Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIX, No. 1
From Sweethearts to Sainthood
Catholic Couples in Modern Culture
by Clare Jensen
I love you. Those three words are thrown around almost casually in modern dating culture, but what do they actually mean? And how do we as Catholics exemplify those words? One of the typical answers to this question revolves around the Church’s teachings regarding chastity. These teachings are often viewed as restrictive and sometimes inspire complaints from young Catholics as they begin their search for a spouse. In a culture that revels in the sexual revolution, the practice of chastity seems extremely challenging.
If these “restrictions” are the main differences young Catholics see between Catholic couples and non-Catholic couples, then a change of perspective is necessary. Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “It takes three to make love, not two: you, your spouse, and God. Without God people only succeed in bringing out the worst in one another. Lovers who have nothing else to do but love each other soon find there is nothing else. Without a central loyalty life is unfinished.”
The most beautiful aspect of a Catholic relationship, whether between a boyfriend and girlfriend, a parent and child, or a friend and friend, is the central goal of drawing each other closer to God. Loving someone means a desire for his or her greatest good. What could be greater than living eternally with God in heaven? The wonderful opportunity of bringing the beloved closer to God should electrify young men and women with a thrill of excitement.
Putting this excitement into practice, however, is more challenging. In a romantic relationship, the pitfall of obsessing over the other person must be avoided in order to focus on the essential importance of God in growing and strengthening the relationship. In addition, the proximity resulting from a dating relationship inevitably emphasizes the irksome habits and pet peeves of the individuals. These moments of frustration over insignificant irritations become golden opportunities for offering these tiny sufferings up — for the growth of the relationship, for the spiritual benefit of the boyfriend or girlfriend, and for the personal sanctification of the self.
Love is most powerfully exemplified by sacrifice, as exhibited by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and His infinite love for us. In fact, love and sacrifice are tied so intimately that one cannot exist without the other. Sacrifice, essential to any relationship, should be seen as an opportunity rather than as a burden. Giving oneself for the other becomes a beautiful testimony to the love within the relationship.
In addition to making daily sacrifices, Catholic couples should attend Mass together, both as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and as a golden opportunity to pray together. In the words of Father Patrick Peyton, “the family that prays together stays together.” Just so, a couple who makes prayer central to their time will have a much richer romance than a couple who omits communication with God in the relationship. Prayer draws the man and woman closer to God, both through discerning the will of God for the relationship and through furthering the individuals’ journey toward heaven. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit will descend upon the relationship and live in it, blessing the couple and their love with courage and strength.
Catholic couples need to remember to bring the most wonderful good in their lives — God — into their most beautiful earthly relationships. Once this attitude has been established, chastity takes on a new meaning and couples experience a new appreciation for its beauty. The sacrifice of inappropriate sexual actions is the couple’s gift to God and to themselves. True love waits, sacrificing personal pleasures in respect for self and the other person. Instead of experiencing the emptiness of a merely human relationship, couples increase their love and make it eternal through the inclusion of God.
I love you. Three words. The first word is for the speaker. The last word is for the beloved. But in between is Love. God is Love. He pervades the sentence and gives it meaning and life. Three words in that sentence. Three “people” in a relationship: the man, the woman, and God. The three words still function as one sentence, just as a relationship joins a man and woman as one love in God. Love is a very powerful word, but it’s even more powerful in action. Thus, what sets Catholic couples apart is not the negative presence of restrictions but the positive light of God the Father as the ultimate Love, God the Son as the ultimate Sacrifice, and God the Holy Spirit as the ultimate Gift.
Clare Jensen, a senior at Rice University, participates actively with the Catholic Student Association there while pursuing her study of English and history and writing articles in her spare time.
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