The inhuman relationship of Mary and Joseph

Every year at Christmas time I think of the many people who experience a more acute loneliness that the season has a way of drawing out of those who are literally alone or feel alone, even among their friends and family.  It’s an inescapable desire to have that one special person with whom you can share the joys of Christmas.

And every year I am also drawn to the mystery of Mary and Joseph; two unique individual persons called to the most unusual marriage that would bring about the Saviour of the world.

We know very little about these two individuals, but just enough to see their role in salvation history.  Details of their lives, about who they were as persons, and what went on in their marriage were not meant for us to know.

Yet, we like to speculate, don’t we?  Did they ever disagree with each other or have a marital spat?  Did they stress over their financial situation?  Did they have problems with friends or family who tried to interfere?

The beauty and grace of their story is of a woman fashioned by God to be without sin from her conception so that her womb would be the worthy dwelling place for God’s son, fulfilling prophecy of old that a virgin would bring forth the savior of the world and would come through the line of David.  It is also the story of a man chosen by God to take care of this Arc of the New Covenant and the Christ Child.  With the eyes of grace, this all makes perfect sense and is not to be questioned.

With the eyes of an onlooker and historian, we know that Mary and Joseph had an arranged marriage, that Mary was pregnant before the marriage, that Joseph was not the father and decided to divorce her, and that it took divine intervention to redirect Joseph back toward his calling to marry Mary.  We know he did so, and served Jesus and Mary all his life in a marriage that lasted until death.

It doesn’t appear to be the best way to start off a marriage. But obviously, with God’s grace and true love, it was a good marriage.

Did they have any actual problems in the marriage?  Who knows?  No one. But it is assumed they did not.  Their marriage must have been perfect, because they were saintly people.  I suppose that’s why so many single women wish to find their St. Joseph, and single men wish to find a woman like Mary.

It’s a mistake to put this kind of standard on the person you wish to find for marriage, because the relationship between Mary and Joseph was inhuman.  In other words, it just wasn’t normal.  I’m not saying they were not human beings.  They were.  And I’m not saying their marriage was not something to be emulated.  It can.  What I am saying is there are no Marys or Josephs to be found.  And there will never be a marriage like Mary and Joseph’s ever again, nor should there be.

Their love for each other and their dependence on the grace of God (which we know as Sacramental) everyone must strive for.  But the individuals and the practical life of their specific marriage?  Don’t even think about it.

The marriage of Mary and Joseph was a life of celibacy.  Mary was “ever virgin”, never to “know” a man.  Mary and Joseph never had marital relations. That can never be emulated by any Christian couple.

It borders on blasphemy to speculate on any sexual struggles Mary and Joseph might have had.  But many think it stands to reason that they must have, or at least Joseph must have.  Based on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mary would have no such struggle with sexual temptations. But within marriage, it is not wrong to have a desire for sexual relations with your husband.  However, Mary’s role was to have one child, the Christ Child, and to remain a virgin.

That would mean that Joseph was also called to this life of celibacy.  This is the part that fascinates me most.  This is a man who was called by God to marry a woman and never have a sexual relationship with her.  First, there are no men a woman can find who are not interested in having sex.  That’s not a bad thing, except if they push to have it outside of marriage.  Second, no woman should ever want to be in a marriage with a man who does not want sexual intimacy with her.  This intimacy bonds the two in love and produces the children that grows their family.

Does this mean Mary and Joseph did not bond in love or have a real marriage?  Of course not.  Their love for each other was centered on God, and the family they were to establish was meant for them alone.

Did Joseph struggle with this calling to celibacy within marriage?  Who knows?  It stands to reason that as a human being with Original sin (like all men), he must have. But it makes sense that he would have been given a very unique grace from God that would keep him from this struggle.  This is why there are many scholars and authorities in the Church who believe Joseph was also conceived without Original sin, like Mary. That also makes sense.  Either way, Joseph did successfully remain a virgin throughout his marriage to Mary, and that is inhuman.

If there must be a search for a Joseph or Mary, let it be for someone who has a heart and desire for God as the authority in their lives and an ability to love another in service to one another.  Mary and Joseph we obedient lovers of God.  Despite their better judgment, they believed in what God was asking them to do.  They weren’t caught up in what they wanted for themselves, but what God wanted of them.

