We’ve talked a good deal about the decline of marriage on this blog over the years. And our discussion must continue as the Synod on the family is planned in Rome.

In my short 25 years as a priest I have experienced a major drop off in marriages. In my early years, I had about thirty weddings a year; now, about five or six. In this urban parish in which I have ministered for the larger part of 20 years, a beautiful and picturesque setting for a matrimonial sacrament, we used to have to turn couples away who were not members. Some Saturdays featured two weddings back to back. Beginning in 2000, weddings plummeted.

And lest you think this just unique to me in my urban parish, note that in 1973 there just over 400,000 weddings in Catholic parishes in this country. In 2003, there were 199,645, more that a 50% drop in thirty years. Last year, 2012, there 166,991 weddings in the Church. Compare that to the 419,278 funerals and you have a pretty good picture of a Church and a culture that are in real trouble and of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony that is “dying.” Thus my anecdotal experience matches the national trends and numbers.

Recently Mona Charen offered some thoughtful reflections on Marriage in National Review. I would like to offer her comments along with some of my own. Note that I am excerpting her article, the full version of which is here: The Marriage Divide.  In that article she speaks of the sources of some of her statistics and offers context that these excerpts may not include. Hence I recommend the full article as well. As usual, her comments are in Black, bold, italics. My remarks are in plain red text.

Marriage is decaying very fast. As recently as the 1980s, …only 13 percent of the children of moderately educated mothers…were born outside of marriage. Today, it is 44 percent. Even more disturbing are the recent data showing that 53 percent of babies born to women under age 30 are non-marital.

I will only add that these sorts of number are simply shocking, not just for their real impact but also for how swiftly this revolution has come upon us. One struggles not to see outright demonic along with the usual human sinfulness that produces cultural ailments.

If you graduate from college, you are likely to choose a family life similar to, if not quite identical to, the 1950s ideal. (I suspect eve this is beginning to change for the worse). If you are a high-school dropout, you are unlikely to marry at all. If you have a high-school diploma or some college, your family life in many cases is going to be chaotic, featuring cohabitation, short marriages, and high rates of instability….cohabiting couples have a much higher breakup rate than do married couples, a lower level of household income, and a higher level of child abuse and domestic violence. (She speaks to some of the sources of these sober trends in her article).

[C]ohabitation is a very bad deal for all concerned — especially women and children. The children of cohabiting couples do worse than those living with a single mother if the boyfriend is not the biological father of the children. The break-up rate among unmarried cohabiting couples is much higher than among married couples, with all that that entails for disruption, poverty, and pathology.

And again, it is the children who pay most and first for all this adult misbehavior. But the damage does not stop there, as can be seen.

I would also like to say that regarding the cohabitation problem, there are two levels to the problem: the young who do it, and the parents and grandparents who actively or passively approve of it. Once upon a time, even in my short 52 years, this behavior was not only frowned upon, it was punished at both the family and cultural level. Folk who “shacked up” received significant pressure: financial, social, familial and cultural, to stop “living in sin.”

The sexual revolution, with a thinking strongly tied in with a lot of hallucinogenic drugs, sold us a bill of goods that it was really “better” for a couple to “take a test ride” before tying the knot. For at least two decades now the data have exposed this as a lie. But the lie continues.

Bottom line, cohabitation harms everyone: man, woman, child, society, culture, the Church, the family, everyone. We stamp out smoking but celebrate something that causes even more harm. Time to wake up. Cohabitation is sinful and harmful.

In a 2001 survey, two-thirds of respondents approved of living together before marriage. Even then, data suggested that couples who cohabited before marriage were more likely to divorce than those who went straight to the altar….

Men cohabit with less expectation of permanence than women do. Many couples not destined for marriage waste good years in impermanent arrangements, often becoming parents….

Ms. Charen also developed the economic implications of cohabitation:

President Obama addressed income inequality in a recent address but failed to mention one of the most significant contributors to rising inequality in America — the marriage gap. Jobs are changing, international competition has driven down wages, top executives are pulling down enormous salaries, but it is cultural patterns, specifically personal decisions about cohabitation and marriage, that are most responsible for deepening the divide between haves and have-nots in America.

There is perhaps no greater correlation than the one between poverty and single-motherhood (absent fatherhood). And so many of the other social ills that we lament and decry come from irresponsible sexual activity.

Unlike trust funds, marriage is available to everyone and confers the same benefits on rich and poor. There is no substitute for two married parents who care for one another in sickness, help each other in child and elder care, watch the kids while a spouse takes night classes, and contribute to thriving communities. In-laws give loans, jobs, and other support that they are unlikely to extend to live-in “significant others.

Without the basics of security and permanence in their personal lives, people find it much more difficult to rise out of poverty or to maintain a middle-class life. They are also far less happy. If you care about the poor and the middle class, you ought to worry about marriage.

Amen. And yet many of those who most claim to care about the poor are loathe to discuss marriage or sexuality as factors in poverty.

I remember once being at a meeting of largely socially liberal clergy who were arguing that one of the “greatest threats” that young people face and the reason for dropping test scores and higher dropout rates in our city was lead paint and roach feces in the homes and schools. And thus the city should spend money to abate these things and (theoretically) the lower test scores etc., would rebound.

When I spoke, I said it would nice to get rid of these problems, but I thought there were bigger issues at work than lead paint and roach droppings. Perhaps, I stated, that single motherhood and teenage pregnancy were likely bigger factors in low test scores, higher dropout rates, and growing juvenile crime.

Well,  I received a scorn you can only imagine. I was passed a note by one of the leaders that I was “off message” and that I should keep my moral opinions to myself.

