Principles of Catholic Courtship

I just listened to an excellent talk on Catholic courtship by Fr. Ripperger:

Every Catholic parent should listen to it and seek to understand it, and every young adult Catholic should as well. It could save you a lifetime of heartache!

Here’s a recap of what Fr. Ripperger talks about and how my wife Catherine and I courted.

Preparing for Courtship

Courtship has a negative connotation for many nowadays, being associated with antiquated and even harmful practices. But any such excesses or wrong-headed notions are not inherent in courtship itself.

Courtship is a means to a specific end: marriage.

Courtship vs. dating: dating, especially in our society, is largely recreational. Even if two people think that perhaps one day they may get married, dating does not entail marriage is even a goal or purpose for a couple.

Courtship however is not recreational. It is asking a specific question: does this person have sufficient virtue to be a good spouse for me?

Virtue, another word that has a bad connotation for many, is a set of good habits. They tell you how another person will most likely act. Will this person be able to share a life in common, rear children wisely, and be willing to do the duties of their state in life as husband and father or wife and mother?

From the natural law: the primary function of the husband and father is to protect the honor/virtue of his wife and daughters. So the father makes the final judgment about whether a young man is honorable and will be virtuous with his daughter.

Given that background, let’s get into the four stages of courtship.

Catholic Courtship Stage 1: Friendship

Any courtship first begins with friendship. Each gets to know the other as friends, without any romantic pursuits.

Recall that love is willing the good of another. “Love at first sight” is therefore meaningless. You do not know a man’s moral character on the first date.

Consider the prevalence of pornography and lust in our world, even among Catholic men. Women need to ask themselves whether the man is capable of love, or whether he is a slave to lust. Many women, including Catholic women, don’t even imagine that a Catholic man could struggle with lust, but the numbers indicate that they should be expecting it. (For Catholic men struggling with lust, check out my video course here.)

Mutual love at this friendship stage is based on virtue. Interactions should be done in public settings to see if person has virtue. Also, there should be no physical affection at this stage, so each person can have clarity of judgment.

If they do have sufficient virtue, and they judge each other’s personalities are sufficiently matched, they can go to next stage.

My wife and I began our friendship online, through a Catholic singles site. We then met in person for the first time, as friends, and got to spend time together. We became friends through phone calls, emails, and written correspondence, but it was only after meeting in person that we were able to really determine whether we were a good match for each other.

Stage 2: Courtship

The hallmark of the courtship stage is the beginning of exclusivity. There’s a recognition that you are considering each other for marriage in an exclusive way. Again, contrast that with modern secular dating where you might date four people at a time.

Before entering this stage, the young man should ask permission from the young woman’s father if he can court her. Now, this might seem antiquated and ridiculous, but I can attest the wisdom behind it. I asked Catherine’s father for his permission to court her. He laughed and couldn’t believe I was asking him. But I wanted to receive his approval, even if he didn’t realize it was his duty to give it.

Also during this stage, you should get to know each other’s family as well. These will be your in-laws, your brothers-in-law, etc. and you will see the environment in which your girlfriend grew up.

The principal function of this stage is self-denial: spend more time together to understand more deeply if the person is virtuous and would be a good match. Note the recurring theme here! Marriage without virtue is miserable. Better to know now then walk in blindly and pay the consequences.

Also, it may come as a surprise that there should be no physical affection in this stage either: it causes bonding to occur to various degrees, and that emotional bond can confuse wise decision-making. Since you are not fully commited to one another, if the courtship is broken off, those emotional bonds can cause great pain, so it is unjust to commit more with your body than you have in your heart.

The young man is looking to see whether the young woman can and will submit to his headship in marriage. She is looking for love: is he self-sacrificing? Is he capable and willing to suffer for her and for their children one day?

This period can last 3 – 6 months.

My wife and I entered courtship and it lasted for four months. We were still living in different states so every month I flew out to her city or flew her out to mine and we spent extended periods together. I saw in her a virtuous young woman, serious about prayer and following Christ through His Church.

