Letter to a grandson

We live in a society in which sexual relationships are common among young people. It may be socially acceptable, but the risks and the penalties remain the same. I did not compose the following letter in the abstract: I have 14 grandchildren.

My dear Grandson,

I hear, on the family grapevine, that you and M. have moved in together, presumably for the long term. M. is such a splendid young lady, and you clearly seem suited to each other.

Please don’t think I am interfering if I write to you about some matters which I think you and M. owe it to each other to discuss. I am not in any way judging you; I just feel that I would be letting you down if I did not bring some facts to your attention. You are free to take no notice!

I presume that you have decided to share a flat with good reason. That is, you love one another deeply so it feels right to be together. But I think you should both be clear about how you see the future. What is perhaps partly a matter of convenience now is likely to convert into a way of life. And problems can come up because, instead of sitting back and deciding whether to commit yourselves permanently to each other, you are drifting into a closer relationship.

You can’t avoid this. Nature hasn’t heard of the “permissive society”; she is intent on creating and strengthening the bonds which will create the secure parenting she has in mind for future conceptions. She does this with the help of “bonding hormones” so that the more satisfactorily you express that bond the harder nature will work.

And here is the source of a problem. It does not follow that two people in a relationship will develop the same feelings in the same way. One reason for this is that the two sexes experience relationships differently, another is that feelings vary in intensity and duration. If problems arise, as they do in all relationships, it is exactly this difference of feeling which comes to the fore. A relationship of any worthwhile depth does not end without at least one, or often both, people being badly hurt – any more than you can rarely count on escaping unscathed from a head-on car crash.

Of course, you might claim that just the same could happen in marriage. And indeed it could. But it’s less likely to because married people have made a conscious decision and a committed undertaking to hold on however difficult it may get. I know that you grandchildren think that Grandma and I have a very close marriage. And we have. Well, you can put that down to our solemn promise to cope with the bad bits as well as the good.

I know that you prefer facts rather than opinions, so you may think I am prejudiced by my own experience here. But I was looking at an analysis of census statistics carried out in 2010. It established that, of those who were cohabiting, 61 per cent stayed together for at least 10 years, while the figure for the married was 82 per cent. Of course we shouldn’t be surprised – after all, cohabiters have stated by their actions that they reserve the right to abandon the relationship. You haven’t? Pop down to the registrar and sign on the dotted line. That’ll prove me wrong!

There are some people who nevertheless say that it’s better and cleaner to break up a long-term cohabitation than to break up a marriage. It isn’t. Where marriages have legal ground rules to try to ensure that justice is done, a break-up of cohabitation is just asking for fights and bitterness. Some people believe that rights are established over time through the concept of “common law marriage”. That stopped in 1753! The Law Commission described the current law as “unsatisfactory, complex, uncertain, expensive to rely on, and… often gives rise to outcomes that are unjust”. Is that the injustice you are offering M. and she is offering you?

I imagine that neither of you is planning to start a family right now – although nature will be trying to trip you up the whole time. But babies can be a real problem for cohabiters. A baby changes your finances, your accommodation and your roles. You have to make a decision under pressure – and that’s a vulnerable moment. But there is one good reason for cohabiters to avoid children: twice as many children born to cohabiters will not see out their childhood with the same parents as those born to married parents. This is not a risk which you take; it is the risk you oblige your children to take – and they may pay the price for a lifetime.

And one more thing: you may feel that your cohabitation is a useful trial for marriage. People were optimistically claiming that 50 years ago. It wasn’t true then; it isn’t any truer now. The records show quite simply that cohabitation is a lousy guide to a future happy marriage. Nor is it a reliable guide to long-term sexual satisfaction. Our old friend nature supercharges sex in the early days to promote conception. But once you’ve passed the peak likelihood of conception, it’s largely up to you. That’s when the quality and commitment of your relationship really counts. If you want irony, the evidence shows that couples who wait until after the wedding tend to have significantly better sexual lives than those who jump the gun.

