During this week’s Wednesday Catechesis, Pope Francis shared his reflections on the significance of the engagement period before marriage. Engagement, he says, is a time for “trust, confidence, reliability—confidence in the vocation that God gives.” The call to marriage is first and foremost from God, and is therefore greater than “the attraction or of the sentiment of a brief moment.” Instead it requires a path of maturation and growth towards love.
In order to relay the importance of this “course” of love, the Holy Father drew attention to the love of God. God’s love resulted in the “fine work” of creation and brought about “the conditions of an irrevocable alliance” with His people that was “destined to last.” Human love, then, is likewise not “only a light-hearted happiness, an enchanted emotion,” but “a participated and shared work.” The period of engagement is the specific time for a man and woman to grow deeper in knowledge of one another and of the lasting love to which they are called.
Pope Francis reminded the audience that there is no easy path to love—“no express marriage.” Love is a “work” and a “journey” that is constantly “learned and refined” between man and woman. Because of the sentimentality that reigns in many relationships today, people often forget that the love between a man and a woman is a gift to be protected, “never purchased or sold, betrayed or abandoned.” The task of making “two lives only one life” can often seem impossible and indeed “is almost a miracle.” But Pope Francis said it is, “a miracle of freedom and of the heart, entrusted to faith.” The period of engagement is a time to direct anew the freedom of our hearts toward the protection of this great gift and call from God.
We can have hope in the goodness and beauty of engagement, the Holy Father noted, when we look to the loving action of God. He Himself undertook a “journey of engagement” with His people, marked by a promise (Hosea 2:21-22), and finally fulfilled in the marriage between Christ and the Church. But it was certainly a “long way.” Pope Francis lauded the Italian “masterpiece on engagement” I Promessi Sposi, [The Betrothed] by Alessandro Manzoni, as a beautiful representation of this “long way.” He encouraged young people to read it and “see the beauty, the suffering, but also the fidelity of the engaged couple.” Love is not an easy task, and the beauty and fidelity of a maturing love grow often in light of obstacles and suffering. It is especially vital for young people in today’s culture to understand the seriousness of the promises of love, the difficulties of the path ahead, and the beauty that will show itself when love is faithfully protected.
One of the ways the Church guards the importance of engagement is through the special preparation of pre-marital courses. Though many couples complain and seem to “attend against their will,” Pope Francis said that so often afterwards they “thank us, because in fact they found there the occasion—often the only one!—to reflect on their experience in terms that aren’t trivial.” In our society, so many couples live in a kind of “intimacy” that doesn’t allow for real “knowledge” of the other. It is precisely when “engagement is re-evaluated as a time of… sharing a plan” that man and woman can see that their love transcends the two of them and this particular moment. It is within that understanding that they can gain a deeper understanding of the other, not as simply an ingredient in my “psychic-physical wellbeing” but as a unique gift and a co-partner in the greater work of love.