I was kneeling in the back of church, I had just gone to confession. Like so many times before, I was worried that I “hadn’t confessed my sins ‘well enough.'”
This was pretty constant for me. Most confessions never felt like confession, I usually came out more anxious than I went in.
I was 24 at the time.
I had struggled with scrupulosity ever since I was 11 . Sometimes it was literally crippling (I remember a time I couldn’t pick a pair of scissors up off a table because I thought it might be a mortal sin). Other times it was less so, but still frustrating and anxiety-inducing.
I was praying for guidance. I was really confused. I was asking God to please show me why I was so afraid of making a bad confession.
I started to feel something in my mind. A sort of pressure. I could tell that it was an emotional memory, but I couldn’t see it clearly.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on the pressure. I pushed on it and tried to make it grow. I started to feel more stressed and anxious, and I knew I was close to uncovering the truth behind the emotional barrier.
All of a sudden a clear memory jumped into my mind.
I was 10 years old, sitting on my bed. I was crying.
My mom was sitting on the bed with me.
“I didn’t mean to, mom,” I said, “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”
My mom answered, “I know that John, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
That was it.
In that moment, I understood. I saw the truth.
A major part of my scrupulosity, still haunting me 14 years later, was directly tied to this moment.
My mother was well-intentioned (ironic, considering her words), but she has no idea what her words would do to me.
I was always getting in trouble as a boy. I was headstrong and didn’t listen, and I never wanted to do anything I was told to do.
At the same time, I also didn’t really have a good sense of what was appropriate or inappropriate. I would do all sorts of things without thinking about it, only to discover I was hurting someone’s feelings or breaking a rule.
In these moments, my words were usually the same. “I didn’t mean to.” It was true, I didn’t.
My mom didn’t accept that as an excuse. I still needed to “learn my lesson.”
But I didn’t learn the lesson I was supposed to. Instead I learned that it doesn’t matter what our intentions are, we’re judged only by what we do.
I learned my heart didn’t matter. Only my actions did.
As I grew up and started taking my faith more seriously, this view transferred from my parents to God.
God was now the one who said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
God was now the one who demanded perfect actions, not a good heart. This was why, whenever I went to confession, I couldn’t believe that God forgave me. I kept sinning right? I kept doing the wrong thing.
If I was really sorry, I would have stopped this behavior a long time ago. God didn’t trust me anymore. My actions spoke louder than my words.
My “sorry” was empty.
God is Our Father
“God never tires of forgiving us, we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy.” – Pope Francis
It took me many years to begin to understand the depth of God’s love and what His Mercy truly means.
The thing that finally opened my eyes was having my own son. One day I was praying in a chapel, and I was reflecting on my own fatherhood.
I was thinking about the fact that my son could never do anything to make me stop loving him. Even when I lost my temper or he was doing something he shouldn’t be, even the slightest look of contrition on his face and my heart would melt.
As I reflected on this, I heard God say to me, “as you look at Sebastian, so I look at you.”
In that moment I had a flash of understanding. It didn’t happen on a conscious level, but I felt deep in my soul that God loved me in a way I would never understand.
My own love for my son is a guiding light for me. God loves me as His because I am His son. He is my Father. Our own human parents fail us. I am currently failing my own son right now.
But God never does. God is not human, he is not like our human parents, he doesn’t have a temper. His love has no conditions.
The truth is simple. Your “sorry” is enough.
At one look of contrition from you, God’s Fatherly heart melts. It is literally true that you cannot make God turn His back on you. You are not capable of doing that. God’s forgiveness is beyond our human comprehension. You hear this a lot, so you probably stopped thinking about it, but it’s true.
This matters because our human comprehension is the thing that keeps us wondering, “will God forgive me.” We can’t conceive of such an unlimited mercy because our own human hearts are so bad at forgiveness and mercy.
God is not restricted by our shallow understanding. Your heart matters. Your “sorry” is enough. All God asks is for your effort.
So you want to get married and have children? Good for you! As a woman, you have identified one of the most meaningful goals life has to offer.