Your loving Grandfather.

Links to the evidence supporting the views in this letter:





About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to Letter to a grandson

  1. St.Joseph says:

    I am going to be honest here and say-I wont know until it happens However–
    My eldest grandson is engaged after 5 years relationship and still lives at home.He has just left Uni has a good job travels every day 1 &half hour to work in the train. an 1 & half back.
    If he did decide to live with his fiancee, I would not say anything to him, his mothers place.
    There would be no need as he would know mine and his mothers opinion.
    But I will probably get some ‘opinions on this what I say,’but however, I would rather they lived to-gether than get a civil marriage,.
    The thought that his relationship would fail, I think regardless of the opinion poll, wont make a slight bit of difference.The Sacrament is more important to me as a Catholic. Even if he married in a registry office he would still be living against the law of the Church and to me given up his faith.

  2. You’ve hit all the nails on the head with this one!!! Great post. I’m going to re-blog this and share it with my children. Thank you.

  3. Reblogged this on 1catholicsalmon and commented:
    Just so spot on. A MUST SHARE!

  4. Singalong says:

    Quentin, you have touched very raw nerves with this week`s subject. Without giving details which would be too specific, I have come to the conclusion that it is nearly impossible for most parents, or even grandparents, to influence their children as they would like, and to swim against the tide of peer pressure and our current culture in this area, without strong support from a number of other people in a very spiritual, well run parish, faithful to the Church`s traditional teaching, and if possible a really good truly Catholic school.

  5. ionzone says:

    Everything said is extremely familiar (it’s one of the reasons I’m for gay marriage, but that was last weeks topic). I used to know a ‘spiritual’ couple who lived together and they had a really nice little son and she was pregnant with one more. I honestly don’t need to extend this description for you to know what comes next.

    Personally I don’t mind a trial period of a year while you are engaged, but seriously, people, have a long-term relationship (i.e., at least three or four years) before you even think about marriage or children. If you still love them after that time a lifetime isn’t going to be quite the slog. The reason people get divorced so much now is is too much commitment too soon, you can’t treat it like you are buying a toy that you’ll keep till the spring breaks (i.e., what celebrities seem to think marriage is).

    • St.Joseph says:

      I fail to see what Male and Female marriage has to do with a same sex relationship.
      A long relationship before marriage may result in sexual intercourse-not everyone can resist temptation if in love.If they are responsible and use ‘fertility awareness’ or even condoms.,a sin is a sin-there is always Confession!
      You are right about the commitment.! And of course maturity and ones religious views and duties etc which a couple have to take into account when they do take the step
      But it takes two to think like that.And if not then they will separate or decide to hang on in there and maybe if not religious have an extra marital relationship
      Years ago there was not really an option,now it is a way of life. to many choices and women don’t stay at home like they used to..They feel there is more to life than tied to the kitchen sink as they see it.
      That is no excuse for same sex ‘marriage’ just because marriages break down..

    • Mr Smug says:

      Suppose one of you gets bored – but the other doesn’t? (more commonly it’s the man who gets bored most quickly). “Marriage is for life, not just for Christmas”? What we have here is a failure of ambition. My own experience (I’d like to claim it’s representative, or even normative, but can’t see how to support this convincingly) suggests that commitment first followed by living together leads to the happiest marriages.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I believe that a priest in his homely’s need not ‘preach’ but give more advice in his preaching such as when speaking about for example contraception.
        It is not what he says but the way he says it.
        It is so easy to sound condemning. His advice from the pulpit could be more in the lines of the churches teaching on Humanae Vitae as on a lighter note the advances of fertility awareness and how the Church was wise in keeping to the Power of the Holy Spirit in enlightenment through science and the dangers of the contraceptive pill as an early abortion from conception. There are opportunities when the White Flower collection comes around in January
        There is an opportunity at Christmas to speak about the Holy Family how St Joseph was celibate in marriage to the Mother of God-not too much to ask a husband to abstain now for 5 days with NFP! There is so many opportunites lost-especially at the 40th anniversary of HV .
        How we can see the face of an unborn child aborted in the face of the Child Jesus in the
        Crib. and so on and so on at Christmas.
        I certainly do not agree with ordained woman priests to me it is not a biological fact- however I do think maybe and only maybe a wife of a married priest could write a homily for her husband!!
        I do admire Fr John Fleming of the Diocese of Adelaide, South Australia, and President of Campion College a Catholic Institute and a married convert clergyman who has worked and studied in urban Britain , has a doctorate in Bio-ethics, he is also an advisor on Bio-ethics to the Australian Hierarchy, and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He gave talks to Dioceses around Britain and Ireland to priests on Abortion and abortifacient Birth Control. Fertility Awareness NFP,Euthansia, Fertility Treatment, Embryo Research, Cloning and Hybrid. Very in depth in all talks.
        I have the talk that was recorded by SPUC 2007 upon his visit to Britain when giving his talks A wonderful DVD. which all priests ought to hear.Not to condemn but to instruct and how to preach it.
        I do believe that in my Diocese-although the day was well organised in Gloucester with food etc, not many took up the offer to go and listen.
        There is no need or excuse for ignorance, just faith.

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Sorry to say that Mr Smugs experience is a rare and serendipitous one, mounting evidence suggests that cohabitation tends neither to long term commitment nor security-hard to see this state then as a broad recipe for happiness.

      • St.Joseph says:

        A priest once told me that when he often persuaded couples to marry and they did ,it then ended in separation. So he was very cautious how he chose his words.
        I don’t know what the moral of that story is!
        Another time a couple got married and after an argument over a game of cards-got divorced.
        Where are the statistics to show what is what,It is obvious that Christians will stay married even if they go through hell sometimes, they will have more of an incentive to keep going especially with children, with the Sacrament of Matrimony and the unity of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist, is after all what a Christian marriage is all about.

  6. St.Joseph says:

    I am not disagreeing with opinion poll-just making a point, it is probably a rare occasion .
    Many years ago I was friendly with a lovely elderly couple well into their eighties. One of them a catholic going to Church.
    One day much to my surprise I was asked to join them at a celebration in the Church, they told me that they were getting married,they had lived together since the war as a lodger but I suppose after a time felt a partnership and called their selves Mr & Mrs,never married. I felt quite honoured and humbled that they trusted my friendship and discretion .I think they had a daughter who If I am right-did not know.
    It was a lovely private ceremony and very touching. They both died not long after that.RIP.
    I am sure they are as happy in the next life as much as they were on earth.

  7. Geordie says:

    It is a strange world in which hetrosexuals do not want to get married, while homosexuals are clamouring for the right to marry. We are back to the old catechism warning: the devil, the world and the flesh.
    The Catholic Church should be a bulwark against peer pressure (the world) but it is not. It’s years since I heard a sermon (homily) on any sort of morals. Moral teaching is considered to be judgemental and we mustn’t make judgements. Yet the practice of good morals avoids a lot of pain and unhappiness in this world and guarantees us happiness in the next.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I agree with you in one sense-however I think there was too much hell fire and damnation years ago and not so much about the love of God! Remember the Missions.If you are old enough.
      The Catechism of the Catholic Church maybe was meant to teach people in the written word of the Church and parish programmes which didn’t happen or in schools-but the free-lance interpretation of our faith and free will and conscience, and as I said in the last post about misuse of wording-for instance , a Catholic book describing objects in the Church was Tabernacle as ‘The box that kept the bread in’. I cant find the book now,I think I may have sent it to the Bishop!
      Bad or no Catholic religious education in schools,which was meant I suppose to be an improvement but unfortunately failed in a lot of cases.All to the devils satisfaction!
      But we can be sure that Our Blessed Mother will stand by us and lead us to Her Son if we trust in Her.

    • Rahner says:

      Do you really think that a sermon on sex given by some doddering old, celibate(?) cleric is going to change how people behave??

