Late Have I Loved You – On the Delay of Marriage in Our Culture and the Flawed Notions That Underlie It

In football, if the offense takes more than thirty seconds between plays, they are penalized for “delay of game.” The result is lost yardage; they are now farther away from the goal line. The delay thus brings loss; progress toward the goal is hindered; victory becomes less likely, not more. I’m sure the offense would always like a little more time in the huddle in order to ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do. But there comes a moment when they must break out of the huddle and execute the play even if more time would have been ideal.

This also happens in “real life.” Deliberations have their place, but delay can be costly and can actually set us back from our goals. Life keeps moving forward even when we don’t feel prepared or completely certain of the outcome.

Related to this is an old saying, “If something is worth doing well, it’s worth doing poorly.” The point is not that we should plan to do something poorly, but rather that if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing, even if we wish we could have more time to plan/control better. One might have envisioned a nice cookout with steaks on the grill, but due to time constraints and limited funds it ends up being hot dogs and hamburgers. But it was still worth doing, and a nice time was had by all.

With this in mind, I’d like to discuss an increasingly large problem in our culture: the delay of marriage by young people. Many today are in their thirties by the time they marry. There are many reasons for this that are beyond the young adults themselves, but the bottom line is that delayed marriage is not indicative of a healthy culture. Marriage and family are the foundation of a healthy culture, and the lack of this anchor causes many to drift into unhealthy and counterproductive attitudes and behaviors. This “delay of game” brings penalties, both personal and societal, that cause us to “lose yardage” and make victory less likely.

Marrying and raising children within a family is demonstrably better for men and women than remaining single. Those in traditional marriages are on average healthier, happier, more affluent, and mature more quickly. It is also better for the culture when young people get married. Getting married and having children help men and women to become more responsible, more mature, and to make better decisions that are less wasteful and selfish. It helps them to think of others, and to learn to settle down into more stable, frugal, generous lives. All of this is good for culture and society.

A recent article by Dennis Prager in National Review speaks to the flawed thinking that has given rise to the delay of marriage. He does not deny, nor do I, that young adults today face many personal and cultural obstacles. But he also thinks that the obstacles are often overstated, and that it is time for all of us to work more at facilitating earlier marriages by encouraging young adults to be more intent on this goal.

I have presented Prager’s remarks in bold, black italics; my remarks are in plain, red text.

The statement “I’m not ready to get married” … said by more and more Americans between the ages of 21 and 40 (and some who are older than that) … usually qualifies as both meaningless and untrue. … So, here’s a truth that young Americans need to hear: Most people become “ready to get married” when they get married. Throughout history most people got married at a much younger age than people today. They were hardly “ready.” They got married because society and/or their religion expected them to. And then, once married, they tended to rise to the occasion.

Here is the opening salvo: it is always be possible to be more ready to do something. But the trap is that when you can always be more ready, you’re never quite ready enough.

For me, there is nothing like a deadline to help me accomplish a task. But the expectation in our culture today that young people should marry is so weak that few sense any urgency or “deadline” until they are well into their thirties. And it’s usually more the women than the men feel it. The biological starts to loom large for a woman when she hits her mid-thirties, but for a man it doesn’t. Thus there is little to no expectation that binds men and women equally to set about the task of looking for a spouse and getting married.

At one time we thought it was the most natural thing in the world for men and women to want to marry each other; apparently that is no longer the case.

A promiscuous culture has taken away one very central lure of marriage: approved access to sexual intimacy. Further, there is the notion that a marriage is supposed to be a perfect union and that the ideal mate must be found. Add to this the ordinary fear that getting married has always provoked.

I remember as a boy being up on the high diving board at the local pool. Standing up there on my own looking down at the water so far below caused me to freeze up. A few things “unfroze” me: someone coming up the ladder behind me, my friends down below encouraging me, and everyone else expecting me to go ahead and make the dive and chiding me for my delay. I felt unprepared, but off the board I went. I “got ready” by just doing it.

… at least two bad things happen the longer you wait to get “ready” to be married. One is that, if you are a woman, the number of quality single men declines. … as Susan Patton, a Princeton graduate, wrote … “Find a husband on campus before you graduate … You will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

In a big pool there are lots of fish; in a smaller pool, fewer fish.

The other bad thing that happens when people wait until they are “ready” to get married is that they often end up waiting longer and longer. After a certain point, being single becomes the norm and the thought of marrying becomes less, not more, appealing. So over time you can actually become less “ready” to get married.

Yes, we are very invested in the familiar, even if it has hardships. Further, it gets harder to change as we age. Those who are older are less willing and able to adjust to the changes that marriage brings.

And one more thing: If you’re 25 and not ready … [saying] “I’m not ready to get married” means “I’m not ready to stop being preoccupied with myself,” or, to put it as directly as possible, “I’m not ready to grow up.”

You may think Prager unkind here. And perhaps he generalizes a bit too much. But let’s admit that we live in a narcissistic culture, one in which most people take a long time to grow up and some never do.

I would argue that our whole culture is fixated on teenage issues. We are titillated by and immature about sex; we demand rights but refuse responsibility; we rebel against authority; we act like “know-it-alls”; we are forever crying about how unfair things are and how mean some people can be. This is teenage stuff, but our culture seems stuck in this mode.

Having been brought up on a steady diet of this sort, young adults (understandably) are going to have a harder time breaking free of narcissism and immaturity. But recognizing the problems is a first step toward getting better and getting ready.

People didn’t marry in the past only because they fell in love. And people can fall in love and don’t marry—as happens frequently today. People married because it was a primary societal value. People understood that it was better for society and for the vast majority of its members that as many individuals as possible commit to someone and take care of that person.

I would only add here that in the past people married in order to survive. They had children to survive. There was no Social Security and no retirement plans. Your children were your Social Security.

I do not argue for a dismantling of the whole Social Security system or of retirement plans, but I do argue that they have had unintended effects: the government has increasingly taken on a role that families once filled. People used to take care of those in their family, and this respected the principle of subsidiarity. Today, this has responsibility has been shifted to an impersonal government body. The “welfare system” (personal and corporate) has created an unhealthy dependence on government. This has the dual effect of reducing the perceived need for family ties and interfering with them when they do exist.

The argument [is invalid] that the older people are when they marry, the less likely they are to divorce. … The latest data are that those who marry in their early thirties are more likely to divorce than those who marry in their late twenties.

People may be more mature in their thirties but they are also more settled in their ways and more accustomed to the single life.

And then there is the economic argument. Many single men, for example, say they are not ready to get married because they don’t have the income … In fact, marriage may be the best way to increase one’s income. Men’s income rises after marriage. They have less time to waste, and someone to help support—two spurs to hard work and ambition, not to mention that most employers prefer men who are married. And can’t two people live on less money than they would need if they lived each on his or her own, paying for two apartments?

Frankly there is just more to work for when one is married. And combined resources, financial and otherwise, lead to a more “diversified portfolio.”

In addition to economic benefits, the vast majority of human beings do better when they have someone to come home to, someone to care for, and someone to care for them. And, no matter how much feminists and other progressives deny it, children do best when raised by a married couple.

This is just plain common sense.

Throughout history, and in every society, people married not when they were “ready” to marry but when they reached marriageable age and were expected to assume adult responsibilities.

Yep! And we err by not insisting on these things. People at every stage of life need a little pressure to encourage them to make beneficial moves.

The “greatest generation,” which lived through the depression and fought in WWII, did indeed make enormous sacrifices. But it would seem that they failed to pass on to their children the notion of duty and sacrifice. The baby boom generation thus ended up self-absorbed and under-disciplined. They threw a miserable revolution in the late 1960s. The tsunami-like devastation wrought by this revolution afflicts us to this day and has a lot to do with the demise of marriage, family, and (healthy) disciplined sexuality in the culture.

Finally, this [situation] reflects another negative trend in society—that of people being guided by feelings rather than by standards or obligations. In life, behavior shapes feelings. Act happy, you’ll become happy. Act like you’re single, you’ll remain single. Act like you’re ready for marriage, you’ll become ready for marriage. Do it, in other words. Then you’ll be “ready.”

Yes, other things being equal, this is true. Now please, don’t treat this as an absolute and consequently reject it. Understand that it is a general principle. There are times when other factors are involved; the correlation is not 100%. But I know (as I think you do) that when I do right and I do good, I “feel” better.

Finally, a disclaimer: I have written a lot on this blog about issues related to the delay of marriage, to the vocation, and so forth. And whenever I do, I find that some readers take articles like this one very personally and get offended. This piece is a commentary on cultural trends, not on your personal life. There are always going to be specific, individual factors that affect the outcome in a particular situation; those cannot reasonably be included in wide-ranging column addressed to thousands. If you are in your thirties and unmarried, there may be good reason for that. But this article is not about you; it is about an overall trend that is not healthy for a culture. Young adults today are not wholly to blame for marrying later in life. The adults in their lives, and institutions like schools and the Church, also bear some responsibility. These negative effects flowed from what we have done and what we have failed to do, individually and collectively. This is about all of us. I pray that this disclaimer will avoid the posting of angry and bitter responses in the comments section that bespeak readers who take personally what is not meant personally.

How to Discuss Same-Sex “Marriage” With Dissenting Family Members

SocratesI was out on the preaching circuit this past week and spoke at five parishes (including my own) on the biblical vision of Holy Matrimony (marriage) as set forth by God and the Church. The talks were sponsored by the pro-life group Defend Life.

While I cannot succinctly reproduce the talk in today’s blog, I spoke from notes that are available here and here. A video of one of the talks will be posted soon.

I heard a consistent concern voiced by those in attendance that pulpits have been too silent on this critical matter of marriage, and by extension, sexuality and the family. Since I don’t get around to many other parishes on Sundays, and I don’t have statistics or polls to consult, I can only assume that this complaint is widespread. That said, nothing prevents a Catholic layperson from breaking out the Catechism and teaching his or her children and grandchildren. There seems to be a lot of waiting around for the Church to “do something” regarding ignorance of the faith. Pulpits must get better, but so must adult religious education. Parents, too, must actively seek out sources for instruction so that they can learn and hand on the faith. I recommend two places, among many, to start: The Institute of Catholic Culture and Catholic Answers.

Another common question that came from distressed parents at the talks was how they could counteract the bewitching effect of modern culture on their children (30 and under) when it comes to the redefinition of marriage. Many of their young-adult children see “no problem” with same-sex unions (a.k.a. gay “marriage”) and parents wondered how to counter this position.

My recommendation would be to use the “Socratic method.” This method, rooted in the teaching style of Socrates, uses questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw a person to find answers by examining his own premises. Rather than simply refuting the position of their young-adult child, it is often more helpful for parents to ask questions that permit him or her to see for himself/herself the faultiness and/or emptiness of the logic underlying this modern thinking. Today it seems that logic, critical thinking, and proper premises are often lacking.

The additional value of the Socratic method is that it requires the “accuser” (the one who wishes to set aside biblical and Catholic teaching) to account for his view rather than the faithful Catholic to mount a complete defense. The method also involves listening respectfully as the accuser speaks.

Consider a scenario in which an adult son or daughter makes some remark that indicates opposition to the Church teaching on traditional marriage. You might ask,

Do you oppose the fact that the Church upholds only traditional Marriage and rejects same-sex “marriage”?

Assuming the response is yes (or some form thereof), follow up with this question:

How do you define marriage?

Now just wait as long as necessary. Give no assistance, just wait patiently. Let the question hang there. It is quite likely that he or she will struggle to answer the question because those who have redefined marriage have not really redefined it at all; they have simply made it increasingly devoid of content. Saying what marriage isn’t is not the same as saying what it is.

The response might be something like this: “It’s when two people love each other and want to be together.” You might then pose some of the following questions:

Could you be more specific? For example, why do you say two people? Could it be more than two? Why or why not?

Or,

When you say, “two people” do you mean any two people? For example, what if the two people are related, such as being brother and sister, or two brothers, or a father and his? Must the two people who love each other have to be unrelated? If so, why?

Or,

You say that they love each other. Must this be the case? Are there other reasons they could marry other than love?

These are not intended to be merely “gotcha” questions. The purpose is to force the dissenter to stake out a cogent position by carefully thinking through his premises and where they lead. If the dissenter responds to the above questions with some limits, it forces him to consider why those limits make sense while others (such as one man and one woman) do not.

The Church knows what marriage is and so does God, who taught us clearly (in Genesis 2 and other places) that marriage is one man for one woman in a life-long, committed, and faithful relationship, open to the procreation and rearing of children.

This traditional definition is clear, sets limits, and has been the way marriage has been understood for thousands of years. Those who wish to remove these limits must account for what restrictions are left and why they think those should be kept rather than also set aside.

Just ask these questions. Wait for answers. Wait as long as necessary and don’t help. Let them think through it and become more responsible for what they think and the implications that emerge from it.

In this video from Catholic Answers, Trent Horn makes significant use of the Socratic method. In this case the topic happens to be atheism, but it gives a good idea illustration of how the method might work. Atheism is a complex topic. Defining marriage is far less complex since the field of the discussion is more focused.

Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.

One of the most common and quickest traps and which most of us fall in the marriage debate about recognizing same-sex couples is that we allow the conversation to center around the couple themselves, that is, to center on the adults. But intrinsically marriage as an institution is not fundamentally about adults, it is about children.

William May recently wrote a short book on this matter: Getting the Marriage Question Right: a guide for effective dialogue. I want to summarize one of the key points he makes.

Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other, and any children born from the union. Marriage takes its fundamental structure and moral imperatives based on what is just and right for children. Hence, marriage must be heterosexual, in order that children may be conceived and born. Marriage must also be a stable and lasting union between those parents because this is what is right and just for children, namely that they have a right to be raised, formed, and influenced by their father and a mother.

But the problem with most understandings of marriage today is that they are adult-centric. That is to say, they focus only on the rights and happiness of the adults involved. Most people have little concept of marriage today as anything other than two adults being happy for as long as they please. And if they do have any children it isn’t because that is what marriage is about, it’s only because that makes the adults happy. Or so the thinking goes. And thus, because adults have a right to be happy, they have a right to get married, and if they are unhappy, they have a right to divorce. Basically, the modern concept of marriage is that it’s all about the adults.

Now, to be clear, this “all about the adults” mentality has been a problem in the heterosexual community long before the homosexual community stepped forward to demand recognition of their unions, as a “marriage.” And that is why it is so hard for heterosexuals to answer the demands of the homosexual community, and why so many heterosexuals are themselves confused. After all, what, really, is one to say to the homosexual community if all that marriage is, is two adults being happy for as long as they please?

And that is why we have to get the marriage conversation right.

The central point must remain this, that marriage, its structure, and how we understand it, must be seen from the standpoint of was is fundamentally just and and right for children. Any divergence from this central insight, leads us down dead ends and endless arguments about the rights and feelings of adults, and their need for recognition.

Actions which served to deprive children of their right to live in a married, stable, two parent family, with their own father and mother, are acts of injustice. Fornication which places children in danger of being killed by abortion, or of being raised in single-parent settings is a potential act of injustice toward children, and actual injustice if they are conceived. Adultery which violates and endangers the sacred bond of marriage and weakens it, is also an injustice toward children as well as adults. Divorce which intentionally destroys the marriage bond, also deprives children of what they justly deserve, a father and a mother who have made commitments, stick to those commitments, and work out their differences.

Other philosophies and lifestyles which weaken the institution of marriage are also injustices toward children, philosophies such as cohabitation, no-fault divorce, and giving legal recognition to same-sex unions. These philosophies and practices, because they weaken the institution of marriage, or to lose its meaning, are harmful to children, and an injustice toward them.

Children are not served by being born into a society where marriage is anything adults say it should be. A fundamental and intrinsic meaning of marriage is the raising of children and what is best for them.

We must do everything in our culture to regain this starting point when we consider marriage. To fail to do this at any level remains an ongoing social injustice, as well as personal injustice to children.

How is it unjust, you may ask? Because not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many social ills.

The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
71% of poor families are not married.
Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
2 times more likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
33% more likely to drop out of school,
3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
And twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves
. [*]

The subject a child to these odds is a social injustice, whether intentionally as some proudly do by having children outside of marriage on purpose, or unintentionally through unchaste behavior committed in weakness.

Further it is clear that heterosexual complementarity is what nature provides and what we should justly provide our children for their psychological and sociological development. A father and mother have unique and essential things to supply to the rearing of their children that a single parent or same sex parents cannot give. To intentionally deprive children of this is unjust. To weaken traditional marriage by the “anything is marriage or family” mentality is also an injustice since it makes our future children more likely to be raised in irregular situation.

In the marriage conversation, stay on message! Do not be drawn into long discussions about the rights of adults, or long discussions about homosexual activity. When it comes to marriage, marriage is about children. It takes a structure and its obligations based on what is just and proper for children.

Staying focused on this aspect of marriage, which gives it its fundamental structure and purpose, is intrinsic meaning, also makes it plain that this understanding binds heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

We all have a lot to answer for with the kind of terrible situations the majority of our children are being raised in today. And even if someone wants to argue that a certain situation isn’t so bad, it still remains an injustice to deprive a child of his or her right to live in a stable married family with father and mother. Anything short of this or anything which weakens the institution of marriage must be seen for the social and personal injustice that it is.

Get the marriage conversation right, stay focused on children, and what is just and right for them.

I remember being at a Yolanda Adams concert, and before she sang this song she warned the audience to shun illicit sexual union and to remember how it hurts children, along with many other bad things we adults do.

A Post Mortem on the Maryland Same Sex”Marriage”Referendum

Among the unsurprising but very disappointing results from yesterday’s elections was the approval of Same Sex “Marriage” by Maryland residents 52 to 48%. Maryland is one of the most liberal states in the union, and it is been known for at least several weeks now, through polling, that the bill was likely to pass.

Here again it is a time for a kind of post mortem analysis of how the Church could have more effectively taught the faithful, and have opposed the referendum more successfully. A reader from yesterday’s blog reflecting on this very matter wrote the following:

I was very disappointed at the lame, almost non-existent reaction of the Catholic Church to the same-sex marriage vote in Maryland. Where were the commercials? Where were the road signs? Where were the interviews and lectures and public forums? Where were the homilies?

While I’m not sure that all these reflections are fair, it does remain true that the work we did in opposing the bill was unevenly experienced and, given that we lost quite soundly, our work could well have been more effective.

Perhaps a brief review of what we did do is in order.

Beginning, almost four years ago, when gay “marriage” was being forced on the residents of the District of Columbia by a mere City Council vote, the Church joined with many other Christian denominations in seeking at that time to have the matter brought to a vote for the citizens of the District of Columbia. This attempt was denied by the DC Board of Elections who claimed that “human rights” could not be a matter for referendum.

In the midst of that battle we began a campaign to teach on marriage entitled Marriage Matters. The goal here was, through sermons, published materials, and Internet sites, that we could lead to the people of God to back to a better understanding of the roots of traditional marriage in Natural Law, as well as Scripture and Church teaching. In the context of this wider teaching, we also sought to demonstrate why Gay “marriage” was not an acceptable understanding of marriage that Americans ought to adopt.

More recently, these materials were re-presented in a more focused way to the citizens of Maryland. Pastors were instructed to read several letters from the Archbishop, were asked to preach one Sunday on the topic of Marriage and why Catholics should vote against the recognition of Same-sex “Marriage.” We were also to provide written materials and other references to parishioners. This was to have been done on one of the Sundays back in September.

It is unclear to me whether the reader who commented on the blog yesterday attends a parish where, for some reason, this was not done. But the fact is, it was something that was expected of every pastor by the Archdiocese. Although I, have a parish in the District, not Maryland, since many of my parishioners live and vote in Maryland, I took part in this campaign. I read the letters, preached the sermon and presented written material to the congregation.

There was also an advertising campaign, in which the Archdiocese joined with others to purchase radio spots, and some TV spots as well. Initial funding for this advertising was good, but there was donor fatigue which set in when it became increasingly clear that the polls showed that gay “marriage” was likely to pass in Maryland. I received an urgent call from the Archdiocese three weeks before the election seeking to help identify donors who might make last-minute donations. I am also aware that some of the bishops personally sought donors as well. So, there were strong efforts made to raise the money and increase the advertising, but the money was generally not forthcoming in large enough numbers to afford major P.R. and advertising especially into October as the polls indicated we were unlikely to prevail.

Could we have done more? Certainly. Without simply excusing our less than adequate efforts, I would like to make a few observations however, about some things which make our efforts difficult.

In the first place, the Archdiocese of Washington is not a professional or full-time PR firm. Nor do we have endless monies to hire such firms. It is clear that, as we move forward, more monies, and fundraising are going to have to be done. We just have to get better at doing what is frankly, costly, complex, and requires great sophistication.

Secondly, there is also the problem of there being numerous fronts in which the Church must currently fight. There is Gay “marriage,” but there is also the HHS mandate, abortion and other life issues. Every year, the Archdiocese spends an enormous amount of money on the pro-life march. The Verizon Center is rented at great expense, as are other sites. There is also extensive time and money spent by the staff of the Archdiocese to coordinate with police and get marching permits etc. All the sophistication, fundraising, and coordination has taken decades to emerge. As we go forward other topics will require similar sorts of attention.

This brings a third point which is the pace of change. Many of the cultural issues have come upon us quite rapidly. Gay “marriage” has emerged as a credible threat, really only in the last five or six years. The HHS mandate, and the question of religious liberty, emerged only last year, though we have been fighting legal battles for many years over the attempts to exclude religious voices in the public square.

Fourthly we struggled to maintain a coalition with other denominations when it came to the gay marriage bill. While we are deeply appreciative of and respectful of the hard work done by many of the Protestant denominations, there remain some differences between us in the way in which we articulate and understand the problem of homosexual activity. The Catholic approach is to make careful distinctions between orientation and behavior. Many Protestant denominations do not speak with these distinctions, and sometimes consider the orientation itself to be sinful, not just the behavior. These differences have made it somewhat difficult, and or awkward for us at times to speak with a common voice and to stand together easily. The Catholic position on homosexual activity, and so-called homosexual “marriage” is clear but our pastoral practice is to maintain important distinctions, as a matter of pastoral practice and out reach to those who struggle with a homosexual orientation. All of this makes building coalitions, while not impossible, more delicate and difficult.

Fifth – teaching on this matter at the homily moment, as pastors were instructed to do can be effective, but also depends upon the capacity of preachers whose skills are often very uneven. It is a sad truth, that over the last decades, most Catholic priest instinctively avoid speaking about controversial issues, and as a body, have a poor skill set in addressing matters of controversy forthrightly and with charity. This is beginning to change with younger clergy, but the fact remains that when too much depends on the individual priest, the overall effect is very uneven.

Six – Another problem in using the homily moment, is a matter of time. Most Catholics have an expectation that the homily should be 7 to 12 minutes, no more. Setting forth the Catholic teaching on marriage, and why we oppose so-called gay “marriage” does not easily fit into such a brief format.

Of course then, if it is not the Homily moment, when can such information be given the people of God? Would they attend special seminars, would they come to a parish meeting? Not likely in large numbers.

Surely then we should use the Internet, and we have. But it remains a fact that most religious people, especially Catholics, do not get most of their religious information from the Internet. There are also email outreaches, flyers, bulletin inserts, etc., but frankly, most people no longer read much.

Yard signs etc. could have been more ubiquitous, as could have bus ads etc.

In the end however the greatest challenge, it would seem, is simply to get our own house in order.

Most Priests are well aware that increasing numbers of Catholics, especially younger ones, have no idea why we oppose so call gay marriage. Further, marriage has been in such disrepair in the Church for over fifty years now that almost no one even knows what marriages is at all. Contraception, has shredded the meaning of sex and marriage and severed their intrinsic relationship to bearing children. Divorce has also shredded the meaning of marriage. Pornography has destroyed innocence and, after over fifty years of heterosexual misbehavior, most people think of marriage as little less than two adults being happy with or without kids, whatever they choose, for only as long as they please.

Yes, we have sown in the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. If most people merely think of marriage as two adults being happy for as long as they please, of course it is difficult for them to understand why to Gay people can’t get married. If marriage is not intrinsically about children in its fundamental meaning, why should it either be stable or heterosexual, necessarily?

Increasing numbers of Catholics, especially younger ones just don’t get it. Marriage of course is fundamentally about children, and takes it structure as heterosexual and stable because they are Integral to the meaning of marriage.

That is why marriages should be stable, lasting unions, and why divorce is wrong and why a child should have a father and a mother, because this is what is best for children. This is why contraception is wrong, why marriage must be heterosexual. But a lot of this doesn’t make sense to modern people who reject many if not all of these premises.

We have a lot of work to do to restore a biblical understanding of marriage.

Yes, even more than publicity issues, here is where the Church needs to do some very deep soul-searching. Too many of us clergy have said little over fifty years of heterosexual miss behavior, and deep misunderstanding about marriage has gone largely unaddressed.

When no-fault divorce railroaded through this country in 1969, it is hard to note that the Church said much of anything We were inwardly focused at the time, turning around altars, tuning up guitars, debating liturgy and authority etc. Yes, for over 40 years we have been inwardly focused and we lost the culture.

More than yard signs, or PR in this latest go-round, we have some serious repenting to do. We have not done in maintain the family or preserving marriage in the Church. We have been sleepy and distracted. It will be a long hard journey back to sanity in our culture, and to a good degree we must accept our responsibility for the mess we’re in.

This has happened on our watch.

Marriage Mania: Average Couple spends more than $26,000 on Weddings

Back in the 1980s when I was ordained, there was a priest in the area who was famous (infamous) for the fact that he requested couples who were going to spend more than $5,000 on a wedding (more in those days than now) to pay a tithe, (one tenth) of what they spent on the wedding, to the poor. While he could not require this of couples, he made of it more than a casual suggestion, reminding them that, as they spent thousands on flowers that wilt and dresses worn only once, there were some in this world who had little to wear or eat. The priest has long since passed away now, but was famous for saying very little at diocesan meetings, except, “Gentlemen, what about the poor?”

The memory of this priest crossed my mind as a Facebook Friend passed on tho me an article entitled: Average Couple spends 26K on Wedding. The article goes on to describe the devastating debt that many families incur, (especially when paired with college debt, etc.),  on account of the increasingly unreasonable expectations regarding weddings.

In indicating that $26,000 is the average, that means that half spend more, some a lot more. I actually have couples who are shacking up, (err… “cohabiting”) tell me that they can’t “afford” to get married. Some are surprised when I tell them they don’t have to spend a dime to get married in the Church. They can come to the Chapel with two witnesses and I’ll even buy them lunch. The usual push-back I get is that my suggestion offends against dreams (usually of the woman who wants a picture perfect “Church Wedding”). “So, for the sake of a party you will go offending God?” I ask. “Why not prepare for marriage now, get married in the Chapel, and have a 10th Anniversary bash?” suggest I. “We’ll get back to you on that Father.” Do I need to tell you my phone is not exactly ringing off the hook?

Disclaimer – As regards the cost of weddings, I realize that families do feel certain obligations to others. Further, there are some families that are prominent in the community, and either sense, or do in fact have, wider obligations. I do not, in this article mean to, or wish to, opine on particular weddings and I presume good faith on decisions that families make. However, at the cultural level we have questions to ask ourselves, in terms of the financial and personal costs we place on families. I have little doubt that weddings have always been relatively expensive, but 26K (average) is off the hook, and all of us do well to walk this whole thing back a bit, and ponder what fuels this. There are valid costs, but what part does vanity and dreaminess play on the part of the couple? And what part do unrealistic expectations and commercial hype play from the wider community side?

Permit me to give some excerpts from the article with my own commentary in red. The full article is written by Cathy Grossman of USA Today and is HERE

Call it Wedding Bill Blues. Even with a slight drop in “I Do” spending during recent tough economic years, many couples are beguiled beyond their budgets…..The average couple has a $26,989 wedding, according to Brides magazine. Even though that’s down from a peak of $28,082 in pre-recession 2008… remember this average number means that half of coupes spend more, some a lot more.

Couples are victimized by their own fantasies, cajoled by media visions of celebrity nuptials, and pressured by friends, family, even strangers posting idyllic photos on [wedding sites]…..Resisting is hard, say brides, citing wedding planners who overwhelm them with choices for décor and doo-dads that seem irresistible. Couples can also be lured off their financial feet by bank commercials that encourage borrowing for wedding costs. So the blame is collective, we ought not simply blame dreamy brides, or proud grooms, its all of us.

“It’s emotional. Practicality goes out the window,” says David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Jones [though savvy about the problem of debt] sees many ways debt entraps people. As a grandfather, Jones…found himself a shocked participant in runaway wedding spending for his granddaughter’s wedding…— a $6,000 gown, when $3,000 was planned..

Gosh, I just can’t imagine spending 6K for a dress worn only once.

I remember that my mother, to save money, went in on a dress that three of her friends shared (see photo above). Of course in those days women married rather predictably right out of college and such “team arrangements” were easier to make.

Today, does a dress have to be purchased? Can it not be rented? I DO know of some brides who find very lovely “used” gowns for a very reasonable price.

We also discussed last month, that, for those who purchase a dress, there is a very lovely custom of making baptismal gowns from it, or other holy garments.

At any rate, I’m sorry, 6K for a dress worn only once is crazy. Why not just say no to that sort of stuff? I know, I Know, I’m “a man” and wouldn’t understand.

While Jones and his wife contributed cash, their son, father of the bride, “had to work overtime for months after the March wedding to pay off the credit card bills,” Jones says…..Most people don’t have an emergency account or savings. The typical family has $50,000 for retirement.They don’t have six to nine months of savings set aside and even if they did, it wouldn’t be $26,000. Even if young couples are increasingly sharing the costs, they’re facing student loans and credit card debt even before the first wedding invitation flies out.

The crushing debt that couples carry into marriage, and then the debt they add buying homes much bigger than most of then need, is a huge factor in marital stress and divorce. I have had to counsel many a couple to reset their expectations of the “American Dream” and live much more simply.

My parents lived in an apartment for a good number of years before being able to afford a house. Too many couples forget that there is more to home expenses than a mortgage payment. There is insurance, repairs, taxes, utilities, etc.

So honestly, couples need to think carefully before spending a lot on a wedding. Most of them already bring debt into the marriage…and debt has a way of piling up so that it becomes crushing.

Careful! Debt is real. Too many think of debt is theoretical terms. But it’s pretty awful and real when cut-off notices come for utilities, and the “repo man” is ringing on the bell, and the credit card company is inquiring when the next payment will come.

Crystals everywhere. Flowers everywhere. Lots of drapery and fancy lighting, ice sculptures and all that jazz,”….The couple thought they would spend “about $30,000, but suddenly… looked up, and we had 200 people coming, and the costs were heading for $10,000 to $15,000 over budget…..We cut the up-lighting. We cut the draping. We cut the special wooden dance floor, and no one missed it.”

Hello….There are a lot of other things that won’t be missed too. In then, can we agree, it is the people, and togetherness that makes a wedding reception, not the “stuff.”

The article then details a number of cost savings to consider and couples getting married may find this part of the article helpful. The article then concludes:

Weddings bells sound like a cash register —Ka-ching! The average 2012 wedding (not including a honeymoon) will cost $26,989, up from $26,501 in 2011. A May 2012 survey of 1,272 Brides magazine and website readers found:

•91% of couples set a budget, but 32% overall, and 40% of those who plan a destination wedding, cross that line.

•72% of couples used savings to pay for their weddings. I presume they deplete it almost entirely? Not a good plan when starting a family.

•30% use credit cards, and most expect to pay off credit cards within six months of their wedding. Think again

•54% of couples said paying for a wedding would not hamper their plans for “buying a house or a car, starting a family, etc.” Think again

•62% of couples say they’re contributing or paying entirely for the reception costs, including 36% of couples who expect to pick up the entire tab themselves. Notice, that’s a big change from 25 years ago when the family of the bride footed most or all the bill. I wonder if parents still paid most of the bill if things would be this off the hook?

•Couples are almost as likely to have a sit-down plated meal at their reception (42%) as a buffet style meal (41%).

Perhaps we can end were we started. I wonder if a cash tithe were going to the poor, if couples and families might not also think a little more soberly. Maybe the older priest I remember had a spiritual insight. When everything isn’t about me, and when I think of others first, perhaps the Lord grants us a greater degree of sobriety.

It isn’t just about weddings, its about a lot of purchases. What if I were going to buy a camera, the latest SLR, and what if it costs $1100 dollars. When It’s just about me, its too easy to say, “Sure! Charge it!” But what if I am also going to have to write a check to overseas relief, of $110? Now I might think twice, or I might not buy the deluxe, or maybe I will buy it, but at least its not just about me.

Maybe, when we render our debt to the poor, first, our own debts are less. Something to think about in the extravaganza and boondoggle known as “the wedding.”

Concerning the obsession for photos at Liturgies – A Consideration of a Liturgical and Pastoral Problem

Consider the scene. The Bishop has taken his place at the entrance to the sanctuary. He is prepared to confirm some twenty children. It is a sacred moment, a Sacrament is to be conferred. The parents are in deep prayer thanking the Holy Spirit who is about to confirm their children for mission….. Oops, they are not!

Actually, they are fumbling with their cell phone cameras. Some are scrambling up the side aisle to “get the shot.” Others are holding the “phone” up in the air to get the blurry, crooked shot. The tussling continues in the side aisle as parents muscle to get in place for “the shot.” If “the shot” is gotten, success! If not, “woe is me.” Never mind that a sacrament has actually been offered and received, the point was “the shot,” the “photo-op.”

Consider another scene. It is First Holy Communion. Again, the children are assembled.  This time the parents have been informed that a single parishioner has been engaged to take shots and could they please refrain from amateur photography. This is to little avail, “Who does that deacon think he is telling me to refrain, denying me the shot!?” The cell phones still stick up in the air. Even worse, the parish photographer sends quick word via the altar server, “Could Father please slow down a bit in giving the children communion? It is difficult to get a good shot at the current (normal) pace.” After the Mass the photographer has two children along side, could Father perhaps “re-stage” the communion moment for these two since, in the quick (normal) pace of giving Communion, their shot was bad, as the autofocus was not able to keep up…”Look how blurry it is Father.”

It would seem the picture is the point.

I have seen it with tourists as well. I live just up the street from the US Capitol and it is fascinating to watch the tourists go by on the buses. Many of them are so busy taking a picture of the Capitol (a picture they could get in a book, or find on the Internet), that I wonder if they ever see the Capitol with their own eyes.

The picture is the point.

Actually I would propose, it is NOT the point. Real life and actual experience are the point. Further, in the Liturgy, the worship and praise of God, the experience of his love, and attentiveness to his Word is the point. Cameras, more often than not, cause us to miss the point. We get the shot but miss the experience. Almost total loss if you ask me.

At weddings in this parish we speak to the congregation at the start and urge them to put away all cameras. We assure the worried crowd that John and Mary have engaged the services of a capable professional photographer who will be able to record the moment quite well. “What John and Mary could use most from you now are your prayers for them and expressed gratitude to God who is the author and perfecter of this moment.” Yes, we assure them, now is the time for prayer, for worship and for joyful awareness of what God is doing.

Most professional photographers are in fact professional and respectful and know how to stay back and not become a part of the ceremony but to discretely record it. It is rare that I have trouble with them. Videographers still have a way to go as a group, but there are many who I would say are indeed professional.

Pastorally it would seem appropriate to accept that photos are important to people to make reasonable accommodations for photos. For major events  such as weddings, confirmations, First Communions and Easter Vigils, it seems right that we should insist that if photos are desired, a professional be hired. This will help keep things discrete, and permit family and others to more prayerfully experience the sacred moments. Infant Baptisms are a little more “homespun” and it would seem that the pastor should speak with family members about limiting the number of amateur photographers, and be clear about where they should stand.

That said, I have no photos of my Baptism, First Communion or Confirmation. I have survived this (terrible) lack of “the shot” quite well. Frankly, in the days I received these sacraments, photos of the individual moment were simply not done in the parishes I attended. Some parishes did have provisions for pictures in those days. The photo at upper right is of Cardinal O’Boyle at St. Cyprian’s in Washington DC in 1957. But as for me, I do have a photo of me taken on my way to Church for First Communion, but there is no photo of me kneeling at the rail. I am alive and well. There are surely photos of my ordination. But I will add, the Basilica and the Archdiocese were very clear as to the parameters. Only two professional photographers were allowed, (My Uncle was one of them them) and the place where they worked was carefully delineated.

Hence, pastoral provisions are likely necessary in these “visual times”  which allow some photos. Yet as St. Paul says regarding the Liturgy: But let all things be done decently, and according to order (1 Cor 14:40).

A final reiteration: Remember the photo is not the moment. The moment is the moment and the experience is the experience. A photo is just a bunch of pixels, lots of 0’s and 1’s, recorded by a mindless machine and printed or displayed by a mindless machine. A picture is no substitute for the actual experience, the actual prayer, the actual worship that can and should take place at every sacred moment and it every sacred liturgy.

And here is some very rare footage of a nuptial mass. It is of my parents in May 1959. What makes it rare is that it is film, not mere pictures and that it is filmed from the sacristy. My parents told me years ago that they presumed it was filmed by a priest who alone in those years could get access to the sacristies and other back areas.

The President, Gay unions, and the problem of selective Christianity

The President’s disclosure that he now accepts so-called “Gay marriage” has received a good bit of political analysis. I am no political prognosticator and this is not a political blog. But when the President invokes Christ and the “golden rule,” to justify his decision, now I think we have something to discuss on a blog like this.

We have discussed at great length the problem with homosexual “marriage” beforHERE HERE HERE, and HERE) there is no reason restate it all again. Just click through to read those sorts of articles. Further I make reference in this post to Scripture’s consistent teaching forbidding Homosexual acts. I do not set forth all the Scriptures here but you can read what I have set forth more fully here: Biblical Teaching on Homosexual Activity

In this post however lets consider the problematic appeal of the President to Jesus to affirm Gay “marriage.” Specifically Mr Obama said to ABC News:

…In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she [Michele] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me….[1]

It is a common problem today that people often present simplistic portraits of Jesus Christ to support a variety of agendas. And the portraits of Jesus are not only simplistic, they are incomplete (usually intentionally so), and fail to accept that Jesus cannot be reduced to a simple sentence or two.

I would argue this is what the President is doing here. As if to say, “Jesus, was basically a nice and affirming person, who spoke of Love,  and so beautifully and taught us to do unto to others as we would have them do to us. “Surely,” the thinking goes, “this Jesus would affirm and rejoice over two Gay people getting “married.”” It is as if this were all Jesus was or said, “Love…Do unto others”. Never mind that he had some pretty high standards when it came to sexuality (Matt 5:27-30; Matt 15:19; Mk 10:11; Rev 22:15; Rev 21:8) Never mind that he told his apostles he had other things to teach them and would send his Holy Spirit, and never mind that His Holy Spirit inspired the Epistles writers like Paul to speak clearly in the ancient Biblical tradition about the sinfulness of homosexual activity, fornication, and adultery [2]  “Never mind all that,” says the modern world, and our President, “I chose the Jesus who said only, ‘God is love, and be kind to one another.'”

And this is the textbook definition of heresy, to pick or choose. The English word derives from the Greek word hairesis, meaning to chose.

The essence of orthodoxy is in the balance [3, 4] and maintaining the tensions inherent in Jesus and the Christian message.  The essence of heresy is to pick and choose. And, as author Ross Douthat has ably demonstrated in his book Bad Religion – How we became a nation of heretics, there is a lot of heresy being peddled today. Heresy picks one, or perhaps several teachings, and emphasizes them in exclusion to other teachings which balance and complete them. And to be fair, as Douthat points out, heresy is not just a problem on the left side of the political or theological aisle. The right does it as well (e.g. prosperity gospel, easy justification for war etc).

The modern tendency on the left, from which the President speaks has been to reduce Jesus to a rather harmless hippie who went about talking about love and inclusion and healed people. Gone from this harmless and politically correct  Jesus are volumes of verses that help complete the picture: a Messiah who claimed authority in our lives, who spoke quite clearly of sin, yes even sexual sin, and who warned repeatedly of the coming judgment, and the reality not only heaven, but of hell.

But Jesus is not either of these descriptions alone, he is both. Orthodoxy is in the balance, not choosing one or the other or tipping in one direction.

In a masterful description, Ross Douthot shows the paradoxes and the necessary balances about Jesus and the faith with which true orthodoxy must wrestle and hold in tension:

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberately avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping. And of course the accounts of his resurrection only heighten these paradoxes, by introducing a post-crucifixion Jesus who is somehow neither a resuscitated body nor a flitting ghost but something even stranger still—a being at once fleshly and supernatural, recognizable and transfigured, bearing the wounds of the crucifixion even as he passes easily through walls. (Kindle Edition Loc. 3005-16)

Douthat goes on to conclude:

The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus…..[Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy….The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus. (Ibid).

Indeed a remarkable passage, even if I might quibble with a few words (e.g. the standards of Jesus moral vision are not “impossible” with grace). I would highly recommend the book and will be commenting on it some more in days ahead.

Disclaimer! – In saying the President is exemplifying heresy (i.e. pick and chose Christianity), I am alleging material heresy,  but I am not call him a heretic. It is not my role or in my competency to to declare someone a formal heretic.

But the President is clearly proclaiming a very partial and thus reconstructed Christ. The real Christ is, as Douthat ably notes, far more complicated and far less vague than the President would have us think. And there is far more to his teaching than the “Golden Rule.”

Another form of heresy common today is to pick and chose Scripture. The usual approach, especially in terms of homosexuality and sexual matters in general, is to reduce the entire New Testament to the verbal utterances of Jesus alone, a kind of “red letter” reductionism. This of course, denies the inspiration of the entire New Testament and, in effect, says that Acts, all the Epistles, and Revelation are not the Word of God, are not inspired, and may safely be ignored.

But this is heresy since we cannot pick and choose the books of the Bible, we cannot tear out pages, or cross out lines. Orthodoxy is to accept the whole of the Sacred Text, and to consider its claims with reference to the whole of Scripture and in keeping with its trajectory. For a Catholic, of course this is done in union with the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition.

Many supporters of homosexual behavior adopt this heresy by saying, “Jesus never said a word about or against Homosexuality.” True, but he also never said a word about a lot of things: drinking to excess, beating one’s wife, he never forbade ethnic humor, or said people should wear clothes, He never declared how big and how much money should be spent on the military etc, whether Government should provide welfare etc. Since Jesus did not say out of his own mouth we cannot beat our wives then it must be okay to beat them? Of course not. An argument from silence is very poor and unhelpful.

Further it is heresy to say divine revelation closed with the ascension of Jesus. Rather it continues unto the death of the last apostle. The Epistles are every bit the Word of the Lord, and authored by the Same Holy Spirit as are the Gospels. We cannot pick and choose what we like.

To be clear, the reading of Scripture is not a purely mechanistic endeavor. For example, merely pulling proof texts out of thin air, and out of context is wrong, for that too is often heresy – picking one thing, forgetting the rest.

Rather, Scripture is to be read in a way which respects the overall trajectory of the Scriptures as God leads his people through stages to Christ. Therefore certain things are operative early in Scripture (e.g. certain feasts, dietary laws and punitive measures) that later fall away or are fulfilled. Thus Passover is fulfilled and subsumed into the Eucharist, Jesus cancels dietary laws by declaring all foods clean, the application of stoning and other severe punishments are curtailed etc. But all these organic developments take place in Scripture itself, and can be observed there.

However, there ARE teachings (notably the Divine Moral Law) that remain unchanged and are continuously articulated at every stage of Biblical revelation. They do not undergo change or fall away.

Regarding sexuality, at no stage in the Old Testament all the way through to the end of the New Testament, is fornication or adultery affirmed. The same is true for homosexual acts. At no stage, anywhere in Sacred Scripture are homosexual acts or fornication, or adultery ever affirmed, nor are these acts described as anything but sinful (e.g. Leviticus 18: 22; Lev 20:13; Gen 19; 1 Corinthians 6-9; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Rom 1:19ff, inter al).

Thus orthodoxy, which holds to the whole and does not pick and choose Scripture, must in every way accept and announce that these are sinful acts, sinful enough to exclude one from the Kingdom if they are not repented of (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9).

Simply ushering in a “Jesus is love” argument cannot override texts like these. For the same Scripture which says, God is love, also contains these teachings forbidding extra-marital sex and a host of other moral teachings. The Biblical record sees no essential conflict in saying both “God is love” and “Fornication, Adultery, and Homosexual acts are sinfully wrong.” Thus neither should we have a problem. Orthodoxy says “both.”  Heresy says, “there is tension here and I am going to resolve it by picking the concept I like and excluding the other.”

The orthodox approach accepts the tension and sees a Christ who loves sinners (us) and holds them close, but who also summons us to repentance and a life that is increasingly free from sin and conformed to the truth by his grace .

I don’t know how the President will fare politically, but he has flunked theology and is, if you ask me (and even if you don’t) refashioned Jesus for his own purpose.

