Over at Father Zuhlsdorf’s blog WDTPRS, there is an interesting discussion over Bishop Olmsted deciding the Diocese of Phoenix will require 9 months of marriage prep. As one who married outside the church, I just have to say this is insane. Additionally, a full NFP course will be on the menu. Nothing says I love you more than asking the woman you love to get married, so that you can have sex and avoid pregnancy.
I was married at 21. My wife and I dated 3 months, give or take, and were engaged for 5 months. We will be celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. I’m not sure – although I’m pretty sure I haven’t – been to a Catholic wedding with a bride and groom under 23, maybe even 25. Instead of NFP instruction, parishes might consider soliciting advertising from the local IVF clinics if they are going to have these requirements. While I know a lot of happy couples that married young (and outside the church) and are doing fine, I know a lot older couples (late twenties/early thirties) that are having very significant difficulties achieving pregnancy. (I know, that’s why they are giving the NFP training, to help couples get pregnant. Yeah right.)
What bothers me most about this though is the continued clinicalization of marriage (and most other social problems.) The idea is prevalent out there that divorce is principally a personal failure. As such the prescriptions are the usual better catechesis, more maturity etc. Concomitant with this is the romantic notion that our grandparents and great-grandparents were better catechized and more mature. This is of course nonsense. People are getting married almost a decade later than they were 5 generations ago. (Please don’t reference the WWII generation as it was aberrational due to WWII taking place.) And while I would love to claim an extraordinary piety existed in the older generations, the saying that all babies take 9 months except the first has deep roots. Some are called to marriage, and, with others, marriage calls them. A church will throw a baby shower for a poor and unwed mother, but the church will make that mother wait 9 months and learn NFP if she deigns to ask it to marry her. After all, we need to preserve the sanctity of marriage. (And yes, I know exceptions are made all the time.)
To get back to the prevalent idea of marriages failing being a personal trouble, I’m convinced that the reason marriages are failing have a lot to do with external causes. I might as well add some controversy here and start with the surprising number of marriages ending with more than 5 children. Part of it I think is the LHOTP (Little House on the Prairie) mindset that claims isolation is a good thing. All of the sudden women pop out and decide they want a life, or at least not LHOTP, and the marriages fall apart. Then there is the all too common phenomenon of great social instability leading people to change careers 12 times in their lives. This is the second time I’ve experienced significant unemployment in my marriage. It isn’t fun, and it hasn’t been fun with the marriage. Then there is the whole trying to raise a family on one income. While the entry point to being able to do this is lower than what many accept, living at the edge of poverty isn’t all that fun and that free market ain’t doing too well supporting households headed by people making under 150% of the median income (roughly $65,000 for those scoring at home). Not everyone can work in Catholic media and apologetics after all. That’s not all though. With the instability, you have the added bonus that many folks no longer live near family and have lost that support system. Additionally, with modern development your stay-at-home mom might be the only one in the neighborhood between the hours of 9 and 5. Now obviously no one wants divorce, but these programs are not a panacea for these problems.
Finally there is this whole notion that discernment equals time. Certainly discernment takes time, but after that it is called procrastination. It is not a sign of virtue for a man to look into a woman’s eyes after five years and say, “I’m not sure we are ready for marriage yet.” If I were a priest, which I’m sure many are thankful that I’m not, and a bride came up to me and asked when is the first date I can be married in the exclusive chapel in May when the lilacs are blossoming, well I’m not sure what I would do. I certainly wouldn’t take her willingness to wait a couple years for the date to be available as a sign of virtue. In plain truth, the folks attracted to these types of things are the same folks that are more interested in a marriage ceremony than being married. We were married for under $5000 (might have been under $3000; more than what I cared to do, but it’s never too early to compromise with one’s mother-in-law). I haven’t seen a single expensive wedding among the folks that married “young” like myself. We simply couldn’t afford it. Some folks I know went the courthouse route, because they wanted to be married. If the Church wants to be in the wedding business, that is her choice in the end. I think she should be helping to make marriages.