People tell me that they rarely hear a homily on the subject of marriage. I understand their concern for we know marriage to be for many the major school of love. Yet I sympathise with the clergy. They may well reserve the subject for special groups rather than general congregations. They may want to avoid the awkward questions – although I do not have these in mind here. They may feel that they do not know enough about marriage or they may think their listeners will feel they are outsiders.
In fact the clergy have a good handle on marriage. They are born into families and meet many married people in their work. I realise that there will be a proportion of these which are pathological – which was why a priest got to know them – but there are plenty of others. There is real value in a view from outside looking in instead of being inside looking out. I have known priests whose understanding of marriage was very deep, and all the better from listening to many married couples rather than allowing personal experience to skew their views (as we married people so often do).
Why is this so important? The answer to that is simple. The number of Catholic marriages per Catholic population has dropped by three quarters since the late ‘60s. We may hum and haw about the influence of our secular culture on marriage, but we have our hands full enough with the crisis in Catholicism. I know many families in which the grandparents are devout, the children are occasional, and the grandchildren don’t even get baptised. Recently I watched a young relative being married in a smart hotel to a well meant parody of religious solemnity – but specifically without any mention of God or religion. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t read the Catholic Herald either.)
Where might a priest start? I think he needs facts. That enables him to show that Catholic marriage is based soundly on the principles of human nature. Quite simply we have it right. Let’s tell that to the Catholic young, and hope that they tell it to their friends.
The rate of divorce in this country is around 42 per cent. To me, this is a frighteningly high figure. But it is a small improvement in recent years which some have attributed to cohabitation, giving the couples a longer period to know each other. That may be true but we must note that cohabiting couples who marry tend to be older, and maturity is a positive factor in marriage choice. The peak time for divorce is three to six years after marriage – earlier than the “7 year itch” The rate of divorce continues to fall with each succeeding year of marriage, and the divorce rate for 10 years plus has not changed since the 1960s. Some statistics from the US suggest that Catholic divorce is about 25 per cent lower than the population rate. Are we happy with that margin?
Cohabitation has its own problems. Cohabiting parents make up 19% of couples with dependent children, but they account for half of all family breakdown. And parents who have a child before they are married are less likely to stay together. The happy idea that their commitment is expressed in their love from day to day and that, should they lose that love, they can separate without hassle is straightforward folly. Firstly, although it may never be said out loud, the partners by no means always share that view. Secondly, there is no legal protection for both the partners. Thirdly, the lack of formal commitment makes the relationship continuously vulnerable. Fourthly the children of the relationship do not recognise the difference: to them, breakdown is a destruction of their world – with the likelihood of long term psychological damage, and often impoverishment.
Not that even marriage is always the answer. On current trends any child born in the UK today has only a 50 per cent chance of being with both parents by the age of 15. Apparently children are more likely to have a smartphone than a father at home. It would seem that even the promises of marriage – which last until “till death do us part” – are seen as no more than a traditional chant. I can only tell you that in six decades of marriage we have experienced enough of those possibilities to know that it was the bulwark of our marriage vows which got us happily through the inevitable ups and downs.
If you want to know more about the facts I have given here, visit the Marriage Foundation – a splendid, secular site which is devoted to examining outcomes in marriage and cohabitation. (http://www.marriagefoundation.org.uk/research/ ). I consult it frequently, and indeed pinched much information for this column. Anyone preaching, or talking about, the Catholic view on marriage will benefit from a visit.
Thank you, Quentin!
Thanks for the site Quentin. There is little doubt that ‘ marriage ‘ is the ‘right thing to do ‘ in society for those at least who are ready and prepared for this life-long commitment. As was always known at heart – even to the non-religious – it has the potential for the most stable social building block ( even without the bringing up of children ) ever conceived in any human society.
One statistic that stands out for me as an incredible commentary on the paradox of an age that rejoices in its communication prowess ; is the finding from The Marriage Foundation that 80% of cohabiting couples reported the last 12 months of their relationship to be ” happy” ! … so whats the problem ? I find this extraordinary in that given the numerous opportunities to communicate in a communications age , it would appear that they are talking to others more readily and perhaps more often , than they are with themselves during their period of togetherness.
