Marriage: Where do we go from here?

With D.C.’s March for Marriage drawing near, this is a good moment to take a look at how we Catholics—laypeople, priests, and bishops—can better prepare couples for this holy Sacrament, which was blessed in a special way by the first miracle of Our Lord at Cana at His Mother’s request. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear that “the matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble. God himself has determined it “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (no. 1614).  Of course, this teaching cannot be changed. It is divine revelation expressed in the words of Jesus Himself and is the infallible teaching of the Church. So where to go from here?

The answer is simple, but challenging, both to the hierarchy and the Church faithful. However, if the first Christians could do it over the course of the decline of the Evil Empire, so can we with the help of the Holy Spirit; so can we, and even quicker with the help of prayer and sacrifice, and the generosity of married couples and their plenteous offspring.

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Fr. McCloskey officiating at a wedding (photo credit: Stacy Rausch)

Fr. McCloskey celebrating a wedding Mass (photo credit: Stacy Rausch)

With fertility rates in much of the so-called developed world sinking below replacement level, and showing precipitous declines even in most of the developing world, it is clear that world population is positioned to fall, perhaps by the end of this century. This decline of course tracks with the introduction of artificial contraception and the heinous crime of legalized abortion. The growing number of jurisdictions (with Quebec the most recent) that have legalized euthanasia have not yet added multitudes to the death toll. But as nations face the economic consequences of the inverted human pyramid that their contraceptive practices produce—with fewer productive workers left to provide for an elderly population that outnumbers them—we can expect national health policies more and more to encourage such killings, willing or not.

Over time, not only the meek, but the fertile and procreative, will inherit the Earth, unless the Lord in His infinite wisdom pulls the plug on his recalcitrant children and proceeds to the General Judgment. (Could you blame Him if He chose to do so?) In the meantime, what should we do as members of his Mystical Body to stop the carnage of abortion and contraception and repopulate the Earth? A few suggestions for our married couples, their families, and the priests and bishops that have both the duty and the joy of watching over the flock entrusted to them by Holy Church.

  1. All Catholic education should have as its main focus from the earliest ages the Church as the Family of God, with the understanding that most of the Church’s members will be called to marriage as their path to holiness. In the case of married couples, holiness is pursued through loving generosity which is a response to God’s own generous love of us. In large part Catholic couples will express this generosity through openness to bringing new children into the world to give Him glory.
  2. Diocesan preparation for marriage should start much earlier, perhaps as early as elementary school or high school. Truly Catholic Colleges and universities (and there are more and more of them) should continue the job of transmitting an orthodox and attractive understanding of marriage and family life according to the teachings of St. John Paul II and his revolutionary Theology of the Body, with its insights into holiness, intimacy, and openness to life.
  3. The best teachers for couples preparing for marriage are naturally (though not exclusively) those who are married with children and faithful to the teachings of the Church. They are the ideal candidates to lead pre-Cana classes in dioceses and parishes and to enthusiastically convey to the next generation of Catholic spouses joyful and faithful obedience to the faith.
  4. The Church should also make the effort to celebrate in the media actors, athletes, well-known celebrities, and those in political life who clearly put their marriage and family first.
  5. Each diocese should offer phone hotlines or Internet sites available for married couples and those preparing for marriage to answer questions dealing with marriage and fertility and also to recommend Catholic medical doctors in the diocese or elsewhere.  All men preparing for the priesthood (along with men in religious life) should also be suitably prepared to answer such questions and to know where to go to recommend faithful doctors and marriage counselors. After all, where do they think the vocations of the future will come from if not from generous and joyous Catholic couples?

Let us go and multiply without fear and with joy! It is our world to conquer for Christ and His Church, whatever the cost!

Fr. C. J. McCloskey III, S.T.D. is a Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, DC. He is perhaps best known for guiding into the Church such luminaries as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Lawrence Kudlow, Robert Novak, Judge Robert Bork, and Senator Sam Brownback. His articles, reviews, and doctoral thesis have been published in major Catholic and secular periodicals. He is co-author (with Russell Shaw) of Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith (Ignatius Press) and the co-editor of "The Essential Belloc" (St. Benedict's Press).
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  • Masons in the Vatican

    Pallid. Consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart after the nuclear event and
    all will be well in mainstreet.