Stage 3: Betrothal

Betrothal is often thought of as engagement in our modern culture.

But in older times, society didn’t consider a pair engaged until the betrothal. The young man needs to ask her father for permission to marry his daughter; and only after receiving that approval can he ask young woman for her hand.

If she says yes, now they go to priest for the rite of betrothal. This rite is a series of promises that says “yes I intend to marry you.” Most Catholics have no idea that such a rite exists.

Catherine and I, without any sort of guidance for a priest or other who knew about this, stumbled upon the existence of the rite and asked the priest to do it for us after we got engaged. The priest didn’t know what we were talking about but went ahead with it anyway.

Physical affection can begin during this stage, prudently, as only for grave reasons should a betrothal be broken. Of course, that physical affection should be done chastely and without breaking the commandments.

The couple also should be praying together seriously. They should not be alone together, as the young man needs to protect her honor and reputation.

Principal thing to look for in this stage: can he moderate himself in a relationship with me, and vice-versa? This stage is an opportunity to grow in virtue even more deeply.

Stage 4: Marriage

This stage is self-explanatory as it is the end of the courtship. By now the couple has discerned that they are a good match for each other, that they are marrying someone who will love them and live virtuously.

That doesn’t mean perfectly or without even erring or commiting a sin. But it does mean that they have a confident assurance that the other wills what is best for them and is willing to self-sacrifice for their good and the good of their future children.

Even going through all this, both persons are human. Both have faults and blind spots and weaknesses and areas of improvement. In our cases, I grew up in an atheist family and my wife grew up in a family with some particular challenges. These rear their head during marriage; it doesn’t mean they are insuperable but all the more reason that virtue is needed.

So, Catholic husbands and fathers: are you willing to step up and fulfill your role to help your daughter marry a virtuous man?

(Want to help become a better man or woman for your spouse or future spouse? Start praying novenas regularly! This post has been brought to your by my free app, Pray the Catholic Novena app.)

Pope Francis, Please Pontificate!

I’ve been quietly observing Pope Francis’s papacy over these past years, not saying much because quite honestly I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Like many, I’ve been bewildered with the variety of his off-the-cuff remarks, quoted and sometimes misquoted interviews, and the controversies now escalating around his exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

Here’s my apologist’s take on what is happening with Pope Francis and what, if anything, we as lay Catholics can do about it.

The Controversy

First, what is the controversy around his exhortation?

Quite simply, Pope Francis’s ambiguous statements in the exhortation regarding communion for divorced and remarried Catholics have now led to different bishops and bishops’ conferences issuing contradictory guidelines about the topic (which is a discipline and not doctrine per se, but which affects the perception of the doctrine among the faithful).

See for instance the Maltese bishops who have said if a couple feels at peace with God they can receive the Eucharist, even if they are divorced and remarried (without an annulment).

The confusion around the exhortation began quietly but has slowly grown. Last year, privately, four cardinals, including Raymond Cardinal Burke sent Pope Francis a dubia–a set of five questions seeking clarification about communion for divorced and remarried Catholics–but Pope Francis did not respond.

The cardinals eventually made their questions public, but Pope Francis has still refused to respond. Recall that one of the key benefits of being Catholic is that the Church can continually clarify her doctrines and disciplines. Pope Francis in this situation is refusing to clarify his teachings, and so the faithful are left in confusion.

The Sensus Fidelium Stirs

We are now seeing an unprecedented stirring among orthodox Catholics demanding that Pope Francis address the alleged errors and confusion in Amoris Laetitia.

Leaders are speaking out–respectfully yet insistently–from stalwart Catholic organizations like Catholic Answers, EWTN, Ignatius Press, and Catholic World Report.

Prior to Pope Francis, during the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, this was unheard of. The only voices that were yelling in opposition were from groups like the National Catholic Reporter.

