Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Marriage Conversation: Getting that and other things right

Below, are sobering statistics from Dr. William May’s book, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. When the younger generations come of age, the tsunami of support for the legalization of same-sex unions will be significant. Take a look: 
  • “The percentage of high school seniors who aspire to marriage has remained unchanged over the years, but the number achieving their dreams has dropped precipitously.” 
  • “In just 30 years the marriage rate per 1000 unmarried women declined more than 43 percent. Births to unmarried mothers are now over 41 percent.” 
  • “Research shows that 46 percent of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds now believe that the ‘growing variety in types of family arrangements’ is a good thing.”
  • “56 percent of high school seniors believe it is OK to have children and not be married. An increasing number of eighteen-to twenty-nine-year-olds think that marriage is obsolete (44 percent).”
Most of the book is geared for public policy and the debates surrounding the redefinition of marriage. The argument Dr. May advances centers on the premise that marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. Since no other institution fulfills this objective, proponents for the sanctity of marriage cannot afford to omit this critical dimension. Indeed, the public policy debate comes down to two conflicting understandings of marriage (taken almost verbatim from the book):

1. Marriage is the public recognition of a committed relationship between a man and a woman (or two adults) for their fulfillment.
  • Increasingly, people have come to think of marriage as a means of pursuing individual happiness.
  • But when society severs marriage from the right of children to have a mother and a father, this sacred institution can easily be reduced to a mere instrument of self-fulfillment
  • Marriage is much greater than the sum of its parts
2. Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.
  • Marriage is much more than an institution for adult fulfillment…Marriage between a man and a woman is still the only institution that unites kids with their mom and dad. This expresses the fullness of what marriage is.
  • Marriage thus defined, a man and a woman are not only irreplaceable to each other; but as a father and a mother, they are irreplaceable for their children.
  • On the other hand, if same-sex unions were to be legally recognized, fathers or mothers would be replaceable. Having two of the same-sex parents for any child would necessarily involve the negation of the other.

Dr. May’s points are very helpful in framing the policy debate along more solid grounds. He is of the opinion that educating the youth will help reverse their widespread support for alternative lifestyles and unions. For instance, he said, “Reversing this trend requires the education of young people on the reality of marriage….”

As with many Catholic scholars and evangelists, he suggests that education is the key in restoring the acceptance of the Christian definition of marriage. In part, I agree with him. However, I am of the belief that ideas alone will not suffice. And because ideas alone will not suffice, education as the instrument of communicating ideas cannot compete against the strong social and political momentum in favoring the redefinition of marriage.

We have to consider how the Church Fathers, the monastics and early Christians overcame a similar tsunami. From the ruins of a decadent Greco-Roman civilization and a fallen Roman Empire, they brought forth a Christian civilization. And that civilization was built upon a solid moral foundation. If truth be told, their challenges in restoring society were more formidable than ours. Like them, we have to draw from Christ’s reserve of supernatural strength and add spiritual sacrifices to education. Ideas and eloquent arguments were not enough then and they are not enough now!

In 1832, a holy priest, Blessed Antonio Rosmini, tried to convince his contemporaries that many Catholic institutions in his day were relying too much on intellectual formation and not enough on spiritual formation. Using the early Church as a model, he said, “That which the Apostles added to their preaching was the Catholic worship, which chiefly consists in sacrifice, sacraments, and the prayers thereto pertaining…The doctrines which they spread abroad by preaching were not so many abstract assertions; but the practical force, the force of action, arose from that worship, whereby man could attain the grace of the Almighty.”

About one hundred years later, Our Lord told St. Faustina essentially the same thing. He said, “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.” But by the early twentieth century it was beginning to be a long forgotten truth.

Therefore, as we press forward with developing ways to communicate the sanctity of marriage, let’s be mindful of what restored it during the early years of the Church. As Pope Leo XIII said, “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang; for the purpose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it is formed, and its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being.”