  • Cuneaux

    Thank you Father. You have inspired me this morning with this piece.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    “All Catholic education should have as its main focus from the earliest ages the Church as the Family of God, with the understanding that most of the Church’s members will be called to marriage as their path to holiness.”

    I agree. However, that is not the case. Catholic HS is dominated by a contraceptive elite, upper middle class with one or two children. The other 98% of Catholic students don’t receive anything more than an 8th grade education in the faith through CCD.

    Why don’t Catholic HS do a split one week of home school and one week of formal classes? Why don’t they charge based on a families income and the number of children they have? Why don’t they do away with all the expensive sports?

    Because it’s not really about the Faith. It’s all about getting into an expensive colleges and …..the Benjamins’.

    If you don’t believe it, try giving a talk on marriage at a “Catholic” HS:

  • Bill Russell

    As Clemenceau said of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, your advice would work if people were not human. Our dioceses are promoting offenses against marriage (cohabitation, sodomy, contraception) in their schools and CCD and RCIA programs. It would seem that the best way to promote marriage as a sacrament is not to allow our youth to be educated in so-called Catholic schools. In the archdiocese of New York, same sex marriage is celebrated and parishes (namely Jesuit and Franciscan) are encouraging “marriage alternatives” while the Cardinal looks the other way. The enemy is within.

  • William P Murphy

    If marriage and family is important than the church needs to do more than pay lip service.

  • Scott

    Let’s get back to preparation for marriage here. I totally agree we need to start with preparation early. But there is more to it than that. So often Catholic outreach to single people reflects a complete buy-in to the secular ideology of singleness. Being single is great! It’s freedom! It’s self-realization! There is nothing better or more fun than being single! That when you discern about a vocation, you should not discern simply whether you have a calling to the priesthood or religious life. You should discern whether the “single” vocation is for you, and you should presume that “single” is your vocation, until you meet the specific person you are going to marry. The result is catastrophic–and epidemic vocational drift. Only when you are 30 to 35, and you realize that your prospects for marriage are limited to zero, and you notice that a giant door has slammed shut behind you, do you realize that the whole single thing is a false promise and a mirage. There is no “single” vocation. Not everyone marries, and some people are called to special vocations that may preclude marriage. But many are single because they have missed their vocations, and a Church that encourages dawdling in singleness is part of the problem. The Church also mostly ignores Catholic singles who are struggling to get married in an adversarial society. Instead singles are told you don’t need to be be married, or you are making an idol of marriage, when in fact marriage is the natural end of man, created as male and female, and the sin of sloth means ignoring your obligation to pursue grace. Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium go on and on about the family as the domestic church. That is true and good, but there is really nothing in the Church for unmarried singles beyond a certain age except a bleak existence in this life and lonely old age. The Church pays lip service to marriage, but does nothing constructive or practical to help lonely singles get married, or to warn younger single people that singleness is not a vocation, but for most a dead end that leads to sadness and frustration.

    • Episteme

      As another Catholic single (coming up to 35 in a few months) — who, raised in outside of Catholic schools and Catholic colleges and in a family that stressed Catholic morality but didn’t build a “Catholic culture” — I agree pretty much with Scott here, including unfortunately with much of the despair. As suggested, there’s the flawed combination of giving singles just enough catechism to inculcate them with Catholic morality, then releasing them into a secular culture where they’ll either give up those morals or (for many of us) fail utterly at finding any success at love in the foreign world of non-Catholic society; meanwhile there is no longer a Catholic society for us to fall back on.

      The real first step isn’t a long-term project of education of hypothetical children, it’s actual pastoral care of the 47% of single (never-married, divorced, and widowed) Catholics sitting invisible in the pews — either being ignored in your parish or wandering between parishes in search of attention — today. And not in a meat-market singles ministry sort of way, but in the same sort of talking-to-them-about-their-fears pastoring that you do with married & engaged couples: think of it as proto-cana, as you help integrate us with that family environment that you talk about. Most of us are single because we come from home with broken marriages, so help us meet fellow Catholics with *good* marriages so we can talk to them and see how it’s done, that sort of thing, before (like Scott says, it’s too late — especially for child-bearing)!

    • mollysdad

      Actually, there is a single vocation. It leads, according to Isaiah 56:5, to a memorial and a name in God’s Temple, something better than sons and daughters. Men castrated in youth by the experience of unemployment must stay single and continent – this is nature’s way of limiting the population to the available material resources. A nation which decides it doesn’t need a man’s labour receives judgement in that he gives it no children.