Engagement, the time devoted to laying the groundwork for a project of love taken on in full freedom and awareness, was the theme of Pope Francis’ catechesis during Wednesday’s general audience.
“Betrothal is, in other words, the time in which two people are called to work on love, a shared and profound task” as “the alliance of love between a man and a woman, an alliance for life, cannot be improvised, and is not made in a day; it is a path on which one learns and refines. … It is, I dare say, an artisanal alliance. To make two lives one is almost a miracle of freedom and of the heart, entrusted to faith. We must perhaps work more on this point, as our ‘sentimental coordinates’ have become a little confused. Those who wish to attain everything immediately, also give up on everything straight away at the first hurdle (or at the first opportunity). … Engagement channels the will to preserve something together, something that should never be bought or sold, betrayed or abandoned, however tempting the alternatives may be”.
Francis recalled the Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni’s novel “I promessi sposi”, “The Betrothed”, and invited those present to read it as it is “an authentic masterpiece which recounts the story of a betrothed couple who suffer greatly, who walk a path full of many difficulties before arriving at the end, at marriage. Do not forget this masterpiece on betrothal … read it and you will see beauty and suffering, but also the faithfulness of the betrothed couple”.
“The Church, in her wisdom, maintains the distinction between engaged and married couples – they are not the same – precisely in view of the delicate and profound nature of this fact. We are careful not to light-heartedly dismiss this wise teaching, nurtured by the experience of happily married life. The powerful symbols of the body hold the keys to the soul: we cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening up lasting wounds to the spirit”, continued the Holy Father, remarking that “today’s culture and society have become rather indifferent to the delicate and serious nature of this passage. And on the other hand, they cannot be said to be generous with the young, who seriously intend to maintain a household and start a family. Rather, they set up a thousand obstacles, mental and practical”.
Pre-matrimonial courses are a special expression of preparation that offer engaged couples what may indeed be the sole opportunity to “reflect on their experience in terms that are not banal. Yes, many couples stay together for a long time, also intimately, at times living together, without truly knowing each other”, he observed. “Therefore there is a need to re-evaluate engagement as a time to get to know each other and for sharing a plan. … And focusing also here on the essential point: the Bible, to be rediscovered together, in a conscious way; prayer, in its liturgical dimension, but also in terms of ‘domestic prayer’ … in the Sacraments … in which the Lord comes to reside in the betrothed couple and prepares them to truly accept each other with the grace of Christ; and fraternity with the poor, the needy, which leads us towards sobriety and sharing. Couples who make this commitment both grow, and all this leads to preparing a beautiful marriage celebrated in a different way, not worldly but Christian”.
The Pope invited couples to reflect on and repeat to each other the words of the prophet Hosea: “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord”. “May every engaged couple think of this and say to each other, ‘I will make you my spouse’. Wait for that moment; it is a moment on a path on which one proceeds slowly, a path of ripening. One must not pass through the different stages too quickly. Ripening takes place in this way, step by step”.
Therefore, “the time of betrothal must truly be a time of initiation … in surprise at the spiritual gifts that the Lord, through the Church, enriches the horizon of the new family that he prepares to live in His blessing”.
Pope Francis concluded by asking the thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square to pray to the Holy Family of Nazareth so that engaged couples may understand the beauty of the path of preparation for lifelong marriage, and greeted couples in the square by wishing them a happy engagement.