PHILADELPHIA — Where Is This Relationship Going? Dating as Discernment was one of the presentations attended by many of the younger participants at the World Meeting of Families Sept. 22 - 25 in Philadelphia. Some 20,000 Catholics from over 100 countries heard experts speak on a wide range of topics at the international gathering.
Three speakers took turns sharing thoughts about the goal of dating, the meaning of discernment and discussing how the dating years should be considered a time of growing in self-knowledge. The presenters used humour, PowerPoint, music and a live web application to build several word collages that were created in real-time by the participants.
Brian Barcaro, co-founder and CEO of CatholicMatch.com, spoke about what he called “the growing singleness gap.”
“Ten years ago, Chicago had 16,000 marriages a year in their parishes,” he explained. “This past year, that number is closer to 6,000.”
This trend has been noted as a concern by most dioceses in North America. Couples not connected to their faith are more likely to simply live common law or, if they do marry, will marry in another Christian denomination or faith, at a “destination wedding,” or will marry civilly.
Barcaro describes the website as a place where single Catholics can meet other Catholics for “faith focused dating.”
The second presenter, Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. She also hosts a Catholic women’s talk show called The Gist, and is seen on CatholicTV.
Bean began by evaluating the messages that exist in the contemporary dating culture.
“Women sometimes think, ‘Men don’t want to get married. They want something like they see in magazines or on the Internet,’ ” she offered.
“We want to meet someone who is Catholic but not too Catholic,” she said, adding: “These filters set us up for failure.”
Bean painted a picture of marriage as a vocation, a calling from God, and of the young people dating as disciples discerning their calling.
“God has made all of us individually for a mission,” she said. “And God is waiting for us to say ‘yes.’ ”
Bean described marriage as an “icon of God’s love for us” and challenged those listening to be as committed to Christ in their dating as Jesus is to them.
“When you look at a crucifix, you don’t see a guy hanging there who is only a little bit committed to this relationship,” she stated. “He is all in.”
Using language influenced heavily by the writings of St. John Paul II, Bean explained the important trait of self-giving or self-gift, not just in dating but in life.
“(John Paul II said) love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial,” she quoted. “We probably read that in the latest issue of Cosmo, right? No, of course not. This is the antithesis of what our culture is telling us.”
Bean explained that a calling from God can only be heard if we listen by attuning our ears through prayer.
“We can’t have a relationship with someone we don’t talk to,” she reasoned. “And we definitely cannot (have a relationship) with someone we won’t listen to.”
Bean noted that many young people complicate their sense of the voice of God in their life. She shared the story of a young friend who had dreamed all her life of being a mother and then went on a retreat and heard a witness talk about becoming a nun.
“This threw her into a tizzy,” she shared. “She worried that this was a call from God to become a nun.”
“God put desires in your heart because he wants to fulfil them. Those dreams of being a wife and mom were put there by God as a calling, not as a test,” she explained.
Robyn Lee was the final person to speak and approached the topic from the unique perspective of an aspirant of the Postulant of the Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist. She is also the editor of the CatholicMatch blog, Faith, Hope & Love.
Lee described an essay contest she had to judge for CatholicMatch.com. The question applicants had to write on was, “Describe how you have discerned your call to marriage and how joyfully lived out your faith until they met ‘the one.’ ”
Lee shared how this was a question she herself had not answered and that it was the reflection that followed that helped in her discernment.
Some of the young participants were on a mission year and were eager to share their reactions to the talks.
Devon Hardington, 17, from Jacksonville, said: “I liked how they talked about the basis of all relationships comes back to your relationship with yourself and with God.”
Grace Wood, 19, Nashville, added: “It’s at this age that we’re starting to find out who we are and trying to find that answer.
Wood said that one of the things young single Catholics need to do to co-operate with the process is to unplug from technology for part of the day to make quiet space for prayer and reflection.
Matthew Scott, 18, Texas, said, “I like how they said that God’s will is right in front of us, it’s not hidden or difficult, it’s in you.”
“A lot of young people would resist or reject the idea of self-sacrifice in a relationship,” Scott concluded. “They’d say they could just go get some alcohol and have their own way. It’s sad but that’s what a lot of them do.”