This of course is ‘ death ‘ to any relationship . Loss of a sense of a personal religious ‘ faith ‘ , self-centered egotism, selfishness, individualism as a personal philosophy inherited from a society ‘ gone the wrong way ‘ in the last 40-50 years ?
It looms large in my mind.
And parents who are married before having a child are less likely to stay together.
“less likely to stay together” than parents who are unmarried and have a child? This seems to be the opposite of what I’ve hitherto understood.
Iona, thank you for drawing my attention to this. It should have been the other way around. I have corrected the post.
John Nolan hinted at something in the previous blog , to the effect that the events following the 60’s Socio-sexual Revolution that crept up on the Church , completely surprising the Hierarchy and flat-footing them to the effect that they were ill-prepared for the seismic events that followed the change of attitudes in society/ The West at large.
Hitherto ( as felt in my childhood and youth ), marriage as an institution seemed unassailable in a visibly Christian Britain – as the cornerstone of a stable society ( or the belief that it was as stable as anything could make it ) .
Seeing no need then for the Church to be unduly perturbed about this situation – no preaching from the pulpit , no extra-catechesis , no ‘ crusade ‘ to bolster belief in marriage seemed necessary. Following the realisation of this ‘ mistake ‘ , it is to me the great puzzle and sadness of our time that Christianity ha just rolled over and allowed secular/worldly philosophy to overtake it by events and – although not yet dead in the public’s mind – allowed its near destruction to the point of it being just ‘ another life-style choice ‘….. irrespective even of considerations of gender.
A major problem for our priests is that by speaking about the Church’s teaching on marriage they will be challenging quite a lot of those listening to them – couples who are cohabiting, couples in second marriages who have divorced and re-married, couples who don’t give a moment’s thought to birth control. How many couples who come for instruction for marriage are already living together? I am sure most of us have loved ones in these positions.
And yet where should a priest draw the line?
Perhaps he should start by accentuating the positives – to the point where the negatives stand out only too obviously.
John de Waal.
That would be a good thing for the priests to speak about the positives. The days of speaking about hellfire and damnation are long gone from the pulpits.
There are ways and means of teaching the truth without that.
There are also leaflets that can be handed out on marriage and NFP..Also I notice that in my Diocese there are weekends for couples to attend, I would think it would be a good thing for engaged couples to go to if living together, or not!!
Do you know if Pope Francis spoke to the youth about chastity.? I hope he did when he had the opportunity to do so.
I believe courses are run for engaged couples but, in spite of diocesan documents stating that NFP should be included , in practice , it doesn’t always happen. I know this from a couple in my own diocese who lead these courses.
John De Waal.
Thank you that is good news , please God it will continue around Dioceses.
John De Waal.
PS I am pleased to hear of the couple who teach NFP it is greatly in need.
If no one comes ,who will tell them, ‘Send me Lord!’ More teacher are needed, and more women to teach!
John de Waal
I have just phoned a Marriage Encounter Weekend to ask about NFP, as well as not knowing anything about it, he was rude and put the phone down! .
Whilst it is unlikely that anyone would take a priest to task for a homily on marriage it needs to be remembered that the priest is not free to just say anything from the pulpit. The homily has to relate to the readings of the day and marriage rarely features in the readings. When it does feature then it is at odds with same sex marriage and hence the risk of the speaker breaking the law. I believe this has already happened and a priest/ Minister has been charged with an offence. (Although I am not sure of the outcome.)
I also understand that where a marriage takes place between two committed and practising Christians then the divorce rate is very low.
What do you mean by two committed Christians?
There are plenty of opportunities for a priest to give a sermon on the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Jesus’s first Miracle was the Marriage in Galilee, Mary and Joseph’s marriage the ‘Holy Family’, St Ann and Joachim Her parents, St Elizabeth a Zechariah ,
St Peter had a mother-in-law. The Marriage of The Lamb and many more;
Psalm 45 Royal Wedding Song.
Jewish and Christian tradition understand it as celebrating the marriage of the messianic King with Israel (prefiguring the Church) and the Liturgy develops the allegory still further to applying it to Our Lady and to the virgin Saints.
Always worth a thought or two and some reflection this Marriage from the pulpit topic – thank you Quentin.