      • John Candido says:

        Entirely correct, Rahner.

      • Vincent says:

        Rahner and Candido have always appeared to me to present themselves as forward modern thinkers. Now I have discovered what forward modern thinking means. You listen to a sermon and you judge its worth according to the age and condition of the preacher. That makes it unnecessary to consider his opinions and the evidence he adduces for them. In my day you dismissed that as ad hominem argument. But I dodder a bit, too, so you can dismiss my opinion without hesitation.

      • momangelica says:

        We had nearly that last week! A doddering married priest.
        The Dean agreed to hold a White Flower collection( but not the “talk”) So I asked if he could make sure something endorsing the pro-life message could be said before hand at the three Masses held over the weekend. The Saturday Vigil Mass, which had a good number of youth and young adults, was offered by the ex Anglican, ex Chaplain to local sixth form, and his homily basically challenged the Churches teachings and Bishops stance on SS marriage. He used clever,subtle and power words throughout. Darwin was in, Adam and Eve out, our understanding on girl meets boy now not so straightforward. Two interesting items in recent week, Anglicans ordaining two celibate GAYs as Bishops while Westminster closes down Soho Masses.How awful of the Catholic Church to call homosexuality “disordered” The Lord, (apparently, according to this priest) delights in love whatever the nature.
        I call this a dishonest position, it lacks integrity to remain in an institution famed for taking strong stances and speaking to young and the easily influenced against such important matters.
        If I had not been helping SPUC I would not have realized such treachery withing the parish my young adult children attend. I mentioned it to the parish priest who asked me to pray for the said priest and that I was not to worry as he was nearing retirement!!! The retired priest go on saying Mass and preaching until they drop in this deanery God Bless them so I continue to worried

      • Quentin says:

        Good to hear from you, Momangelica, I have missed you.

        ‘Disorder’ is an unfortunate word which carries a lot of overtones. But moral theology is using it as a technical term. Thus men and women are ‘ordered’ to be complementary both in their temperaments and in their ‘physical equipment’ – you don’t need me to spell it out. Disorder for which one has no responsibility carries no guilt. Similarly ‘perversion’ is a turning away from (proper purpose). The Church claims that the use of artificial contraception is disordered and perverse.

    • tim says:

      Geordie (January 4, 2013 at 11:54 am), You could try going to a Traditional Mass. As well as Latin and silence (not to everyone’s taste) these also (typically) have Traditional Sermons – that is to say, sermons that go beyond pious platitudes to deal with morals and doctrine.

  8. Vincent says:

    It interests me that Quentin does not even mention the belief of the Church that sexual intercourse belongs only in marriage.Maybe he is right to play it this way for practical purposes, but the issue is an important one.
    At the practical level, the difficulty arises from the conveniences and pleasures of cohabitation plus the counter-intuitive idea that a ‘trial’ is not a way to try something out.

    • St.Joseph says:

      There are many beliefs of the Church within marriage. Marriage is supposed to be a place of Sanctification but it does not stop couples from using contraception.
      I am not questioning your comment as it important but we have to be real.It would be a wonderful world if we all did things the perfect way.Unfortunately we don’t Sometimes our mistakes come with a great price..

    • St.Joseph says:

      Fancy that then,I didn’t think there was an age limit to opinions.
      I shouldn’t worry about it Vincent-yours seem OK to me, but then I am over the age limit too and probably not supposed to know the difference!!!

  9. Geordie says:

    Rahner & Candido.
    I don’t want a sermon on sex. I should prefer a sermon on the value of all aspects of good morals, not just sexual morality. Devotion to duty would be a good start; the value of prayer and self-denial; putting others before self; and an honest days’s work for a just wage would all help. It’s the creation of good habits (a good mind-set) which comes to our aid when times get difficult; it gives us a more acute sense of right and wrong.
    I’m tired of the modern culture of celebrity where self-esteem (selfishness) is praised as a virtue. I am sick of hearing about people’s rights instead of hearing about obligations and responsibilities. No doubt contibutors to this blog could extend this list.

