Just lately, my thoughts have turned to marriage (apparently the Christus Rex Pilgrimage, like Antioch youth groups of old, and the Catholic tennis clubs of yesteryear, is somewhat of an occasion of matchmaking!)... But of course, on this blog and for this demented soul, that means "thinking about the liturgy and rubrics of the rite of holy matrimony"... of which more anon.
Anyhow, earlier I teed up with my mate Justin to meet up this Friday evening at Southern Cross station in Melbourne, to catch the evening train to Ballarat - from whence we bachelors will, God willing, be collected and taken over to the pilgrim encampment en route to Bendigo. (Synchronicity: it transpires that he's busy this weekend with setting up for and singing at a wedding of a friend of his who's Russian Orthodox: a friend of mine was married in the Byzantine Rite, and it was a truly splendid and moving service.) After we arrive in Ballarat at a quarter to ten at night, all is in the Lord's hands; I note that Saturday is the feast of St Raphael Archangel, patron saint of those in search of a spouse. (For my directly contrary earlier thoughts on being a contented bachelor, see an earlier post.)
One thing I'm very glad of is that, unlike some devout young Catholics I know of the "golly-gee, have you heard of Theology of the Body?" variety (it is important, but not the be-all and end-all), I have never been afflicted by the modern mania for "discernment", which seems to mean thinking and praying ad nauseam, per omnia sæcula sæculorum, without ever coming to a definite conclusion. (My Mum tells of two dear old Presbyterian spinsters, who took such to extremes: seeking the Lord's will as to whether they ought purchase a piano, they persevered in prayer till they seemed to hear the tinkling of ivory keys! Such is my settled view of the overpious approach of some.)
One acquaintance of mine spent a decade or so "discerning" whether to join a certain Order - when he finally went and joined it, after years of pious fantasies, he gave it over within a month. Others have bizarrely "discerned", for years, whether or not to marry - when surely that is the lot of most mortals, and the problem is rather finding the other party to the wedding! Moral of the story: get going and don't dream. If you seek to be a priest, go to the seminary.
With marriage it is a little different of course: now, I don't at all think one should flirt, disport and consort with many and varied girlfriends ("partners", not in the business sense), although that is not at all the same as having many and varied female friends! It has always seemed to me that as an adult one shouldn't seriously "go out" with someone one would not contemplate in the end marrying: for, once one's through the puppy love stage of starry-eyed adolescence when holding hands and feeling all sappy is the go, being boyfriend and girlfriend should be but the prelude to courtship, then engagement, and a Christian marriage. Playing the field and playing around is sin that leads to hell.
The best recipe for marriage is to follow the example of happily married couples one knows. A prelate of my acquaintance told me that the best model for priests are such happy couples, just as happy couples find good models in contented priests: for the two vocations are in ways analogous and complementary, if they are lived well.
My dear friends, Ben and Jane, have an amusing tale of how they ended up marrying over fifty years ago: a lady friend of Ben suggested he ask Jane out; Jane was very dubious about this doubtful fellow, but finally couldn't make up any excuse and accepted his invitation; she had a happy time, but already had a good job and many funloving male friends and hadn't any great wish to settle down; insensibly they grew closer and more accustomed to one another; they went on a trip (staying separately course), in the course of which Ben proposed - Jane refused, saying it was all bosh and a romantic holiday fancy! - but a few months later, she rang him back and said, "Oh, all right". That's the secret of their success - that, and the very important fact that both were Catholics who practised their faith and shared a commitment to virtuous living. They also have a good sense of humour.
While who knows where love may turn up, all things being equal it is obviously better to marry a likeminded lady, herself a committed Catholic (and, please God, better than oneself, and so virtuous as to be a shining lamp to love and imitate in goodness), rather than fall into a mixed marriage. (An old priest hereabouts used to rail against "Mixed marriages and Mass missers"! But even non-Catholics used to seek his advice in their relationship troubles.)
Now, as I've said before, I don't believe in discernment, and am content as a bachelor to serve the Lord; but I have always thought that if little Miss Right comes along, it would be insulting to Him and to her to turn down an excellent alliance! (St Philip Neri had an analogous fate: while of himself he would have remained a simple single layman, he was ordered by his confessor to become a priest.)
As St Paul says, I have been speaking like a fool, but do bear with a little of my foolishness.