These orthodox voices are speaking out, calling attention to the problematic ghost writing in the exhortation, the insanity of attempting stealth changes to the Church’s discipline and doctrine, and the crisis that is now forming due to his lack of clarification.

These voices are not demanding novelties, unheard of in the past 2,000 years, but rather pointing out that Pope Francis’s statements are at best inconsistent with previous papal teachings, and at worst contradictory to them (see, for instance, the question of whether a man and woman are capable of living together as brother and sister or not).

I see these lay voices, joined with many proven orthodox bishops and priests, as an expression of the sensus fidelium, the sense of faith of the whole people of God, from laity to episcopate, expressing universal consent on the unchanging truths of the Faith.

Why Has It Taken So Long?

Thomas Peters of American Papist and now Catholic Vote fame, made a call for “JPII and Pope Benedict-loving” Catholics to end their silence and stand together to ask Pope Francis for clarity.

It’s taken a long time for those of us whose first Pope was John Paul II to recognize and accept what is happening. With Popes John Paul II and Benedict, this kind of crisis never happened. So we have never had to make such a request of the pope.

Further, I know for me there’s a question of protocol: how does one make such a request of the bishop of Rome? Is it right to do so? How does one do it in a respectful and obedient way?

Of course, saints of the past like Catherine of Siena did just that. But, she’s a saint and I wouldn’t set my holiness next to hers in comparison. So this is uncharted territory for us.

What we are seeing now is a building groundswell of faithful voices, not condemning Pope Francis or contradicting him, but instead exhorting him to clarify his exhortation.

Liberius, Honorius, Francis?

Is Pope Francis setting himself up to go down in history as another Liberius or Honorius, popes who in some way failed to clearly and strongly uphold the unchanging truths of the Catholic Faith?

That’s question Dr. Ed Feser takes up in very incisive article:

“Honorius… did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.”

It is uncontroversial that Honorius was (as the second quote indicates) at the very least guilty of failing to reaffirm orthodoxy in the face of the Monothelite heresy, and it is commonly held that, at least materially even if not formally, he was guilty of the heresy himself.

Neither Liberius or Honorius falsify papal infallibility, and I don’t believe that Pope Francis will either, but they came close enough that countless Catholics through the ages have had to explain to others how their actions did not prove infallibility false.

I don’t think that Pope Francis is overly concerned with doctrine. Hence, these ambiguities arise, not out of malice, but out of a good desire to reach out to people in a pastoral way.

If doctrine and current disciplines get in the way of what, in his view, would help more people receive the mercy and grace of God, then he wants to circumvent those disciplines and doctrines. Not necessarily change them, let alone overturn them, just, well, ignore them.

So none of the demands for clarification imply that Pope Francis is a heretic or that what he has written is heretical. Nor has what he written substantially changed Catholic doctrine. Papal infallibility is intact. But in his ambivalence for doctrine he is confusing the bishops and thus the faithful on an important matter, one that could undermine the doctrine of the Eucharist itself.

An Apologist’s Nightmare

All of this makes for a scary dream for Catholic apologists, whose mission it is to defend the Church and explain the Faith.

I’ve told people one benefit of being Catholic is the continual clarification by the Magisterium of doctrines on faith and morals. Now, the pope himself is muddying the waters. What are people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, supposed to think? It can be a stumbling block to people entering the Church. It can cause the faithful to doubt their faith.

My belief in the Church’s infallibility is strong. But that is not the case for everyone. And non-Catholic polemicists can make hay out of all this and cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt to grow in the hearts of Catholics weaker in their faith.

Pontificate, Pope Francis!

Quite simply, we need the Pope to pontificate. I think he would like all this swept under the rug, and quietly have bishops across the world interpreting his words in the exhortation in their own way, but the voices demanding him to respond and clarify are swelling, and I don’t think he’ll be able to ignore them.

We’ve been blessed recently with popes who were theologians and philosophers, orthodox and careful. But God never promised the Church that every pope would be as sagacious.

