Our first example is from the world of dating. See if you can figure out what the problem is here. Lisa Cotter gives a very human example of what can go on inside a college girl’s head (Lisa Cotter, Why Do Women Do That?, Track 4, 3:32). A girl meets a guy: he’s cute, friendly, and flirts a little; they see each other at church and have a class together, and, from what she knows of him, she’s convinced he’s awesome. What does she do? She starts to mentally stalk him: thinking about what he’s doing and what it’d be like to date him. Then she cyber stalks him on social media: she sees the potential competition, his pictures (“He’s got a sister; oh, I want a sister.”). Then she physically stalks him: not in a creepy way, but plans her day around where she might see him next, where he sits, where he works. (By the way, guys do the same thing, right?).
Here’s the thing: she’s already started pouring out her heart to him, and statistically speaking, even if they do date, things won’t work out, and she’ll be crushed because they had been through so much together in those 3 weeks (3 months in her head).
So, what’s the problem? It’s very subtle, so subtle that it’s seemingly harmless. There’s so much good here that it might elude us. This young lady is falling into a temptation all of us face: finding our fulfillment in relationships. Relationships are so beautiful that they seem like they can promise us fulfillment. But unfortunately they can’t. We tend to approach dating this way and then it comes with us into marriage.
I know some men, for instance, who haven’t felt loved by their mothers and brought that need into their marriages, subconsciously expecting their wives to make up for it. That’s a painful expectation for both people. One wife said to her husband, “I can’t fulfill you.” The same happens to women who haven’t felt loved by their fathers.
Now few people would actually say they’re expecting complete fulfillment from their spouse; rather, we do it subconsciously. That’s why the signs that we’re falling into this temptation are very subtle. Feel free to disagree with the following questions, because they’re not perfect, but do resonate with many people, showing that we’re falling into this trap:
- Am I hypersensitive to what my spouse does or doesn’t do?
- Do I get impatient with them?
- Do I expect them to agree with me on everything, be with me all the time?
- Do I expect intimacy without consideration of their needs?
- Do I focus more on how my spouse should change rather than I?
- Do I need constant reassurance and affirmation?
- A hard question: do I try to control them?
- A thought-provoking one: Do I neglect to spend 15 minutes a day in prayer (we’ll explain this one later)?
- Lastly, go back to our homily two weeks ago. The reason we suffer from frustration and think so much about other people’s faults is because subconsciously we’re expecting them to make us happy: if they did what they’re supposed to be doing, we’d be happy; and because they’re not, we’re not happy.
Of course, it’s not healthy when couples always disagree or when they’re always apart, but when there’s excessive impatience or unrealistic expectations, these could be signs that we’re expecting too much.
These expectations can extend to our kids and other relationships too. And for us single people, the temptation here for us is to believe that we’ll be truly happy once we meet Mr. or Ms. Right. Yes, that will contribute to our happiness, but it can’t be the basis for it.
Jesus just gave us a very beautiful teaching: “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Lk 20:34-35). What does this mean? It means that marriage is only for our time on earth (Christopher West, Good News About Sex & Marriage, 18-19). Marriage ends when one spouse dies, which is why, “Til death do us part.” (Now, for some couples, this is actually good news. “Phew, there’s an end in sight.”) But in heaven, everyone’s married to God. The reason we expect so much from marriage is because we’re made for marriage… but with God. God didn’t give us human marriage for ultimate happiness, but to constantly remind us that we’re made to marry Him.
One Catholic blogger, having fallen into the trap of expecting her husband to make her happy, says that marriage isn’t designed to make her happy, but holy. When we realize that our spouse helps us get closer to God, then we’re happier. She writes, “Yes, my husband can contribute to my happiness; he helps me seek God. He encourages me to find Him in my everyday life. He reminds me of His plans and His purpose in my life when I’m feeling particularly down. And these things contribute to my happiness, but my husband doesn’t fulfill my heart the way that God does, and he just can’t — no matter how hard I try!”
This teaching is so important that God stamped it right into our bodies. He made us male and female to remind us that we’re meant for marriage. Think about it. The man’s body doesn’t make sense by itself, nor the woman’s. The two bodies are meant for marriage. God could have created us in so many ways, but chose to make us male and female to remind us that we’re called to a heavenly marriage.
When a woman becomes a sister (a nun), she gets married to whom? Jesus. Sisters are called “brides” of Christ. When a man becomes a priest, he gets married to…? The Church, because the Church is feminine. And Jesus was married, right? St. Paul and the book of Revelation compares the Church to the bride/wife of Christ (Eph 5:21-33; Rev 21:9-11). That’s why it’s fitting that priests are celibate: we’re supposed to remind people that Jesus is married to the Church.
Sr. Sara Butler, one of my teachers in New York, said these ideas are huge for us Catholics; this is how we think! We see priests as grooms, sisters as brides, Jesus as the groom, the Church as the bride. And St. Bernard compares the human soul to a bride, in relation to God (Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Bernard, Second Reading). This applies also to us men: Our souls are are meant to marry God. We’re all called to be married to God.