The difficult thing about reaching this goal is that you cannot force it to happen. Gone are the days of arranged marriages. It doesn’t really matter how many goats your father has for your dowry, you live in the 21st century and you have to wait patiently for Mr. Right to show up in your life.
The scariest part is wondering whether he ever will.
Why would God make us “sit around and wait” for something that is so good?
Jesus often questioned the faith of those he encountered in the Gospel. Today, he asks you and me, “Where is your faith?” When life is going according to plan, it is easy to tell Jesus we trust in him. The test comes when we are distressed, suffering, or confused.
God is good and he has a plan for your life, however ordinary and unexciting it may sometimes appear. Don’t doubt God’s goodness! Do keep in mind, however, that you have an enemy who wants you to doubt God, just as Eve doubted in the garden of Eden. If Satan can’t get you to be a worldly woman who only cares about herself, he will try the next best thing. He will tempt you to doubt that God will meet the deepest desires of your heart. Remember, this exciting, crazy, terrifying, beautiful life is a testing ground. Will you trust?
We prove we trust God by cooperating with him. There is no “sitting around” involved. An unmarried woman demonstrates her faith in Christ by preparing herself for the gift she believes God will send. This doesn’t mean buying a wedding dress after you have been dating for two weeks!
It does mean that you should use the time God has given you as an unmarried single to become the person God is calling you to be right now—a person who is more equipped to live the vocation God has in store for you in the future.
How do you make the best use of your time now?
The number one way you prepare yourself for the call God has on your life is by becoming who you are called by God to be today. To face each day with the desire to do God’s will above your own.
It is a no-brainer, but let’s face it, sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do, because they are so ordinary, even mundane. Grow in holiness!
Remember, you cannot give what you don’t have. Whether that means being a single person, a religious sister, or a wife and mom, you have been tapped by God to help others get to heaven. Start now to get yourself in spiritual shape for this sobering and awesome responsibility. Pray. Read the Scriptures. Make use of the sacraments. Follow the commandments. Be informed. Practice virtue. Root out sin.
A note on the most important virtue of all…love. (see Colossians 3:14). Learn to love by being a loving person. St. Francis de Sales says,
“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.”
You won’t be a good lover in the future if you don’t love those God has placed in your life today.
Reflect on who you are.
Spend time reflecting on what it means to be a woman, the dignity of your sexuality, and your own psychological health.
Expose yourself to the wisdom of the Church in documents such as Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) and the lived experience of holy women throughout history. Where to start? Try My Sisters the Saints—it is a compelling personal testimony of Colleen Carol Campbell. She introduces her readers to several inspirational female saints who helped her on her journey throughout her single life and married life.
Realize we have all been brainwashed to some degree by our God-less culture that does not understand the meaning and purpose of the body, not to mention the act of sex. If you have never been exposed to it, the teaching of the Theology of the Body, given to us by St. Pope John Paul II in the 1980s, is rational, compassionate, scientific, and true.
There are many Catholic resources based on this teaching. You could start with Theology of the Body for Beginners: Revised Edition. Dive into the sanity, common sense, and jaw-dropping insight of the Theology of the Body!
Strive to become a healthy person. Let Jesus, the great and glorious physician, heal you of the emotional or spiritual wounds you might have. If you need to forgive someone in your life, do it now. No one is perfectly whole, but we can all work, little by little, at being as whole as we can be.
Become proficient in the practical duties of life.
(Again, this is what you are called to no matter what your vocation!):
Be fiscally responsible. Learn to spend money wisely, to tithe, and to budget. Financial prudence, so often overlooked by the young, can give you and your future husband the freedom to do what you think is best for your family in the future.
Learn the life skills you need to know to be a good homemaker. Learn to cook (which not only saves money, but allows you to make healthier food), to make a cozy living space in which friends and relatives love to relax and talk, to improve your methods of organization, and to nurture interests, such as gardening or computer-hacking. (You never know when it might come in handy!)
Along the same lines, a single woman should spend some time identifying and using her gifts and talents, especially through doing volunteer work. Focus on giving of yourself to others.
