Courtship: ‘Seeking God’s Will and Being a Gift to One Another’

In a society that glorifies lust and encourages instant gratification, it is hard work to engage in a faithful and chaste relationship, but it is possible. After one has discerned that it is God's will for them to enter into the sacrament of marriage, the Church calls for an honorable "courtship," (CCC no.1632). The fact that "courtship" is not often heard or implemented in the secular world might make it seem heavy or even rigid at first glance.
"It tends to get a negative reaction because it sounds old-fashioned," said Mary-Rose Lombard, who serves as the diocesan coordinator of Young Adult Ministry and Family Life Enrichment. However, Lombard said, "Courtship is an exclusive relationship that keeps marriage in mind." The most important aspect of courtship, she said, is first having a relationship with Christ and receiving the sacraments regularly." Lombard also noted that any relationship must first begin as a friendship, and then possibly "graduate to courtship."
Christian courtship is different from what the world considers dating. The dating culture evolved from what was once known as courtship, prior to the invention of the automobile, said Father Jerome Magat, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Church in Colonial Beach and St. Anthony Mission Church in King George. Father Magat, who recently gave a talk on courtship at Theology on Tap, said a young man would usually spend time with the girl in the presence of her siblings, cousins, and even her parents at their house. With the accessibility of the automobile, the priest said, "it totally changed the dynamics … and modified dating."
The couple would go out and "one of the fruits was they were able to spend time alone with their potential spouse and talk about things they might not have been able to around younger siblings." The downside, however, the priest said, was that it often "led to an occasion of sin."
Fast forward through an escalation of moral depravity over the years, and now dating for some has become a mere hobby, said Father Magat. "Some people just enjoy the chase with no eye toward marriage." Catholics who enter into relationships, he said, "must enter with marriage in mind … and change 'dating' into a more chaste experience."
When entering into a courtship or "dating" the priest said, the man or woman must have a list of "non-negotiables." One must also ask themselves if the other person is the kind of person they could potentially marry. Some questions might include, "Is this the kind of person who would put their vocation over their career? Would this person wake up in the middle of the night to change a diaper?"
Due to the often promiscuous nature of dating in secular society it often leads to cohabitation, said Father Magat. Aside from going against Church teachings, there are many perils of cohabitation. At a superficial glance, moving in together before the wedding may seem appealing to some on a few levels. Some say they want to "make sure we're able to live together when we're married," or "we're getting married, anyway."
However, cohabitating lowers the chances of a healthy, stable marriage. According to studies, couples who are living according to Church teachings have only a 5 percent chance of divorce, whereas once the couple begins deviating from the Church by using contraception, it "balloons up to 53 percent, and if couples have been cohabitating it adds on another 40 percent chance of divorce," said Father Magat.
If couples are cohabitating before marriage, "they are not really getting married with the sacrament in mind," he said. "It undermines the marital vocation. Trial marriage doesn't work because it's not a life of sacrifice. The couple just indulges each other … it's a dead end, road to nowhere. It's not consistent with sacramental prep. In fact, it's virtually impossible for sacramental prep to take place."
Cohabitation, contraception and other sexual sins are a result of a thwarted understanding of the human person. In the late Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, he tells his audience that the truth of God is revealed through the human body, and that the very meaning of life is inscribed in the human body.
The Theology of the Body "came at a time concurrent with the cult of the body," said Father Magat. "The advent of the Theology of the Body as a school of thought couldn't have come at a better time. It was a response to the cult of the body." He explained the "cult of the body" as the obsession with the body and forgetting about the soul. With the rise of "spas, gyms, Botox, silicone, diet pills, Viagra, Lavitra … people think they've discovered the fountain of youth," the priest said. People often mistake the endorphin release during exercise and caring for the body as "spiritual well being. You could be endorphed up, but still be in mortal sin. The human person is a body and soul composite, so one should not take care of one at the expense of the other," he said. When one properly understands the meaning of the body, one will be able to become "a gift to each other," which is what John Paul says in his writing.
Catholics, the priest said, must be distinguished in their dating habits. Regardless of the state of the secular world, the priest has hope. Young people are "hungry for an alternative way of life and love," the priest said. He said more young people are entering into chaste relationships.
Lombard echoed the priest's words, "Christian courtship includes striving to support each other in keeping the relationship pure and helping each other grow in holiness," she said.
Essentially, the relationship must be based on the supernatural if it is intended to work. Keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is leading each other to the eternal glory of heaven, perhaps the faithful can learn self-donation and being a "gift" to one another through the best possible example of true love - Christ on the Cross, who offered Himself for the sake of His bride, the Church. Henrietta Gomes can be reached at

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2007