The idea of the presence of an I-Phone and the absence of a Father is well worth looking at. I think it was only mentioned in passing.
A great number of Gen Y or the Millennials would be the focus for the Priest talking on the topic of Marriage today.
Brendan wisely draws attention to John Nolan’s comment on the huge shift in consciousness as a result of the 60’s Socio- sexual revolution.
I think this pales into insignificance given the total shift of world view that is Gen Y’s. I think the priest has to take this into account. Not easy. But there may be more Gen Y present in Church than he may realise.
I am speaking from the limitations of my own experience and the young adult students that I deal with from this generation. Often with I-Phones in hand!
I don’t think they disregard the teaching of an older generation but they essentially HAVE TO BE LISTENED TO on the one hand and on the other such teaching needs to be presented differently – and simply stating Church doctrine will not do it.
A word or two is even shorter than a standard Twitter Feed but it comes close to the challenge the priest is facing in trying to communicate with those most likely to be approaching marriage at this time.
All of what the priest has to say in the homily needs to be somehow frameable within the I-Phone if it is to reach the “soon to be wed”.
You’re post-diluvian and ‘ in the grove ‘ Galerimo ‘ ; sadly I am barely ‘ neanderthal ‘. Could you please enlighten me as to ” Gen Y ” and ” Millennials ” ?
I’ll take that as a compliment Brendan but I doubt if there are many around here who would share your generous opinion!
Millennials, Gen (eration) Y, are defined as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015) is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028. (Google).
I refer to them as those of a marriageable age and who would likely form a good number of those being addressed by any priest.
Are we confusing Civil Marriage here with The Sacrament of Matrimony?
I have read the post or most of it, however thought it to be irrelevant statistically for Catholics.
As a Sacrament we receive the Grace to be bound by the teaching of the Church to live our life in holiness, not always easy, however we do have the Sacraments to strengthen our faith in the Sacrament of Confession, which I have found very pertinent most of my life , or myself would have gone astray. I still depend on it even though it is said now that one has no need now unless one commits a mortal sin, some may wish to speak to a priest if in difficulties and may not want to do it face to face.
It seems to be placed on the back burner since Vat 11.
A friend of mine whose son called to a priest’s house last Easter, as he wanted to go to Confession ,and was told he did not hear confessions on Easter Saturday, would that be correct?
Saint Joseph- I suspect your friends’ son has been fobbed-off re’ confession….although to the simple penitent it might be a case of stretching an obscure ‘ legalism ‘. Sadly , it’s this kind of thing that gives ( our sometimes a generally embattled parish priest ) a bad name !
I like Pope Francis. In some strange way after ‘ shifting uneasily in my seat ‘ along with my mind dimming at the tortuous ambiguity of some of his pronouncements……. on further reflection the light begins to dawn , and his wording suddenly seems appropriate , timely and simply wise…. for the time.
For him the parish system remains completely ” valid ” ; the question is how it should be run .( although he can’t resist a swipe at some parish secretaries as being ” disciples of Satan .” ) . ” Where two or three are gathered in my name ” … Matthew ‘s Gospel. He believes that the ” confessional light should remain on .” Put simply it works because ‘ we ‘ ( the parish ) are the living embodiment of Christ’s mystical body. …” ( somewhere in CCC ) …” Hail Mary full of Grace , The Lord is with you…”. After that , who can doubt that the Lord is with us , whatever our circumstance!
On the question of marriage ‘ catechesis ‘ ; I like the idea of committed parish couples , backing up the a priests word from the pulpit , by word and action in this Body of Christ. I suspect this is a part of some parishes already , and would hope that it would be rolled-out nationally with the blessing of course of local bishops and the parish priest eager for assistance in this area.
It is plain that we can no longer look to ‘ civil ‘ understanding ( consensus ) of marriage as a yardstick for the Christian ( Catholic ) elevation of such a crucial part of our existence in living-out Salvation History . This a call for prudent action , not reverting to barricades.
Galerimo – Yes , makes sense. Thank you. Are you speaking about the U.S ?
Yes I think these are Goldman Sachs figures and they put the marriage age at 30 in the 2010’s by comparison with 23 in the 1970’s.