Teach yourself! Read (good) books of various sorts. If you have not had a classical education, consider reading some philosophy, theology, and classical literature. If you are lacking in more practical skills, learn how to change a tire, use a drill, and paint. Believe me, it is hard to learn these kinds of skills when you are nursing a baby, making dinner for a large family, or bathing a toddler! Becoming a well-rounded person means you are becoming a more interesting person. Who doesn’t want to become more interesting? Form good habits of exercise and eating healthfully!
Pray and examine your heart.
When it comes to your vocation, examine your heart and your motives, then talk to God honestly about what your heart yearns for. Don’t be afraid to ask him for what you want. It isn’t as though you are demanding something in the style of Veruca Salt. (Daddy…I want another pony.) No, when we approach God as a loving Father, he is pleased.
Don’t drag this issue to God every time you go to pray, but stay in dialogue with him about it. Let him know how you are struggling and how you are feeling. Then end with, “Thy will be done.” Ask God to give you the grace to accept anything he deems good to give— or not give— you.
And don’t feel like you always need to feel happy about the fact that you have unfulfilled desires. Find a healthy balance of asking, believing, and accepting. Married or unmarried, this issue of unfulfilled desires and grappling with God is a life-long one.
Also, as you pray about your vocation, ask God to help you to put aside preconceived notions about who might be a good spouse for you. True compatibility is key, but we need to be careful we don’t miss a potential husband because we aren’t immediately attracted to him.
Some final thoughts
Jackie Angel, in Pray, Decide, and Don’t Worry, shares a healthy perspective on living a single life to the full, while still desiring marriage, “I did not know if my call to marriage would come at age twenty-eight, or at fifty. But I knew I would rather be single and joyful in God than be miserable in a marriage I called myself to. So I waited day by day, doing the will of God and allowing him to satisfy me, heal me, comfort me. And I want every person to know it is possible to be ‘in the waiting’ while also being fully joyful and alive in the present…”
Finally, take heart. The more virtuous and healthy a person is, the more readily they can enter the marriage state when they find a suitable marriage partner. Marriage can sometimes happen fairly quickly between two people who, like good athletes or understudies in a play, are ready to enter a game or take on a role for which they have been preparing.
A time of waiting should be a time of living, fully, in the present moment. It can be a time of personal growth and a time of preparation, though it can be a troubling time as well. Cooperating daily with God, especially when you feel alone, unlovable, and confused, has a unique power to make you a stronger, holier person. It is the kind of growth that never takes place if you just sit around waiting for your life to start.
And your faithfulness says to God:
“I trust you. I know I can count on you to make me happy and fulfilled in your way and in your good time.”
With the prevalence of divorce in the world today, many young people ask themselves: ‘Why should I get married young?’ Their concern often hinges on the assumption that the younger you get married, the greater the chance your marriage flops. But where is the logic in that?
Divorces do not happen because of the age at which people get married. Real reasons people choose civil divorce include peoples’ unwillingness to grow with their spouse, not knowing their spouse well before marriage, or their spouses lied to them before they were married (like carrying on an affair or never really intending to have children; often grounds for annulment).
This post will explore the decision to marry young and answer questions like:
How young is too young to get married?
Should I get married in college? (Should I even be in college??)
How long should somebody date before getting married?
If you are discerning marriage with your significant other or looking for a Catholic argument for marrying young, you’ve come to the right place!
How Young is Too Young?
The Catholic Church declares that a “man before he has completed his sixteenth year of age and a woman before she has completed her fourteenth year of age cannot enter into a valid marriage.”  The average age of (first) marriage in the US in 2019 was 28 for women and 30 for men. 
So what’s with the huge gap?
It’s all a matter of priorities.
If a woman wants a high-profile career and to avoid having children, what is her incentive to get married?
