Choice of a Marriage Partner - II
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
The first requisite of true friendship (remember?) is that it be morally beneficial. Of all types of friendship, none requires this quality so much as marriage. For marriage of its very nature is a state of moral perfection! That may sound like heresy to a Catholic, who is very likely accustomed to thinking of perfection as comprising the religious life and the priesthood.
As a matter of fact, it is a simple, basic ethical truth which acquires a new splendor in the light of the Christian revelation. There is no divinely established state of life which is not a state of perfection. God created us for His own glory, and in terms of our lives that means He created us to be like unto Himself, to manifest a divine perfection in our lives. He instituted marriage as one means of helping man to attain that end. In the Christian dispensation the family is a little Church, and that means that its aim is the salvation and sanctification of the members of the family.
To think of marriage as a state of imperfection and the religious life or the priesthood as the only states of perfection is to cheapen an institution established by God and raised to sacramental dignity by Christ. All Christian states of life are states of perfection. The various states differ from one another, it is true, but all have this in common that they are intended as means of helping souls to God. Hence, every person about to enter marriage should ask himself: Will this union help me to avoid sin and to save and sanctify my soul?
With these ideas in mind, try out some of these questions: Does he make you want to be better, bring out your loyalty, devotion, inspire you? Are you, as a matter of fact, morally better or worse for having been with him, and what can you expect in the future; in other words, would marriage with him help you to observe God's commandments and practice, your religious duties faithfully?
Imagine a crisis in your life (poverty, sickness) that might make a high quality of virtue necessary in order to remain faithful to God, would he be a help to the practice of such virtue? Does he drink too much? Want to indulge in petting, even at the expense of chastity? Practice his religion? Control his temper? What are his views on divorce, on having children, on Catholic education, on the frequentation of the Sacraments? Can you actually point out any definite virtuous qualities in him that evoke your respect and admiration and inspiration? Are they lasting qualities, or are they put on for your benefit now?
Frederick Ozanam, one of the most illustrious Catholic laymen of the last century, prayed thus for a wife: "Above all I trust that she will possess solid virtues and a good heart, that she may be worth much more than I am and so draw me upwards rather than drag me downhill, that she may be resolute since I am faint-hearted, that she may be fervent since I am lukewarm, that she may be filled with a sense of compassion so that I may not feel too strongly in her presence my own sense of inferiority. These are my desires, these are my hopes." Ozanam, with the humility of holiness, underestimated himself. But he had the right idea of a worthy partner in marriage.
 In canon law the expression, "state of perfection," has a technical meaning and refers only to the religious life and the episcopate. The religious life is said to be the state of acquiring perfection; the episcopal office is said to presuppose perfection. In this technical meaning neither Christian marriage nor virginity in the world, nor the priesthood could be called a state of perfection. In our text we are not using the expression in this technical sense.
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.