Somehow I figured that clergy might “get” what I was saying. Though scorned, I stood my ground, and insisted that the social devastation of sexual irresponsibility far out weighed many of the other things people obsess about. Fine, lets remove lead paint and clean up after the roaches and even stamp out smoking. But how about working to restore families? What of preaching and teaching God’s plan for marriage and sexuality? What of the extremely deleterious effects of sexual irresponsibility, cohabitation, divorce, and so many other trends that are out of control?

Even as we pass laws forbidding smoking almost everywhere, we seem to forget that before 1969 it was pretty hard to get a divorce in this country. People were generally expected to work their difficulties out, and be married to the father or mother of their children.

While there are rumors that some in the Church are going to pressure to Synod Fathers to change Church Law in the admittance of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, I rather doubt that will happen. It is my prayer that the Synod Fathers and members will focus rather on fixing the problems rather than lowering standards. We have a lot to answer for in the Church for the horrifying confusion today about marriage. We have not been clear on marriage and too many clergy don’t want to upset people who haven’t been able to attain to, or keep stable and marriages and families after God’s own design. We have been to silent. And to what degree people do know of our teachings, many find them unintelligible when we hand out annulments in the numbers we do,  and have so many complicated rules about the wedding ceremony but so little followup after the wedding day.

That said, I don’t think it fair to blame the Church wholly for the mess. Our culture clearly went over the cliff in 1968 and 1969 with the sexual revolution and no fault divorce. Contraception celebrated the lie that there was “no necessary connection” between sex and procreation, and also furthered the lie of sex without consequences. 55 million abortions later (Since 1973), our families in the shredder, and the lie is manifest, but many still choose to believe it. Sex without consequences? No such thing.

Pray for the Synod upcoming. Pray for clarity and prophetic teaching. Pray.

50 Responses

  1. David F says:

    “We have a lot to answer for in the Church for the horrifying confusion today about marriage. We have not been clear on marriage and too many clergy don’t want to upset people who haven’t been able to attain to, or keep stable and marriages and families after God’s own design. We have been to [sic] silent.”

    Amen to this. What other sacrament is treated so lightly that it can be “annulled” ? Think about how unsettling it would be if your confession or Baptism could be rendered invalid by a tribunal. My own marriage was in the Church but at that time I was not Christian so I had to seek a “disparity of cult” waiver. Now I read the annulment rules and fear that my marriage could be trivially annulled (not that I’m worried; I had a friend who re-married recently after a long process).

    • Katie in FL says:

      David F. – I am not a Canon lawyer or extremely well versed in this, but I believe that an anullment declares that a sacramental marriage did not take place. It is not at all reversing a sacrament in which God has joined two to become one. You may want to research that a bit.

  2. Rob B. says:

    Dear Monsignor,

    Thank you for an excellent post. Have you read Mary Eberstadt’s recent book *How the West Really Lost God*? She argues (forcefully and articulately, in my opinion) that the reason for the advance of secularization in our society is the disintegration of the family. This thesis sets her against several other scholars who have argued the reverse (that the decline in religion led to the decline of the family).

  3. Jennifer says:

    These are all very good points, Monsignor. Thank you for writing so frankly about what we all know to be true.

  4. Rick says:

    Msgr, do stand your ground–it is both morally and empirically sound. The social science is crystal clear on this issue, and all the major policy makers simply ignore it. The govt encouraged and subsidized marriage collapse and promiscuity thru divorce law and left-wing welfare policy. As if this wasn’t enough, marxist policymakers now want us to subsidize their birth control and abortion. Authentic Christian messaging has been completely shouted down. We are probably so far down the road to moral ruin that only a major medical catastrophe, such as a pandemic of untreatable sexually transmitted disease, will put a stop to the lie, as you put it. God help us. The mental health statistics also bear out your concerns: anxiety and mood disorders have increased substantially over the last two generations. Youth suicide sky-rocketed in the 1960s and has remained elevated, ever since.

  5. Sarah in WA says:

    My husband & I married in the Church in 2009. The marriage preparation we received was basically devoid of moral instruction, or offered a confusing message. We were required to attend a pre-Cana retreat, to answer a questionnaire that I would describe as a basic psychological compatibility test, and to present proof that we’d both received our sacraments. It struck me as, “Check off all these boxes, OK, you can get married here.” Judging from the content of the pre-Cana retreat, one would probably conclude it was the couple’s prerogative to decide whether they wished to cohabit, use contraception, or end your marriage. Both of the “presenter couples” at that retreat had non-standard situations. One couple was older, probably in their 50s. He was a widower, she was a divorcee who had been abused by her previous husband. It was unclear whether her previous marriage had been annulled or not. Their talk gave the impression that sometimes you can get a “second chance” if things do not work out the first time. The other couple was younger: he was in his mid 30s, she was in her mid 20s. He had a previous marriage outside the Church that was considered null, and a child by his first wife. His second wife – a Catholic – had not been married before. While both these couples’ situations may have been technically licit, they were not good examples to put before a room of engaged couples who are trying to understand how Catholic marriage differs from secular marriage.

  6. Ellen says:

    I grew up in a strong Catholic family. There are 9 of us. Four of us are Sunday Mass goers who don’t miss unless we are sick. I try to go to daily Mass when I can and as soon as I retire I will certainly go every day. One sister misses Mass occasionally and doesn’t feel guilty at all. Four of my siblings have simply quit going. There have been three divorces, one re-marriage and one child born out of wedlock. I guess that’s par for the course, but I can’t help but think it’s just not right.

