As a youngish Catholic woman preparing to enter into marriage in a few short weeks, I couldn’t let the chance pass by to read “The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime.”
The 235-page book, written by Karee Santos and Manuel P. Santos, M.D., is a practical, personal and occasionally entertaining book about the real struggles of day-to-day married life. The Santoses, who have six children, share their tips on faithful married Catholic life with the voice of a couple that “has been there.”
In four parts, the book reflects on the relationship of husband and wife in an arc, starting with “Called to be Faithful and Forgive,” which covers all the basics of a solid relationship: the importance of good communication, how to navigate personality differences and even how to handle in-laws. It builds its foundation upon what marriage is meant to be: a sacrament in which first and foremost each spouse works to get the other to heaven.
The second part, “Called to be Free,” has stewardship as its focus, including how to properly allocate the time, talent and treasure of a couple in a way that works for both. This includes guidance on how to talk about finances, suggestions of how to develop a work-life balance, and it also underscores the importance of tithing and service.
Continuing the arc, the third part, “Called to be Fruitful,” focuses on the life-giving parts of a marriage, including the biological and spiritual aspects of fertility. This includes everything you might expect: contraception and natural family planning, but also some things you might not, such as how to avoid infidelity, and the joys and challenges of adoption.
Finally, “Called to Love Totally and Forever” pulls it all together, with tips on how to raise holy children, how to create an atmosphere of prayer at home, and how to rely on that perfect role model of family life, the Holy Family, when times are difficult.
What is sincerely to be appreciated about this book is its tone. Karee and Manny are not perfect, and they don’t pretend to be. They don’t have everything figured out. They write from experience, and they are not shy about sharing stories where things perhaps didn’t go so smoothly for them.
But while the book isn’t preachy, it isn’t false, either. It presents married life in a realistic way but also is clear about the imperative importance of the sacrament and the Church’s role in married life.
The Santoses circumvented the difficulty of “couple writing” by giving Karee the main voice. Manny, the doctor, writes most frequently in a section called “Manny’s diagnosis,” where he gives his own assessment of one anecdote or another.
Where “The Four Keys” falls short is perhaps in its trying to do too much. Books can be (and have been) written in depth on each of the four parts individually, and fitting major themes into a few short pages is a challenge. Recognizing this, the authors include 11 pages of additional resources, divided by chapter, at the end of the book for further reading. The book also is at its most authentic when the authors rely on their own personal stories to illustrate a point rather than turning to anecdotes of others.
Overall, “The Four Keys” is a recommended solid overview for a couple looking to bring their faith more wholly into their married and family life.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly.