The other day my attention was called to a Newsweek (June 21, 2010) article entitled, I Don't: the case against Marriage, by Jesssica Bennett and Jesse Ellison. Their principal tenet is that "40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, at least—no longer necessary." They cite some interesting facts and theories in favor of their position. For example, "It often pays to stay single," or "If you're going to wait, why get married?" Then there was the 28 year old man quoted as, "If I had to be married to have sex, I would probably be married, as would every guy I know." They also mention things like women no longer needing to depend on men for financial security, or that studies show that marrying a man means that a woman takes on seven hours a week more of housework, even though husbands and fathers these days do more of that than they did years ago. One interesting point made is that marriage has become so idealized and filled with expectations that it is almost impossible to maintain. They cite many other statistics and opinions as well and point out that most young people believe in monogamy, but just not necessarily a life long one or one that includes a wedding ceremony.
Articles like this certainly present a challenge to Christians and others who do believe in marriage. The question is "How do we respond to that challenge?" a challenge which has been there for a while and is not all of a sudden put on us by this article. There are some who would get angry and condemnatory and go pound on their pulpits. That may bring a certain satisfaction to those in the pew who already believe in, and are in fact married, but I don't think it would go far to alter the landscape. I think a different approach is needed.
First of all I don't think that we can bury our heads in the sand regarding the whole context, socially and economically, in which marriage is lived out. Most of us don't live on the farm, and even those that do live on a much different kind of farm. In addition the industrial revolution is over and we're in a new phase of a hi-tech, twittering, blogging, facebook and texting world where women have a lot more independence, and a try to juggle careers with child-rearing. They're not going to entertain any notion of marriage where he's the boss and she demurely follows hid commands, and like it or not the sexual revolution has taken place. All of this and more shapes the ideas that young people bring to the possibility of marriage for them. On top of this they have seen their parents generation have not too great a track record on staying married. This creates a certain skepticism regarding permanent commitment. We in the priesthood and religious life see the same trend for our lives.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that I like or agree with all of the above. Some of the thinking is appalling, some of it interesting, but all of it needs to be taken into consideration. Simply going to young people of a marriageable age with "Thou shall or shall not…" will not cut it. So, what can we do?
Certainly as a celibate priest I tread lightly in saying anything about marriage. That having been said I offer a few thoughts. I think the first thing that we can do is look to the many happily married couples that there are and find out the keys to their success, and there are several. One of the blessings of my life as a friar and priest is the friendship I have with several couples that I met in my days of working with the Marriage encounter. What I have discovered from them is that faith and hard work are the two things that keep things going in a marriage. By faith I don't mean just showing up at Church on Sunday, but a firm conviction that the grace of God is needed to meet the challenges of marriage and a willingness to seek that grace when needed. By hard work I mean the realization that you don't just get married and hang on for dear life, but the day by day struggle to communicate with each other and realize that no matter how long you are together you never fully know and understand each other. Also included in hard work if the struggle to keep marriage and family as a priority over work, especially now when both the man and the woman may be working outside the home.
In one parish that I visited to preach a mission young couples were invited to draw on the wisdom of a "mentoring couple" from the parish that they could turn to for advice and wisdom. Many took up the suggestion and were happy with the results. W
I also think that in preparing couples for marriage we need to challenge both the man and the woman but in different ways. With the much diuscussed "bridezilla" phenomenon in planning for the wedding day I think that brides need to be challenged to realize that a marriage is more than the wedding ceremony. With the above mentioned stat that marriage means seven more hours of housework for the woman men need to be challenged to step up to the plate even more. They're doing better than their dads in this respect, but more is called for.
That's my two cents worth. It's not the whole answer. Much prayer and thought needs to go into this subject. I welcome your response, dear reader of this blog, via direct comments below or by e-mails to me.