  7. Patrick says:

    Here’s a fascinating read related to your topic: http://fisheaters.com/garbagegeneration.html

  8. Craig says:

    I have seen this with others, eg, work, and the argument comes down to the mean Church and her “dogma”. It is very sad to see a couple who has divorced. But, what happens is divorce is OK. Premarital relations are great. The children wont be harmed. The lies create comfort for those unwilling to examine their consciences and lives; unable to put children above their wants.

    It is that simple. Holy Family, ora pro nobis!

  9. Grace says:

    If the church wants more marriages, it needs to support couples on a personal level. I recently became engaged and turned up to my regular Mass, knowing nobody to share my news with and nobody there to pray for my marriage. I tried meeting other parishioners when I joined, but as a 24 year old, socialising with women in their 70s isn’t easy.

    A secular aspect of marriage which is off putting is that weddings are expensive. Even cheap-as-possible marriages cost money. You can’t just not invite your large Catholic family because you can’t afford to feed them, and also cohabiting is much cheaper. With the money I would have saved on sharing the rent with my boyfriend, we would have been able to afford to get married by now!

    Finally, please can you pray for our marriage? We’re called Grace and Joe.

    • re cost, a wedding doesn’t need to cost anything if a couple wants a nice church wedding and then off to the house or parish hall for a family provided meal. All this fancy catered, DJ reception stuff gets pricey, don’t even get me stared on stretch limos. Even at church, string quartets and soloists are not necessary or required. A cantor and organist are fine. All the fancy dresses for bridesmaids et al. are not required or even preferred if you ask me. And if a couple says, “Father we can’t even afford to pay the organist and cantor, the parish will cover it.” Also clergy don’t and shouldn’t get a big fat check. We are already well taken care of by God’s people. The $$$ come from secular customs, as you point out, not the church.

      Prayin for Grace and Joe!

      • Grace says:

        Thank you Msgr. Charles! Yup, we’re not having bridesmaids or groomsmen, I’m making my own dress, Joe’s wearing a suit he already owns and we’re calling in on friends for favours for the most part! Thank you so much for your prayers, it’s really heartwarming to know that you’re praying for us, so much words can’t describe. :) God bless you :)

      • Elizabeth S. says:

        My brother got married a couple months ago, and a week or two before the wedding my sister in law called their parish to discuss what was still needed. The woman at the church was going through the fees involved, and my brother had already paid the $500 for rental of the church/liason fee, and my sister in law is a music professor so she had a couple former students covering piano and cantoring so they didn’t pay the church for any musicians, but at the end of the conversation the woman from the church told them they still needed $300 for the stipend to the priest. Reading through the information the parish gave them, it sounded like the suggested priest stipend was for if you were using an outside priest who would have to travel in, but my brother and sister in law were using the parish pastor. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford it, but it did bother them that it was added on top of the fees they were already paying the parish, and having been a regular, donating member of the parish for several years my brother was already contributing to the pastors salary, and coming up so close to the wedding they hadn’t included it in the budget. It’s that type of thing that can leave a bad taste in peoples mouths when it comes to paying for a church wedding.

        I think the church does need to do a better job on educating couples on what is definitely required for a church wedding, what can be negotiated, and why getting married in the church is important.

    • Lynn says:

      Grace, may your marriage be as happy as mine. We have been married almost 20 years now. Please know that it will not be what you ate or the kind of car you rode in that will be what you remember about your wedding, it will be the joy, the ache of your smile muscles, and the fact that you married your partner. People who go to your wedding will remember the joy they see in your faces, that you really mean the words you say, and that is what matters.

      I am not saying it will be one long honeymoon, but if you are partners and you are in it for the long hall, and you really know that marriage is a sacrament, then the hard times don’t matter as much, and you always have someone to share those hard times with. I will pray for you and Joe.

    • Dave says:

      Sue & I will have 42 years in June. I will pray for you and Joe. Our marriage has been, and is, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health (especially right now), and for better and for worse.

      Our wedding was incredibly cheap, but apparently it took.

      Dave

  10. RichardGTC says:

    I told this woman who has daughters approaching adulthood how low the divorce rate is for couples who use natural family planning. She said, “I don’t even want to talk about that.” I think one thing that needs to happen is that scientists and doctors need to realize the havoc that medical innovation can inflict on persons, families, and society.

    Well presented piece, Monsignor.

  11. James S. says:

    There’s a lot of material in your post, Monsignor, but for me the take-away was the bizarre scene with the liberal clerics.

  12. Matt says:

    My wife and I were married in the Church, have been married nearly two years, and are expecting our second child. I have never had so little time and thought for myself, never had so many demands placed on me, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier. Marriage and fatherhood are a joy, and yet I see so many of my friends, family, and coworkers dragging their feet into marriage and then dragging their feet into parenthood. I never know what to say, they always have so many reasons and excuses and one doesn’t wish to constantly judge. I think maybe my daughter’s infectious joy is all the statement we need to make.

  13. Nick says:

    Msgr., your post come at a perfect time. Our bishops have called starting on the feast of the Holy Family for, among other things, a return to fasting and abstinence on Fridays. Why? For a movement for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty. This is a demon that’s ingrained deep into our culture. Just like Jesus says in Mark 9:29 “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting” we have a tough road ahead of us.

  14. RachaelM says:

    Let us hope the Church never changes Church Law regarding marriage.

  15. Margaret says:

    Congratulations Msgr! Brilliant and incisive post!

  16. lisag says:

    I was really hoping that the Pope Francis would make this the year of the family. This is where all evangelization starts. The domestic church grows and stabilizes the parish.

