Okay, so here's a departure from the normal intellectual blogging, because it's something I came up with, not related to class. Rather, this is what happened when I decided to pray in the Adoration Chapel on campus, and read up through this book we have on vocations. All about discerning the vocation which God has chosen for us. It also took special pains to examine just how marriage is a vocation like the celibate callings. That's when God did some mental nudging and prodding, and I kinda realized something.
The pattern of vocation discernment is by far the most reliable method to apply to dating, or whatever you call relationships.
I've definitely heard a good share from one person or another about just what a relationship should or shouldn't be. Practice for having a spouse? A way to get to know somebody well? Something you do after falling in love? Each of these seems to have their advantages and disadvantages, although I don't see them all as being equally advantageous/disadvantageous, obviously. At this point, though, I hadn't really seen an incredibly clear reason for picking one method. To be sure, I favored some over others; the concept of "courtship", for example. But it didn't feel like I had many strong God-based supports for any specific type of relationship.
I mean, I've definitely held the belief that a relationship ought to be geared towards preparing one for the possibility of marriage. I've thought that it should hold some sort of gravity. And I've thought that it should be preceded by the formation of a friendship. (The whole friendship thing, covered elsewhere and previously, by the way) See, though, I didn't have a whole lot to go on. The concept of "true love" can sometimes be very dangerously sentimental, without any real basis for the love.
So, then, here's what sort of gently popped up in my heart as I was reading. "Discernment should be the point of a relationship." And it struck me as a very logical thing. The priesthood has the seminary, where young men go to study, to learn what it's like to be a priest, and then can freely make the choice to commit to the priesthood. Monasteries, convents, and non-cloistered religious communities all involve a period of novitiate, followed by a stronger commitment, climaxing in full profession of vows to live in the community for life. For a smaller-scale one, a household at Franciscan University has an intentship period, where a student expresses a desire to enter a household, followed by closer and closer commitment to the household, until finally you're a full-fledged member.
So, I thought, why couldn't it be the same for marriage? Two people distinguish within themselves the strong possibility that God wills them to be married. They start dating, with an attitude of discerning this through prayer, and seeing where God is leading. If they believe it still exists, they become engaged, which represents a stronger commitment to the vocation which they believe they are called to. They continue to discern and grow closer, and finally are able to commit for life.
Honestly, I see a lot of good things about this, especially the fact that it works harmoniously with the human person. When was the last time you saw somebody in heartbreak and agony when they discerned that a vocation to the priesthood was not their calling? Yet at the same time, the vast majority of relationships end in messy, painful breakups. What if you had a relationship end with the understanding that God's will was being followed, which is a good thing, and a healthy thing, to know? It also keeps the relationship within a healthy framework, because the centermost question is "What does God will for us?" and "Does this truly help us grow in love?" (Because, as JPII has said, the most important aspect of a vocation is that it arises out of love.)
Anyhow, I thought that was an interesting thought. Still continuing to grow and learn, but I think this is a significant step.