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.)

How to Find Your Wife in Five Difficult Steps

Forgive me the “formulaic” title! I want to change it to say: How to Find Your Wife in Five Doable Steps. Because it is doable, by God’s grace.

To any single Catholic guy who thinks he has an argument for why finding his spouse is impossible, I say to you:

That’s Nick Vujicic; he has no arms or legs, and he just got married

Yes, he has a beautiful wife, and he has no arms or legs. But I’m not here just to shame you; I’m going to help you find your future spouse!

Before we begin, to forestall any objections, note that these suggestions 1) are suggestions, 2) are for those men who have discerned their vocations and discovered that it is to marriage, and 3) assume that you are praying, receiving the sacraments, and otherwise doing your best to respond to God’s grace and grow in virtue.

1. Introduce Yourself after Mass

I went to daily Mass for a long time. Over the course of maybe four years, I saw several attractive, faithful young women there. Usually they wouldn’t go as consistently as I did–all the more reason for me to show up every time!–but they’d be there: this young woman every other Saturday; that young woman on Mondays.

By the fact that they went to daily Mass I knew that they were serious about their faith. Ding! That’s the most important prerequisite for my future wife already met.

I met three young women who went to daily Mass: two by directly introducing myself to them afterwards and one through a mutual friend (more on that below). You heard right. After seeing one young woman at Mass and adoration many, many times, I got up the courage, said a prayer, and after Mass when she was leaving introduced myself to her.

Was it a bit awkward at first? Sure it was. It’s like a cold call, and if I can avoid such a thing, I would. But there’s also no shame in being direct like this, especially if it doesn’t seem like your circles are overlapping for a more natural meeting.

After chatting a bit, I asked her if she would like to get lunch sometime. She said yes, and I got her number. This particular relationship went nowhere. But that was God’s will, and we discovered it quickly. Good!

St. Al’s

Occasionally I went to an afternoon Mass at a different parish, St. Albert’s. It has a modern design, and by that I mean an ugly one. No matter, Mass is Mass. I noticed a young woman who would be there sometimes. I might see her once every month or two, since I also didn’t go to that Mass everyday.

So one day after Mass I literally just waited outside for her to come out. She prayed for a while in the church or read or something, so I just sat there on a bench. She came out and I greeted her. Yup, directly like that. And I’m not a Tom Cruise-confident guy either.

You know what she said to me: “I was wondering when you were going to introduce yourself!”

That’s right: she had been waiting for me to say hello. Why? Because clearly we were like the only two young people going to that Mass, week in, week out. I asked her if she wanted to go grab a quick bite to eat. She said sure, and we went to a burrito place.

I learned she played soccer (bonus points, as that’s my favorite sport) and that we had a mutual friend in common through it. We talked on the phone several times, but I realized we were not at the same place spiritually when she told me once: “Yeah I read the Da Vinci Code and it really taught me a lot about our Catholic Faith.” Say whaaa??? Things that make you go hmmm. Okay, so that didn’t lead to more, but the point is that you can meet people this way and you never know, you might meet your future wife.

2. Spread the Word

In olden times and (still) in places like India today, your family and extended family would help you find your future spouse. Not so anymore in moronic America. No worries. I started asking my friends at church to “be on the look-out for me.”

And not but a few months later, a dear elderly Irish couple, whom I knew through daily Mass and volunteering together at the St. Vincent de Paul Society, told me they had a young lady who they wanted me to meet.

Turns out this was a young woman I had seen for over a year at daily Mass. We had never met as it just hadn’t happened, but she was a beautiful lady. The kind who intimidates most guys, who seems “out of their league.

We immediately recognized each other when we met for our date. I took her to lunch; we talked on the phone afterwards for a time, but it never went further. We weren’t a match, intellectually speaking. That’s the way it goes, disappointing, but good to get to meet a great young Catholic woman nonetheless.

The moral here is to not be ashamed of asking your Catholic friends, especially married couples and older ones, to keep an eye open for you. This is what extended family used to do.

3. Join the Young Adult Group

Yes it has some people in it that you would never date in a million years. But it also has people who share your faith and who know other people who you may meet and it’s just possible that your future spouse will be one of the people who joins the group. It’s a great way to have shared activity in a group setting where you can meet people.

If the young adult group doesn’t exist, start the group! Or drive/move to an area that does have one.

Related to this, even if there isn’t a young adult group around, make sure you go to the events where young Catholics are likely to go. Theology on Tap, for instance. I went to these for years, and nothing came of them. Then one day I went and guess what? I ran into an old soccer buddy of mine from high school. And his sister was there, a faithful and attractive young woman whom I had paid no attention to when we were growing up.

I asked her if I could walk her to her car after Theology on Tap was done; she obliged, and I asked her for her number. We hit it off right away and began a relationship that almost led to marriage. God has other plans for both of us, but through our courtship I encountered the theology of the body and became devoted to the Holy Family. Bam! God works good from all things.

4. Try Online Out

I can hear the caterwauling already: “Online dating is terrible!/doesn’t work/is dumb/is unnatural/is for losers and desperate people/is expensive.

Look, I spent almost five years on two Catholic singles websites before meeting Katie. I sent hundreds upon hundreds of messages to young women over those years. I boarded planes and flew across the country on two occasions to meet someone. And guess what? Eventually one of the messages I sent was to Katie. And the third plane I got on took me to where she was. And now we’re married and couldn’t be happier.

Katie and I would not have met had we not both tried the online thing. Wouldn’t have happened, short of God bilocating me to Podunkville, New Mexico.

Will you meet your spouse online? The odds are against it. But, the odds are also against you meeting your spouse at church, or at a bar, or at a bar-mitzvah, or at the circus or at a concert or wherever. The whole point is that you avail yourself of this avenue for potentially meeting your future wife. Maybe God will bring you together through it, just as he brings people together sometimes through speed dating events.

I’d say more here, but Katie and I are writing a book on this (no expected publication date yet; it’s a back-burner project), so you’ll just have to wait til then.

5. Your Turn

Okay, those were the things that I tried as a single Catholic guy. But I know that there are more, ones that could help out the guys (and gals) reading right now.

So please chime in with avenues, ideas, and possibilities for finding the person God has chosen for you.