Thank you Galerimo – Statistically , you’ve corroborated a nice point for me. The eating away of marriage expectation as a THE ‘ life-style choice ‘ for young Christian women/girls has been relentless . No doubt in high-schools and colleges ( since the advent of the ‘ pilll ‘ ) the ‘ frisson ‘ in the quad ‘ is probably more blatantly about who’s bedded who than surreptitious ( girly secrets ) fantasy wedding arrangements . Now ,that category and the world have grown quickly older , to soon…….. much too older.
P.s. Of course young men have only ever had generally ,one thing in the their minds when contemplating the opposite sex.
There were a few girls like that too, when I was 15 going on 16.
I think the 60’s were around 21 years
I was 21 and 2months, engaged at 20 met at 17, married in the 60’s, a lot of my friends were too. Some younger, however we were more mature in those days, in employment earlier. Full time at 15,
PS. And no intercourse before Marriage- (that was a sin)!!!!!
St.Joseph – I’m not quite sure if 50-60 years ago the youth of Britain were more mature than today ( albeit most entered the real world of work , and at an earlier age ) – their horizons were certainly more restricted – ‘ content ‘ ( at ease ?) as they were with the surrounding fixed rhythms of post-war society. Girls were probably more so more than boys.
Young lives were a source of adventure … ” the forbidden fruits “… were not yet tasted for many , at least not to the full. For the majority who at least adhered to Christian morals and behaviour …one could learn, experience afresh what was only whispered in quiet corners within the secure and ‘ right ‘ relationship of marital union ( if not altogether bliss ). The mystique was still an unchallenged element in living the marital state ….in the tradition of ones forefathers.
Then the ‘ genie flew out of the bottle ‘….. in the form of the ‘pill’ , and the time-honoured connection between procreation and marriage was broken. There is now no ‘ mystique ‘ about anything in life . I suspect the average 16 year old is well conversant with the ways of the world and its forbidden fruits , and the march of early sexualisation in the young is now almost a political ‘ canon ‘ of a liberal society. The results sadly are around for all too see.
Western society has largely ‘ forgotten ‘ God and the sense of confidence and purpose He brings to individual lives and hence the collective sense of cohesion and plain ‘ happiness ‘ that allows it to remain ‘ young ‘ and ever present to lifes uncovering of the ‘ good ‘. Consciously or sub-consciously that’s what awareness of Gods precence allows one to do in seeking and finding oneself in this journey.
You are quite right. It is a journey. As a teenager I had a mixed relationship with God in London, Ice skating. Jazz Clubs Cinema, dancing, enjoying Concerts, etc, all on £3 a week even went to a 6d hop in the Lyceum Ballroom in my lunch Hour. Mass on Sunday Immaculate Conception Novena on a Tuesday, and any Mission that was going on. I was never in!
I believe God was testing me when I look back on my life . I also believe if one loves God and Our Blessed Mother first. Satan can not touch us only tempt us .
This is what we must teach our children. God comes first.
Brendan, I would say that before the Pill, the Second World War had a major effect on British society’s expectations and attitudes to life, when women were left to manage their households and bring up children, 4 full years for my mother with my father in Burma, with no visits home or even phone calls, and many young girls and older women replacing men in the jobs they had to leave. After that, for good or ill, horizons were much less restricted and many were not content with the previous way of life. Some who were, nevertheless were obliged to find work outside the home, which they had not expected, as I remember from an older cousin describing her feelings when she first worked in an office.
“Young lives were a source of adventure … ” the forbidden fruits “… were not yet tasted for many , at least not to the full. For the majority who at least adhered to Christian morals and behaviour …one could learn, experience afresh what was only whispered in quiet corners within the secure and ‘ right ‘ relationship of marital union ( if not altogether bliss ). The mystique was still an unchallenged element in living the marital state ….in the tradition of ones forefathers…”
I’m 63 now and I would say that the average life of a young man then was far from from being as you describe. Local, working class, life in 60’s Britain was quite tumultous in many ways. As I remember most of my cohort were experimenting with drugs and the predominant ethos was led as much by The Roling Stones as by anything else. I was a grammar school boy and my mates, as I remember, were not especially unusual or abnormal, we were just as we were.
