Catholic Values: Dating and discernment, part 1

Jared Johnson

Social Media Manager

Discussion, analysis and criticism of the dating culture here at Franciscan is one of those eternal conversations that will endure until the end of the world, like modesty or Caf food.

As each generation of freshmen enters and each generation of seniors departs, students of every age experience the triumphs and turmoil of trying to find true love within four years or less. I may as well throw in my two cents now.

Dating and discernment tend to go hand-in-hand for us Frannies, and rightfully so. Our culture abuses relationships, romance and sexuality to no end. Here at Franciscan, we all at least know — whether we struggle sufficiently to practice it or not — that dating is the means to the end of marriage, which is a means to the primary vocation: sanctity for ourselves, and for those entrusted to us.

Taking dating seriously is not the issue on campus — and neither is, as I reflect on my experience and observation, taking it too seriously.

Perhaps that is controversial. I have often heard, and said myself, that we think all wrong about dating: if people could just take it easy, stop freaking out, be casual …

Yes, people need to take it easy, but not because it doesn’t matter; it matters so much. How can you not look at dating through Catholic lens and not see the dread and awe of the promise “till death do us part?”

It’s like you’re carrying fine China with shaky hands — if you’re not calm, it’ll drop and shatter. This might be the person God wants you to bring to heaven with you and your cadre of 50 kids.

Or maybe not; you might be sinking a lot of heart and soul into something that will end in disappointment at best, pain at worst. The most casual, light-hearted first date to Bennigan’s doesn’t belay those chances.

It is because of this inherent gravity that we respond as the spiritual mentors of our generation have taught us to: deliberating on God’s will by careful prayer, thought and counsel. When we step into that situation, whether by asking someone or being asked on a date, it’s hard not to see the trajectory and want to get things right.

Because it’s so significant, God should descend from the heavens to point the best choice out to us, right? Or at least, he could send down a sign one way or another. He could give me a boost of confidence in Mass, a sense of peace in my holy hour … anything to make sure that I don’t have to bear the brunt of my decisions. The Holy Spirit is a rather easy scapegoat.

It rarely, if ever, happens this way. But why? Discernment is discernment, right? Well, not necessarily. I don’t believe that the Lord intends us to think about every matter in the same way. Rather, we ought to apply the appropriate principles of Catholic teaching we know to each given situation.

He might be resoundingly clear in some matters, but when it comes to marriage and discernment, the Lord tends to work with a subtler hand. Marriage is the natural vocation, the only sacrament inherent to our human nature: a simple animal function institutionalized by divine graces.

Notice that? Marriage is a divine institution. Dating is not. Once you’ve made the vow, you’ve made the vow before God and his Church. The point of dating and relationships is to figure out which particular person to make the vow to. You don’t need any extraordinary spiritual affirmation to figure that out: all you need is to read the circumstances in light of the natural virtues: the cardinal virtues of temperance, prudence, justice and fortitude.

Prudence: do you like them; do they like you? Are you approaching it for the right reasons? Are they?

Temperance: are you in decent shape in mind, body and soul to attempt dating someone?

Justice: does your lifestyle allow you to give the person you’re interested in what they ought to receive from you, if things go well?

And finally, fortitude: do you have the courage to pursue this?

None of this is anything crazy; the human virtues are practical like that. But if you practice those virtues — “adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature,” as the Catechism says, in the same way that dating adapts a man or woman for their end of marriage — the human can, eventually, be raised to the divine if we lay the proper foundations.

When it comes to dating, that means starting simply and humbly: looking that person in the eyes, not above them, not around them. At them. It’s as intense, and as simple, as that.