Questions Young People Ask Before Marriageby Fr. Donald Miller, C.SS.R.
Does Religion Matter in Marriage?
I am keeping company with a non-Catholic boy, and cannot understand why everybody is making a fuss about it. He is better morally than many a Catholic boy I have gone out with. He says he’s not interested in my religion, nor in any religion, but he is perfectly respectful toward what I believe.
I like him and he likes me, and we have talked informally about getting married. And no matter what anyone says, I feel certain that ours would be a happy marriage. Wouldn’t you agree that a man’s character, his respect, his love for a girl, are more important than religion?
I am 21 years old, old enough, I think, to judge these things.
A 21 year old girl is far from being a capable judge of what makes a happy marriage from all the angles that must be considered in this matter. There are two phases to marriage. The first is the phase of love, courtship, physical and mental attraction, etc.
In this phase, nothing seems important to young people other than their sentiments and emotions toward each other. They have no way of knowing what they will feel like ten years later, and no way of knowing what moral and personal problems will arise in the course of time.
The second phase of marriage starts within a year or two years or five years after the wedding, when sentiment and emotion have simmered down, and the couple have to rely on a deeper sense of unity than feeling.
Only the experience of older people can tell youngsters just getting married what problems will arise after this second phase has set in. Perhaps by that time there are two or three children.
The non-Catholic husband believes that birth-control is now called for. The Catholic wife knows that it is wrong. She will do one of two things: either compromise her conscience and give in to evil; or keep up a running battle with him over this serious moral issue.
Either course means friction and sorrow. This one example is symbolic of a hundred impasses that can arise, and that have arisen in multitudes of marriages.
Above all, the 21 year old girl who sees no harm in marrying a man who has no interest in religion is potentially forfeiting the faith of her potential children. She may do everything possible herself to mold her children in her faith; yet the example of her husband will be a standing and powerful example against her teaching.
Doubtful Freedom to Marry
I am keeping company with a man who was married before and is now divorced. At the time of his marriage and divorce he was not a Catholic, but now he wants to become one. We feel that there may be hope of having his first marriage declared invalid. Is it wrong to go out with such a person, in the hope that we may get married in the Church some day?
Clear thinking and firm action are required in all cases of this kind, which are not few in number today.
Here are the principles that must govern your whole attitude in this matter.
1. It is wrong to continue close company-keeping with a man whose freedom to marry you is in doubt. The reason is this: company-keeping can lead to love – a love so strong that eventually you might find yourself not caring whether your friend is free to marry or not, and willing to pretend marriage to him even at the cost of your immortal soul.
Or, if you retain faith and courage enough to resist an attempted marriage, it will very probably lead you into serious and frequent sin.
2. Therefore, as soon as you learn that a man who seeks your company has been married and divorced, you are bound at once to find out certainly whether there are solid grounds for his being declared free to marry by the Catholic Church.
You may not dawdle along with your company-keeping on the probability that he might be declared free, or with a doubt in your mind about his freedom.
By so doing you would be throwing yourself into an occasion of casting aside your faith, your soul, and heaven. That is why you must get all the facts about his previous marriage and go to a priest at once and find out whether the facts warrant the assumption that you can validly marry him in the future.
3. A Catholic girl who is being courted by a divorced man must, as she loves God and desires to save her soul, bolster her will to a complete readiness to give him up immediately if she learns that there is little or no chance of marrying him validly.
This is another reason why she is bound to get the facts, and a priest’s judgment about the facts, early in her acquaintanceship with him. The earlier she ascertains his standing as to marriage, the easier it will be to give him up if that proves necessary.
It is difficult to be sympathetic with Catholic girls who have kept company with a divorced man for a year or two, fallen deeply in love, and who then come to a priest begging that he do something to help them get married. The investigation should have been made at the very start of the friendship and a decision made then.
In Love With a Divorced Man
In the April issue of last year you stated that a Catholic girl is obliged to find out as quickly as possible whether a man who asks her for dates is free to marry. That statement made me angry. Find out! Great! But how?
Three years ago I met a very nice young man. The second time I saw him, he told me he had been married and divorced. I discovered that I liked him very much, so I went to our pastor to see whether the man could be declared free to marry me. He took instructions and has become a Catholic.
Since then (three years ago), though we have filled out innumerable papers, no decision has been given by the Church. Surely this is no fault of ours. The Church preaches against the danger of long courtships and then leaves us right in the midst of that danger.
And the idea that the final answer to our petition may be “No” leaves me panic-stricken. What am I to do? We both have gone through much sorrow and trouble before we met, and we wonder why we are not entitled to a little happiness.
This is going to hurt, but it should be like the hurt of a necessary operation. When I said that a girl should find out whether a man who wants to keep company with her is free to marry, I neither said nor implied that all she has to do, in the case of going with a divorced man, is to drop the problem in a priest’s lap; that she might then let herself become deeply involved and practically committed to marriage.
When I said “find out whether a divorced man is, for some valid reason, free to marry” I meant “get the answer to the question,” not merely present the question to a priest and act as if it’s all settled in your favor.
This is a matter on which too many Catholics need instruction and frequent reminders. The Catholic Church presumes every marriage to be a valid marriage unless objective proof is available that it was invalid.
The Church is the protector of the marriage bond. Her whole history and organization have been geared to uphold the indissolubility of marriage. She will not be rushed into declaring a marriage invalid so that the person involved can marry again if the evidence for invalidity is not compelling.
Cases run on for years just because such evidence is lacking. Your argument that, because you have suffered a great deal, you are now entitled to some happiness, has nothing to do with the case.
The Church was founded by Christ to lead you to the happiness of heaven, and to fortify you for suffering loneliness, hardships, even martyrdom in behalf of that goal.
Sure, she wants you also to have as much happiness as possible in this world, but only within the framework of obedience to God’s laws. She has no power to set aside or treat lightly those laws for the sake of your temporal happiness.