  17. anna lisa says:

    Church law doesn’t need to change, people need to change. The lifting of Scandal or stigma for irregular circumstances should not make marriage less attractive. Witnessing love, companionship, and joyful, self sacrifice will bring them back. Hopefully the blush will not be off the rose before they can put two and two together.
    Msgr., I have a question. A lot of young people have a misguided sense of rebellion against authority. Their parents, government and Church have let them down, so they say that they don’t need a “piece of paper” If they go before God together, giving themselves to each other in marriage, how would the Church regard their union? I’ve had several priests drive home to me the fact that the Church simply acts to bless what takes place between two people.
    Could this mean that many couples are in fact “married” in the eyes of God, but perceived by others to be “shacking up?”

  18. Lynn says:

    I think part of the problem is also that couples think they have to reach a certain point with income, in their careers, etc before getting married, and as Grace said above, it is certainly cheaper to cohabitate. But they are waiting longer and longer to get married, and then wanting to have time “for themselves” as a married couple (didn’t they already do that?) before having children. So the women trying to have babies are in their mid to late 30s, and then wonder why it is harder to get pregnant, and then sometimes have more difficult pregnancies.

    Consumerism is part of this too, wanting to have all the stuff and a house etc before having kids. And big houses, too! That is all they seem to build now, big houses with expensive price tags and upkeep. So then they can’t afford to have the mom stay home when the baby comes along.

  19. Dallas says:

    Leaving aside the Church issues, and admitting that I don’t know if the Obamas cohabited before marriage, President Obama would be an excellent example with a bully pulpit to promote marriage, especially for black men.

  20. Robertlifelonfcatholic says:

    All the lovely people, where do they all come from?
    All the lovely people, where do they all belong?

  21. Andkaras says:

    I picked fresh wildflowers in a field the day of my wedding for the centerpieces (20) ,and ducked into the waiters station to open the gift envelopes to pay as much of the restaurant bill in cash as we could.

  22. Robertlifelonfcatholic says:

    The liberal federal judges are doing there part to improve the situation. One just ruled that polygamist had a legal right to multiple wives.

  23. TeaPot562 says:

    Several studies by sociologists show that couples who marry, with the commitment that requires, are much more likely to stay together than couples who cohabit. Children born into a marriage will have a happier life, including economically, than children born into a cohabiting situation.
    Ignoring the law of God is asking for trouble. Our DNA as humans is geared to following His laws, and disobeying them is a recipe for unhappiness for those involved.
    I’m the oldest of eight – my oldest sister is a professed religious for about fifty years. Our parents set a good example, celebrating 56+ years together before the first one died. The youngest married outside the Church – his children are now adult, but their marriage terminated by divorce. The other six of us are still married to our first spouses.
    But our children – the next generation – have been erratic in their relationships. Many of them attended Catholic grade & high schools; but the examples of us as parents were often not followed by the next generation. Did we not pray enough? Or did the lay teachers in the schools not provide the same attitudes and teachings as the vowed religious who were teachers when we were young?
    Anyway, we continue to pray for our children. Visualize God as a fisherman, who has this erring child on the end of a fish line. The line may be snagged on a sunken log, or wrapped around a rock; but we continue to pray that He will reel in that fish.
    Thank you for offering this reflection.
    TeaPot562

  24. Fred says:

    The essential problems here center on the Church focusing on what is doesn’t do well (i.e., psychological compatibility tests, practical marriage advice, party planning, etc.), versus the only things it is competent to do well (i.e., sacremental preparation, spiritual counseling, sacred liturgy). Engaged couples might not all come for a Church wedding for spiritual reasons rather than for a pretty stage for their wedding, but the Church must give them what they need to receive the sacrament worthily, and for their salvation. Salvatiuon is what it is all about, and if the Church cannot teach that to those couples living immoral lives risk the lose of Paradise, then they surely will not teach it to those who appear on their doorstep for wedding plans.

  25. Bill Russell says:

    When the Church tolerates grotesquely extravagant wedding receptions it is giving a wrong signal. In New York City there is another problem: many parishes “charge” weddings fees of several thousand dollars on the grounds that those who can afford costly wedding receptions can afford big church fees- but what about those who cannot? They must shuffle off to less fashionable churches. More importantly, we cannot expect people to understand the reason to get married sacramentally if the government is allowed to “re-define” marriage.

    • No, I know of no parish that does not waive the fees for those who are demonstrably poor. I don’t think yours is fair accusation here. Further, I think you give the Church too much power to think we can simply refuse to tolerate expensive receptions. First, who gets to decide what is extravagant. Is it just the bottom line? What if the families are big? Is there a dollar amount you have in mind, a per capita cost? Who gets to decide? What if there are regional differences in costs? Do you really think we can just be some sort of cop who pulls couples over for this. I think about the best we can do is ask that the couple tithe to the poor what they end up spending. But even there we can’t enforce that. The Church just cant be responsible for everything everyone wants us to be on the hook for. Yes, we have fallen short in many ways, but please don’t ask me to police receptions. We have enough problems just teaching that Marriage is a sacrament, divorce is wrong and contraception contrary to marriage.

  26. Anna says:

    It would be good to start marriage / any vocation preparation , early on – reason may be our Lord allowed bl.Mother and Joseph , to go through the aginy of missing The Lord for 3 days , as though , to tell parents that , by age 12 , a child need to be about The Father’s business ..which is to empower each in the awesome power of The Spirit ..and esp. spiritual warfare .

