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Want everlasting love? Looking for ways to protect and nourish that gift you already have? Karee and Manuel Santos, M.D. share some of the wisdom the joy and suffering and beauty of marriage have taught them in The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime. (Karee is a Catholic writer and speaker and Manuel is a psychiatrist at Mercy Hospital, Rockville Centre, New York, who also reviews annulment cases for the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York.) Karee talks about love and the book in an interview.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What makes you so sure you have the keys to everlasting love? And that there are only four?
Karee Santos: We always say that our book is not a monument to Manny and Karee’s love. Instead, it’s a monument to God’s love. That’s what makes us sure. Human love is powerful, but ultimately only a pale reflection of the ecstasy of divine love. Divine love is what gives our weak human hearts the strength to love forever, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part. We can find the keys to divine love, the keys to the heart of God, in Scripture and the wisdom of the Church. Pope Paul VI was the first pope to describe sacramental marriage as faithful, free, fruitful, and total, what we call the four keys to everlasting love. Nowadays, many marriage preparation programs rely on that elegant structure to convey the truth and beauty of sacramental marriage to couples seeking to get married in the Church.
Lopez: Should wedding days look different to reflect that “Marriage Is a Path to Heaven, Not Heaven on Earth”?
Santos: So many dreams and fantasies get poured into the planning of the perfect wedding. That’s totally understandable. In Jesus’ time, wedding celebrations lasted three whole days. There’s a reason why the bride and groom at the wedding at Cana needed 120 to 180 gallons of wine for the guests. It was a heck of a party. God wants us to experience joy in this life and to embrace the fullness of human love. But he doesn’t want us to idolize human love, because it will fall short. The wedding is not just about the happy couple. It’s about the family and the community members who gather around to witness and pledge their support for the marriage. And, of course, it’s primarily about God, who alone can revive and renew our love when it runs dry. Every couple’s wedding day will look different, but with God at the center every celebration, no matter how large or small, will be filled with beauty and hope for the future.
Lopez: What’s different about a Catholic marriage?
Santos: What a crucial question. You’ve really struck at the heart of the matter. A lot of young Catholics don’t see a difference between a civil marriage and a Catholic marriage, which is why significant numbers are getting married outside the Church. The two types of ceremonies generally look different, of course, since Catholic weddings are usually performed in church by a priest or deacon and include traditional vows, music and Bible readings. But the real difference is on the inside. In a Catholic marriage, the bride and groom confer on each other one of the seven sacraments of the Church – the Sacrament of Matrimony. That sacrament is a promise of grace, grace that we so badly need to get through the hard times. If you’d permit a quote from our book, The Four Keys, the grace of a Catholic marriage empowers a husband and wife “to love to the highest degree, the degree that Christ loved us – to forgive seventy times seven times, to do the humblest chore out of love, and to die to self in order to live and love for others.” The grace of God makes all the difference.
Lopez: Is better marriage prep the ultimate pastoral care for divorce, to reverse trends? Do you see anything out there that works?
Santos: If what you mean by “better marriage prep” is a better pre-Cana program, then our answer is no. Pre-Cana is not a magic bullet. By the time couples have gotten engaged, a lot of their beliefs and habits are already ingrained, and they’re attending the pre-Cana program just to check off a box on their to-do list. True marriage preparation begins in childhood with the parents’ example and witness of healthy married love. So many engaged couples are entering marriage with deep wounds resulting from their parents’ divorces and from numerous hook-ups and break-ups in their own romantic past. Continuing support of newlyweds in the early years of their marriage is vital, but after the wedding they may never darken the doors of a church again. Mentoring couple programs like Witness to Love may bridge this gap by encouraging ongoing personal relationships with older married couples who make themselves available for support and guidance.
Lopez: With so much controversy in the news about the Church and marriage and divorce, how would you focus minds and souls?
Santos: There’s a real temptation to fall into apocalyptic thinking, and to get caught up in trying to mastermind solutions to problems that aren’t ours to solve. It’s very similar to the temptation to obsess about Judgment Day and the end of the world. As famous author and homilist Fr. Benedict Groeschel once said, “Don’t worry about the end of the world. Worry about your own particular end.” Likewise, don’t worry about anybody else’s marriage and family. Worry about your own. If you’re married, build up your marriage and make it a shining example of Christian witness, both in your joys and your sufferings. Whether you’re married or not, reach out in prayer, fellowship, and friendship to other married couples, particularly those in your own family. Listen without judgment. Give good advice but only when you’re asked for it. Offer concrete help. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Remember that the Church has existed for two millennia. The controversies of today are just a blip on the screen of history.
Q: What can a renewal of “Everlasting Love” look like for Valentine’s Week?
A: Everlasting love is a thread that binds past, present, and future. Couples can remember their past by looking at their wedding pictures or videos, re-reading their wedding vows, or re-creating their first date. They can thank God for the here and now by attending Mass together. And they can pray and dream for a better future together, maybe even writing down a few predictions or words of advice and sealing them in an envelope to be opened on Valentine’s Day next year.