If we want strong and loving families, we will make promises and keep them -- and embrace the sacrifices required to do that.
Last weekend, we traveled to Pennsylvania for our youngest son's wedding. It was wonderful to have so much of our family together. But the best part of all the festivities was absolutely the joy that shined from Austin's and Corinne's faces. They were utterly radiant. And they weren't alone. Our second son and his wife -- celebrating their first anniversary this week -- still had a bit of that newlywed glow. That's because the excitement mixed with a teaspoon of fear that accompanies us when we venture out into something unknown and new takes a while to fade.
Wedding days are always lovely, but getting there has never been so difficult. The whole process of dating and courtship has grown more complicated than ever -- that is, if it has a chance to start at all. As parents of four young adults in their 20s, we've seen how hard it is for them to meet potential mates. In college, the priority is education. But once they leave school, the chance to meet someone declines sharply. Sure, the Internet and numerous dating apps --including Catholic ones -- can help. But none of that is really a substitute for spending time with someone in person. Without the ability to do that, you can't evaluate if what someone posts about themselves online represents who they actually are.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that way-too-many single adults today are not voluntarily celibate. Those who actively practice their Catholic faith feel called to marriage as a vocation. They long for companionship and family life but can't seem to find each other at work or in school. And because work lays claim to a greater part of our lives than ever, the chances of meeting someone outside of work are slimmer than they used to be.
This is where our parishes can -- and should -- make a difference. Our youngest single daughter has recently begun participating in the activities offered by a large parish to adults between 21 and 39. St. Catherine's doesn't hold monthly young-adult gatherings. Instead, there is at least one and often two opportunities to get together every week. Holy hours, rosaries, socials, speakers, a haunted house, and intramural sports tournaments: more than a few people make an effort to go to everything. With at least some faith involvement as a common interest, the chances of finding someone who shares core values are higher than they would be otherwise.
Of course, one of the biggest obstacles in finding someone to marry is the fact that marriage itself is no longer considered important or even ideal. Men can find willing sex partners easily enough and women can have children, or not, if they want to. But the love they hope for -- the love we all were made for -- needs a foundation that is firmer than aspirations to personal fulfillment. When it comes down to it, families and the universe have a lot in common. Both are created by words and preserved by sacrifice. If we want strong and loving families, we will make promises and keep them -- and embrace the sacrifices required to do that.
Marriage is hard. There's no getting around that. And so is raising children. Family life is a pathway to holiness because it challenges us to learn how to love the way Christ does. That means laying down our lives for one another without the expectation that what we give up will ever be restored or reciprocated. We love only to the extent that we die to our own selfishness. That can be painful, and it takes time.
Time, however, is what stretches out before newly married couples, like the white way they walk on after the groom kisses his bride. We come to the altar the way we are: broken but full of hope. And we leave the way we came: hopeful but still broken. But when we give our brokenness completely to God and one another, something wonderful happens. We discover that we can hold onto that hope when we hold onto each other. In that embrace, blessings multiply and love can grow.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.