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.