This is the lesson of what marriage truly is at this festive and holy time of year.  Two people who come together because God has brought them together and expects them to love each other in service.  That relies on God’s grace to live out what’s expected of them in marriage.

The inhuman relationship of Mary and Joseph is because they are the two most uniquely special persons created by God for a specific role in salvation history and who were not sinners like the rest of us.  But their love for each other is totally human and accessible to all with God’s grace.

No matter who that person is who will end the loneliness and share your life, they are human and a sinner, unlike Mary or Joseph.  Marriage is always a rocky road only smooth out over time by mutual love and a life of grace with God as the authority.  Mary and Joseph lived under that star.  May the star of Bethlehem be what lead all couples to the Christ Child, and the two special servants of God who put God above themselves in all things.  That is Christmas.

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Natural Family Planning

Dear Anthony,

I’m getting married soon and I wanted to find out exactly how NFP works, since that’s what the Church recommends.  I have saved myself for my husband and remained pure.  I want to enjoy sex without the worries of getting pregnant right away.  I want my husband to enjoy sex too, so NFP allows him to go all the way.  If we use the method where we monitor my cycle, we can’t enjoy sex anytime we are interested, and we will both be frustrated.  From what I’ve learned so far, using NFP also means we can make love when the mood strikes but have the frustration of having to halt or forgo it since we don’t want to conceive yet. Please advise me on the different methods and how they can be used without feeling limited, restricted or guilty.  Isn’t there a method that allows us to have sex whenever we want and not worry about conceiving?

First, let me say how wonderful it is that you have successfully maintained your virginity and how admirable it is that you saved yourself for your future husband.  In this day and age, there are so many forces at work to ensure no one enters marriage as a virgin, even if they sincerely intended to.  Those like yourself who were steadfast are truly heroes of purity.

In all my years of providing advice for singles and couples, I’ve never had anyone just come out with this concern so blatantly as you have here.  It’s refreshing and I appreciate it.  As you can imagine, so many Catholics have thought this very same thing but typically will beat around the bush around the core motive.  Plus, they don’t want to admit that this is their main concern, because it sounds too worldly or impure or shallow, etc.

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It’s important to first recognize that one aspect of your motive for your concerns is completely understandable and makes sense.  You are attracted to your spouse and want to have physical intimacy, but get frustrated by having to stop that natural and beautiful inspiration to consider if you might get pregnant.  You’d be surprised how many Catholic marriages have problems because of this particular frustration.  So there is nothing wrong with your concern, nor with your hope in finding a way to be intimate at will without worrying about pregnancy.

Now the bad news.  There is no way around having to deal with this concern. Like all actions, there is responsibility involved.  Anyone trying to take the responsibility out of sexual activity is deceiving themselves and playing with fire. Sexual intimacy is the most natural thing in the world, but so is having children. They really and truly are not separate things.

There is no sure fire way to have it both ways without going outside of the Church.  All the birth control methods available are contraception.  These birth control methods do not have a certainty at preventing pregnancy (many have learned that the hard way). They might have a high success rate, but not 100%. The pill has the added sinful result of actually chemically aborting a newly conceived child.

NFP (Natural Family Planning), though approved by the Church, is not meant to be a contraceptive method.  In other words, if a married couple is going to use NFP in order to share their love for each other in intercourse but prevent conception, it can be considered a form of contraception. There are many ways contraception is defined, but the most important part is “the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.”  To deliberately prevent pregnancy is what the Church teaches to be gravely sinful.

I think you can see where I am going with all this.  No one faults you for your desire to share your love for your spouse as physically and intimately as possible. But marriage is a call to responsibility. And at the top of the priority list is the responsibility to be a family.  The main purpose of the love you have for each other that brings you together in marriage is to bring forth new life.

I have told countless couples to postpone getting married if they are not ready to have children. The strong pull toward each other in love is to foster a mutual commitment for life in marriage.  And that intimacy desired is designed to bring forth new life.

This notion of needing time as couple to get to know each other is hogwash. That is merely two people making an excuse to be selfish.  There is no room for selfishness in the commitment to marriage.  When you marry, you agree to start a family.  And you are a family.  Your new responsibilities are for your spouse, and any children that God blesses you with.  Your life is one of sacrifice, not self-indulgence.

So why get married if you are not ready for the gift of children?  And they are a gift.  A precious gift – and a visible sign of your love for each other.  Children force the couple to get out of themselves and raise these new persons entrusted to them.  It’s a big responsibility.  So my advice is to not get married until you’re ready to have children.

