Guest Post by Canonist Pete Vere
We must help revive the consciences of Catholic young people towards marriage and family.
Oh. My. Goodness! The Holy Father’s strategy behind Amoris Laetitia suddenly makes sense. And it takes Jesuit cunning to a new level–namely that of the Pope’s universal appeal as a Christian leader.
Zenit just published Pope Francis’s 2018 address to the Roman Rota. This is an annual tradition anticipated by canonists each January as it helps us better understand and interpret canon law according to the mind of the Supreme Legislator.
Here are the two passages that most stand out to me as a canonist, a pro-life Catholic writer, and a parish catechist with particular focus on marriage and family:
A continuous experience of faith, hope and charity is all the more necessary so that young people may again decide, with a sure and serene conscience, that conjugal union open to the gift of children is great joy for God, for the Church, for humanity. The synodal journey of reflection on marriage and the family, and the subsequent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, have had an obligatory path and purpose: how to save young people from the din and deafening noise of the ephemeral, which leads them to shy away from stable and positive commitments for the individual and collective good.
How valuable and urgent is the pastoral action of the whole Church for the recovery, safeguarding, protection of a Christian conscience, illuminated by Gospel values! It will be a long undertaking and not easy, requiring bishops and presbyters to work indefatigably to enlighten, defend and support the Christian conscience of our people. The synodal voice of the bishop Fathers and the subsequent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia thus ensured a basic point: the necessary relationship between the regula fidei, that is, the fidelity of the Church to the untouchable Magisterium on marriage, as well as on the Eucharist, and the urgent attention of the Church herself to the psychological and religious processes of all persons called to the choice of marriage and family. Welcoming the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers, I have already had the opportunity to recommend a marriage catechumenate, intended as an indispensable itinerary for young people and couples destined to revive their Christian conscience, sustained by the grace of the two sacraments, baptism and marriage.
In essence, Pope Francis is confronting what has sometimes been dubbed the “Marriage Strike”. That is, young people are refusing to marry because of a certain pessimism and lack of understanding toward the sacrament and institution–one that has taken root in the current culture.
In my experience both men and women have been affected by this pessimism toward marriage, although it often expresses itself differently between sexes. That is, I find women more often seek to delay marriage, while I find men simply refuse to commit. And it is not just about secularism, sowing wild oats, or establishing oneself financially. Quite often, the pessimism young people feel toward marriage and raising children is due to their own experience growing up in less-than-ideal family circumstances.
Pope Francis recognizes that given their experience growing up in today’s culture, young people have in large part tuned out when it comes to marriage and family life. They no longer approach relationships with the rose-coloured optimism of previous generations of young couples. To previous generations, spring meant that love was in the air. To today’s generation of young couple, having survived the winter of their own family life, spring is a foreshadowing of fall when the warmth of summer cools and everything else around you dies.
Even long-term dating relationships (LTRs, or what yesterday’s generation called “going steady”) have for many young people been replaced by hookup culture. In limiting the relationship to the moment, a hookup reveals a definite lack of optimism among young people towards marriage and family life.
This is what Pope Francis has discerned and is trying to confront in charting a more pastoral course for the Church in Amoris Laetitia. This generational pessimism is also what Pope Francis was addressing in convalidating the marriage of two airline stewards after spending the previous day conversing and catechizing them.
Thus Francis’ first paragraph cited above can be summarized as follows: Young people have been fed a pessimistic view of marriage and family life in today’s culture. We must restore their Christian hope concerning this sacrament and social institution so that they once again choose marriage and family with a positive conscience.
Likewise, one can summarize Pope Francis’s second paragraph as: We must develop a catechism of marriage to help revive the consciences of our Catholic faithful (including young people) towards marriage and family.
It is a cunning strategy on the part of the Holy Father. I see a strong parallel to St John Paul II’s inaugural invitation as newly-elected Roman Pontiff. “Do not be afraid,” St John Paul II said.
Today, Pope Francis is adapting his predecessor’s invitation to marriage and family life. In doing so He is asking clergy, religious, and laity active in ministry and apostolate to help restore optimism among young people towards these two venerable social institutions.***
I would guess that anyone who hears confession in a parish, sits on a marriage tribunal, or is engaged in any form of ministry with young people today, will quickly become familiar with “hookup culture” as well as why even young people in LTR’s openly shy away from marriage and family life. I simply had not connected the dots between it and Pope Francis’ intentions with AL until reading this year’s papal address to the Rota.
In hindsight, it is so obvious that this is a serious problem worldwide and that Pope Francis wants the Church to address it through pastoral accompaniment that focuses on forming the consciences of young people and restoring their optimism toward marriage and family.
(And it is also so Ignatian in its discernment and approach.)
[this material from Dave]:
See the alarming data presented in this article: “Catholics Are More Progressive Than The Vatican, And Almost Everyone Else” (Carl Bialik, FiveThirtyEight, 10-17-14)
See also my related article, initially stimulated by the above: “Pope Francis, Cardinal Newman, & Fresh (Orthodox) Presentations.”
Photo credit: Plot of data from General Social Survey question COHABOK (1298. Do you agree or disagree: b. It is alright for a couple to live together without intending to get married.) using COMPWT weighting. Chart uploaded by Callinus. [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license]