    Worries about marital infidelity and incompatibilty , financial concerns all likely avenues for the spirit of fear to take hold in lives ..hoping that the presence and prayers of heroes such as bl.John Paul 11 would be taken in and invoked as protection against the Judasic spirit ; The Lord even allowed Bl.John Paul 11 , to suffer through wounds in his abdomen , as though thus wanting to grant many, a powerful prayer warrior , against the spirit of greed and unfaithfulness prevalent in our times !

    Thus , persons preparing for marriage can be contacted on the phone,through the months ahead , to encourage them , to keep up with powerful intercessory prayers , often bringing, in prayer, both couples , familes , ancestors , to The Cross , uniting with The Lord’s Passion, letting His Spirit take hold of hearts and minds , cleansing away and washing off much that is not of The Lord !

    Every such couple can be gifted with images of Divine Mercy ( here is an awesome testimony about the devotion , in relation to the hurricas Sandy – http://thedivinemercy.org/news/story.php?NID=5159
    for protection againt hurricane attacks against faith ..

    and help from other sacramentals too , as well as awareness of the deep truth that love is also about responsibilty , to war on behalf of thespiritual well being of the beloved , that we do have ample help in The Church , for same
    and that life thus becomes fulfilled , through fidelity , in its aim to help bring forth The Kingdom of The Spirit !

    • Mark C. says:

      I was so happy to see that your post began with a reference to the Holy Family of Nazareth as I believe this is one of the most important keys to an understanding of the issues which are involved with the crisis in the Sacrament of Marriage and Family life in the Western Church.

      The model of the Holy Family of Nazareth is so foreign to the model of family life and marriage in the so called “modern” western world. Sadly, many of those values which are promoted have been accepted by those who have been baptized into the Catholic Church in the United States.

      For some, that means an improper understanding of human sexuality and the personalist principle which Pope John Paul II wrote about in his book, Love and Responsibility while still known as Karol Wojtyla.

      But, the problem with this is that many, many of those who consider themselves to be in line with Orthodox faith in the United States because they promote such purity in sexuality do not have an equally devoted commitment to understanding and living out the truth about christian discipleship in terms of money and commitment to the poor as the basis for authentic human discipleship.

      We cannot compartmentalize our faith in this way. We cannot base our orthodoxy upon sexual morality and at the same time worship at the altar of comfort and convenience and wealth. We cannot call for justice towards the poor without a commitment to the Truth about human being, human life and existence, and we cannot call for a commitment to human life without an authentic and actual lived experience of solidarity with the poor.

      If the Christ in the poor is not as high on your commitment scale as the Christ in the Liturgy, etc then there is a serious inconsistency in the truth about christian discipleship as taught to us in Sacred Scripture and affirmed by the Catholic Church.

  27. David Rudmin says:

    I agree with Grace & Lynn that it’s the cost that is making marriage hard today.,
    But it’s not even the cost of the wedding, per se.
    Rather, raising children itself has recently become ENORMOUSLY expensive in our culture.
    I wouldn’t even date until I got a regular salaried-job at age 31.
    You need a 30,000 income, minimum.
    Any decent parent needs money for . . .
    (1) health insurance, (2) braces, (3) food & gasoline, (4) TV and/or Computer, (5) a house (rent + taxes + upkeep + utilities), and (6) other insurance.
    Hispanic families are doing much better than Anglo families. Why? Because they don’t have these expectations. We are definitely a poorer nation than we were 1, 2, or 3 generations ago.
    The high expectations themselves are what are killing us. If I have to go to a hospital that–for health & liability reasons–discards rather than washing & reusing equipment, then it’s going to cost more. If I have to pay for inspections on my new house, instead of just slapping up a plywood spare-room (the way the poorest Hispanics do), then it’s going to cost more. If there is no cheap housing available in Norfolk (a metropolis of a million people), because every house & fixture has to be cookie-cutter produced and look ‘just so,’ then housing is going to cost a lot more. Standards are often good, but if they get so perfect, that only the rich can afford them, then they’re essentially “adding house to house” (Isaiah 5:8) until there is nowhere left for the poor to live in the land. That’s 1 reason why I HATE ZONING LAWS.

    • Mark C. says:

      I think that this comment raises an important issue related to the discussion about preparation for sacramental marriage and the crisis in family life which the Pope has called us to address in this time.

      The issue is how do our cultural values as Westerners, as Americans specifically intrinsically contradict the truth about the authentic and basics demands of discipleship which the Lord actually spoke to us about and which can be easily discerned in the Word of God.

      When the basic demands of Christian discipleship are viewed in light of the story which Jesus shares with us in Mark, Chapter 10 and in Matthew, Chapter 6….perhaps a discussion of how our view of rights versus responsibility as Americans is inconsistent with the truth of basic christian discipleship may be helpful for those who are serious about Sacramental Marriage.

      I think that a serious compartmentalization has crept into the Western Church and that the standard of Christian discipleship is so low that it might be fair to ask at what point do we begin to need to seriously reflect upon Saint Paul’s admonition to us in 1 Corinthians about how justice towards the poor is directly related to prudence in our discernment of our readiness to participate in the Sacramental life.

      Paul is speaking about how the injustice in the lives of many who considered themselves to be “good christians” was actually bringing them condemnation and bringing sickness to the weakest and poorest of the community in relation to reception of the Eucharist.

      The principle can equally be applied to the Sacrament of Marriage, Holy Orders, etc as well though.

      I think that if we are going to be serious in the Western Church about the Sacrament of Marriage and Family life, we need to look at the root causes of the cancer, and not the symptoms, otherwise, things will not significantly change.

