The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):
Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category
Pretty much every morning of the work week, I send out to my friends and contacts an email entitled “Varia”. It’s basically a morning briefing, based on my review of what’s going on in the world that affects the Culture of Life. It usually consists of a link to an article or blog, plus a pithy comment or two by me.
I thought it might be handy to occasionally post here the highlights of those daily mailings.
(If anyone is interested in receiving the daily version of Varia, leave a comment with your email address and I’ll add you to the list).
I’ve been involved in promoting and defending marriage for many years now, both on the public policy front, and by presenting marriage preparation days with my wife. So, when the press reports about marriage, I always take an interest. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen recently are stories about several negative trends about marriage. In one report, we learned that people are putting off marriage to later and later ages, and that in the prime age (25 to 34), there are now more unmarried persons than those in wedlock. In another report, we see the continued trend towards cohabitation, either in place of marriage or as a “trial run”.
To me, these and other developments come back to a significant, but often overlooked underlying attitude about human relations in general, and marriage in particular — the idea that it is all about me. That what matters is my personal satisfaction, my emotional growth and development, my career, my possessions, my hopes and dreams, and my comfort.
This kind of radical individualism permeates our modern American society, and it has deeply infected personal relationships. It is the direct opposite of what authentic marriage is all about, and it is the deadly enemy of marriage. When the attitudes of radical individualism infect a marriage, it is guaranteed that trouble will follow.
Marriage is absolutely not about me. It is about being a gift to my wife, and to my children. I can’t be a successful husband or father — or a person, for that matter — if all I care about is myself.
This has enormous significance for public policy and for marriage and families. Here are a few examples of how radical individualism hurts people in their relationships:
Child-free marriages by choice — A significant problem that we are seeing more and more often are marriages in which the spouses deliberately choose never to have children. Some of this comes from a strange misplaced attitude of environmentalism, but much of it stems from radical individualism — a desire not to have my life, my figure, my finances, my peace and quiet or my career interfered with or interrupted by children. It also finds an outlet in outright hostility towards children and towards those who bear them (for an example of this hostility, see if you can stomach this article).
Cohabitation — In many ways, this is the quintessential expression of individualism in relationships. Cohabitation is fundamentally an arrangement of convenience with no sense of permanency. There are many reasons that people cohabit — financial expediency, desire for a steady sexual partner, fear of commitment, lack of confidence in their ability to marry, and so on. But much of it really comes back to the notion that the relationship is all about me — whether I am fulfilled, whether this meets my needs, and what’s in it for me. The bottom line is that there is no gift of self to the other.
Those who choose to cohabit are not doing it out of malice, or out of a reckless indifference to what is good for them and others. But so many of them have unconsciously bought into a false attitude of radical individualism without even realizing it. The tragedy is that people who cohabit are actually harming their ability to commit to an authentic marriage — rates of divorce are higher among those who cohabit, and so are other negative outcomes for the couple and any children they may have. They also are leading others into a situation where they will come to harm.
So, what is the Church to do in response to this? As in all situations, our primary obligation is to tell the truth. There have been excellent statements by our bishops about the challenges facing modern marriage, but that’s not enough. This is the responsibility of all of us — we married people, and our clergy. We need to tell people, plainly and lovingly, that sexual activity outside of marriage, cohabitation, and choosing a childless marriage are not only against God’s will, but they are harmful to us and others. We need to help people liberate themselves from the attitude of radical individualism. This message can only work if we present it with love and humility, and never with condemnation. It must be taught primarily by the witness of our lives, more so than with our words.
Marriage and true happiness — and the meaning of life itself — is not all about me. That is a pearl of very great price, and we must make sure that everyone learns about it.
Our New York State Legislature, unable to do their basic duty to pass a budget, has turned instead to real mischief — they are going to dishonor marriage by passing a so-called “no-fault divorce” bill. The Senate passed it today (by one vote), and the Assembly is expected to follow suit soon.
