Thanks to Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean, there has been a lot of discussion around the country in the past week regarding the issue of the sacrament of Marriage.

I also had the honor of attending a wedding yesterday, and got to enjoy all of the joy and happiness that surrounds those blissful occasions.

I’m going to keep the marriage topic going for one more day here. Only this time it’s not going to be the issue of ‘who’ or ‘what’ should or should not be allowed to marry.

Rather, I’m going to dip in to my own personal experience and education bag of tricks to offer some advice to married couples, and to those who are contemplating getting married.

I think that I can speak on this topic as well as most anyone on earth. I’ve been married twice in my lifetime, raised children, and gone through almost every type of struggle that most normal married persons go through, including any number that I myself created along the way. I’ve bought and remodeled two homes. I’ve bought three cars, a handful of barbecue grills, and a golden retriever.

I’ve gone from being a ‘cafeteria’ Catholic to a solid, church-going, sacrament receiving, money-happily-donated defender of the faith. My point is that, like many of you, I come from a decades-long background and experience base that gives me a strong perspective of what it takes to make a marriage work.

I didn’t come upon my own particular ideas easily or quickly, nor without causing myself and my family in both marriages a number of difficult moments. But what I have learned is that marriage can be broken down to the dedication of ones self to a pair of very simple words: love and priority. Let’s deal with the easy one first.

Some people would think that the idea of ‘love’ is the more difficult, but I say that is not true. To me, love is the beginning and the bedrock of any marriage relationship. But we also need to remember what love is and is not. Love is not that romantic feeling that you get when you first meet someone and feel that ‘connection’ or attraction.

Many people get those early months and even first couple of years of a relationship when the sexual attraction and energy are strong, when the bonds of intimacy towards one another are first being formed, confused with actual true love. True love is something that grows over time. It may actually come in those early months for some. For others it may grow over a period of years.

One thing that is certain is that you need to have a certain level of personal experience and maturity in order to understand that true love comes not only with an attraction to, but also with a respect and a deep caring for your partner. Once you obtain that level of understanding, then the knowledge of your love for another is revealed to you in your heart.

It is a fact of your life, the very fibre of your inner being that you cannot deny. When you love someone, you see the world through their eyes, you feel their pain and their joy, you would give your life for them. You never have to ask the question, there is none to be asked. It is simple truthful knowledge. This true love will never die. It cannot be burned out by the fires, or frozen solid by coldness, or stomped out by the giants that will inevitably cross our paths in life.

The Bible indicates that love is from God, and in fact states that “God is love.” He loved man so much that, despite our turn from him, despite our rebellion, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” This is the type of love that married people need to have towards one another. The type that sacrifices and gives in perpetuity, without expecting anything in return, that is not conditioned on the response of the other person.

I put it to you that in fact, true love is impossible without a relationship with God. The feelings that you have for one another, whatever they may be, however long they may have existed, will not be enough to sustain a true, deep, passionate, committed love without God’s care and involvement in the relationship. You might feel responsibility, affection, even enjoy physical intimacy, but that is not love.

The second term is a bit trickier, and hearkens much more to the tangible, physical, easy to grasp everyday world of all of our lives. That idea of ‘priority’ again takes experience. There is no substitute for actually growing up, not just physically, but more particularly growing mentally and emotionally.

Through personal trial and error, through watching the example of others, and through formal education we learn that actions have consequences. We learn that some of these consequences are good, and some of our actions yield greater good. We also learn that some are bad, and yield various levels of poor results for us.

But we also learn those many lessons in between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, learning that some actions yield better results than others. And so in most of our lives we learn to ‘prioritize’ our actions, doing those good things most of the time that will yield us the best results.

Married couples, and this is a special message that those contemplating marriage need to hear, must make one another and their family their greatest priority, and must constantly examine their lives to ensure that their personal individual priorities are not taking precedence over those of the family.

If you are not prepared to subordinate your own needs and desires to those of a spouse and children, then you should not even be thinking of getting married. If you know that you do in fact truly love your partner, and are committed to building and sustaining a family with them throughout your life no matter what circumstances arise, then you should by all means go ahead and marry them.

You should absolutely not get married because they look good, are good in bed, like the same sports teams or music as you like, are the same religion, or for any other reason whatsoever. And once married, you need to continually prioritize your family first. Not only the caring for of them physically, but the emotional nurturing of your relationships, the education of your children, these things must come first.

Most of us work hard for hours upon hours each week, and we deserve some ‘down time’ for ourselves. But we must always be very careful that this time never takes away from our family time. In fact, our first enjoyment should always be in the spending of time with our partners and our children.

We also need time to sleep, to rest our bodies. If we deny ourselves this necessary act, then we make ourselves vulnerable to emotional and physical pains and anxieties that will take away our ability to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families.

A good marriage based on true love will prioritize itself to include working to sustain our families with shelter, food, clothing, and education but which also at the same time includes time with them bonding and enjoying one another. Sleep and rest must be prioritized, because without these we cannot be healthy enough to function properly in our right mind and body, thus denying our family our best.

Most everything else is extra, a bonus that comes during those few hours each week where we are not working, or enjoying time with our family, or resting. Some weeks those bonus or extra hours may not come at all, but how can any reasonable man or woman say that they are missing out on anything that life has to offer of real lasting value simply because they didn’t get to listen to some music file, or play some video game, or watch some television show, or go to some concert or movie?

Believe me, over the course of our lives, a normal life will yield many opportunities for entertainment and pleasure. We must prioritize our partner, our spouse, our family above all else. And above all of this we must place our own personal, individual relationship with God, and realize that a home that has Jesus Christ as its rock and foundation has a far greater chance of weathering the storms of life than any home trying to do so without Him.

Most of the problems that we have all encountered in our lives, if we are fully honest with ourselves, can trace themselves back to times when we decided that we were going to make our own desires our priorities rather than the will of God as demanded of us in His commandments, as further expanded upon by the teachings of Jesus Christ, and then as grown by the Holy Spirit in the teachings of the Church down through the ages.

The two bedrocks of any good marriage then are love and priority. When you know without thinking that you love someone else, when they can say the same about you, and when you can confidently know that you will always make them your first priority no matter what else happens, then you have the stuff of a good, lasting, loving marriage.

I can tell you this for certain in my own life: I love my wife. Debbie Veasey has all of my love, truly and for as long as we live and hopefully beyond that, and of that there is never any question in my mind or heart, ever, no matter what happens. She has all of my love, and she is my priority. The same extends to my children and grandchildren, and the rest of my family. But that marriage between Debbie and I has to be the rock on which all the rest settles.

In the end, there will be one final test of your marriage that will absolutely tell if it was based on this true love. It will be the old ‘proof is in the pudding’ saying, and you won’t know perhaps until your last day on this earth. This final test is stated perfectly in the closing lyrics of a song titled ‘When It’s Love’ by the rock group Van Halen, which ends “When it’s love, it lasts forever.” Amen.