As for comments, I would rather not debate the whole Gay Marriage issue and/or the sinfulness of homosexuality. We’ve done that here before and the Church teaching is clear and is not going to change. I am most interested in comments that zero in on the problem of heresy – pick and choose Christianity and how it relates not only to this issue but others as well. But you decide.

Cohabitation’s Dirty Little Secret

Back the 1970s there was a lot of talk that living together before marriage was a “wise” thing to do. After all, said its proponents, “You need to try a shoe on before buying it” and “You take a car for a test ride before negotiating the deal.” Never mind that human beings are a little more dignified and complicated than shoes or cars, and that we don’t “buy” one another. Never mind all that, according to the proponent of this theory, we were supposed to bow our heads to the obvious wisdom of “shacking up.”

Further, this little bit of post sexual revolution “wisdom” was obviously something that previous generations had never considered (since they were all sexually repressed after all), neither had they tried it and found it wanting and thus rightly discarded it. No, no this was a brand new insight  of a brave new world, and who could really argue that cohabitation was both sensible and “wise?” Or so they said.

But the dirty little secret about cohabitation (aka “shacking up) is that it doesn’t work like its proponents claim. Cohabitors have higher divorces rates when they do later marry. They are less prepared for marriage, not more prepared.

In a recent article in the New York Times (of all places),  Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia shares some statistics and insights as to why cohabitation does not work. As usual why I share articles, the excerpts from the original article are in bold black italic print. My remarks are in red plain text. Pardon the somewhat cynical, ironic and playful tone of my remarks. But sometimes when you can’t cry, you laugh or play the fool.

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis. (Prophylaxis is a fancy clinical term for “preventative,” as in “preventative of divorce.” And this is the dirty little lie about cohabitation, it doesn’t prevent it). I would also add to the list of causes: a general decline in religious observance, the decline moral standards, decline of the family, and the decline of maturity and ability to make commitments. While some will prefer to call my additions judgmental, it is hard to argue that widespread promiscuity and the unwillingness to make and keep commitments, having babies outside of marriage or aborting them, are signs of a healthy culture. No there is something basically wrong with us.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce. Deep down I think all these young people know better and that pre-maritial sex is wrong and stupid. But there is so much stinking thinking today that it is possible to play games with yourself and rationalize. Pair this with the silence of many pulpits on such matters. I wonder how many Catholic teens and young adults have ever been explicitly taught by their parents, pastors and/or catechists that living together outside of marriage is a sin or that, as the Scriptures clearly attest, “fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” I strive to make this clear to the young people in my parish from 7th grade up. One of the tools I use is this list of scripture quotes I put together as I reason with them from Scripture: BIBLICAL TEXTS ON FORNICATION OTHER SEXUAL MATTERS

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect. Oops where did these inconvenient facts come from? Imagine that, something modern being wrong?! Well, let’s at least appear smart by giving it a smart-sounding name like “Cohabitation effect.”

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce….Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself. You don’t mean to tell me!

[Regarding cohabitation] most couples say it “just happened.” “We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,”…“We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.” [This is] what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean….. Actually, the concept of drifting is a very important insight. Most people do not up-and-leave the Lord or the Church in a huff. Most do not simply wake up one day and dive into serious sin. Rather, more subtly, and thus more dangerously, they just drift away from God and into sin. The book of Hebrews warns: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (Heb 2:1). The drifter goes quietly, often imperceptibly off course, and often comes to his senses way down the road when the journey back is tough. And thus many young people simply drift from the Church and from moral virtue. Thank God for those campus and parish programs that DO reach at least some of them, to keep the drifting to a minimum. Thank God too for parents who take the spiritual life of their teens and twenty-somes seriously, and help to keep them on course. Because, drifting these days, leads way down stream and eventually over the falls.

One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse. Imagine that, thinking less of a shack-up honey than a spouse. How can these young people be so judgmental? And how dare they think higher of marriage than any other form of relationship people wish to dream up. Hmm…but they DO think this way. I wonder why? Could it be that deep down inside, in the conscience, under all the justifications, rationalizations and stinking thinking, they know better?

Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. [Actually it would still a problem, a problem known theologically as sin, and sociologically known as stabbing the traditional family in the heart, making life very difficult for the children born into all the chaos or threatening those children by abortion] But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.

Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for, or change to, another option once an investment in something has been made….Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs. Back to the buying a selling paradigms again. But the point makes sense.

…[They] have furniture…dogs and all the same friends. It just [makes] it really difficult to break up.

I’ve had [many] clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together.

Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage. Wow, you don’t mean to tell me after all these years that our ancestors might have actually been on to something do you? I mean I thought they were just sexually repressed and juvenile, and that we were liberated and come of age. You don’t mean to tell me that maybe previous generations developed the system of dating and marriage to help us guard our hearts or something, or to help us be more happy? Well since that is not possible, we’re going to have to get the sociologists to study a lot harder to figure out some better explanation!

I am not for or against living together, (but you ought to be based on what you’ve just said) but I am for young adults knowing that, far from safeguarding against divorce and unhappiness, moving in with someone can increase your chances of making a mistake — or of spending too much time on a mistake.  – Yes, facts are stubborn things…

Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — and How to Make the Most of Them Now.” These remarks are excerpts of her longer article which is here: The Downside of Cohabiting

On a more serious note from me, the problem of Marriage and family in our culture is an ominous one. Frankly, it doesn’t take a degree in sociology or anthropology to understand that kind of crisis in the family we are currently experiencing is a civilization killer. The numbers regarding marriage are very alarming:

The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010…

[In this Catholics reflect the general social trend]. In 2010, 53 percent of Catholics surveyed in the General Social Survey (GSS) indicated that they were currently married. By comparison, 51 percent of non-Catholics surveyed were married. [But this an astonishing drop from 1972 when 79% of Catholics were married. Among younger adults 18-40 the number is even more shocking: Only 38% are married!]

Some of [the low numbers]  can be explained by Catholics waiting longer to marry, but the shift here has been slight. In 1972, the average age at first marriage reported in the GSS for Catholics ages 18 to 40 was 20.9. In 2006 (the last time this question was asked), it was 23.9.

Thus, the decline in Church marriages is more about not marrying at all than marrying older. [Our Sunday Visitor 6/26/2011]

The sexual and social revolution thrown by our culture is having its effect. We have sown in the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. And what seems most remarkable, even with all the data coming in, we have no will or ability as a culture to reform ourselves on any wide scale. As St. Paul put it so well well: Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and their senseless minds were darkened (Romans 1:21-22)

Thank God for the faithful remnant. It is hard to know where our culture will go, but as for the Church, though reduced in numbers, she will remain, by God’s promise and will we shall endure, even this.