If you do not know how to pray with one another, then how can you discern together if the Lord is calling you to marry this person or someone else in the Sacrament of Marriage or to be a dedicated single person or to be a priest or to enter consecrated life? Can you imagine someone about to be ordained a priest who doesn’t pray? This would be a contradiction. How can a man prepare for the Sacrament of Holy Orders and not do so in through a life of prayer? Impossible. But doesn’t the same go for the Sacrament of Marriage? How many couples pray together on a regular basis? How do they pray together? The best couples I know today begin with the foundation in prayer. Do you pray alone or together? Why is it important to learn how to pray as a couple and later as a family?
Appendix 8: Dating and Prayer
Choose your date: As young men consider the possibility of priesthood, many will find themselves in a dating situation and are looking for help as to how to listen for the Lord. My first advice is that if the young man wants to discern priesthood, then he cannot date, because you cannot “date” two women at the same time, i.e, both the girl and the priesthood. He must make a choice of which one to discern—priesthood or marriage.
Discerning priesthood while dating: If the young man doesn’t feel ready to discern a call to priesthood and is already in a dating situation, then I challenge him to discern the possibility of marriage, but to do so with a listening and discerning heart. This means that both the young man and woman need to be honest about their joint search to discern God’s call for them. He has to be willing to share with her his openness to go wherever the Lord is calling and to ask her help to discern together. This kind of honesty, when brought into prayer, opens the door for the grace of God to work. If the Lord is calling the young man to marriage, they will come to a peace about this through their prayer and growth in love. If he is called to be a priest, then there will develop a restlessness and a sense that a change needs to take place in their relationship. Almost every year a young man will share how he feels led to stop dating because he/they discerned the call to priesthood.
Write a letter to your future spouse: There are single young people who also write a letter to the Lord and to their future spouse and renew this letter and promise every year until they meet the person God is calling them to marry. Each letter will begin with “Dear Lord, and to my future spouse…In this letter I hope to say someday to you, that I prayed for you before I knew you…I loved you before I knew you… and I was faithful to you before I knew you.” The letter goes on to share what the person has learned about love and life and faith during that year. Each year brings a new letter. Once the couple is preparing for marriage, the person writing the letter will share these letters at the “right” time. I have had a growing number of people through the years who write these letters. How would you respond if your partner did this for you?
Keep the Lord included in your relationship: The greatest sadness today is that so many young people are opting out of Marriage and choose cohabitation. When they do this, they can no longer discern their Call as the Lord is no longer the guiding presence in the relationship. It is only within a chaste relationship of dating and a mutual prayer life, that a couple can truly discern God’s Call.
Advice on dating: Often in a classroom situation young people will ask for advice on dating, I will say to them that as a priest that I have one very important principle to keep in mind besides all the other important steps in friendship and love. I answer, “If you cannot pray together as a couple, then don’t ever get into a serious relationship with one another.” If you do not know how to pray with one another, then how can you discern together if the Lord is calling you to marriage or to something else? Can you imagine someone about to be ordained a priest who doesn’t pray? This would be a contradiction. How can a man prepare for the Sacrament of Holy Orders and not do so in through a life of prayer? Impossible. But doesn’t the same go for the Sacrament of Marriage? How many couples pray together on a regular basis? How do they pray together. The best couples I know today begin with the foundation in prayer. Do you pray alone or together? Why is it important to learn how to pray as a couple and later as a family?
Ways couples pray: There are couples who attend Mass together, go to Adoration together, pray the Rosary or other devotional prayers or even part of the Liturgy of the Hours together. Some couples write a dating prayer which they recite at the end of their evening. Some couples will write a goodnight prayer/blessing for the other person and it is kept in their Bibles on their nightstands. Before she goes to bed she will take out his prayer/blessing and read it as it asks the Lord to bless her and to guard and guide their relationship together. At his house the young man will take out the prayer written by his girlfriend and will pray this prayer before he goes to bed each night. Couples will write a prayer once they marry and then frame all of these prayers and hang the prayers in their bedroom. As the children grow up, they will be told about the prayers as they come to an age of questioning about them. You can bet that when the children are teens they will, at some point, sneak into their parents’ bedroom to read these prayers. That is when the couple will teach their children the power of chastity. My parents wrote a prayer and they pray it daily. We pray it at every family gathering. When we pray we open ourselves to allow the Lord to shape and form our families and thus the saying, “The family that prays together stays together.”
What is it like to be called? People preparing for marriage will ask what it is like to be called by God to be a priest. I answer back, “What is it like to be called by God to be married. I often get a surprised look from them. Just as every priest must learn how to pray and to share how the Lord is calling him to priesthood, so too, shouldn’t every couple be able to articulate to their family and friends how the Lord is calling them to this Sacrament of Marriage? There are many couples today who are doing just that.
Discernment is a team sport: Just as preparation for priesthood takes a team of people to guide the discernment, so too, in marriage it requires a team of people to help you to grow in your discernment, Discernment begins with the couple but also includes family, mature friends, and your pastor. In the seminary it takes four to eight years of formation with many people involved to finally bring a man to priesthood. How can this kind of discernment be done more in today’s world?