My choice of those books stem from my conviction of the richness they have in store for those whom God call to the vocation of marriage. Pope Francis in his audiences about the family also encourages engaged couples to read “The Betrothed” by Manzoni.
Accompanying Our Engaged Friends
Engagement is a period of journey, a pathway in which two freedoms learn to become one, a fire that forges two metals of freedoms into a single substance. At this stage, the anatomy of marriage is constructed.
The period of engagement is an existential stage and a necessary path towards matrimony. The betrotheds are called to take the look of “retroscendence” into themselves and that of “transcendence” outside themselves, both necessary to unite their freedoms in marriage.
John Paul II lists in “Familiaris Consortio” the three stages of preparation for marriages as remote, proximate and immediate. The period of engagement coincides with the proximate preparation, in which there is a maturation of the human and supernatural virtues pertaining to the relationship of friendship and dialogue. This preparation has a specific value for Christians because it influences the holiness of large numbers of men and women.
This stage should be more than just a period of doctrinal formation, one in which information about the doctrine is merely passed on. To accompany marriages should not be reduced to correcting crises in family but should be more of building ideals, helping engaged couples to adhere to a proper hierarchy of values, making them protagonist of their happiness.
The Jewler’s Shop
The life of engaged couples is without doubt a journey and a necessary journey at that. In the “Jeweler's Shop” by Karol Wojtyla (Pope Saint John Paul II), we see a clear reference to this idea and role of journey. Andrew asks Teresa for her hand in marriage with the question of “would you be my life companion?” Teresa highlights that he did not ask her if she would be his wife but rather his companion and that his gestures to the question was very striking: he made the proposal while looking forward as if to indicate there will be a way ahead of them in which they could not see the end.
The positive response of Teresa to the proposal initiates a journey in which they encounter a companion who orients their decision to a noble ideal. This companion was the Jeweler whom they encountered when they went to get the rings, a sign of encounter between their pasts and the future; the “now” that unites the past with the future.
The Jeweler while weighing the rings lets them know that the pair of rings don’t carry with them the weight of metal, but the specific weight of the human person and in their case, the both of them. This weight shows the heart of man, wherein freedom lies and from where love springs from. The engaged couples did appreciate this wisdom and did recognize that they would not have known this, because for them love was more enthusiasm than reflection.
Only in the look and dialogue of the Jeweler did the engaged couples realize that the uncertainty of their future would be overcome by love. Their future depends on Love.
In Manzoni´s classic book we also see the features and the importance of accompaniment. It encourages young people to make the journey to marriage despite the difficult and long journey it might take. In a “culture of the ephemeral” (Amoris Laetitia, 39), in which people are afraid of making commitment, this book offers a vital encouragement to young couples to seek the path of matrimony.
It is a journey in which the engaged couple (Renzo and Lucia) cry out for a companion on their journey. Father Cristoforo was their companion and becomes a model to all those who seek to accompany engaged couples. Father Cristoforo embodies the features of accompaniment. In one of his conversations with Renzo he says: "One thing I will say though, Renzo, and I say it to you: 'trust in God, and God will not abandon you.’ … Will you put your trust in me? No, not in me, wretched little creature, insignificant little friar that I am – will you put your trust in God?’ ‘Yes,’ said Renzo, ‘I will. God is our only refuge.”
Father Cristoforo shows a radical availability to the couples and a sincere friendship with them in which he could walk shoulder to shoulder with them in their struggles; he recognizes the importance of their marriage preparation. At the end of the book, he reassures Renzo of the providence of God´s will: "God must surely bless this persevering love of yours, the faithfulness with which you desire to search after the woman he has given you.”
Walking with the Betrothed
While we have highlighted the fear of commitment in the young people of our time, betrotheds need accompaniment so as to make that vocational leap of faith that turns their relationship into a sacrament. Accompaniment doesn't provide assurance that their journey will come without difficulties but does gives them the courage and assistance necessary to discern and thereafter live out the fidelity that is required of them along the years. It guarantees them that their future depends on Love.
The family is the seedbed of vocations and from there we are called to form or join other families. Saint Josemaria Escrivá would tell his spiritual daughters and sons that they owed 90% of their vocation to their parents. A child born into a family becomes member of the Christian family and takes up his Christian vocation by baptism. From here, he or she is called further to the vocation of forming a Christian family (Matthew 19:5, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one”) or to a religious or celibate vocation.
The primary importance of the family with regards to vocation meets the current preoccupation of the Church in its reaching out to the youths. As highlighted by Pope Saint John Paul II, this period of proximate preparation which is the period of engagement, generally coincides with the period of youth. This period of youth cannot be separated from the framework of the family. It should stem from the family and orient itself towards their future families.
We, like Christ, have been called to accompany the youths in their engagement so as to arrive at the sacrament of matrimony and this accompaniment of the betrotheds has a name and I dare to call it Friendship.