New York is the only state in the nation that does not yet have a “no-fault divorce” law. Divorce is always a tragedy, but sometimes it is necessary to protect the well-being of a spouse or children. But it shouldn’t be easier to end a marriage than it is to get out of a cell phone contract.
Essentially, this “no-fault” bill will establish a new ground for divorce — all you need is for one spouse to swear under oath that the marriage has been “broken down irretrievably” for a period of six months. In essence, you could just run down to the corner drug store and swear before the notary that your marriage isn’t working, and that’s the end of it.
This utterly fails to respect the importance of marriage to individuals, families, and society. Unilateral divorce by ambush would be permitted and even encouraged by this law. There is no standard for determining what’s “broken down irretrievably” – it is an entirely subjective standard that is based entirely on the attitude of the spouse who wants to end the marriage. There is no requirement of mediation or counseling to stave off an unnecessary divorce. And there’s no waiting period before the divorce is granted, which doesn’t allow for a “cooling off period” for reconciliation. That’s important, because many people have regrets about their divorce, and many couples reconcile during the process. Even worse, there is no consideration for the best interests of the children in dissolving the marriage, or any requirement that they receive counseling.
The “no-fault” approach completely turns the law on its head. Marriage will be the only civil contract that can be breached for any reason at all, with no demonstration of fault, and no damages to the injured party. This makes the marriage contract less worthy of protection (and easier to get out of) than mere economic contracts (e.g., a cell phone contract or a real estate lease). This also gives an unfair advantage to a wrong-doer (e.g., the spouse who abandons the other, or an adulterer). This is contrary to the traditional legal “clean hands” doctrine, under which you can’t ask for relief from the court when you have committed misconduct.
Contrary to what its advocates claim, “no-fault” divorce will not eliminate conflict from the domestic relations courts. Because the legislation permits divorce by ambush, an innocent party can be blindsided by a wrong-doer — not only will that fail to eliminate conflict, it will make it worse. And the bill does nothing to reduce disputes over any of the other key issues at play in a divorce — maintenance, child custody and support. These will still have to be resolved by the courts, and because the innocent party is treated so cavalierly, the level of conflict over these issues will likely increase.
Of course, there are parties to the divorce whose interests will be well-protected by our Legislature — the lawyers. Alongside the “no-fault” bill, they will also pass a bill that ensures that legal fees are paid by the more wealthy party to the divorce. So, the psychological and social well-being of kids — not so important to our solons. But the economic health of lawyers? That will be fully protected.
Once again, our New York State government has lived down to expectations. This time, instead of just passing bad economic legislation, they’re dishonoring the foundation of society itself — marriage and the family. Shame on them.
UPDATE — In an extraordinary example of incompetent journalism, the Times led its story on the bill today by stating that the Senate “approved legislation that would permit couples to separate by mutual consent…” Sorry, that’s not even close. New York already has a method by which couples could end their marriage by consent — it involves a formal separation agreement, or just not contesting the grounds for divorce (e.g., abandonment). This bill has nothing to do with mutual consent, and everything to do with empowering one spouse to try to get out of the marriage unilaterally. Don’t they have editors at the Times, or reporters who can read legislation?
On Wednesday, the President gave the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. Since I am known as a political junkie, I was asked by many people if I watched the speech and what I thought of it.
I have to confess that I haven’t watched a State of the Union Address in over twenty years. I find them almost unbearable to watch — full of platitudes and bromides, with artificial applause lines, and little that is of real substance or interest. I liken it to an American political version of Kabuki theater — highly stylized and formal dance, with everyone wearing a mask.
In my mind, it would have been much more interesting if the President and Congress had taken a few moments to take stock of the real state of the most important union we have — marriage.
The strength of marriage is an essential measure of how healthy our society is. Marriage — the life-long faithful union of a man and woman, dedicated to their well-being and the procreation and raising of children — is the foundation of any society. And by all reasonable measures, marriage is in trouble right now:
By all measures, marriage is in a crisis right now, and one would think that our political leaders would see the problem and want to address it. The Department of Health and Human Services actually has a pretty good program called the “Healthy Marriage Initiative“. But that’s not good enough — has anyone even heard of it?
