Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Marriage Preparation at The Jeweler's Shop

Preparing for Marriage
by George Sim Johnston
Nobody was more concerned about [couples preparing for marriage] than the late Pope John Paul II. As a young priest in Krakow, he set up a family institute and spent hundreds of hours listening to and counseling young couples. One of the fruits of that experience was his 1960 masterpiece about conjugal love, Love and Responsibility, and he repeatedly addressed the theme of love and marriage during his pontificate. . . .

In documents like Familiaris Consortio and Letter to Families, John Paul II offered . . . a Pre-Cana syllabus that actually works. It avoids both rigorism and psychobabble. It communicates the unchanging norms of marriage, but only in answer to a question that bothers all young people: What will make me truly happy? In attempting an answer, the pope started with a line from the Second Vatican Council, which he probably drafted as Cardinal Wojtyla: "Man cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of self." That is the way to real happiness.

Every person is called to a vocation of love. Giving oneself totally to another person responds to a very deep human need. . . .

When teaching Pre-Cana, it helps to put an image in the mind of the audience, something concrete to convey the profound unity of marriage. My favorite is from an avant-garde verse play about marriage published in 1960 by an underground playwright -- yes, Karol Wojtyla. The Jeweler's Shop is about three marriages, one of them on the rocks. One afternoon, the wife Anna is walking down the street and notices a jeweler's shop. She stops, looks at her wedding band and thinks, "I don't need this. I can sell it. My husband won't even notice." She enters the shop and hands it to the Jeweler. The Jeweler puts the ring on his scales, but they register nothing. He looks at her and says,
Your husband must be alive -- in which case neither of your rings, taken separately, will weigh anything -- only both together will register. My jeweler's scales have this peculiarity that they weigh not the metal, but man's entire being and fate.
Ashamed, Anna takes the ring back and leaves the shop to reflect on what she is doing. You can unpack many truths from this little drama. For one, most of us truly are weightless until we answer the vocation to make a full gift of self in marriage. . . .

Marriage only makes sense as a vocation. And a vocation is something you work at. Marriage can make a couple very happy, but it cannot make them effortlessly happy. . . . The question for an engaged couple is: Are you entering your marriage with this same attitude, that you are going to make it work? Emotions alone are not going to do it. Your feelings are going to fluctuate, and at some point, your will -- your ability to make free choices -- steps in and decides the fate of the marriage. . . .

Couples about to marry are embarking on a great adventure. You ought to be aware that, as John Paul II wrote, "the future of humanity passes through the family." In getting married, you are entering a much larger picture. The health of a society depends on the health of its families, and by working to build a fruitful and happy marriage you are doing more good than you can know.

Read the rest, including the "Secrets of a Happy Marriage," here.
This article originally appeared in the May 1998 issue of Crisis Magazine.

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