    • Singalong says:

      Hear! Hear!

      (But, . . . . on the subject of sexual morality, there is a very interesting article in the Daily Mail online today by A. N. Wilson, about the damage he can now see was done by “the greatest revolution in sexual mores in our history.”

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you for that.It is so true.
        I get the DM for my neighbour everyday and she passes it on to me-they don’t go out often.
        The mention of Lady Chatterley brought a memory in the early sixties when a cousin of my mothers a priest visited from America, he looked after drug addicts and homeless in Chicago. When she met him from the Airport he was holding a Lady Chatterley book in his hand, and she said to him ‘Where is your collar and why are you reading that muck’
        The first time she had met him.I think he new where he stood straight away!!My mother never beat about the bush as the saying goes.

    • Rahner says:

      You certainly sound like a Daily Mail reader!

      • Singalong says:

        That is a rather cheap sneer isn`t it, Rahner? And didn`t Our Lord say that it isn`t what goes into a man, but what comes out . . . . . ?

  10. Mike Horsnall says:

    I read the Daily Mail, The Catholic Herald, The Times,The Telegraph The Guardian and occasionally the Independent…Hope that passes muster for you? The A N Wilson article was a good one for him. I agree about the backlash against promiscuity. My 18 year old daughter is on the way through with all this -sex, her first boyfriend and her faith-She has to work it out for herself of course but as her parents we explain the line. Your post on Jan 4th about the doddering old cleric was as unhelpful as it was ill informed in my view and ignores the fact that all young people have to make up their own minds about how they will be and are quite capable of listening to different viewpoints. We regularly have crowds of young people round here courtesy of my daughter- and you would be surprised at how keen they are for guidelines and clarity. What they then DO is, as it ever was, up to them. I think you use the word ‘people’ simply as an abstraction to win a point.’People’ are usually concrete and human when you get to know them.

    • Rahner says:

      I agree that people will have to make up their own minds (within the framework of law where relevant) and learn from their mistakes.

      A moral point of view has to be based on an internalised rationale about what promotes human welfare and not on an appeal to authority regardless of whether that authority is Polly Tonybee or a doddering old/young cleric. The fact that many Catholics dissent from HV indicates, however, the ineffectiveness of much preaching or official teaching…

      • St.Joseph says:

        There is a great deal of difference between Polly Tonybee’s authority and an ordained priest who does stand in Personna Christi when he celebrates Holy Mass and is there to preach-whether we listen or obedient to his sermon,and he ought to be shown that respect regardless of whether we agree or not.Without him we would not be able to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion Think about that Rahner when you did not take up the offer of the Priesthood.

      • John Nolan says:

        So what you are saying, Rahner, is that morality is a subjective and relativist concept and that the Church has no authority in the moral sphere. A view held by many nowadays, although they do not usually style themselves Catholic, as I have known you to do on occasion, however implausible it might seem.

      • tim says:

        Rahner, this ineffectiveness of preaching is, I suggest, what Geordie is complaining about. I’m sure you’re right that many Catholics dissent from HV. I expect that you deduce this from plausible figures on the proportion of Catholics (how defined is a question, no doubt) who use artificial contraception. Some of these, I’m sure, have read the whole thing up, studied it deeply, taken advice, and prayed about it: and come honestly (if not necessarily correctly) to the conclusion that they are not bound by this teaching. But at the other extreme, there are surely Catholics who simply don’t know that the Church has any teaching against any form of contraception. They won’t have heard about this from the pulpit. Their dissent is based on ignorance – if they knew about it, and were given reasonable arguments in favour of the doctrine (there are some) they might be willing to change their practice.
        But the failure of ;preaching goes further than this. Much simpler rules are not known. My wife talks to RCIA groups. One week she was explaining the obligation to attend Mass every Sunday (except for grave cause). She was interrupted by another tutor, who said “I’m not sure that’s quite right – but we’ll check up and settle it next week”. Naturally, the parish priest confirmed the doctrine, to the other tutor’s complete satisfaction – he (although a pious, active and serious recent convert) simply had been unaware of it. Our parish priest (whom we are particularly lucky to have) sometimes complains in private about parishioners who are unwilling to attend Mass regularly, but only very rarely does he mention it from pulpit.
        So I think Geordie has a point.