And when you do marry, be completely open to life and start having your family. However, be responsible.  NFP can help you to conceive.  It can also help you to space children as necessary.  Work closely with a trusted priest or spiritual director to assist you with important decisions like how many children to have and when.  That is tricky as you go along in your marriage.

But at the time of getting married, there is no good reason to immediately prevent conception.  You don’t want to stunt God’s purpose in bringing you together.  And you will definitely get to know each other more as you go through having a baby.  It will bring you closer than ever.

Can I have a Catholic marriage if I’m not a virgin?

Dear Anthony,

I’m confused, and slightly worried.  I recently read an article by a respected Catholic author talking about being married to the person you lose your virginity to, that it is a fact the Bible teaches, and that those who marry someone else are not really married in the eyes of God.  It was very confusing to me, but I’m mostly worried because I am (unfortunately) no longer a virgin, but I have changed and become convinced of chastity before marriage.  Is it too late for me?

First of all, let’s make it clear that you have nothing to worry about.  Though you are no longer a virgin, as a Catholic, you are completely qualified to have a valid, sacramental marriage one day when you find the person you choose.  The loss of virginity before marriage absolutely does not disqualify you from Catholic marriage, nor are you “too late” in God’s eyes by your conversion to a chaste life after losing your virginity.  In fact, your conversion is God’s inspiration and gift to you which you accepted, and takes great delight in those who return to Him.

I have heard this argument before and understand the basis of the argument.  I understand how it can be confusing to people.  It’s not something you hear in your upbringing, or in your religion or C.C.D. classes. At least, not explicitly.

This argument is rooted in the Biblical concept of marital union; namely, genital intercourse.  The Bible phrases this act as a “knowing” of another.  To “know” the other means that you have had genital intercourse.  In the Old Testament, you see many instances of a man taking a woman into a tent where he “knows” her.  That act is all that is necessary to be officially married.

The person in the article you read is probably stressing the point that there is something very real and objective about the act of genital intercourse and becoming married.  Some teach that there is an exchange of persons in that act, and that “becoming one flesh” (another Biblical teaching) happens when you have genital intercourse.  Therefore, the person you lose your virginity to is the person you are married to, regardless of how you feel or if it’s legal by civil standards, etc.  It’s a compelling argument because it does makes sense based on certain Biblical realities.

It’s first important to be said that loss of virginity is traditionally a very big deal, both positively and negatively.  Positively, because two people getting married was celebrated.  It was culturally as well as religiously expected that the person you marry is the first person with whom you engage in genital intercourse.  Negatively, because if you were not a virgin at the time of marriage, it was cause for divorce.  Parents would actually need to prove the virginity of their daughter to prevent divorce if a man claimed after marriage that he did not know if she was a virgin or not.  And if it were known in the community that you were not a virgin, you ruined your chances for marriage.

And, of course, at the time of the central event of history, the clarity of the Gospel writers that Mary was a virgin was of strict priority for two reasons; one, the prophecy of the miraculous conception and virgin birth, and the intention of the just man, Joseph, who, by law, had to divorce Mary when she was found with child.  He could not stay married to a woman who was not a virgin (which, as we know, the angel made sure he did not further pursue).

Contrast this with today, when the chances of finding a virgin for marriage are remote.  For better or for worse, remaining a virgin before marriage is not a priority of the culture today.  But it is reality.  And we all must live our lives in reality, not in what we want, hope, or wish.  Therefore, it would be impractical, to say the least, to insist on marrying a virgin.

But how do we reconcile this with the clear Bible teaching about virginity as a requirement for a valid marriage?

The answer is actually quite simple.  As Catholics, we do not live our lives solely on what we read in the Bible, nor on our personal interpretation of what we read in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the authority of Truth, and He established an authoritative body, which is His own mystical body and presence, on earth for all time and ages, with a self-appointed head of that body; the person of Peter, the first pope.  The Pope and all bishops in union with him are the official representatives of Jesus Christ and all revealed Truth of the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing in official Catholic Church teaching that says you must be a virgin before you are married.  When a couple approaches the Church for Catholic marriage, there is no question asking if you are still a virgin.  The Catholic Church allows marriages between a man and a woman with whom one or both are no longer virgins, and those who have been previously married civilly with a decree of nullity.  Non-virgins are welcome to the altar of the Lord in Holy Matrimony.