May well depend where and how one was living Ignatius at the time of heightened excitement. Did most people take drugs or take part in debauched activities ?….. I don’t believe so. There was a lot of bravado and a lot of ‘ braggadocio ‘ ( among’st our contemporaries ) which amounted to very little – the restraints , moral and ethical , were still largely in operation and served to exemplify discipline ….as they always have done , unheralded in a moral society that takes these things for granted….. but catastrophically soon took its ‘ eye off the ball.’ As usual the media hyped-up a lot of ‘ sensationalist ‘ behaviour ( possibly with agents of counter-cultural intent , either within or in the shadows of a liberalised agenda in society eg. lies were told about abortion figures in the pursuit of a similar agenda ) while most youth to begin with looked on with restrained envy . I too went to grammar school ; later getting involved on the fringes of ‘ the folk scene ‘……just the music, like most people I came cross. These cultural mores were relatively small ; but where big money / mammon is involved and ‘ rock and roll ‘ had all the ingredients for becoming mainstream much more than ‘ folk ‘…the hungry media machine ( newspaper and TV ) go’s into overdrive. The devil knows his own and seeks out, relishing every opportunity to devour the ‘ good’ in life.
Of course it could not last ( this fragile balance between a perceived post-war Christian Britain and the counter-cultural tsunami that was let lose ) for the pressure for change, for change sake and the opponents waged against the ‘ status quo ‘ were just too great. No, I believe that ‘ marriage ‘ as a lifelong partnership did not disappear over-night in some mass drug-crazed moral dissipation by the nation – but those who at least should have spoken up , for the youth of a generation that very largely ‘ new ‘ the goodness and necessity of marriage , remained often contemptibly lacking in courage to speak out ( of course some remained lone voices .eg. Mary Whitehouse ) for fear of being called old fashioned , behind the times or just plain eccentric fossils of another ‘ age .’ ( I see someone like Peter Hitchens as heir to this position. I’ve tried very hard for an equivalent ecclesiastic coming near to his outspokenness today….? )
The cold, sobering thought after a time of any ‘ self-abandonment period ‘ in history of a once ostensibly god-fearing culture , is the realisation when/on coming to its senses of seeing that ……” When men choose not to believe in God , they do not thereafter believe in nothing , they then become capable of believing in anything. ” ( G.K.C.)
I have had to be away for a few days so unable to respond to St Joseph who in turn took me to task for stating that there were few opportunities for a priest to give a homily about marriage as they are not free to just say anything or cover any topic they feel like during Mass. I said this so as to partly answer the criticism that marriage is rarely spoken of from the pulpit, and was meant to be a ‘defence’ of priests who are ‘charged’ with neglecting the subject.
It is of course possible to stretch several parts of scripture that reference marriage in some way but they are not about marriage per se. ( and some of her examples do not even appear in scripture, and some that do are not part of the lectionary.)
To further clarify my post about committed Christian married couples I am not sure what more I can write only that where there are statistics appertaining thereto they show that the divorce rate is negligible compared to society as a hole. It would appear therefore that some couples have got it right and have perhaps had sound teaching to get there. Something to celebrate I would suggest.
Hock I did give some US divorce rates which suggest that the number of Catholic divorces is by no means negligible. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/divorce-statistics-indicate-catholic-couples-are-less-likely-to-break-up/
If you have reliable UK statistics would you give more detail, and a link, if available.
Am I thinking right here by saying that the number of Catholic divorces compared to other religions would not be correct if there were more other faiths than Catholics.
If you look at the link, you will find the following:
“The Georgetown center reported in late September that a variety of national surveys show “Catholics stand out with only 28% of the ever-married having divorced at some point.”
While 28% remains a troubling statistic, the research suggests that this figure compares favorably with the 40% divorce rate for those with no religious affiliation, 39% for Protestants and 35% for those of other religious faiths.
Overall, 26% of all American adults have divorced, whereas 20% of Catholics have done so.”
From the National Catholic Register.
It is just that I was thinking what you posted in Holocaust that over 50 percent of Catholics approved of abortion-probably my maths are getting confused-whether the 50% were non married or whether they were married- and what would cause the divorce or maybe it would hold the marriage together, never mind ‘ignore me Quentin as my late husband would say I am probably thinking gobbley gouk!
