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For Those Called to Marriage

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 20, 2011

A recent study shows that the percentage of Catholics who choose to marry in Church has declined dramatically over the past generation. Of course this is nothing that we did not already know. But having just returned from a very welcome week’s vacation—a week during which I was not actively involved in combatting the negative trends of contemporary Western culture—I have a slightly different perspective to offer.

The first point I’d like to make is that we need to be very careful in assessing the overall spiritual health of any given culture based on selective indicators. For example, we look back on the medieval period as a sort of golden age for the Church. But if we were to look at the statistics on clerical ignorance, we would be tempted to write off the Catholic culture of that era as a disaster. The same would be true if we were to consider the number of bishops who were directly entangled in worldly political affairs.

Certain shortcomings were endemic in the medieval Church because bishops tended to be selected from the younger sons of significant noble houses, the priesthood was a significant means of social advancement, and there was no consistent method in place for the education and formation of clergy. I do not mean to deny that the Church in every era has a marvelous capacity to make people holy. She always shines with saints, and she invariably elevates the surrounding culture in many ways. But she also reflects the strengths and weaknesses of that culture, from which after all she draws her daughters and sons.

Thus today, if we examine the level of education of our clergy or their appreciation of the distinction between Church and State, we might (despite various unfortunate tendencies one way or the other) be tempted to award a comparatively high cultural grade. But if we turn to statistics which reflect the sexual and marital mores of Catholics—divorce, contraception, pre-marital sex, and the percentage of sacramentalized marriages—well, we need hardly be surprised that quite a different picture will emerge.

My second point is closely related. If I’m right that the lack of Catholic weddings reflects a larger cultural crisis of both sexuality and fidelity, then I must also be right in asserting that it is not primarily those Catholics who do not marry in Church who are to blame. To the contrary, such persons have already been carefully taught to avoid Catholic marriage by their parents, who have miserably failed to deliver on the promise of their own sacramental unions. They have failed through contraception, through divorce, through infidelity and abandonment, through the elevation of worldly pursuits and pleasures over authentic family life—indeed, through a pervasive disinterest in spiritual growth, a squandering of the very graces their sacramental marriages were designed by Christ to provide.

The failure of children to marry in Church flows directly from parents who have not taken advantage of the graces of sacramental marriage to grow in holiness. What’s more, a significant number of those who do marry in Church have little understanding of what they are doing. We may stretch pre-Cana instruction from six months to a year to five years, and we will still too often be closing the door only after the horse is out of the barn. Worse still, the other evils traceable to undeveloped sacramental marriages are legion.

My third and final point is the kind of point we typically perceive only when we step back from our busy involvements, whether in pursuing our careers, securing our possessions, or even battling the enemies of the Church on CatholicCulture.org. It is simply this: Living our vocation properly is the most important thing we can do here on earth. If we are married, this means that constantly forming and renewing our spouses and children in Christian love is more important than getting a more important job, rising to greater public influence, making more money (in order to do more good!), pursuing personal dreams, or even sacrificing mightily to do apostolic work—such as writing brilliant essays critiquing our culture and defending our Church.

For those of us married in the Church, the greatest gift we have is the sacramental grace of our marriages. We must love and nurture this special share in the life of God even as it loves and nurtures us. And the greatest gift we can give is the stability, security and deep formation our children will receive as we both love them in this grace, and love this grace in them.

After a week off, this is what I see. As I prepare to buckle on the old armor and raise the old sword (and, by Heaven, to harry every foe in sight), this is what I know. As a matter of priorities, I am convinced it is quite enough to know it. Before I pick a fresh target or ask for another dime, I want to be absolutely sure you know it too.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jul. 13, 2011 4:27 PM ET USA

    It is odd that this site gave me an insight into what happened in my parental home over half a century ago. I never understood what the Lysol was doing in the bathroom when I was a child. The piece by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse in your resource center gave me the insight I lacked. Everything else falls into place, and it explains far more fully the twenty-five years I spent out of the Church.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Jun. 22, 2011 11:04 PM ET USA

    This is an excellent article: exactly focussed on the point of crisis. Yes, everything must stem from the family, even priests and bishops spend their formative years in a family. It is a truism that families are under great pressure whether they are catholic or not: but often a neglected truism where lay fidelity to the Church is discussed.The pressure on families is even greater than that on the religious vocations I think, only the sacramental grace of marriage can be key.

  • Posted by: amdg47681 - Jun. 22, 2011 4:42 AM ET USA

    How I wish priests, who have our attention a mere 10 or 15 minutes a week at Sunday Mass, would once in awhile address the issues of contraception, fornication and other sins against the 6th and 9th commandments. If the numbers are correct,some 80% or more of Catholic married couples contracept, many of the unmarried cohabitate. Confessions lines are too often very short; communion lines much longer. Why don't we hear what we so need to hear?

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Jun. 21, 2011 8:31 PM ET USA

    Thank you! AMEN! "Living our vocation properly is the most important thing we can do here on earth." Absolutely. Living - really living - what we believe in our particular vocation and place in life. I agree with tonydecker513018861 wholeheartedly - this is the way we will change our culture. Keep up the good work. We are praying for you and Catholic Culture.

  • Posted by: tonydecker513018861 - Jun. 21, 2011 12:55 AM ET USA

    This is by far my most favorite of your articles. Amazing what a vacation will do for you! It is so true that becoming personally holy and living our vocations to their fullest is the most important thing we can do. Not only that, that is the way that we will ultimately succeed in transforming culture. The family is the foundation of everything, especially future vocations. If we want a good future for our Church, it must be nurtured in the family.

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