Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 27 May in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Continuing these catecheses on the family, today I would like to speak about the [time of] engagement. Engagement — we hear it in the word – it has to do with trust, confidence, reliability — confidence in the vocation that God gives, because marriage is first of all the discovery of a call from God. It is certainly a good thing that today young people can choose to marry on the basis of mutual love. However, the freedom of the bond in fact requires a harmonious awareness of the decision, not only a simple understanding of the attraction or of the sentiment, of a moment, of a brief time … it requires a course.
In other terms, the engagement is the time in which the two are called to work hard on love, a participated and shared work that goes in depth. As they discover one another, that is, man “gets to know” woman by getting to know this woman, his fiancée; and the woman “gets to know” man by getting to know this man, her fiancé. We must not underestimate the importance of this knowledge: it is a fine obligation, and love itself requires it, because it is not only a light-hearted happiness, an enchanted emotion … The biblical account speaks of the entire creation as the fine work of the love of God; the Book of Genesis says that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Only at the end did God “rest”. From this image we understand that the love of God, which gave origin to the world, was not an extemporaneous decision. No! It was fine work. The love of God created the conditions of an irrevocable, solid alliance destined to last.
The covenant of love between man and woman, a covenant for life, is not improvised; it is not made from one day to another. There is no express marriage: one must work on love, one must journey. The alliance of love of man and woman is learned and refined. I allow myself to say that it is a crafted alliance. To make two lives only one life, is also almost a miracle, a miracle of freedom and of the heart, entrusted to faith. Perhaps we must make more of an effort on this point, because our “sentimental coordinates” have become somewhat confused. One who pretends to want everything immediately, then yields also on everything – and right away — at the first difficulty — (or on the first occasion). There is no hope for the trust and the fidelity of the gift of self, if the habit prevails to consume love as a sort of “integrator” of psychic-physical wellbeing. This is not love! The engagement puts in focus the will to protect together something that must never be purchased or sold, betrayed or abandoned, no matter how tempting the offer might be. However God also, when he speaks of the alliance with his people, does so at times in terms of engagement. In the Book of Jeremiah, speaking of the people that had distanced themselves from him, he reminds them when they were the “bride” of God and says thus: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride” (2:2). And God undertook this journey of engagement; then he also made a promise: we heard it at the beginning of the audience, in the Book of Hosea: “I will make you my bride for ever, I will make you my bride in justice and in law, in love and in benevolence. I will make you my bride in fidelity and you will know the Lord” (2:21-22). Long is the way that the Lord travels with his people in this course of engagement. In the end God marries his people in Jesus Christ: he marries the Church in Jesus. The People of God is the bride of Jesus. But what a long way! And you, Italians, in your literature have a masterpiece on engagement [I Promessi Sposi]. It is necessary that young people should know it, that they should read it. It is a masterpiece, which tells the story of an engaged couple that suffered so much pain; they travelled a path full of difficulties until they arrived in the end at marriage. Do not leave aside this masterpiece on engagement that Italian literature has in fact offered you. Go ahead, read it and you will see the beauty, the suffering, but also the fidelity of the engaged couple.
In her wisdom, the Church keeps the distinction between being engaged and being married – it is not the same – precisely in view of the delicacy and depth of this verification. Let’s be careful not to scorn light-heartedly this wise teaching, which is nourished also by the experience of conjugal love happily lived. The strong symbols of the body hold the keys of the soul: we cannot treat the bonds of the flesh with heedlessness, without opening some lasting wound in the spirit (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
Certainly today’s culture and society have become rather indifferent to the delicacy and the seriousness of this passage. And on the other hand, it cannot be said that they are generous with young people that are seriously intending to start a home and bring children into the world! Rather, they often put a thousand obstacles, mental and practical. The engagement is a course of life that must mature as fruit, it is a path of maturation in love, until the moment it becomes marriage.
The pre-marital courses are a special expression of the preparation. And we see so many couples, that perhaps arrive at the course somewhat against their will, “But these priests makes us do a course! But why? We know!” – and they attend against their will. But afterwards they are happy and thank us, because in fact they found there the occasion – often the only one! – to reflect on their experience in terms that aren’t trivial. Yes, many couples are together for a long time, perhaps also in intimacy, sometimes living together, but they don’t really know one another. It seems strange, but experience shows that it is so. Because of this, the engagement is re-evaluated as a time of getting to know one another and of a sharing a plan. The course of preparation for marriage is marked in this perspective, also making use of the simple but intense testimony of Christian spouses. And pointing here also on the essential: the Bible, to be rediscovered together, in a conscious way; prayer, in its liturgical dimension, but also in “domestic prayer,” to be lived in the family, the Sacraments, the sacramental life, Confession, … in which the Lord comes to dwell with the engaged couple and prepares them to truly receive one another “with the grace of Christ”; and fraternity with the poor, with the needy, who stir us to sobriety and sharing. Engaged couples that work on this grow and all this leads to preparing a lovely celebration of Marriage in a different way, not in a worldly but in a Christian way! We think of these words of God that we heard when he spoke to his people as the fiancé to his fiancée: “I will make you my bride for ever, I will make you my bride in justice and in law, in love and in benevolence. I will make you my bride in fidelity and you will know the Lord” (Hosea 2:21-22). May every engaged couple think of this and say to one another: “I will make you my bride, I will make you my husband.” To wait for that moment; it is a moment, it is a course that goes slowly ahead, but it is a course of maturation. The stages of the course must not be burnt. Maturation is done like this, step by step.
The time of engagement can truly become a time of initiation, to what? To surprise! — to the surprise of spiritual gifts with which the Lord, through the Church, enriches the horizon of the new family that prepares to live in his blessing. Now I invite you to pray to the Holy Family of Nazareth: Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Pray that the family will undertake this course of preparation; pray for engaged couples … that they may understand the beauty of this course to Marriage … And to the engaged couples that are in the Square: “Have a good course of engagement!”