    • Singalong says:

      Mike, you are obviously in the thick of it, and hoping to guide your daughter towards what you know will be best for her, and to do what God requires and follow His Church`s teaching. I wonder do you have support from others in your parish or community, maybe a thriving youth group or something similar, which in our experience, adds greatly to the influence a parent can have. As you say, ultimately adults have to decide their choices and actions themselves, but we hope that is on the basis of sound information, and a developing spiritual life.

      When in spite of all the efforts, an adult child does not accept the guidance offerred, there are usually practical decisions to be made. In our case, it was accepted that on visits home sleeping would be in separate rooms, classic, and also that we would not usually visit their shared home. Unfortunately, (to put it mildly), when one of our children decide to break their marriage vows, which did not act as the bulwark Quentin describes, and leave the spouse, the situation was and is entirely different. We have to accept the choice made (while still praying for a miracle), our views are known of course, we continue to love our child, but the relationship is very different, and still finding its way.

  11. John Nolan says:

    The term Common Law spouse is routinely used by insurance companies in respect of a couple who share the same address. To include a Common Law spouse as a ‘named driver’ in fact reduces the premium. There must be actuarial reasons for rewarding immorality!

  12. I am rather surprised and disturbed by this post. It is not that I have any quarrel with the views expressed.

    About ten years ago my wife and I went to Rome; our immediate excuse was to attend the wedding of a nephew, but also we wanted to see the City, theVatican, and the country [ a memorable visit, but that is irrelevant here ].
    Perhaps we should have guessed that this was somewhat unusual because both bride and groom were resident in Ireland. Nevertheless we were astounded to learn, some months later, that the couple had been living together for some while before the marriage.
    Then about two years ago we learnt that the couple had broken up, apparently with little evidence of rancour or recrimination. There were no children of the marriage.

    So why am I surprised ? Probably simple naïvete; we have two children, both good and faithful catholics; one never married, the other married to a good catholic, – but the couple have no children, and so we have no grandchildren. But if we had I simply cannot imagine needing to write a letter of this kind.

    I would agree with Singalon and with Geordie‘s comment “The Catholic Church should be a bulwark against peer pressure (the world) but it is not. It’s years since I heard a sermon (homily) on any sort of morals.”.

    Attending a recent diocesan course in Catechetics amongst my comments was “Finally to someone brought up at a time when the ideas of obligation and duty were paramount, the present exclusive emphasis on ‘love’ is a little disturbing.”

    Our teacher responded with a quotation (Luke 10,27) “He answering, said: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself.”

    I could not resist pointing out that when I looked at this quotation in the Vulgate I found – ” diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo et ex tota anima tua et ex tota mente tua . . .“.

    The word ‘diliges’ is indeed rendered in the Bible as ‘love’ but does not have quite the same meaning as we understand the word ‘love’ today – diliges is, of course, the root of the English word ‘diligent’, with connotations of duty, commitment, obligation and industriousness. I think that this is what we are missing in the catechises of young people today.

    • Quentin says:

      Luke’s text gives us Αγαπhσει̋ κúριον τòν θεóν…(Thou shalt love the lord your God…). Agapé in our lettering translates as ‘brotherly love”

      • Singalong says:

        Doesn`t brotherly love include what is in the ultimate best interests of the person concerned, and isn`t this always to help and encourage him (not try and force him) to do what God requires, as far as one can see what this is, often it would be a matter of duty or obligation, rather than what he might prefer at the time

      • Singalong says:

        It seems to me that one of the problems caused by contemporary Catholic teaching concentrating on the Commandments to love God and one another, is that the full meaning of love is not explained often enough, that it is more than being kind and generous, important though that is, it includes the concepts of duty, obligation and commitment, as Horace has said, which must also assume great importance in our lives.