I certainly understand why someone would want to marry a virgin, or someone who has never been married.  Perhaps it is a desire to avoid possible diseases.  Perhaps it is to avoid dealing with another person’s ex-spouse or their children, or they only want their own children.  Perhaps it’s just that they feel it’s too risky, or they want someone who has also exercised self-control in refraining from pre-marital sex. It’s everyone prerogative to choose married to whomever they please, and hold out for someone who personifies the priorities they seek in their marriage partner.  Who wouldn’t prefer to be with someone on their wedding night who has never been with another person?  It’s a very nice hope, indeed, to find that. Yet, it’s not very practical in today’s world.  And it severely diminishes one’s opportunities.

Don’t be worried.  You are not a virgin anymore, like most of today’s society, including many Catholics.  But you are still very much a Catholic, and absolutely a candidate for sacramental marriage when you finally find the love of your life.  Keep up the good fight for remaining chaste before marriage.

John Paul II, Champion of Marriage

All of Rome is sold out for the end of this April.  St. Peter’s Square, and every road around it will be jammed with people on Mercy Sunday (April 27, 2014).  On that day, Pope Francis will announce the canonization of the most beloved Pope of modern times, Pope John Paul II.

Never has there been a greater champion of love and marriage than John Paul II.  His contributions are so vast and deep that it will take generations to unpack it all.  Probably his most popular contribution is what is known as the “Theology of the Body” movement, gleaned from the Pope’s 129 lectures between September 1979 and November 1984 (the first years of his pontificate) during the Wednesday audiences in St. Peter’s Square.  

These lectures were given as a reflection on God’s creation of mankind and the role of human sexuality, with particular concern for the defense of the human body in response to the permeating and widespread modern philosophical and cultural errors and abuses.  It was attempt to counter and undo the damage of the sexual revolution.  And he masterfully and beautifully accomplished that.

Two books are essential reading for anyone who wants to experience the heart of John Paul II’s thought and teaching on this subject.  The first is Man and Woman He Created Them, which contains the lectures themselves, and the second is Love and Responsibility, written while still Karol Wojtyla (before he became Pope).  Love and Responsibility is a defense of Catholic tradition on family life and sexual morality, addressing the whole human person (biology, psychology, sociology) and the relations between the sexes.

The heart of all of his teachings related to love, marriage and family life is the importance on the person; a unique, one-of-a-kind creation of God as as man or a woman, and that person’s human dignity. He brought to light that there is no authentic love between a man and a woman where the consideration of the individual persons is disregarded or distorted.  Who we are as a person as God created us and as He expects us to live is the starting point of all love, if it is to exist authentically and have mutual benefit.

This leads to the distinction between a man and a woman, how they interact, how they communicate, how they approach life, how they share love.  He brings out the beautiful differences and similarities between men and women, and provides the guidelines for human interaction.

This human interaction is a sexual one.  John Paul II makes it clear that all interaction between men and women is an expression of sexuality.  As we all know full well, this kind of expression is crudely and ignorantly interpreted (and with great limitation) to mean sexual relations.  In truth, sexuality is the whole being. It defines the genders.  he way we think, feel and act is a product of human sexuality.  

Women are a mystery. Men are a mystery. And love is a mystery. The mystery is rooted in the creation of body and soul, and God’s participation (and centrality) in the movement between human persons (better known as “love”).  Life is a mystery. Love is a discovery. It cannot be put into words, almost impossible to explain, and comes with so much potential suffering, pain and sorrow.

This is the message to us from Pope John Paul II. We should all be grateful for the gift of Pope John Paul II. I will be praying for all those who attend this one in a lifetime event April 27, that it will be full of blessings for them and they will be safe among the unusually high number of people.  If you are going, I’m sure it will be a life-changing event and highlight of your life.  If you want to go and need help finding a way, I know that Ave Maria Trips still has spots left of the group they have put together. To view the trip details, click here.  However you can get there, I strongly encourage you to go if you can.  It’s going to be unforgettable.  

Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

dating advice from kids

As singles know all too well, there is a vast and seemingly unending amount of dating and marriage advice available. Some of it is unsolicited.  Some of it is sought in the form of books, videos, blogs, and other media forms.