      The root cause and the cornerstone of the New Evangelization is Justice….Justice is the Key to the New Evangelization, and Marriage and Family life are the key to he New Evangelization as well, therefor, Justice is the key to Marriage and Family life.

      There is a reason that Jesus chose to be born into a humble and poor family….in the West, one of the cultural values which infects our understanding of the basics of christian discipleship can be summed up in one way by pointing out the differences between what Jesus says about Justice as the basis for authentic discipleship and the cultural values of Americans which holds that comfort and convenience are positive virtues and should be sought as positive goods at all times.

      Comfort and convenience have no real relationship to the truth which is revealed to us as christian disciples, and how can we prudently and seriously approach a thought about marriage without first examining and conforming our lives to the basic demands of discipleship in general?

      • Clare Krishan says:

        Well said – in this vein I had commented elsewhere on Fr.’s blog about the recent NY Times data
        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/health/families.html?_r=0
        on the very high rates of marriage AND divorce (implying poor formation and many ill-considered unions, ergo grounds for annullment) during WWII. War has consequences (the unjust ‘peace’ of WWI sowed the seeds of socio-political decay in the 20s that favored militaristic leaders and their ‘solutions’ to economic problems) and thus the 60s did not happen in a vacuum. That eras’ Korean War and Vietnam War were extensions of warfare of a decade prior in theatres that hadn’t sued for peace (Japan was subjugated via the USA’s use of nuclear attrition, IndoChina not so much, see history of Singapore peninsula’s occupation by Japan).

        Here’s a great new opinion piece by Andrew Bacevitch “Apathy toward war is symptomatic of advancing civic decay, finding expression in apathy toward the blight of child poverty, homelessness, illegitimacy, and eating disorders also plaguing the country. …As a remedy for all the ailments afflicting the body politic, war—at least as Americans have chosen to wage it—turns out to be a fundamentally inappropriate prescription. Rather than restoring the patient to health, war (as currently practiced pursuant to freedom as currently defined) constitutes a form of prolonged ritual suicide. Rather than building muscle, it corrupts and putrefies. “ http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/one-percent-republic/

        And IMHO we cannot be so dismissive about lead paint’s toxic effect on juvenile brains: it isn’t very pro-life Father. Catholic social witness isn’t either/or; its both/and or its nothing.

  28. Maria says:

    Msgr., You make a lot of good points, and we are not at the bottom of the curve yet, I fear. But we all (Church and laity) have to stand firm and keep saying the unpopular truths. I’ll pose a question to those who have younger children, maybe teens who are not at marrying age yet: What do you tell them, now, what will be your response to living together or marrying outside the Church? I suggest you explain to them now, when it is in the abstract and not emotional, that you will have to respond in a certain way, such as not paying for a wedding or perhaps not even attending the wedding because of your firmly held beliefs. Then they will know it ahead of time, and hopefully, not throw an emotional hissy fit when they make choices and expect you to go along with them. Hopefully they won’t make those choices!!!!

    And lets ask our priests, how would they feel if their seminary class on celibacy was taught by a priest living with his girlfriend, and everybody knew it and looked the other way? Because that’s what’s going on in marriage preparation. Mentor couples are contracepting, or previously cohabitated and no priests want to challenge them on that.

    Let’s all keep up the good fight!

    • Mark C. says:

      I want to affirm what Maria is saying and expand upon something which her analogy of seminary class reminded me of. The fact that there is such a huge disparity in terms of prioritization by priests and bishops, etc, resources spiritual and material, etc in regards to preparation for those who feel called to and are discerning Holy Orders and the emphasis and the resources, the de facto commitment to due diligence which Maria anecdotally raises in that preparation compared to that of Sacramental Marriage preparation.

      In truth, the Sacramental preparation begins with Baptism and the witness of Family life, right, however, how is it possible to give a proper witness of christian discipleship and love to children which is a primary responsibility of christian parents, when they have not demonstrated, prior to marriage a sincere willingness of preparedness for living a basic and sincere, authentic discipleship.

      I believe, in fact, that one of the primary reasons for the crisis in marriage and family life, lies in an improperly understood and lived christian discipleship which must begin with a basic commitment to living justly and simply as Christ did and as did the family which Christ, as second person of the Trinity chose as his human family and as a model for us.

      What does it mean to be a christian disciple…without meeting the basic demands of justice and sincerity of lived discipleship, lived witness, how can those who are responsible for the purity of the sacraments, in good conscience permit people to do damage to themselves, their future offspring, an authentic witness to the truth by permitting them to even begin a serious process of discernment of marriage.

      We are permitting people to walk the aisle and say the words, etc(outward signs) without maturely discerning and helping people properly discern whether it is even prudent for them to attempt christian marriage.

      Would a man who was not sincerely practicing his faith in even a basic manner and with sincerity of heart be allowed to be ordained?

      No, in fact, he would not even be considered for the seminary which is a place for preparation, right?

      Why the great disparity in the standards of preparation?

      Would a man be allowed to continue towards ordination if not properly vetted?

      Are bishops and priests perhaps blind to the creeping reality of a clerical mentality? Is ordination more important to the life of the Church? Or perhaps is God asking us as the Second Vatican Council suggested that a real and true reformation in the role of the laity be taken seriously by those in positions of authority…beginning with a rigorous examination of those who come to the Church seeking help in discernment of the vocation to Christian Marriage.

  29. Bill Coffin says:

    Msgr.

