Parentes Dabo Vobis

Priests are well cared for. Both the Church in general (the bishops, the hierarchy, etc.) and in particular (local groups, families, Serra clubs, and so on) do an admirable job of aiding the discernment, seminary formation, and ongoing formation of priests and, to a different degree, religious. There are many guidelines and aids, the most formative being Pastores Dabo Vobis (from which this post derives its name). Priestly formation is in a rather good spot.

Unfortunately, it is not necessarily the case with marriage. One needs only look at the normal discernment process to see this. Young men who think they might have a vocation to the priesthood (who generally thus also think they might have a vocation to marriage) meet with a Vocation Director, go on discernment retreats, and talk with others in the vocation – but they only do it toward priesthood. There are virtually no discernment retreats for marriage, young men don’t meet with married couples to see if that’s the life they want, and there are not people with a job title for promoting marriage. They end up pursuing marriage simply because it is not the priesthood.

Now marriage is not neglected, at least not wholly so. Couples are required to undergo marriage prep, but the quality of this prep greatly varies (there are excellent, well designed programs out there and there are seat-of-the-pants programs with little thought behind them). And there is virtually nothing before this and, for the most part, marriage programs after marriage are considered (at least by the populous at large) to be for couples whose marriage is “in trouble.”

Do I think marriage prep should be as rigorous as seminary (application; six, eight, ten years of study; vote by the faculty)? No, but it should be more then six, eight, ten months of preparation.

Some additional preparation does go on. Young men and woman learn what it means to be married from the married people around them, and even from the celibates around them. But particularly today there are many problematic marriages and the culture does little to shore up the family. There need to be programs (retreats, talks, books, whatever) that encourage an intelligent and wise approach to marriage. And once the marriage takes place, the couple should know that marriage retreats are more important before the trouble arises, or else it will take much more work to deal with it when it does.

Bottom line: marriage is a vocation. It is time we (in the broadest sense) start treating it like one, just as noble as the priesthood and given by God. And he shall give us parents.

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