(photo under creative commons via mattieb on flickr)

Among the mountains of advice available, however, I doubt anyone gives a thought to considering the advice of children. After all, what does a child know about love and marriage?  

The truth is, kids are pretty smart, and pretty observant.  They observe a lot when it comes to love and marriage. They certainly call it like they see it.

I stumbled upon this advice from kids online and thought I would share it with you. Here is some advice that children have when it comes to love, dating, and getting married.  (Disclaimer: The advice presented here doesn’t necessarily represent my own opinions, but I think they are pretty insightful and will at least make you smile.)

How does a person decide whom to marry?

  • “You flip a coin, and heads means you stay with him and tails means you try the next one.” — Kelly, 9

  • “My mother says to look for a man who is kind. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll find somebody who’s kinda tall and handsome.” — Carolyn, 8

  • “One of the people has freckles, and so he finds somebody else who has freckles too.” — Andrew, 6

  • “You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.” — Alan, 10

  • “Most boys are brainless, so you might have to try more than once to find a live one.” — Angie, 10

  • “No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.” — Kirsten,10

What is the right age to get married?

  • “Eighty-four, because at that age, you don’t have to work and you can spend all your time together.” — Carolyn, 8

  • “Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person forever by then.” — Camille, 10

  • “No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.” — Freddie, 6

What Do Most People do on a Date?

  • “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” — Martin,10

  • “They eat pork chops and french fries and talk about love.” — Craig, 9

  • “Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. — Lynnette, 8

When is it okay to kiss someone?

  • “It’s never okay to kiss a boy. They always slobber all over you.” — Jean, 10

  • “When they’re rich.” — Pam, 7

  • “When a person gets kissed for the first time, they fall down, and they don’t get up for at least an hour.” — Wendy, 8

  • “You should never kiss a girl unless you have enough bucks to buy her a big ring and her own DVD, ’cause she’ll want to have videos of the wedding.” — Jim, 10

  • “Never kiss in front of other people. It’s a big embarrassing thing if anybody sees you. But if nobody sees you, I might be willing to try it with a handsome boy, but just for a few hours.” — Kally, 9

  • “If it’s your mother, you can kiss her anytime. But if it’s a new person, you have to ask permission.” — Roger, 6

  • “I know one reason kissing was created. It makes you feel warm all over, and they didn’t always have electric heat or fireplaces or even stoves in their houses.” — Gina, 8

  • “The rules goes like this: if you kiss someone, then you should marry her and have kids with her. It’s the right thing to do.” — Howard, 8

Is it better to be single or married?

  • “It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them.” — Anita, 9

  • “Single is better, because I wouldn’t want to change no diapers. If I did get married, I’d just phone my mother and have her come over for some coffee and diaper-changing.” — Kirsten, 10

Why does love happen between a man and a woman?

  • “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.” — Jan, 9

  • “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” — Harlen, 8

How Can a Stranger Tell If Two People are Married?

  • “Married people usually look happy to talk to other people.” — Eddie, 6

  • “You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.” — Derrick, 8

What Would You Do on a First Date That Was Turning Sour?

  • “I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers to make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.” — Craig, 9

What do you think it’s like to fall in love?

  • “Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.” — Roger, 9

  • “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” — Leo, 7

What is the role of good looks in love?

  • “If you want to be loved by somebody who isn’t already in your family, it doesn’t hurt to be beautiful.” — Jeanne, 8

  • “It isn’t always just how you look. Look at me, I’m handsome like anything and I haven’t got anybody to marry me yet.” — Gary, 7

  • “Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a long time.” — Christine, 9

What promises do a man and a woman make when they get married?

  • “A man and a woman promise to go through sickness and illness and diseases together.” — Marlon, 10

What is your opinion about love?

  • “I’m in favor of love as long as it doesn’t happen when The Simpsons’ is on television.” — Anita, 6

  • “Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” — Bobby, 8

  • “I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.” — Regina, 10

  • “Love is foolish…but I still might try it sometime.” — Floyd, 9

What is necessary to be a good spouse?

  • “One of you should know how to write a check. Because even if you have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills.” — Ava, 8

What are Some Surefire ways to Make a Person Fall in Love with You?

  • “Tell them that you own a whole bunch of candy stores.” — Del, 6

  • “Don’t do things like have smelly, green sneakers. You might get attention, but attention ain’t the same thing as love.” — Alonzo, 9

  • “One way is to take the girl out to eat. Make sure it’s something she likes to eat. French fries usually work for me.” — Bart, 9

  • “Yell out that you love them at the top of your lungs…and don’t worry if their parents are right there.” — Manuel, age 8

How can You Tell if Two Adults Eating Dinner at a Restaurant are in Love?