In fact, think about this. When’s the last time you heard any significant public official say that we need to start looking at our public policies — taxes, health care, etc. — to see how they impact marriages? When’s the last time you heard a political leader say that we need to promote marriage? Did you read the President’s proclamation last fall for “National Family Day“? The word “marriage” wasn’t even mentioned.
This is a crisis that needs to be addressed by our own Church, too. The Bishops of the United States have issues a pastoral letter on marriage, and have set out on a National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage, which is producing excellent resources for couples and those helping to serve them. Here in the Archdiocese, Cardinal Egan and our priests were very supportive of our efforts in the Family Life Office to enhance our marriage preparation and natural family planning programs. It is very encouraging that Archbishop Dolan has put such a strong emphasis on marriage as a pastoral priority, calling the state of marriage a “real vocation crisis”. The promotion of marriage will require a wide effort by all our Church institutions.
Let’s be honest — the state of our most important union is troubled. We have to redouble our efforts to support and promote marriage.
On November 20, a broad coalition of religious leaders jointly issued an important statement, called the Manhattan Declaration. This declaration represents a watershed moment in American religious and political history — a coalition of faith communities, committed to having a significant impact on our culture and our law.
Here’s how the sponsors state the purpose of the Declaration:
Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.
We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Declaration has been signed by almost 200 religious leaders, including our own Archbishop Dolan, and over forty other Catholic bishops. When they opened the Declaration up to the public, over 370,000 people have signed on so far.
Why is this so important? This Declaration represents the basis of a new, broad-based ecumenical effort to bring our Christian values to the public square. For too long, our efforts have been hampered by the sad divisions that separate Christians from one another. But now, we have a unifying document, one that we can all rally behind, regardless of our theological differences.
I don’t want to comment on the woes of Tiger Woods and his family. The tabloids are certainly providing far too many lurid details, although it is encouraging that there is a clear consensus in the news coverage that adultery is wrong. That’s a good thing, and we should certainly pray for all those involved in this messy situation.
My interest in the matter was piqued by an article I came across online the other day, which noted the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Woods signed a prenuptial agreement before they got married. For those who don’t know what a prenuptial agreement is, it’s basically a contract in which the engaged couple agree about how their property and other rights will be handled within their marriage, and how they will be handled in the event of a divorce.
Now, I can see several situations in which such an agreement would be perfectly legitimate. For example, if a widow with adult children marries a widower who also has adult children, a prenuptial agreement can be a legitimate way to preserve the inheritance rights of each spouse’s children to the property of the prior marriage. Or if there’s a family-owned business, or a family heirloom, a prenup might be useful to keep things within the family.
In most cases, however, I think prenuptial agreements are a very, very bad idea.
One of the essential elements of a Catholic marriage is “indissolubility” — the idea that marriage is permanent, and cannot be dissolved. This is so important that Jesus himself affirmed this rule when he said, “what God has joined, let no man separate” (Mt. 19:6). In fact, it’s so important to God that He will do all that he can, through the graces of marriage, to make it happen.
The commitment of the couple to the permanency of their marriage is an absolutely indispensible component to marital success. Without that, there’s no chance for a marriage to last.
But the whole idea of a prenup undermines the couple’s commitment. It plants a seed in their minds that maybe they don’t have to stay married if it doesn’t “work out”. It can even suggest to their spouse that their possessions are more important than the marriage. It also undermines their dedicated to working through the difficulties that will inevitably arise, since there’s always the “escape hatch” of divorce on terms already agreed to.
These kinds of thoughts can be fatal to a marriage. A couple has to be absolutely committed to their marriage, 24/7/365/forever. Peggy and I have a motto — “nothing comes between us”. Period. The end. You can’t go into a marriage thinking it might fail, or expecting it to fail, or even accepting the possibility that it might fail. As the saying goes, “failure is not an option”.
To go back to the example of Mr. Woods for a second, it is very, very sad that a man who is noted for his fierce competitiveness, who strives to win every single tournament he enters, and who would never concede the possibility of defeat on the golf course, has done exaclty that with his marriage — the most important thing in his life, far more important than any trophy or prize.
