Friends & Spouses: The Preparation

The great moral force of true love lies precisely in this desire for the happiness, the true good, of another person.

John Paul II

Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

Gaudium et Spes 24:3

In my previous essay, I laid out Aristotle’s conception of perfect friendship and how it can form the backdrop for a healthy marriage. The essay then turned to exhorting fellow men on why they should care about perfecting themselves before marriage to better live out the sacrament. However, my previous essay was negligent in practical tips.


Here I want to focus on cultivating the kind of soul that is capable of self-gift. To reiterate my earlier point, marriage isn’t an institution that “fixes” men. Yes, it can temper them and point their desires in the proper direction, but it’s not a switch where one instantly becomes the best version of self. It can only work on what’s already there. What does this look like for men?

John Paul II writes,

In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God (cf. Eph. 3:15), a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife (cf. Gaudium et spes, 52), by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.

Men bear a unique responsibility in revealing and reliving on earth the fatherhood of God through family life. This is an immense task. First, a man’s leadership lies in ensuring the harmonious and united development of all members of the family. To him is given protection of the home, and this requires broadening one’s horizon towards the long term. How shall I plan for my children’s future? What is best for their growth, both in where the family lives and in where they are educated? He must consider their education in the spiritual and moral life.


Men can lay a good foundation for this in college by beginning to think long term. College is an easy place to hit cruise control: show up for classes year after year, and then maybe figure out work from there. Instead, utilize a mentor or goal group to set a vision for what you want. Art of Manliness has a great article on how to set goals and tie them to a broader vision. For example, working out three times a week because you want to be able to play sports with your kids in your 50s and 60s ties a practical goal to a longer vision of life. Do this with a group, though, because men especially need the fraternity of good male friends to spur them forward.

John Paul says a man will “perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother.” It’s easy for men to go lone wolf, which has contributed to stereotypes about male college households. Guys can let things just “be,” and life goes on. Consider John Paul’s use of the word “exercise” here related to generous responsibility—it is a muscle that isn’t often used but needs to be exercised. Again, start now. Maybe that’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, mentoring a younger student, or taking time to take care of friends and family. All these things turn one’s vision outward, away from oneself.

A man shares with his wife the task of solicitous commitment to their children’s education. Regardless of how they educate their children, men should be involved in their children’s moral and intellectual formation. Thomas More, patron of lawyers, gives an excellent example of this. While constantly traveling between his home and London, he still maintained a steady involvement in the life of his children, writing to them frequently. He knew his children to the point that he could give their tutor specific advice on what each child needed for their own moral education. This was no absent father, and we all should take note. For those reading who are married, perhaps find a time regularly with your children to get to know them. Be interested in what they have to say. For those who are not yet married, you can do the same with your friends and family. Cultivate the practice of listening and taking to heart what advice you receive. This last part will only take root if you pursue a life of prayer.

THE Relationship

John Paul goes on to say that a man will perform this task “by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.” Children are immensely impacted by their father’s prayer life. According to a survey conducted by the Swiss government, if the father doesn’t attend church, no matter how faithful his wife is, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If he does go regularly, however, 75 percent of children will continue. Moreover, consider the promise you made at your marriage to raise your children in the faith. (For many Christians, this may depend on the vows you made with your spouse. Here I address particularly Catholics, but this can apply just as easily to other Christians.) This is a moral obligation for both husband and wife.

Men need to cultivate a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. For my fellow Christians, read the Gospels daily. If you need tips on starting or getting engaged, there are some great podcasts out there. Consider Fr. Mike Schmitz’s famous Bible in a Year podcast. For my fellow Catholic brothers, get to Mass more than once a week. You and I both need the graces. Schedule a day of the week to go, and maybe invite a buddy.

In short, if you want a great marriage, start now. Aristotle’s perfect friendship can only happen if both you and your wife are pursuing the good together, and this can only happen if you’ve begun to live it out yourself. Once more into the breach!

Author: Nicholas Callaghan

A graduate of Benedictine College, Nicholas currently resides in Michigan while pursuing his PhD in Politics. He enjoys reading, cooking, brewing beer, and generally living life well. He writes so that he and others can learn how to fall more passionately in love with this world, to be contemplative souls in a world that has forgotten how to do so.

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