  • “Just see if the man picks up the check. That’s how you can tell if he’s in love.” — John, 9

  • “They will be just be staring at each other and their food will get cold. Other people care more about the food.” — Brad, 8

  • “It’s love if they order one of those desserts that are on fire. They like to order those because it’s just like how their hearts are on fire.” — Christine, 9

What are most people thinking when they say “I Love You”?

  • “The person is thinking, Yeah, I really do love him. But I hope he showers at least once a day.” — Michelle, 9

What can you do to help stay in love?

  • “Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck.” — Ricky, 10

  • “Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take out the trash.” — Randy, 8

  • “Don’t say you love somebody and then change your mind. Love isn’t like picking what movie you want to watch.” — Natalie, age 9

  • “Don’t forget your wife’s name. That will mess up the love.” — Erin, age 8

Why marriage is the cure to selfishness

I read a recent article that started out by saying that “all marriages start off very selfishly.” He went on to say that people realize into the marriage that they can’t be so selfish and act accordingly.  It’s not quite that simple.

Catholic teaching tells us that everyone born is selfish due to original sin that configured humanity to a condition of a self-serving nature.  In Christ, through Baptism, original sin is removed, but its effects remain. Thus, we still have that strong tendency to serve ourselves as the priority in our lives.  Thanks be to God, Baptism also configures us to Jesus Christ and we share His divine nature, making grace available to us.

Now let’s look at selfishness from a practical level as it applies to dating, love and marriage.

Yes, it’s true that marriages start of very selfishly.  However, Christian marriage is a call to a selfless exchange of two people who become one in every way, and subsequently share that love with others.

This is a tall order.  More than half of all marriages fall short of this ideal. I would argue there are many that maintain their marriages but suffer tremendous strain due to unwillingness to address the weaknesses where love fails or is diminished, causing an environment that is contrary to the marriage ideal.

It’s easy to accuse one or both persons of being too selfish.  Is it selfish for a unhappy wife to want the affection of her husband when there is none?  Is it selfish of an unhappy husband to expect the emotional support of his wife but not receive it?

There is a place for selfishness.  Some selfishness is better identified as our “needs.”  Our needs are important and have an effect on how we love another.  If no needs are met as were expected, then love can die.  Should it die?  Probably not, if we only focus on loving as Jesus loved, which is a giving and self-donation without getting it in return.  But only God can live this kind of love.

Human beings fall short of this kind of love.  And it will always be this way.  Marital love is a tall order because it’s unnatural for human beings to accomplish.  It’s impossible because we all have needs, and we all have expectations as to how those needs should be met.  It’s not for us to discount these needs.  But it’s also not for us to excuse our behavior based on these needs.

The key is to accept that we are selfish people throughout our whole lives, and that success in marriage between two human beings is in embracing each other’s humanness as the probability, while mutually striving to become more like that unnatural divine love that is God.  We need to accept that 1) we are selfish and need to work on becoming less selfish, 2) only God can love us perfectly, and 3) any human being is going to fail at times in true love. This kind of acceptance goes a long way in how we approach our own needs as well as the needs of the person we love.

There is still the matter of our valid needs that do have to be met, at least often enough to keep us afloat. No person can sustain providing love to another by meeting all their needs, while having no need of their own met.  That’s not marital love.  Marital love requires both persons participating in the game. When one is down and lacks the ability at the time to give, the other needs to be the stronger one, and vice versa.

In a word, successful marriage between two very non-perfect people is a sharing of love that embraces the other’s selfishness in their moments of selfish acts.  When a selfish act is presented by one, it’s imperative that the other act selflessly in response in order to help rectify the situation and restore peace.  If both act selfishly through actions and reactions, the course toward failed marriage is set.

But I have already said that we are all selfish, and it’s unnatural to be selfless.  Exactly! Christian marriage is impossible without God.  More to the point, two human beings cannot sustain love for a lifetime without divine influence.

In order find a genuine love that can make a marriage work, you have to be committed to working on your selfishness.  It’s a ferocious passion not easily tamed.  If unchecked, we shouldn’t be surprised when not only can we not meet another person’s needs, we can’t recognize a person capable of meeting our needs.