In our corrupted society in which sleeping around and cohabitation before marriage are widely normalized, marriage is put on the backburner—even for Catholics who deny the hook-up culture. (The “average age of first marriage for Catholics is 24.” )
(Though 14-year-old girls and 16-year-old boys are still in high school in westernized culture, in other cultures [and historically in the west], by this age men have begun to learn a trade. I’m not saying that people who are genuinely too immature to marry should do so. I am saying that there is a possibility that two individuals could be ready to marry that young.)
That is the key to knowing whether or not to marry: are both parties ready? The Church and American law have clear rules for issues pertaining to blood-relations (no-go in either case), homosexual unions (the Catholic Church declares rightly that this is disordered), and marrying after civil divorce (a marriage must receive an official annulment before somebody can marry another person validly [which means marriage for the first time, since annulment means the ‘first marriage’ was never valid in the first place]).
The moral law is simple and clear, the tricky part is discerning if you want to spend the rest of your life with another person. After the age set by the Catholic Church for moral and physical reasons, age does not really matter in the decision to marry.
The timeline set by our present secular society—college, then career, then marriage after 27 years old (possibly having children)—has too easily bought out Christian young people. The university system has convinced the country that the only way to earn a livable income is through earning a college degree (something that has not been and will never be true).
One of the first lies society flaunts is that marrying while in college is too young and a terrible idea…
In the often-toxic college culture filled with drunkenness, hook-ups, and sexual assault, dating can feel like a dangerous game. Obviously, it is a really bad idea to get married to somebody immediately after a one night stand (also a tremendously bad idea). Most of the time, shotgun marriages do not end up well and they are invalid according to the Church’s standards.
On to a more realistic scenario…if you’ve found a virtuous guy or gal, way to go! It is still tempting (and often encouraged) to only consider marriage once both parties have graduated from college.
Whether it’s a matter of paying for the wedding, parents not trusting that their son or daughter will finish school, or a sense of ‘what people are supposed to do,’ many young adults are pushed to obtain their (often worthless) degree before entering a marital union.
This is an absurd perversion of priorities! Consider how many young people are presently feeling a sense of dread and discouragement about what they are meant to do with their life. Even people who know what they want to do—graduate from college, and get that big engineering job— start to wonder what their piles of money mean without a companion share it with!
Why did our grandparents and relatives before them marry young and not go to college? They had their priorities straight!
In 1960, about 8% of men and women 25 or older had completed a Bachelor’s degree or higher . “In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are” —that is an incredible decline.
The majority of adults as recent as the 1960s did not go to college and were married. The idea that one needs a college degree in order to financially provide for a family or even to pay for a wedding is ridiculous and should be heavily scrutinized by discerning couples.
For one thing,
Weddings are way too expensive nowadays. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in the US is $35,329…yikes!  That is a sizable chunk of change that would be better utilized on a new car, house down-payment, or starting an investment account (basically, anything else).
Don’t use the cost of the wedding as an excuse not to vow your lifelong commitment to the love of your life. Find discounts, ask family for help, or get free/used things!
Carl and Ellie married young! According to Disney, Ellie was 19 when they were wed.
My husband and I splurged on a couple of nice things for our wedding because of the type of party we wanted to throw. The total cost of our wedding was not even close to a third of the American average! Weddings are about the Sacrament of Matrimony, not the after-party. Young couples need to focus more on their call to marriage as a vocation and less about their schooling and the cost of wedding planning.
Our culture pushes off marriage to prioritize a career. First comes love? Not anymore!
First comes college, then comes marriage, then comes setting up a 401(k) and financial security before I can even ethically think about having one child.
Long story short: if you are going to college and absolutely need a degree to be hired in the field you feel called to, go for it. In that case, if you are in a relationship with somebody you would like very much to marry (and are compatible—spiritually, mentally, and have physical chemistry), don’t just push marriage off until post-graduation!
There is grace in the Sacrament of Marriage. A good spouse will not hamper your ability to ‘be yourself’ or get straight As, they will encourage you and help you de-stress! Also, the cost of college is cut tremendously when your spouse makes little to no money.
Marrying during college helps you succeed and saves you from taking out thousands of dollars in loans based on your parent’s income.