        Some personalities find it very difficult to dissent from the crowd, and to live differently from their peers, and they really need strong guidelines, as well as a good base of support from more than their parents and family as they grow up. Others rather like to be different, and have to be careful not to be provocative, or look on their adherence to certain rules and customs as mainly a question of a special cultural identity. A sound framework of belief and reaching is essential for both.

  13. Rahner says:

    “So what you are saying, Rahner, is that morality is a subjective and relativist concept…”
    Nothing in my comments implied an endorsement of a subjectivist/relativist viewpoint. They were, in fact, a quite traditional formulation of a morality based on the Natural Law, a Law which embodies what it is that makes for human flourishing . Perhaps you need a refresher course in moral philosophy?

    • John Nolan says:

      Thanks for the advice, Rahner, but in matters of faith and morals I accept the authority of the Magisterium. I shall, however, revisit the Pars Secunda of the Summa Theologica, which deals comprehensibly with moral theology. Apart from anything else, it is an incentive to brush up on one’s Latin.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        “A moral point of view has to be based on an internalised rationale about what promotes human welfare and not on an appeal to authority regardless of whether that authority is Polly Tonybee or a doddering old/young cleric. ”

        I do think Rahner has a good point here though. I find it personally impossible to believe or base behaviour on anything to which I cannot already internally assent. It would be no good saying to me
        ‘Mike you must not use contraception because it is wrong’
        I would have to have a way of settling that imperative with myself if I were to act upon it. If I could not find that settled agreement then I would probably leave the room (church) where the view was being expounded as authority-or, more likely, quietly ignore it. Like it or not this is how many persons operate. My wife and I never needed to use contraception since we met with secondary infertility-but if it were the case I know we would have weighed the matter and chosen whichever solution we would have deemed appropriate at the time in view of the contingencies of our lives.

      • Rahner says:

        I should also have pointed out that moral subjectivism and relativism are open to the (fairly standard) objection that they would make moral disagreement impossible and moral argument futile. Quentin’s letter seems to me to be an example of a moral argument that is broadly from a Natural Law perspective.

        You can find a modern, conservative, formulation of Thomistic moral philosophy in the works of the Catholic philosopher John Finnis. I certainly don’t agree with all of his arguments but they are certainly worth reading.

  14. Geordie says:

    I thought “philia” means brotherly love. However I have no Greek so perhaps you could explain the difference between “agape” and “philia”.

    • Quentin says:

      Geordie, I would bow to the scholars here, but I think that philia, which can certainly be translated as love, carries also the sense of friendship and liking. So, philanthropic is liking (or being drawn towards) one’s fellow men. Agapé love is often used in direct contrast to erotic love.

  15. St.Joseph says:

    Do we know the statistics for Christian marriage and non-Christian. How many break down and how many stay together because it is a Sacrament. The marriage is strengthened in unity with Christians.
    Young people often marry if the girl is pregnant. My oldest brother ,a Royal Navy sailor on leave- blind date aged 22 ,not long after a short relationship ,she was pregnant. not a catholic, in the late 5o’s.
    Her parents and sister practically held a shot gun at his head to marry, which he did in church ,my parents first grandson. (My page boy at 2) After that 3 more children, doubtless the last 2 were his, consequently she was not a very good wife,or mother- left him for a man who we thought were his children.
    He had a nervous breakdown, nothing could be done. She divorced him-remarried, and cleared off.. Broke my parents heart.
    After many years he re-married a girl who he knew when he was young, she looked after her parents until they died.They married in a Registry Office, my father would not go to the wedding (I felt he was a little hypocrite ,not a saint himself). So my mother could not go either.
    He goes to Mass ever Sunday and lights candles-he had a good catholic education at a catholic boarding school.A priest suggested to him he could have a annulment Westminster Diocese.
    But he wouldn’t. He does not receive Communion He was a good catholic in his youth, altar server, and loved Benediction etc.
    How can we make judgements to fast rules, when we do not know what people have to suffer.
    We all make mistakes through our lives, but we can also learn from others,and become cautious ourselves and try not to make the same.
    My other brother fortunate to be 52 years married -with a large family plenty of grandchildren-his wife was the friend of the blind date girl at 17.
    We are consoled with the belief that the Lord knows it all!! His judgement will be the perfect one.!