We work on our selfishness primarily by selfless acts.  We have to practice it in order to improve.  It’s called “character development.”  A person of good character is not someone who is no longer selfish.  Rather, it’s a person who recognizes that selfishness is behind the problems, and capable of seeing the good and positive qualities of another above any bad decisions, mistakes, or unattractive qualities.

Marriage is the cure to selfishness because it forces a person to get out of themselves and tend to their spouse and children.  However, marriage only works to cure selfishness as both people are permitted to have setbacks because of selfish moments, and grow in selflessness together by being interested in and attentive to each other’s needs as they struggle and grow.  That is love that cannot fail.

Are we getting married too soon?

Dear Anthony,

My pastor is skeptical that long distance relationships can have the personal and practical growth to move toward marriage. My fiance lives in California, and I’m in Canada. He first wrote me on AMS nine months ago. We met the first time two months ago. A month ago I flew to California for our second in person meeting. He proposed. I flew home to pray about it and a few days later said yes. We believe we have the maturity, love, and shared spiritual life to begin marriage. We would like to co-operate with our pastor, however, it does seem that Father already has some preconceived ideas about long distance dating. Do you have any advice we can share with him?

It’s obviously you are both deeply in love and want to share your life together. But I can certainly see why your pastor has concerns.

Only the two of you can make this decision. Not even your pastor’s concerns can stop either of you from your fundamental right to be married if you so choose. I, too, certainly have no way of knowing if this is what you should or shouldn’t do, nor advise you either way. It is your decision, and whatever decision you make should be supported by anyone in your life who loves you, and will definitely be accepted by the Church under the permissible canonical conditions which I assume are in place (i.e., both free to marry in the Church, both baptized, etc.)

Your pastor’s concerns, I believe, are not so much your long distance relationship, but the short length of time knowing each other and only meeting twice.

I’m sure for the two of you, the nine months you have known each other seem like a lifetime. No one can fully understand how two people can have such deep love and commitment in such a short time. It’s natural for others observing from the outside to consider factors of the situation and be skeptical. They have no connection or participation in your mutual love experience, so it’s impossible for them to know the full story.

However, their opinions regarding the facts are worth hearing out and considering, because it’s not uncommon that the love that develops so rapidly that it clouds and blinds prudence and reason. So having an open mind to what those you love or respect have to say from their observations and experiences is a good practice.

There are a few points I would like to share with you as food for thought that perhaps you have no considered and might find helpful as you continue toward your intention to marry.

The length of time you have known each other is a serious concern. No matter how much you know each other right now, it’s not as much as you think when it comes to a decision to marry. Sharing things about each other is not enough. Experiencing each other in person in all kinds of situations and with all kinds of other people provides a great deal of important information to know about the other.

Many common marriage problems are due to behaviors and attitudes. How you both react in uncomfortable situations or under stress. How both of you behave around or treat each other’s family and friends. Seeing what gets both of you upset or how you work through an argument. What issues of your past come up and under what circumstances. How you communicate with each other and work together to resolve problems or make important and not so important decisions.

Then there is non-verbal communication, which is what makes up the majority of how we communicate with other human beings. It’s impossible to experience body language without being together in person. Therefore, it’s impossible to know how you react to each other’s body language.

Responding to the call of love and deciding to marry must include an acceptance of anything negative about each other, including all bad habits, personal scars, behavior patterns, etc. You can’t fully know what these are unless you experience them first hand and share them as they come up. And when shared, there is nothing that can replace eye contact and hand holding and the like when it comes to accepting.

My concern is that the two of you have not had enough in-person time to experience so much of each other that needs to be experienced before deciding to marry. Have you spent enough time with each other’s friends and family? Have you determined that you both accept each other’s friends and have shown you are not jealous or possessive? Whoever is doing the moving to the other’s country, have you had enough time to help the family members process that?

Only the two of you can answer this, of course. If you are ready and fully accept each other, then wonderful! Let no one’s concerns, including your pastor’s, prevent you from moving forward.

Long distance relationships are very challenging. You want to make sure you know what you are doing as far as possible. Another three or six months of getting together in person can only help.

I would suggest you consider telling your pastor you will make a short term commitment to spend more in-person time together before getting engaged, then meeting with him several times together. He will feel a lot better and be impressed that you would make such an effort.