If you are getting a pointless degree (you know who you are), stop going to college. In the 60s, they didn’t have information readily accessible at their fingertips to teach themselves (like we do now!) andthey chose to pursue their vocation before their career.
As an English major from Texas A&M University, I can honestly say that earning my degree was the most expensive dating service out there. I met and married my husband, read some publicly accessible books, research studies, and essays, and spent thousands and thousands of dollars.
Want to be more educated without wasting so much time on essays and studying for tests? Lookup class syllabi and read the materials yourself! Nobody is stopping you. You could probably even contact field professionals if you wanted to learn more about a topic and they would be glad to guide you to more resources.
Heck, you could contact that same professor and ask them to send you their lecture notes for $350. That would still be cheaper than paying the university middle-man.
How Long Should I Date Somebody Before Marrying Them?
If you are not in a position to get married within about 2 years of beginning to date someone, don’t start dating.
When you become emotionally and spiritually interdependent with another person, it is incredibly difficult to break off that bond.
When dating somebody, you must take the time to get to know them and learn if you enjoy spending time with them (in stressful times and happy times). This should not take 15 years to do. Here’s a secret: let God into your relationship, and He will help you decide if it is going somewhere or not.
After a couple of years, there is a good chance that romantic partners will be more and more willing and nonchalant about fooling around (‘well at least we are dedicated?’ No. 👎). You will also begin to rely on that person (and even their family) emotionally.
Once bonded for so many years, you might get to the point where you think ‘I need to break up with this person.’ And then you realize ‘It will break me to break up with this person!’
Humans are designed to bond with others. The longer your lives are entwined, the more devoted you are to that person. Without the surety of marriage vows, however, a break up is a phone call away. Trust me on this one.
Don’t waste your precious (and more marketable!) time on somebody with a bunch (or any) of red flags. Don’t wait for years and years for somebody with bad qualities to change for you. You’ll only end up getting hurt! If somebody is not on track to be a better person (they don’t have any inkling that what they are doing is bad, for example), they’re not worth your time.
Instead of wasting time on a toxic relationship, you could be single and spending time with your family and friends, or finding and dating the person you are meant to spend the rest of your life with!
We know God’s will by what is in front of us. There is not just one ‘soul mate’ dedicated to you by God. You must prayerfully consider with God if a person is the right man or woman for you. For most people, there is no set amount of dating time (1 year or 12 years) that after completing the idea of being dedicated to that person for 60 years feels 100% secure and comfortable.
Mixed with your own conversation with God, find a spiritual director who can help you hash out this potential spouse’s good things and bad things and let you know of any red flags they perceive.
Remember that it is not about the people you are at this moment. The person you marry will change for the better or the worse over your marriage.
Discerning marriage is simply a matter of making sure that person is somebody you can make a vow to be faithful to, that they will do the same, and that you are compatible.
‘Until death do you part’ is a big commitment. The younger you are, the higher the chances that you have not figured out what career you wish to have, where you want to live, or established your living habits/preferences.
This is actually a great benefit to marrying young! The less ingrained your partner is in their habits, the easier it will be to meld your way of life to one another when you are wed.
For example, imagine a Catholic woman who is 32 and has always (in her adult life) watched TV while going to sleep. This is perhaps something that did not come up during marriage prep and they did not cohabitate before marriage (👍), so she did not know that her new husband must not hear any sound while he is sleeping.
This could be a difficult situation to compromise and would be made much less difficult had she not been in the habit of falling asleep with the TV on all those years. Imagine all of the other little rituals that people establish and that newly married couple has a whole lot to argue about for the rest of their life.
The flip side of this is that the younger somebody is, the less experience and maturity they have. You will not be the same person when you are 20 as when you are 35. BUT, just because you are not wizened and war-hardened at 18, does not mean you should not get married at that age!
One of the greatest gifts of marrying young is dedicating yourself to another person with whom you will grow in holiness.
There are qualities that matter more than current habits. Just because a man you meet is not attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every day, it does not mean that he is not able to be disciplined in his faith.