What Do We Do?

I plan to continue to pray for the pope, everyday, especially through the Rosary. I plan to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt and be respectful of him. I also plan to join my voices to the many others asking him to resolve his problematic statements.

My hope is that he sees the crisis growing in the Church, especially among the bishops, and that he will act to clarify or even correct what he wrote in Amoris Laetitia. That would show great humility, a virtue he has shown many times during his pontificate.

This post on Pope Francis has been brought to you by Pray: the Catholic Novena app. Concerned about Amoris Laetitia? Start praying a novena today!

How to Raise Chaste Catholic Men

Impossible task? Some say it is so.

With so many men, including Catholic men, addicted to pornography and lustful vices, the idea that parents can rear a chaste (read: self-mastered) Catholic young man seems impossible.

Not so, says Leila Miller, Catholic mother to many, including virtuous Catholic sons. What are her secrets? Read on!

Raising Chaste Catholic Men

Leila is an old friend of mine and sent me an early draft of her first book: Raising Chaste Catholic Men: Practical Advice, Mom to Mom.

I flew through the book: it’s written in down-to-earth language with straightforward advice that is instantly applicable to your parenting. Also, as a now-Catholic man who is now-chaste, I was able to read the book from the perspective of someone who had to fight to discover the truths Leila talks about.

What are her priorities when rearing sons:

  • Make moral formation top priority
  • Logically explain beliefs and principles
  • Make discussions open to any topic

Moral Formation

Moral formation, says Leila, trumps teaching kids to be financially shrewd, socially popular, or even academically successful.

We want our children to become ultimately successful, which means they become saints, so moral formation with the truths of the Church is top priority.

Logically Explain Catholic Beliefs

Faith is supported by reason; the two go hand-in-hand. So when a child asks “why” we believe a certain dogma, do not say “that’s just the way it is, I’m not sure why.” Be ready with reasons to support the belief.

Examples include areas where the Catholic Church’s teachings contradict those of our modern secular society, e.g. contraception, divorce, pre-marital sex, etc. but also truths of divine revelation like the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.

No Holds Barred

Nothing that you children bring up is taboo. Of course, Leila wisely cautions that our responses need to be age appropriate and divulge just enough information to satisfy, but the important point is that your children grow to trust you and know they can bring up sensitive topics with you.

Later on Leila talks about respecting the latency period, or “years of innocence” as Pope St. John Paul II said: 5 years old til puberty. This means not disturbing this period with unnecessary information about sexual topics.

Being careful to guard them during this time means being vigilant not just of what they see and hear in your own home, but also via movies, television, videos, music, and their peers. They may go over to a friend’s house every week whose parents are MIA or oblivious to all of these things.

So Many Good Guidelines

Leila teaches you how to answer questions your children will face from the culture on sexuality, then also dives into uncomfortable topics like masturbation and pornography and how to help your children see through their emptiness.

She also devotes a chapter to navigating pop culture: movies, video games, school choices, and more. She isn’t dogmatic or condemning on these matters (e.g. “homeschool is the only way!” or “no movies or t.v., period!”) but also gives prudent warnings of the dangers your children will face from pop culture and society.

Finally, she interviews her sons on a range of topics related to purity, and they share their thoughts, proof that young Catholic men can grow up to be strong in chastity.

Raising Chaste Catholic Men is a must-read book for all Catholic parents. We are facing an epidemic of impurity and it is wrecking souls, marriages, children, and women. We aren’t doing near enough as the Church to combat it and reverse the direction, and too often Catholics don’t look much different than the culture when it comes to the statistics of men addicted to pornography.

After you get the book, consider buying my course for Catholic men to conquer pornography addiction.

Perhaps you weren’t blessed with wise parents like the Millers and fell into the pit of pornography and lust. An ounce of prevention is best, but sometimes you need the pound of cure. I did, but the good news is that the Church’s teachings are true and will liberate you from this evil.

Thanks Leila for a great book!