A joyful sacrifice: How men can prepare for marriage

In our vocations crisis, we mostly focus on the priesthood and religious life, but a new dimension of this crisis falls fast upon us. Without strong Catholic marriages, the primary source of religious vocations would disappear. Beyond that, the Sacrament of Matrimony presents the ordinary path of sanctification for most Catholics. Young people, Catholics included, simply are not marrying.

Many cultural forces have turned men away from marriage: the distracting and isolating tendencies of technology, the addiction that follows from it, delaying the responsibilities of adulthood, economic pressures, and hookup culture. The decline of marriage self-perpetuates, as it is no longer expected for young men to step up quickly, make a choice, settle down and begin to provide. What is needed for a young Catholic man to prepare fruitfully to enter marriage?

First of all, like any vocation, it requires proper discernment. For vocational discernment, the question should be what God wants. In a culture obsessed with personal freedom and fulfillment, it's important to be open to God's call even to the unexpected. Growing up with divorced parents, I never thought much about marriage and was convinced for years that I had a call to the priesthood. Simply taking a step back and being open to what seemed unlikely led me clearly in another direction. Marriage shouldn't be taken for granted or ruled out completely without proper discernment.

To prepare for anything important, we need models and mentorship. A young man discerning marriage should find faithful married men to provide guidance. Marriage isn't easy but has many rewards. It'd be helpful for a young man to understand the demands of supporting a family and how to integrate the demands of family, work, and prayer. For me, it was my college professors who invited me and my future wife into their homes for meals and conversation.

For a man to become marriage material, it's important to form good habits, with daily prayer at the top of the list. It's impossible to become a holy husband without regular prayer. Many marriages continue to break up, even among Catholics. As Ven. Patrick Peyton said, "The family that prays together stays together." My wife and I began making a holy hour together each day in college. Now, we're the first ones up in our home to begin the day with prayer, assisted by coffee. Later, we pray morning prayer as a family and the rosary after dinner.

The vocation of men entails providing, protecting, and leading. To do this effectively for a family, men need to learn discipline and sacrifice. To be a man for others requires putting off attachments to comfort and pleasure. This is why I began working for Exodus, known for its 90 days of prayer, asceticism, and fraternity that help men strengthen their faith through greater sacrifice: abstaining from social media, unnecessary technology use, video games, and TV, while embracing fasting, cold showers, a daily holy hour, and regular exercise. Men are made to respond to challenges but often do not find a path for growth within the Church, and it's time to change that.

Challenges to purity certainly present one of the greatest obstacles in preparing for marriage. Pornography undermines love, turning sexuality from a treasured gift to a pursuit of domination and self-gratification. Marriage has become a means of personal satisfaction and fulfillment rather than the embrace of a mission. The very origin of the sacrament comes from God's command to be fruitful and multiply. The sexual complementarity of man and woman finds its fulfillment in the chaste gift of marital love. I married at the age of 21, and, as a young father, staying up late to bounce babies and change diapers, I learned the real nature of love as a self-sacrificial gift. The sacrament has slowly transformed me, showing me the nature of divine love through the embodied reality of the family with its many needs and joys.

Finally, a young man must be able to provide and be present as a father. This requires maturity in committing to regular work and becoming emotionally present to others. Discipline and sacrifice are needed here, too, in refraining from unnecessary spending, saving money, and establishing a career. As a father of six, I have always had to roll up my sleeves to pick up extra work, while keeping the household running as smoothly as possible. I became a Benedictine oblate to guide my own integration of prayer and work within the domestic church of the family.

With all the sacrifice involved, many men understandably hold back. No one is happy, however, without committing to something greater than oneself. Marriage offers a real path to happiness and holiness as a joyful sacrifice in imitation of Jesus's own gift of himself for his bride, the Church.