Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Exhibit A

As we continue these "Benedict Option" discussions--not by plan, but because I've found the comments interesting and thought-provoking--I realized that my opinions on this idea have changed as my children have gotten older.

When they were still rather young--when ideas like this one began to circulate--I was more negative, more worried that any idea of gathering together for strength would lead to weird Catholic-cult communities, more of the opinion that we had to live in the world and make our peace with it. But I realize now that part of that negativity came from just how easy it was to make choices for my children--to homeschool them, to select acceptable television and movies, to pre-read all their books, to postpone discussions of the real evils in our culture on the grounds--good, ones, I still think--that they were much too young to learn about divorce, cohabitation, homosexual matters, and the like (let alone graphic details about dysfunctional and sinful ways of living).

Now, I'm grateful for the high school religion program we use and its careful discussion of the evils of the world (and the necessity to avoid peer pressure to participate in these evils or to give the scandalous impression that one approves of them). But I'm under no illusions as to how difficult the years that lie ahead will be for my children and for children raised as they are.

This was not always true in America. We used to have a culture that valued chastity and virginity for the young. We used to have social mores and rituals designed to protect the innocence of young men and women, and to reinforce the values they learned at home. This didn't mean that every young man and woman grew up still practicing chastity--but there were fewer excursions into immorality, none of them casual; there were still consequences for making those sorts of life choices. Yes, the consequences impacted women more than men: they still do, owing to the biology of reproduction. But we didn't have daytime talk shows around the idea that it's perfectly normal not to be able to identify the father of one's child (to give just one example of how far we've fallen culturally).

In fact, our culture today is openly hostile to the kind of virtues we used to see as important for our young people, and for society as a whole. Chastity is only one of them (though the totally erosion and destruction of chastity as a value has had, arguably, the worst effects on our nation). The virtues of loyalty and hard work, the virtue of truthfulness, of responsibility, of modesty in speech and dress, of humility and patience with others, and many similar virtues have fallen by the wayside in our nation's cultural understanding. Lying to the IRS or to one's boss about one's schedule, disloyalty to friends depending on which set you happen to be with at one time, flaunting one's wealth or connections, shirking responsibilities by ignoring them or throwing money at others to do them, theft of things like music and games through illegal copying--all of these things are shrugged at and accepted by most Americans, and if anything, people who refuse to participate in these sorts of things are seen as hopelessly out of touch, or "holier than thou."

And Catholics are not standing firm against any of these things; if anything, they're leading the parade of cultural oblivion. Here's exhibit A (hat tip: New Advent):

It is June — that time of year when many of us will be receiving wedding invitations. One thing that may have changed from years past is the likelihood that the address on that invitation is for a country club, beach or community center rather than a Catholic parish.

The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010. [...]

It’s not that Catholics are less likely to marry than non-Catholics. In 2010, 53 percent of Catholics surveyed in the General Social Survey (GSS) indicated that they were currently married. By comparison, 51 percent of non-Catholics surveyed were married (including 55 percent of Protestants and 43 percent of those without a religious affiliation). Instead, many Catholics are choosing to marry outside of the Church.

We can see this trend in polling data as well. In a 2007 survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, 46 percent of unmarried Catholics who indicated some likelihood of marrying in the future said it is “somewhat” or “very” important to them to marry in the Church.

It's just not important to increasingly large numbers of young Catholics to get married in the Church--or to get married at all. And though some of the unmarried include people who embrace a vocation, either to priesthood, the religious life, or the single state, I'm afraid that the majority are those who have embraced, instead, the hookup, cohabitation, transient-partnership lifestyle as an alternative to marriage.

Some commenters yesterday said something along these lines: if the faith doesn't have a hold on your children, no amount of surrounding your family with like-minded people will help. I'm sure that's true to a degree--but is it honestly fair to expect young Catholics to find the way to live lives of heroic sanctity in a culture that is hostile to every manifestation of virtue and grace? And that tells them, over and over, in entertainment, cultural experience, casual, everyday contact with their neighbors, etc. that they are the ones with the problem, that virtue is an outdated notion of no relevance to today's enlightened, modern people?

The wreckage going on in the area of Catholic marriage is Exhibit A of the consequences of ignoring the deleterious effects of a culture on a people living within it. History shows us that we're not the first people to struggle with this; no people is totally immune to the culture that surrounds it, especially when that culture does its worst to choke off virtue and deny goodness a hearing.


Deirdre Mundy said...

We have siblings who got married outside the Church. I think one of the BIGGEST influences on their decision was that they really didn't UNDERSTAND the Church teachings on the sacrament of Marriage--- instead, they fell prey to the 'basically decent person' fallacy. HOWEVER, at least for our generation, I think part of that is the abyssmal quality of religious ed we recieved.