That’s why it’s so important that some people choose celibacy and virginity as priests and sisters. They remind us that we can be completely fulfilled even if we don’t get married. We start our heaven on earth by skipping human marriage for our heavenly one. Here’s a story by Joseph Park to illustrate:
“To me, my fiancée was the perfect woman, a nice girl I had met at my Parish. I had hoped to find a good Catholic to marry, and she was that person. After our engagement we made our plans, attended Catholic engagement classes, and of course sent the wedding invitations, ordered the flowers, the cake, the tuxedos, dresses, etc. My fiancée was very good with the details. She was very good in many ways. However, the wedding never happened. It was called off exactly one week before the scheduled ceremony. It wasn’t her fault; it was mine. After our engagement I began to experience an internal conflict, a conflict that began dividing me between two vocations: marriage and the priesthood.
I clearly felt that I was being asked to choose one or the other. It grew more significantly as time went on. I thought I had made the decision. Earlier in my life I had often thought of the priesthood as a vocation, but I didn’t think I could make the sacrifice, or that I lacked the gifts necessary for priestly life. I reasoned that marriage was more likely my vocation. But almost as soon as the engagement ring was on her finger, I felt God telling me to make the decision more explicitly, as if I had to stand before Him and choose, priesthood or marriage. With a sense of urgency building, and the finality of marriage approaching, and without clearly discerning the priesthood-option, I understood that the wedding had to be canceled, at least postponed until my choice was more certain. Great timing, wasn’t it? Not funny.
I made three attempts to discuss the issue with my fiancée. She didn’t want to hear it. Finally, we came to agree that since studying for the priesthood would take a number of years, I could use that time to discern my vocation more carefully. If it wasn’t my calling to the priesthood, we could still marry later. So she let me go….
The Seminary of Christ the King accepted me for the 1983 school year…. Four years later I was standing at the Altar, not to make wedding vows, but to place a scroll on the Altar, on which was written my religious vows, promises that committed me to a new way of life dedicated to the service and love of God….
Did I make the right choice? Am I happy? Yes, I’m sure. I gave up a family, yet I have a larger family. I gave up children, but, as a teacher in the seminary, I have many children. And I love the priesthood.
My ex-fiancée has since married and has two beautiful children. I have always regretted the pain I caused her, and I have appreciated her understanding. She even encouraged me to persevere in my vocation. The day I left she held my hands, paused, and said, ‘If you leave that seminary and marry someone else, I’ll kill you.’”
If Pope Francis changed the Church’s discipline and allowed priests to get married tomorrow (which he has the power to do, because it’s not a dogma, but a discipline, but a most fitting, beautiful and ancient one), I would still choose to be celibate. I cannot tell you how much I love celibacy. It was the hardest promise to make but my favourite. Why? Because it’s my door to union with God. I started thinking about being a priest because I wanted other people to be happy; I wanted them to experience God’s love the way I had. But my greater joy is being alone with God. I just want to be alone with God. That’s what I do during my vacation. Prayer is the highlight of my day.
Now some may say, “That’s fine for you, Fr. Justin, and for Fr. Joseph, but I can’t live without someone.” That’s partially true. We all need intimacy and deep friendships, but we can thrive without marriage. And even though priests are called to celibacy and given the gift, giving up marriage is still not easy. For me, when I let go of marriage, it really hurt; it was a death to many of my hopes and desires. But within a few weeks, a deeper peace and such an incredible happiness came over me that I went to my vice-rector and said, “Father, I get it! This is what it means to give up everything to get even more! I’m so happy. This makes so much sense. You have to empty yourself to let God fill you up! You have to go through death to get to the resurrection.” This experience of God’s love is too good, too good. I wish everyone could go through this so that they could reach the other side.
This is why God wants us to spend at least 15 minutes a day talking and listening to Him in prayer. This is where we experience His love, and without it, for sure, we’ll be looking for happiness somewhere else, because the human heart is a black hole, and, if it isn’t filled with God’s love, it’ll suck in something else to take its place. If we are not spending 15 minutes a day in prayer, that is a sure sign that we are looking for happiness somewhere else.
Today, we’re going to sing a beautiful song Set Me as a Seal by Matt Maher. It’s a love song, but about God’s love for us. It’s taken from The Song of Songs, which is in the Bible: God has used romantic imagery of a bride and groom to show His love for us. It may seem strange at first because we’re not used to lyrics like this, but this is entirely biblical, and we must remember that God is passionately in love with us.
Let’s end by painting the picture of what God wants for us: He wants us to be happy. 1) God wants us to know and experience His love and to love Him in return. If we’ve ever experienced the joy of a good Confession, that’s a hint of His love. If we’ve ever experienced deep peace in prayer, or while being prayed over, or by the love of someone else that seems more than human love, then God wants us to experience even more of this. 2) After we experience God’s love directly, He wants us to have amazing relationships; He wants our marriages to thrive. Once we take the pressure off other people to make us happy, we can then accept them for who they are, and then help each other grow in holiness, and that will make us happy.
We’re made for marriage… with God.