We call it ‘engagement’ for a reason
By Marge Fenelon
Father Carlos was a dear family friend and spiritual director for both Mark and me before and also after we were married. German-born, but having been stationed in Argentina for fourteen years, Father Carlos had an amazing German-Latino accent, and a way of asking trick questions that was oftentimes frustrating, yet still endearing. Besides Father Carlos, I’ve never met anyone who could so consistently and effectively answer a question with a question. That, too, was frustrating at times, especially when I wanted a quick answer to a big problem. But his technique had a method behind its madness; somehow, you always ended up answering your own question and learning even more that way.
Several months after our wedding, Mark and I went to visit Father Carlos for what quickly became more than a courtesy visit. When he started asking pointed questions, we knew he was aiming at something.
“So,” he began. “Now the wedding is over and you are man and wife.”
“Yes, Father,” we responded, nodding our heads enthusiastically and curious to know what he was up to.
“So, you are a married couple?” he asked.
“Yes, Father,” we responded even more curiously, still nodding.
“Well, then. That’s the end of it, right? You’re married now,” he prodded.
“Uh, guess so,” we offered, not knowing what else to say.
“So, now that you’re married, you’re not engaged anymore, right?” he asked, point blank.
Ah, now we thought we were getting it. Father was trying to move us on to the next phase of our relationship. “Yes, Father!” we answered with vigor.
“Wrong,” he said sternly.
“Wrong?” we asked, confused. The smiling and nodding came to an abrupt halt.
“Wrong. You are still engaged,” he insisted.
That left us in complete bewilderment, so Father Carlos explained it to us.
When we marry, we don’t suddenly become un-engaged once the vows have been spoken. We remain engaged for the rest of our lives. During engagement, we become enchanted with each other, fall in love, and try to discover more and more about the other. Every day is a new adventure, and with each adventure we become more amazed by the gifts God has given us in our fiancés. The more we learn, the more we want to know, and the more we know, the more we want to learn. Sometimes we learn things that are less pleasing than others, but because we’re so in love, we commit ourselves to working with those less-pleasing things in order to form a solid marriage. When we’re engaged, we seek to “woo” the other again and again, doing all those little things that will make our intended feel special, cherished, ours, and to rekindle the flame of romance.
That shouldn’t stop just because the groom slips a wedding ring next to the engagement ring on the bride’s finger. Instead, the engaged part of us should impel our desire to continue getting to know more and more about the other. No one can know everything about another person, even if given a lifetime! People change, circumstances change, experiences change. We are always growing and changing, and unless we remain engaged, we won’t keep up with the changes in our spouses.
Additionally, we need to woo each other again and again. Without engagement, we’re in danger of losing the romance. All relationships, even marriages, and sometimes especially marriages, go through cycles. We vacillate between closeness and distance, and that’s normal. As an engaged couple, we want to use that closeness to discover yet another facet of this person who we most cherish. So, too, we want to use the distance to discover more and gently woo him/her back to us. In the process, we discover even more about ourselves, so that we can consciously recommit as a spouse to our beloved and forge an ever deepening relationship together.
Father Carlos’ seemingly odd question held a great deal of wisdom for us, and we’ve recalled it again and again throughout the years as Mark and I have continued to woo and discover one another. The wooing hasn’t always gone smoothly, and the discovering occasionally uncovers something tough to accept. Sometimes, we become worn out and it’s hard to fuel the romantic flame. Nonetheless, we keep at it, because the delights far outweigh the disappointments. Oh, yes, we are definitely married. But we also are engaged, forever engaged.
Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker. Her books include Strengthening Your Family: A Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home (Our Sunday Visitor), When’s God Gonna Show Up? and When’s God Gonna Call Me Back? (Liguori). You’ll find her books, website and blog at MargeFenelon.com.