With the Ignatius Faith and Life series, my daughter already knows more about the Church than most of her adult relatives...And she's about to start second grade!

Honestly, if I hadn't happened to end up at a school with a really good Neumann center AND a strong focus on "great books" (where I met Augustine), I don't know where I'd be today.

A lot of the Catholics who are getting married outside the Church really never learned the faith to begin with. They're "Catholic" in the sense that they are baptized and made their first communion, but they never actually learned what we believe.

On the other hand, they made some pretty great "seven deadly sins" collages!!!!!

So, honestly, I think it may get better. And it's not that these kids have rejected the Church and embraced the world... it's that they've never know the Church well enough to reject it.

(Like my 7 year old says 'If they knew it was really Jesus there, why would they skip Mass?')

Deirdre Mundy said...

Erin-- I also wanted to say that I can see how your concerns would change as your kids get older and they have to deal with the culture more independently.

I think the most important thing is to find a group of young people who share their values, especially on the chastity thing. (They don't have to be Catholic, necessarily. In high school, I hung out with a random group of geeks and nerds. They believed in chastity, not from a religious perspective, but from a "At this age, sex is a distraction from what's really important!" perspective. The end result was still a co-ed group that did things like mini-golfing and hiking while other kids went to parties and got drunk.

So, for teens, wholesome friends are a must, but you won't necessarily find them at Church-- my CCD program growing up had plenty of party girls who just pretended to be 'good' when the adults were watching.

Also, when your girls get to college, (and eventually get engaged) they need friends who share their values who will support them and pray for them! My husband and I were flabbergasted by the number of Catholic parents (we were teachers at a school when we were engaged) who were shocked, bemused and appalled that we had SEPARATE LIVING ARRANGEMENTS before marriage. (He lived with his parents, I had the apartment downtown that would be both of ours after the wedding--about 6 weeks into the school year, which is why "parents" was a better option than "short term lease." ) People were actually scandalized by our behavior, since any sensible couple would just move in together since it was only 6 weeks!

Fortunately, we had friends and family supporting us and praying for us.

BUT I'm still not convinced that "finding friends who share your values" is anything NEW. After all, if you run with a crowd that is antithetical to your values, you're the one whose likely to change.

Anyway, for teens, I'm not sure that a Cathbook would be as useful as letting them find friends with similar interests from stable, happy families...which can be a lot of work, especially for home schoolers, but it will pay off. And if they learn how to choose friends in HS, they'll be able to in college. (Also, I'm a big fan of asking God to send my kids good friends!)

JMB said...

Not everybody wants such a sheltered environment. I know I didn't. I couldn't wait to go to college and get out of my parent's house. I loved them dearly, but I wanted to see the world. I wanted to experience what was "out there". And yes, I made some big mistakes and screwed up, but I needed that. Do I regret my past mistakes? I do. But I also believe in God's mercy and forgiveness. I may have taken some detours but I came back home.

I also think there is a danger to believe that sin only happens "out there" and not in your home, or in your heart or with your family. For me, I know how weak I am. I've tested it and failed at it. I expect my children to do the same. I pray for them every day, just as I'm certain, my parents prayed for me (and continue to do so, one in heaven I hope) to this day. I believe in the power of the sacraments and in the saving grace of Jesus.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Deirdre, marriage does pre-date the church. In fact, it pre-dates monotheism. While pagan Rome promulgated monogamy (along with legal prostitution and orgies), Judaism promulgated polygamy, chastity, and virtue. So I'm not sure that legitimate marriage can be confined to the rituals of the Roman church. Its a perfectly sound Christian marriage, but not all there is.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent!

Deirdre Mundy said...

You're right, Siarlys. In fact, if a pair of protestants who married in their Church joins the Catholic church, their marriage still 'counts.' Because the sacrament is actually performed by the couple, and the church stands as witness.

BUT it is important for CATHOLICS to get married in the Catholic church, And we've done a very poor job explaining to kids why this is the case. (as evidenced by the fact that *I* can't even remember off the top of my head the reason, other than 'invite Jesus to your wedding,' and have to go look it up again! How embarrassing! :) But I know we did a "wedding gown collage" when we studied this in CCD................)

Anonymous said...

Maybe people are in fact learning what the church teaches about marriage, and they are rejecting it outright. I think it odd that some are assuming that people aren't choosing a Catholic wedding because they don't know the teachings of the Church.

Up until very recently, marriage was more of a financial transaction, and the "Church" part was secondary. for the poor, the fathers of the kids getting married would hash out the dowry, how the bride would be provided for, etc...THEN, they would have a little huddle at church. For the Rich, the Lawyers would have more to say about it than any priest or other religious official. Certainly almost everyone would have more to say about it than either the bride or the groom.

It could be that we are in a transitional time in history where we are still trying to figure out this whole marrying for love and choosing our own mates idea. Many cultures still don't do this.