In this first installment and commentary concerning Dr. Cernea's speech, she implicitly addresses the important matters of courtship and engagement by relating the story of her parents.
Dr. Cernea began:
Your Holiness, Synod Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, I represent the Association of Catholic Doctors from Bucharest.
I am from the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.
My father was a Christian political leader, who was imprisoned by the communists for 17 years. My parents were engaged to marry, but their wedding took place 17 years later.
My mother waited all those years for my father, although she didn’t even know if he was still alive. They have been heroically faithful to God and to their engagement.
Their example shows that God’s grace can overcame terrible social circumstances and material poverty.
We, as Catholic doctors, defending life and family, can see this is, first of all, a spiritual battle.
Material poverty and consumerism are not the primary cause of the family crisis.
It's actually a rather straightforward matter: Courtship and engagement.
What used to be called "courtship" was a special time society recognized when a couple would discover whether they "clicked" not as a feeling but as friends. They were "dating" and there was a threshold expectation of exclusivity in the relationship. Since no human being is perfect, courtship provided an extended period of time for each party to discover whether his or her care for the other was able to flourish amidst the difficulties, challenges, and trials that normally arise in any relationship, especially that of authentic friendship. Courtship involved a quasi-commitment, yes, as well as the discovery that one loved the other more than self. But, this quasi-commitment had an unwritten but clearly understood exit clause.
If the couple's mutual love for the other flourished as a friendship, courtship culminated in a more permanent commitment, an "engagement." This period of time involved making sacrifices as well as a greater commitment to the other. It also signaled greater exclusivity in the sense that the parties to the engagement were moving away from living for others and living for one another. Often characterized as the time for each party to answer the question "Am I willing to spend the rest of my life with this person?," an engagement was a true commitment symbolized in the engagement ring, yet still having an exit clause.
In her introductory remarks, Dr. Cernea identifies a more important spiritual question that should be focal during the period of engagement and each party should be able to answer in the affirmative:
"Is the love of God that brought us together binding me more intimately in a union of mind and heart with my bethrothed who I will love, honor, and obey in good times and in bad, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health all the days of my life?"
Dr. Cernea's observation about the love of God that bound her engaged parents together despite "terrible social circumstances and material poverty" isn't the stuff of a quaint, idealized, bygone era. No, it's what God has ordained and the Church has consistently taught. But, more importantly, it's what Dr. Cernea used to focus the members of the Synod upon what's all too frequently absent with marriage preparation today.
Moving immediately from the single state to hooking up, couples don't avail themselves of the time they need to make their pilgrimage to the Sacrament of Marriage. Yes, hooking up provides the time to discern on a physical level whether the couple is compatible. But, the empirical evidence indicates that secular "solution" has failed. Why? There isn't any time for discerning on either a human or spiritual level whether God has ordained from the beginning of Creation that they should be married.
Ever wonder why so many of those couples who have "hooked up" before getting married either break up before getting married or end up getting divorced?
The physical union cannot survive without the human and spiritual union of two minds and two hearts united in God from the beginning of Creation. Emphasizing the former and neglecting the latter draws attention to what ails marriage and family today.
In Dr. Cernea's view: How and why did we go wrong? What conversion is needed? More on that in Part 2.
Let the discussion begin...