    I too was struck by the Charen piece so I posted it here http://www.scoop.it/t/healthy-marriage-links-and-clips?page=2 on 12/10. I appreciate your remarks. Please consider blogging the ADW answers to the Synod questions next month after they are submitted to the USCCB. (Also I wonder if the answers being submitted to ADW from the parishes are more substantial from the few parishes that solicited input.)

  30. Mark C. says:

    It seems to me that there is a simple solution to the “crisis” in family life and marriage in the Catholic Church in the Western World…the root lies in improper discernment and a lack of courage by Deacons, Pastors and sadly even Bishops in understanding that a minimum standard of christian discipleship is necessary in order for a valid sacramental marriage to actually take place.

    The outward speaking of the vows in a public place of worship with an authorized witness for the Church, namely a priest or Deacon does not guarantee that a valid sacramental marriage has taken place.

    It is common sense, would an organization promote a person or give them such an awesome responsibility such as sacramental marriage without first responsibly doing due diligence in determining a basic readiness and capability for such a responsibility? I think not, and I think that Jesus words to His disciples which command us to look at the example of the secular world in terms of industriousness, etc as a witness for us of how much more we should be diligent and vigilant as disciples.

    What I mean is this: Two baptized Christians who are not already actively practicing their faith in a mature and authentic, sincere manner prior to seeking sacramental marriage and approval by ecclesiastical authority should not be permitted to approach the altar…simple due diligence which we all know does not take place on a consistent or sincere level on may occasions for a variety of reasons which have nothing to do with what Christ actually says about discipleship, but rather considerations which range from laziness on the part of clergy to discern the truth of the situation to concerns about whether the parents or grandparents of the bride and groom to be will withhold their financial support if the priest does not permit their progeny to make a sacrilege of the sacrament by approaching it with a lack of sincerity of heart.

    And though we may not be able to know the truth of the intentions of ones heart, we can know a tree by its fruits, right? If not, we deny the truth of the Sacred Scriptures, for discernment of the truth of a thing is a significant part of the responsibility given to each disciple, but specifically to those who are responsible for protection and purity of the sacraments. It begins with the Bishops and flows to the Pastors, priests and Deacons and should be firmly rooted in any lay persons who are involved with helping to discern readiness for marriage.

    Why is the period of preparation and resources and emphasis given for those who are preparing for and discerning the sacrament of Holy Orders so much greater than the seriousness and the resources and due diligence shown for those who seek or feel called to the sacrament of marriage.

    Until the subtle and overt clericalism which still sadly exists, the Pope’s words and not mine, will the crisis in family life and marriage continue to contribute to great injustice in the lives of the poorest of the poor.

    Perhaps the sacrifice which God is asking of us in the Western World is to reflect upon how comfort and convenience and our wants are mistakenly equated with a mandate to pursue such things. Perhaps, we in the Western World who call ourselves Disciples have failed to understand properly how our preparedness for sacramental life in general and specifically in relation to marriage and having children is related to the demands of justice which Christian discipleship calls us to as a basic demand by Christ…we cannot hope to enter into something like sacramental marriage and parenthood without first being just…just in the way that we earn a living, just in the way that we view property rights according to the teachings of the Catholic Church and the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI in Love in Truth and in Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortations about similar demands of discipleship.

    We view Sacramental marriage perhaps in the Church in the United States without properly understanding and living out the basics of christian discipleship first. Perhaps we are being called to something greater than mediocrity, perhaps we are being called to holiness.

    Many priests whom I have been in close contact with in the future Diocese of Brevard County sadly view the sacrament of marriage as a way to right a wrong, a way to make the cohabitation of couples right in the sight of God. This demonstrates a view of Sacramentality which is inconsistent with the truth as taught by the Successor to the Apostles..the Magesterium.

    There is so much more to this discussion and a deeper analysis is required, I believe that the model of the Holy Family of Nazareth, is a good place for us to begin. When Jesus chose to become a man, he did not choose to be born into a family of privilege, but rather into humble poverty, why? Because it is consistent with humility and trust and obedience to God to place oneself into human circumstances which encourage us to trust, not in our wealth, not in our comfort and convenience, not in our contacts, not in our desire to be well-off before we truly can follow Christ and help others, but rather because He was trying to teach us something as everything in His life is ultimately meant to do.

    The solutions are intellectually and spiritually easy to understand, but the hardness of our hearts may be the real factor as to why there is no room in the Inn for Him in our christian discipleship.

    God Bless and Help Us All

  31. Thomas says:

    Why are there never prayers at mass for single Catholics seeking to be married?

    We pray for vocations, for the sick and unemployed, the aged and homeless, our government leaders, our soldiers at war, and the lonely in general — why not a specific prayer for singles seeking marriage?

    As a single Catholic, one often feels abandoned and alone.

    Among Evangelicals, as soon as they find that you are single and looking, they offer introductions and invite you to their church.

    That never happens among Catholics. Why? Have we lost the lay culture that fosters marriage?

    As a devout single Catholic, it is easy to understand and accept that your odds of finding a faithful Catholic spouse in secular society are nearly zero.

    But it is much harder to accept and understand that your chances of finding someone to marry in your own parish—or in your extended parish network—are also nearly zero. We must change this. Singles need the good offices of married people and a supportive community to find their mates.

    There is nothing that could hep more than that sending that simple signal at each Mass during the prayers of the faithful: “Oh God, we pray that single Catholics seeking faithful Catholic spouses will find them in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

    “Hear us, O Lord.”

  32. Phil says:

    The biggest factor going into why weddings are going down must be addressed….feminism.