    • Singalong says:

      What a tragedy in your family, St. Joseph, there are so many, and as you say, only Almighty God knows everything about the situation, and all the complexities, as in our family. It affects the wider families enormously too, as many couples do not realise. Marriage is not a private matter for the two people concerned, which is why it has always , in all cultures, been surrounded by rules, laws, customs, traditions.

      Many people are devastated and affected when things go wrong, and statistics show that this is more likely when couples have pre-empted sex and lived together first. Quentin`s letter to his grandson, (and granddaughter perhaps), gives sound advice about the wisdom of “following our maker`s instructions”.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you.
        On the blog we do not know what each and everyone of us have come up against in situations and experiences in our lives. I think maybe we speak from what we have seen in this life and being honest we have to.Nevertheless we don’t know how much we hurt others by bringing subjects to the surface which have hurt us and it is all unintentional.
        Something we have to remember and that is that we don’t mean to hurt others when we say what we do. That is maturity I believe. Something to remember is not to take offence as none is meant I am sure.
        I learnt from my brothers mistake, not to be foolish.
        A song came into my head just now, it is I think Frank Sinatra’s ‘Love and Marriage, ‘Love and Marriage’ go together like a ‘Horse and Carriage’ You cant have one without the other’! I will have to think about that!!!!! To prove the point!! Any suggestions?

  16. Claret says:

    For what it is worth the statistics do not support Mr Smug’s view of living together before marriage as being in some way beneficial as a kind of beneficial pre-cursor to a future marriage in terms of longevity. The opposite is true.
    It is also worth noting that marriage between two committed Christians has a very low divorce rate. What makes no difference to the divorce rate is where the marriage takes place in Church but without the faith committment.
    It is now almost the ‘norm’ for the prospective bride and groom to give the same address. Often the bridesmaids and page boys are their own children.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I notice and so do many that First Holy Communion children do not continue going to Mass after the first or second time.This is children in catholic schools-there is no commitment once the day is over and the white dress is worn.
      Perhaps marriage in church is more romantic!
      When I married, my husband had to sign that the children would be brought up Catholics that was in 1962- and he kept to that promise, and the babies were baptised soon after birth, not waiting for big parties, which we could not afford anyway,but now I believe that is not necessary.I would not have had it any other way! It ought to be sorted out before the engagement.

  17. momangelica says:

    I just want to say that it is a great post Quentin, and this has been copied and pasted into a folder for future reference. Thanks!
    With three sons and three daughters this topic has comes up when temptation presented itself to them and I firmly spoke my mind on those needed occasions,it bore fruit thanks be to God which proves that God does equip us with the “power of persuasion” when we take courage and do our duty by speaking out.
    One son told me he had been given “bad advice” during confession which contradicted my words but thankfully,he paid heed to me and, after speaking with a different priest, who said the very same sentence as me, he put plans on hold which brought the “beetles out of the woodwork” the lady was shown up as obviously not right for him.
    God is with parents, we have to place all our trust in Him to give us the words to say and to believe those words are empowered.
    Interestingly, the children removed themselves from the parish of priest who gave poor direction going to another at a later time. My husband and I go to a Traditional Latin Mass each week, they go evenings (layabeds) at N.O. Mass. We live in hopes they will join us one day.

    • Quentin says:

      Thanks Momangelica. Parenthood is a huge responsibility — I’m glad that phase of my life is over. My grandchildren (and now a great grandchild) are my joy nowadays.


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