Look to the current actions and words of a potential partner to gauge whether they are somebody who could (in maturing in the faith, by God’s help) become a more holy individual. Ask yourself, is that potential partner on track to be faithful, or more humble, or to work hard, etc?
It is crucial that you think about whether that person is willing to grow in his/her faith because there is no such thing as a Catholic divorce. There are annulments which means that the marriage never occurred due to invalid circumstances, but there is no separation outside of death.  For somebody who has only been coherent on this earth for about 15 years, the rest of your life is a really long time.
The love story at the beginning of Up is beautifully crafted. Their consistent fortitude and love throughout life’s struggles are inspiring.
Make sure that the person you want to commit yourself to for the rest of your life does not have any expectation that there is an ‘out’ for the marriage. It is incredibly important not to assume that they agree with you on this—always ask!
A final expectation to consider:
Be on the same page about your roles as a husband and wife.
Ladies, find a man who understands that his dedication is first and foremost to God, then to his family. Careers are fleeting, but faith transcends time. Part of the formula for a strong Catholic marriage is a man who pursues God and encourages his family to delve into their faith. Neither party should make excuses for this item. It is huge.
Men, find a woman who you feel called to care for. Somebody who is a good companion and encourages you in your good deeds. A lady who has passions and hobbies and is willing to be the Church to your Christ!
In both cases, a potential partner will not be perfect! 🎶Nobody’s Perfect 🎶(including Miley Cyrus). People make mistakes and have sins that they struggle with. Just make sure that they are fighting to choose good and discerning enough to tell the difference.
Life is filled with solving issues and repenting of sins.
A spouse will be there for the rest of your life to assist you in doing so.
Parents and Young Marriage
Parents are a good resource in gauging who you should marry, but their advice should always be taken in context. Some questions to consider:
—Are my parents pointing out red flags? What are these flags and are they actually a problem?
—Are my parents reliable and trustworthy people? Do they understand the Catholic teaching on marriage and the family?
—Are my parents just worried about superficial things (i.e. finishing college before marriage, starting a career, ‘you’re too young’, how somebody dresses, getting pregnant in your 20s)?
Many parents push their children to achieve greater things than them. Some parents even try to live vicariously through their kids. It is very important to listen to your parents’ advice about a potential spouse, but theirs should not be the only counsel you seek! As stated previously, find a trusted spiritual director to bring up all your parents’ questions and concerns about marriage and marrying young.
In the end, however, it is not any of these other people who will be marrying your potential spouse! You must trust yourself and God in making this decision, and then do it!
It is a yes or no situation. Do I want to marry this person? Can we marry (legally)? Should we marry (morally)? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with him/her?
[ ] If yes, propose! Plan a wedding!
[ ] If no, seriously consider breaking off the relationship entirely.
If you don’t make Christ the center of your relationship, none of this will work!
Break up with your significant other if you would never want to marry them. Get back on the market.
Or…Propose to the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life!
Not sure what decision to make? Check out Father Mike Schmitz’s video on Ascension Presents called: 4 Helpful Rules for Discernment. Make a decision based on God’s will:
Is this a lawful decision? (God has not already spoken out against it—sorry, no marrying your sister.)
Is this an open decision? (The “door” has not already been denied and you could actually walk through it.)
Is this a wise decision? (Think about the present. Will this marriage help me live the life and be the person God wants me to be?)
Is this a decision that I want? (Free will! Do I want to be with this person for the rest of my life?)
Did you know you could watch this episode on Youtube?
Grace Brown, convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, military wife, and jazz singer is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s in English, minor in Performance Studies. She has written and researched extensively how Catholic theology relates to works written by authors such as Charlotte Brontë, Aphra Behn, and Mary Shelley, culminating in her Senior Research Thesis entitled “On Miltonic Hierarchy in the Paradisal Marriage of Adam and Eve.” Today, she is a full-time writer and supportive wife to her Marine Corps husband, currently stationed in Virginia. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
Love and Responsibility —Karol Wojtyła (more commonly known as Saint Pope John Paul II)