Should be … as a whole….not as printed ‘hole.’
I see the difference between the Masculine and the Feminine , Women are the child bearers therefore we have a different aspect on marriage. and maybe able to speak about it easier. But as Quentin said priests come from a family envirioment
As there are plenty of sermons a priest could speak about The Holy Family and the others I mentioned. It doesn’t take much imagination to compare it to today’s age
We don’t have to be a Christian either, it is a natural instinct ‘see how the animals protect their young’ Abortion rate is sky high.
I agree with what you say about committed Christians we need committed Catholics as well, we can stay together as a family but still be living in sin.
As Catholics we ought to be setting the world on fire.
I switched on to the Gospel singers programme by mistake the other evening instead of EWTN.
I was amazed at their vigour in singing about Jesus That is what I meant when I asked the question about committed Christians.! We ought to be shouting it from the hilltops!. However there is more to it than that .A Christian can be very committed and have a failed marriage because of that .Couples ought to properly instructed on all the aspects of marriage and understand everything about fertility awareness!
It is clear I think that all the ecclesiastic legislation on marriage is or has failed to decrease the trend
on marriage, cohabitation. It is a sad picture isn’t it?
While the Christian view of marriage is a good one, one then has to ask why is it not working?
I think the answer is obvious, most are not Christians.
It does not work to impose the Christian view of marriage on the world.
We are exhorted in Scripture to put off the old man, and put on the new man in Christ. We cannot put on the new man till first we put off the old man.
What we see so often sadly today, is Christians putting off the old man, but they are no sooner out of Church and the are putting the old man back on.
I think ,for Christians, we must come to understand who and what we are in Christ Jesus.
We are a new creation, born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have power to resist the devil with his temptations, especially those of the flesh. We are heaven bound to dwell with our heavenly Father God. We are called to be holy, even as He is holy.
If and when we sin, and who does not, we do not have to listen to the devil accusing us, as Christ has died and His blood avails for us.
What has that to do with marriage? Well everything. Because we are then sinning against God and His love.
As Christians we are not under the Law but under Grace, being justified by faith, which is a gift of God to His Children, they are holy and in the bond of love not only with each other, our partner in life but also God. This is why divorce is not God’s will for His people.
Those who are not Christians will go there own way anyway. They have no power, nor do they love God, nor do they desire to please Him. They follow after their passions and lusts of the flesh which are all to obvious along with all the sorrows that follows their moment of pleasure.
The witness of solid Christian marriages needs to be maintained in the midst of a secular and materialist philosophy ans society.
You have sorted out the problem, however what would you suggest to do for the answer?
You say the witness of solid Christian marriages need to be maintained in the midst of a secular and materialist philosophy and society,.
It is a big ?And the world is a big place.!
Yes, the world is a big place, but how familiar these marital problems are here, or in China,
America, Russia and Europe and elsewhere.
It is not a matter of universal ex-cathedra proclamations on marriage that will answer the problem, but steadfast, loving, examples to those around us in our locality. I could keep you here all day, many days, with illustrations how practically people did this.
First, it was very natural, attractive, winsome, wholesome and welcoming.What people see in a loving couple is warmth, approachableness and so on.
Secondly, situations cross our path, and if they see an example of a truly loving marriage,
they may ask, ‘ what’s your secret?’ The door is open to talk, to relate, to hear their story and so on.
Thirdly, Officialdom, the Expert, seem to think they are the only ones, and way of helping people. The the stats on Marriage and breakdowns in marriage tell us a different story, – they are not so successful. They are often cold and calculating, not a suitable atmosphere for people in marital difficulties.
I said initially, practically -‘ it is very natural’. People in difficulties may come to see you,
some meeting you for the first time, may be aware of a loving person without saying anything and will pour out their heart. And so on.
Lastly, Practically, when asked for advice on marriage, realise who one is talking to. Are they a Christian or not ? This will determine how to temper what one will say.
I trust you are still keeping well?
Thank you for your concern, Yes I am at the moment thank God, as the Hymn goes.
‘One day at a time Sweet Jesus!,