Some of the young ladies in my office made the mistake of watching Oprah the other day, and they were scandalized. No, it wasn’t the Sarah Palin interview. It was an episode on “Women and Porn”.
My colleagues expected that Oprah would examine the real destructive impact of porn on women. Instead, the show was basically a promotional commercial for the porn industry, with the goal of encouraging women to indulge in that particular vice. Thank you, so much, Oprah, for selling women on something that will do no good for them, and will hurt them and so many other people.
For the real impact of porn on women, Oprah should have presented:
- The number of child sexual abuse victims who wind up in the “sex industry”, perpetuating the abuse and damage even further.
- The human trafficking industry, which enslaves women and children for profit and keeps them captive by violence and abuse.
- The realization that that every time we look at porn, the woman depicted is likely there because she was forced into it — and we are actually looking at a rape.
- The number of “porn actors” who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, who suffer from severe psychological ailments, and who have died from drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and homicide.
- The number of “sex workers” whose health is ruined by sexually transmitted diseases and violent crime.
If you want to get into the effect of porn on marriages and families, her show would also have addressed:
- The cyclical effect of porn, in which the user is dragged progressively into worse and worse varieties.
- The close correlation between porn use and sexual crimes, especially child sexual abuse.
- The desensitization of porn users to authentic sexual desire and activity, which destroys the intimate marital relationship and leaves both wife and husband feeling empty and used.
- The feeling of betrayal that wives feel when they learn that their husbands seem to prefer the imaginary women of porn to their real, live spouse.
- The waste of money and time spent on addictive behavior like internet porn.
- The marriages that are destroyed by infidelity, largely induced by porn, sex talk over the internet, trips to “gentleman’s clubs” and prostitution.
At this point, it is almost impossible to understate the terrible effect of porn on men and women. It is also unfortunately impossible to understand the male experience of sexuality without appreciating the negative effects of porn. It is present everywhere, and people are exposed to it from a very early age.
Pope John Paul once pointed out the essential problem with porn. It’s not that is shows too much — it certainly does that. But the real problem is that we don’t see enough. We see only images of a body, and not a person made in the image and likeness of God. We then use that body as an object for our own pleasure, never seeing the real live person who is desperate for authentic love, but who instead is being exploited.
This is an issue that strikes home with me. Thanks to lots of grace, and with the help of the authentic love of my spouse, I am trying to live the teaching of our Church (especially the Theology of the Body). But I can never get complacent or over-confident. I always have to keep in mind that “it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16). In my marriage preparation talks, I urge the men to get porn out of their lives, to throw out the magazines and movies, and to take close care every time they go online. I speak to them with a conviction born of bad experience. I pray that they listen.
Thanks to things like this Oprah episode, I realize now that I’ll have to address my remarks to the women as well. Some progress.
It seems that yesterday was “Family Day” here in the United States. I didn’t receive the memo, but the White House did. So, the President dutifully issued a proclamation that spoke of the importance of parents, empathized with their struggles, and exhorted them to keep up the good work. He even found the time to extoll parents in same-sex relationships.
But there was one word that was conspicuous by its absence from the President’s proclamation. Guess what it was?
There was nary a mention of the word “Marriage”.
So here we have the President of the United States talking about the importance of family and parenthood, but he can’t seem to bring himself to mention the single most important factor in ensuring a successful family — an intact marriage. This is incomprehensible, especially for a man who has a very happy marriage and family. How can he not realize that the same blessing that he has received is also the best situation for everyone?
The importance of marriage for adults, children, and society is incontrovertable, by all evidence from the social sciences, including:
- Children born in an intact marriage have a dramatically lower chance of living in poverty than those born outside of marriage.
- Boys whose parents divorced or never married are two to three times more likely to end up in jail as adults.
- Children whose parents get and stay married are healthier and also much less likely to suffer mental illness, including depression and teen suicide.
- Families with an intact marriage are, on average, substantially more economically secure.
