THE PREPARATION FOR MARRIAGE—I
By Baroness Bosch Van Drakestein
THE first essential preparation for marriage is a sane, clear knowledge of what marriage is and what it entails. Many young people, including Catholics, do not know this and seem to grow up in surroundings that think ignorance is innocence.
If the prudery or shyness of their elders forces Catholic children to grow up with a twisted, distorted idea of marriage as a thing to be discussed furtively in corners or read in sensational paragraphs in the papers, it is tremendously difficult to teach them to see marriage as a great sacrament and a vocation. Parents especially and teachers must use their judgment; they should recognise their responsibilities and answer the questions of the child honestly. Then we might be able to bring back the glowing outlook of the child Mary—and how far from ignorance her innocence was —who answered the angel with such lovely simplicity.
Knowledgeof Fact and Doctrine
Alongside this clear knowledge of marriage there must be an equally clear idea of what the Church teaches on the matter —thorough knowledge of one's faith, particularly as regards marriage.
No one can look on marriage as a vocation who has a vague, formless idea of this essential teaching. We live in an atmosphere that has discarded the teaching of Christ and has substituted the ideas of the film, the stage, the press, the novel. In nothing are Catholics being more subtly moulded to the prevailing mode of thinking than in marriage. What we need now are militants, ready to speak up for the Church's teaching on marriage, eager and able to defend the grandeur of Christ's. ideals by their own lives. These militants will come only from the ranks of those who prepare for marriage long before the day itself.
There is a growing tendency among nominal Catholics to see the laws of the Church on marriage as man-made, almost iniquitous, and too difficult to bear. Since the Church's laws on marriage are based on the laws of nature they cannot be foreign to us, nor too hard to bear. Moreover, just because they are based on the laws of nature they cannot be flouted unless those who do so pay for it sooner or later. After all, the laws of marriage are not made to thwart and aggravate mankind; they are not burdens to be accepted as grudgingly as income tax. They are proofs of a Father's love for His children. God made the laws of marriage because He loved men and wanted them to be happy. He made them not only for the well-being and happiness of the individual but for the happiness of the family, of the nation, of the world.
Laws for Our Good
If Catholics could see the marriage laws in the light of God's continual care and solicitude they would soon see reason in them. They would do more—they would accept them willingly and gladly.
But the outlook needed before one can keep such laws is not to be gained ip a day, nor indeed, after marriage, it must begin much earlier.
Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical letter on Christian Marriage, in 1931. In the course of this encyclical he tells perfectly plainly why marriage is unbreakable, sterilisation a crime, birth control, sexual perversion. He says, too, that preparation for marriage is not a thing to be learned immediately before the marriage. It must begin in youth. It is the parents' responsibility to train children while they are young; later it is the job of the children themselves.
For those boys and girls who belong to Catholic Action groups it is much easier than for those who are isolated. In a group one has the constant aid and moral support of the others; alone there is little to induce one to begin.
The Most Vital Thing
The most vital thing to be learned, whether in a group or alone, is the idea of
mortification and self-denial. There ,s
nothing more necessary in marriage than mortification and it is not likely that one who thought it unnecessary before marriage will have strength to learn it after marriage.
Boys and girls who understand the idea of mortification will not need to be urged to check their faults and to develop qualities that they lack. They will want to do so; they will want to grow into a complete Christian, not a stunted half-person. Such people will learn self-control unconsciously, since mortification and self-control go always hand in hand.
How can mortification be learned? Boys and girls do not have great opportunities. It is in the small things of every day that it is learned. How many people have enough strength to get out of bed immediately they are called? How many people can miss a meal, or render a small service without grumbling, _how many eat food that they loathe?
Marriage calls for tremendous sacrifices, particularly at present when Catholics have so many burdens, when the mere existence of more than one child may lead to a decline in the social status of the family, since children must be fed and clothed and educated and there is no balance between wages and family obligations.
To be ready for such sacrifices calls for continual training. The qualities that will make marriage a success are the qualities that make sacrifice possible.
Sacraments for Our Help
Sometimes we forget that Christ left us the Sacraments for our help.' For those who intend to train for marriage this realisation is essential.
Prayer is not meant only for the " pious," the Sacraments are not only for the holy. Prayer and the Sacraments are meant for those who want to become holy, for those who see that they lack strength and want to gain it. To strengthen oneself is the idea underlying all preparation for marriage; those who want to prepare cannot pretend to do so unless they redouble their prayers, unless they use the Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of penance. For they should see the Sacraments are Christ's special gifts with results that will always last.
Young people who know their faith, who know the Church's laws, who mean to make something of themselves can understand the value of a soul, what a single soul means to God. Later, when they marry, they will understand the value of their children's souls, " Here is a soul for God, something I can give Him." It is sharing in the creative power of God. It is in their hands to spread God's Kingdom on earth—a right peculiarly theirs because they are married.
In the promise which Grail members make at their initiation, marriage is referred to as a vocation and a dedicated life that opens up enormous possibilities for God and the Church. Is there anything so great as a life dedicated to sharing something with God, to working, as it were, hand in hand with God? Every living person can help God, but the married ones can literally bring God's Kingdom to earth if they want to.
Recently Dr. Briand wrote an illuminating article in the Revue Anthropologique, making the following hypothesis: lf, of all the people living in this country, 60 per cent. have one child, 30 per cent. have two children and 10 per cent. have four or more children, an astonishing result will follow: in 150 years' time the group with one child will no longer exist, the group with two children will be only 10 per cent. of the population and the group with four children will be 90 per cent. of the race.
So the Kingdom of God will really come on earth, not by any lofty spiritual effort but because Catholics follow Christ's laws on marriage. And they will only be able to do this if they strengthen themselves before marriage, (To be continued)