Sunday, December 9, 2007

Beyond the blue orison

A male friend who likes to discuss philosophical questions asked me yesterday if I believe that single people who hope for a spouse should pray for God to make them ready for marriage.

I used to pray for such readiness — and was doing so at the time that I wrote The Thrill of the Chaste, as I mention in that book — but I don't anymore.

Instead, as I told my friend, I believe it's more important simply to pray to become more holy — to ask God for all the graces I need to grow in my walk with Him. Anything that I do to grow in love, humility, wisdom, and understanding (most of all love) will prepare me for marriage.

Conversely, although there's nothing wrong with wanting to be ready for marriage, if I make that my goal in prayer, it becomes all too easy to fall into the self-centeredness that is the greatest cause of unhappiness in the unmarried. (As causes of unhappiness go, it is greater even than loneliness — for loneliness, however it may be thrust upon me by circumstance, can thrive only when I am determined to define myself as deprived of something I deserve.)

The reason for this goes back to C.S. Lewis's argument for putting "first things" over secondary ones:

"[E]very preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world is made that way. ... You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but everyone."

Today I found in this month's Magnificat a quote from the Venerable John Henry Newman that sums it up beautifully (emphasis mine):

"There is another reason why God alone is happiness of our souls, to which I wish to direct attention. The contemplation of him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections. We may indeed love things created with great intenseness, but such affection, when disjoined from the love of the Creator, is like a stream running in a narrow channel, impetuous, vehement, turbid. The heart runs out, as it were, only at one door; it is not an expanding of the whole man. Created natures cannot open us, or elicit the ten thousand senses which belong to us, and through which we really live. None but the presence of our Maker can enter us; for to none besides can the whole heart in all its thought and feelings be unlocked and subjected. 'Behold,' he says, 'I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him,and him with me.' 'God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and your hearts.' 'God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.' It is this feeling of simple and absolute confidence and communion which soothes and satisfies those to whom it is vouchsafed."