- Children whose parents never marry are far more likely to require public assistance.
- Both men and women who marry live longer, healthier and happier lives. On virtually every measure of health and well-being, married people are better-off than otherwise similar singles.
- Unmarried women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence.
- Children with married parents are significantly safer — they are a far lower risk of drug use, engaging in sexual activity, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, abortion, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.
- Children whose parents divorced or never married have lower grade point averages, are more likely to be held back a grade, to drop out of or be expelled from school, and are less likely to graduate from college.
If the President isn’t clear on this, perhaps he should consult his own Department of Health and Human Services, which has a laudable program called the “Healthy Marriage Initiative”, designed to promote marriage as the foundation of healthy adult life and family life. They understand the importance of a good marriage to a family. In fact, they even have a picture of the President’s family on their webpage.
Our Bishops have also been undertaking a major “Pastoral Initiative on Marriage” to support married couples. Here in the Archdiocese we’ve been working hard on our marriage preparation, natural family planning, and marriage enrichment programs.
This issue is really not that complicated or difficult. Marriage is the foundation of a good family. It is the best place for adults and children. Most of our social problems are traceable to problems in marriage and the family.
So if our government is going to recognize and honor families, it should also be promoting and honoring marriage.
Well, today is Groundhog Day. I personally couldn’t care less what the groundhog himself does — whether he sees his shadow or not. What I do care about is that people go to see the movie “Groundhog Day”, and learn an important lesson about love from it.
That’s right, I’m recommending that people see a Bill Murray movie to learn a lesson. Actually, that movie has a very deep message — whether the screenwriter/director intended it or not. In fact, the movie is great illustration of the true nature of love, and a perfect example of what Pope Benedict was writing about in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Here’s what I mean.
In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict’s point of departure is a distinction between two different meanings of the word “love”. Of course, in the English language we only have the one word, “love”, and we use it for all sorts of different things — I love my wife, I love my children, I love the Yankees, I love chocolate, etc. But in Greek, there are a number of different words for love, each of which has a specialized meaning. The Holy Father asks us to look at two of these kinds of love — eros and agape.
Eros is essentially a passion for another, a desire to have them, to own them. In it’s sexual form, eros by itself becomes fixated on the body alone, not on the person, and treats the other as an object for use. Eros is basically all about me. Agape, in contrast, is love that focuses on the other, and seeks ways in which I may be a gift to them. Agape doesn’t treat you as an object, or a mere body, but looks beyond the physical to the fully personal. Agape isn’t all about me, and what I can get — it’s about you, and how I can give myself to you.
Both of these forms of love are good — God created us with the capacity and need for both — but they must be kept in balance. As Pope Benedict says, “The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized”.
Here’s where the movie “Groundhog Day” comes in, and why it’s such a good example of the true nature of love. At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors is a selfish, vain, fool who only cares about himself. All other people are there for him to use for his pleasure and his status. Phil is eros out of control.
Well, Phil goes to Punxsatawney, PA to do a report on the festivities, and he gets stuck on Groundhog Day. He repeats the day over and over, but only he can remember that it’s a repeat — everyone else is living the day for the first time. At first, Phil thinks this is great, and indulges his eros — eating, drinking, seducing, etc. But after a while, Phil realizes that he’s desperately unhappy, and that his unbalanced eros has left him in a hell of his own selfishness.
There’s a turning point in the movie and a happy ending, which I won’t spoil. But suffice it to say that the road out of hell for Phil is when he starts to realize that he’s missing agape in his life, and he starts to balance it — marry it — to his eros.
And that’s the point. All too often, we go through our lives stuck in our own selfishness, with our eros out of balance. We keep trying to find new ways to be happy, but typically it’s just different brands of eros — using people in all sorts of ways (for sex, or power), anesthetizing ourselves with chemicals or entertainment, chasing material wealth or success, all that.
But the true path to happiness, as Phil and Pope Benedict teach us, is to become a gift of self to others — to make it all about them, and not all about me.
The Second Vatican Council said it best: “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
In other words, don’t get stuck on Groundhog Day.