouse, the Church. In a similar way, spouses sacrifice in order to make each other saints. Pope Francis would agree. He writes:
“In joining their lives, the spouses assume an active and creative role in a lifelong project. Their gaze now has to be directed to the future that, with the help of God’s grace, they are daily called to build. For this very reason, neither spouse can expect the other to be perfect. Each must set aside all illusions and accept the other as he or she actually is: an unfinished product, needing to grow, a work in progress” (218).
Joy in Hardships
This doesn’t mean that we need to look to marriage as this looming doomsday of suffering. Think about how marriage and love is presented in Scripture. Where there is sorrow and sacrifice, there is also beauty and joy that surrounds it! In the Book of Tobit, Tobias’s pursuit of Sarah is met with the joy of receiving his bride. In the Song of Songs, the groom is overwhelmed with the goodness of his bride despite their past sufferings. Mary and Joseph receive Jesus in the midst of turmoil of embarrassment and fear. There is rejoicing in the Resurrection that follows the Passion of Christ!
“Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another: ‘they help and serve each other.’” (Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 126)
Glimpse of Heaven
“You don’t sign up to live with a saint,” David and Rachel shared, “you sign up to make someone a saint, and you give them permission to make you a saint too.” And isn’t this what love truly is? Willing the good of the other doesn’t get much more profound than willing the other to become a saint! This gives me such excitement for my future. Of course I want my future husband to become a saint, but I want a man that will help me become a saint too! What a beautiful exchange of love that is to find joy in the gift of selflessness! It is because this self-gift, or love that we are able to experience such joy in marriage.
“Since we were made for love, we know that there is no greater joy than of sharing good things… The most intense joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in others, as a foretaste of heaven.” (Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 129)
What a gift that God wants to provide by offering this glimpse of heaven in mirroring the relationship he has with us! So even if I have to wait a little while longer, get on and off Hinge a few times, or go on a few more dates, I know the purpose of this pursuit: the gift of union with my husband that mirrors the union Christ has with the Church.
“May we never stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us” (325).