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Timely Wisdom on Marriage

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 17, 2009

Time magazine’s July 13th cover story on marriage was a pleasant surprise. It was a hefty five-pager, dwarfed in that issue only by the nine pages devoted to Michael Jackson. That fact may reinforce remarks I’ve made recently about celebrity journalism, but the marriage essay—heralded on the cover as “Unfaithfully Yours” and entitled inside as “Why Marriage Matters”—was still a gift.

Consider first the cover blurb: “Infidelity is eroding our most sacred institution. How to make marriage matter again.” Not bad. Now consider author Caitlin Flanagan’s conclusion:

The fundamental question we must ask ourselves at the beginning of the century is this: What is the purpose of marriage? Is it—given the game-changing realities of birth control, female equality and the fact that motherhood outside of marriage is no longer stigmatized—simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren’t many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression, financial setbacks and emotional upsets, until after many a long decade, one or the other eventually dies in harness.
Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function—to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation’s own safe passage into adulthood? Think of it this way: the current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can’t be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children’s lives—that’s the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old…. What we teach about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate.

Of course this conclusion doesn’t encompass the full richness of the Catholic understanding of marriage. But Caitlin Flanagan understands that serious commitment not only lies at the heart of marriage but also is vital to the well-being of just about everybody. Earlier in the piece, she even approvingly quoted the president of the Institute for American Values, who said that “children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child-support check or fancy school can ever heal.”

This is not quite PC, so perhaps the rest of the editorial staff was out to lunch. Still, for whatever reason, this message came to America in Time. Let’s hope it also came before time ran out.

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