Marriage and its Meaning for the Church

Part II: Marriage and Commitment: A Social Contract

If nature has a bonding process and males and females find themselves drawn to each other and connected in a deep and lasting way, society would have to acknowledge this fact and that acknowledgment is marriage. Society does not so much create marriage as it receives marriage from nature. Of course this claim itself has become controversial. Some would claim that marriage is or can be whatever people want. But through the ages certain facts of life remain with us. One of the convictions of traditional wisdom is that marriage is really for children. Today some would rather see marriage as an institution for the wishes and needs of adults. Or some today believe that human nature is endlessly flexible and capable of any goal or purpose that human beings want to subject it to. This is a radical departure from the wisdom of the past.

Indeed children form a central reason why men and women sacrifice their independence and freedom in coming together in marriage. This very sacrifice has been greatly criticized by various voices especially in the Women's Movement, but an astute female critic put it this way:

It is as if these women believe that children are nothing more than a codicil to the arrangement, an add-on option to a marriage like a leather interior and digital compass in a new car, and not the fundamental reason why men and women join together for a lifetime. Danielle Crittenden What Our Mother Didn't Tell Us, [New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1999], p.97.

The important term here is "fundamental reason" for the commitment that is marriage. Such reflections do not come from the Church, but the Church herself has received them from our human nature, which is often reflected in social institutions. But it is important to add that children are not the only reason for marriage because the very stability that children need and serves them so well also serves the needs of adults who form life-long companionship that keeps them company into old age. When couples are most giving, generous and trusting they not only provide the best home for children, but also for each other.

What is sad today is the fact that in most places the society does not support the stability of marriage. Many states have no-fault divorce which means that the commitment of marriage can be dissolved by either party at any time. People who abandon their families used to face public disapproval, but not today. The Church's interest is in helping people commit themselves morally to the adventure of life-long marriage and help them to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this goal. The losers in marriage breakup are the children. Many years ago there were attempts to establish that children do just fine in divorce. This has not proved true. Again Ms. Crittenden:

As sociologists Sarah McLanahan and Gary Sandefur discovered in their landmark 1994 study of children of single parents, children who grow up without the continuous presence of both mother and father are twice as likely to drop out of school as children raised by both biological parents. They are more likely to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, to commit crimes, to never seek higher education and to have more difficulty in sustaining relationships. Young women who grow up without fathers are two and a half times as likely to get pregnant in their teens. One could go on and on. Crittenden, p.103.

This is a detailed way of saying that the breakup of marriage or the foregoing of marriage while having children is a great cause of poverty. Those who believe in God know that God wants his children to prosper, but prospering requires something from us including a willingness to sacrifice our egoism for the good of others and the willingness to put up with suffering and tedium for the sake of a greater good, which involves not only the good of children, but a stable friendship and companionship for the adults. We can see in this regard that both self-importance and short sightedness are playing havoc with the choices people are making.

When children are young they suffer from divorce. Very often the mother suffers, whether she has young children to care for or she has spent much of her life caring for the children and home, and therefore not up to par with her age group in the work force. So divorce is often disastrous to women and children.

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