    The idea that a woman can spend her fertile years pursing a degree, career, and using her sexuality on all sorts of men…and then when SHE decides she is ready for marriage..only then will she entertain the idea. This usually comes at around age 26-32…when her best years have been wasted. She will then see the guy she married as settling due to all of her “experiences”…and the marriage at best starts on shaky ground. Rather than back in the day when a couple would get married in their youth, the woman was a virgin, they would struggle together…and stay together because they went through those experiences together. That hardly happens anymore.

    So I as a single guy have a hard time finding any young women that is even interested in a relationship…much less marriage. Women also get the idea from the media constantly that men are either idiots, rapists, or abusers…and never hear anything positive about what a man provides. Men have to compete with women in the workplace to get jobs…so there isn’t as many good paying jobs for a man to raise a family. Plus the idea that once he does get married…all of his authority is stripped because at any point the woman can go to the state for a no-fault divorce. Even if you are in a Catholic marriage…the state will separate it on her whim. 70% of divorces are initiated by women usually for frivolous reasons…thereby taking his wealth, home, and children away.

    Add into the fact that feminine virtues are either ignored or attacked…and you have many women who are just plain not marriage material. Submitting to their husband is a four letter word to most ladies.

    Now I fully support what marriage is as a sacrament, but I must ask…what is my incentive anymore? Women get all the benefits…and men get all the responsibilities and punishments. The only way I can even see a marriage lasting in today’s age is if the woman makes the choice of free will to give herself only to her husband at a youthful age (18-22), submit to him, and give her best years to him. Otherwise it is a crapshoot.

  33. Micha Elyi says:

    Our culture clearly went over the cliff in 1968 and 1969 with the sexual revolution and no fault divorce.
    –Msgr. Pope

    It’s named No-Fault Divorce but it’s really a package-deal of no-fault resolution and unilateral instigation of a divorce. The unilateral aspect, hidden from view because it is absent from the name, is the really damaging poison in the law.

    • Joe says:

      The Catholic Church has entered into an alliance with the state by having its priests act as agents for the state in performing marriages. It’s the state that vests the priest with power to declare a couple husband and wife. If the Catholic Church was really concerned about marriage as a sacrament, it would perform a Catholic Marriage and not act as an agent for the state.

  34. Peter Wolczuk says:

    You experienced scorn. What does scorn prove anyways? Does it disprove what the scorned one says; like facts, figures, data, etc disprove? Or does it strongly indicate that the scorners lack facts, figures, data, etc and cannot truly disprove?
    It also seems, at first glance, that many are made uncomfortable with what you say. Are they really though? Or, are they being made aware of existing discomforts within themselves which they’ve buried?
    Moses preaching seemed to make the Children of Israel uncomfortable and, in Exodus 32, Aaron offered a comfortable alternative. Not saying that the two cases are the same but, I do suspect similarities.
    War is being made against us but are the troops being trained? Tough trainers (in basic training) sent out troops who survive and who win. The gentle trainers are more popular but the body rate on their side and, the retreats and defeats, both take a terrible toll.
    My life was going down the sewer for 30+ years as I objected to people who made me uncomfortable. Then, I finally faced the discomforts within me and things got a whole lot better – over time and with patience. I gradually came to realize that no one was making me uncomfortable; just calling attention to my discomforts.
    Worldly pressures for false comfort seem to take dominance when some one seeks popularity as they give up on a love of truth and substitute it with a wistful sort of, maybe someday, mere liking for truth.
    Another thing which I’ve noticed recently. Where’s the bridegroom in all this? The bride and bridesmaids must have certain music, dresses, procedures while the groom gets a token – oh sure find a nice rental tuxedo and the like. Is this an effort to further deal men out of the Sacrament of Marriage as our emotional attachment to it is decreased? Is it a laying of the ground work of eliminating The Bridegroom from the Church as the church becomes less of a bride?
    Dare I hope that this makes some people uncomfortable?

  35. Anonymous age 71 says:

    Actually, there is considerable information on whether sexuality causes social breakdown, or vice versa.

    Dr. Unwin, 1934, wrote a book, SEX & CULTURE which addresses this very issue. He studied many civilizations and societies through history.

    In every case the sexual freedoms of WOMEN determines the basic structure of the society, including the religious practices of that society.

    Not men. Women.

    And, with women in the USA having nearly 100% sexual freedom (the only limit I know of involves underage children), yes, religion is done for.

    The book is well worth reading. It may be available online, but to make sense out of it, you probably need a hard copy. I paid nearly $200 for a really broken copy. A really good copy might run $700 via Amazon used books.

  36. R in Indiana says:

    I’m late reading your articles because I recently finished my finals. I have to say I appreciate your comments. I was listening to a public radio story about Pope Francis as I ran errands yesterday, and at first I was excited because the guest was supposedly a Catholic priest, as you may imagine, I ended-up very disappointed. It turns out that the speaker had been a Catholic priest for about 5 years during Vatican II, and now he is an author. This former priest stated that as an advisor at a university, he had counseled his students that they should use birth control. He talked about being able to follow his conscience. I was mortified that this man not only has the gall to appear on a national program, but also to represent himself as Catholic. He is about as Catholic as Tom Cruise. Apparently anyone can say they are Catholic and be taken seriously by mainstream media (such as Nancy Pelosi). I’m afraid that the drop in marriage numbers that you are seeing corresponds to a silent drop in church membership. These people may be attending church weekly, but their hearts are elsewhere, so perhaps that drop that you see in marriages actually corresonds to a real drop in people who are Catholic. I mean Catholic in the sense that they are engaged as a Catholic, and they are not simply sitting in a pew because they are supposed to or it looks good or that is how they socialize.

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