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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Real Vocations Crisis part II

As I have said before, and continue to say, the real vocations "crisis" in the Church today is the lack of holy vocations to marriage. The divorce rate is just the most obvious sign and scandal, but the lack of true understanding of the sacramental nature of marriage is epidemic. Use of contraception is disturbingly commonplace. A crippling inability to remain committed to anything, let alone a marriage, plagues the younger generations (including mine).

Is there any doubt why this is the case? One only needs to look at the profound lack of clear and convincing teaching on these issues over the past 40 years to understand why things are the way they are today. A "tyranny of relativism" has made "tolerance" the new great commandment. In an effort to not offend anyone, and/or for fear of turning people away from the Church, we have made the mess we find ourselves in. On that note, the fear that "intolerance" might turn people away is ridiculous. How many of the young couples who go through the motions today in order to have a "church wedding" even still go to Mass after they are married? Final thought: tolerance does not equal love. As a parent tolerance of inappropriate or destructive behavior would certainly not be considered loving. Why is it considered loving in the Church?

Read the article below and think about the potential future ramifications. Yes, it could get worse.
My emphases and (comments) below.

From the Wall Street Journal

Marrying Tradition and Modernity
February 22, 2008; Page W11

Catholic young adults place great importance on marriage but have turned away from church-based ideas of how to make it work, according to a study released last week by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

For Catholic members of the "millennial generation," men and women born between 1982 and 1989, marriage is not to be undertaken lightly. Some 82% of these teens and 20-somethings report that they believe marriage is a lifelong commitment, compared with only 56% of Catholics age 47 to 64 -- approximately their parents' generation. Moreover, 84% of these young Catholic adults report concern that "couples don't take marriage seriously enough when divorce is easily available." By comparison, only 67% of their parents' generation agree with this statement.

At the same time, only a quarter of these young adults report that their views about marriage have been formed in significant part by their faith. Indeed, a minority think of marriage as a "vocation" or a "calling from God," and nearly half of singles say it's not important that their future spouse be Catholic. Rather, the vast majority of 18- to 25-year-olds report that their spouse must be their "soul mate," and that falling out of love is an acceptable reason for divorce. (Reread this paragraph slowly. "A minority think of marriage as a "vocation" or a "calling from God". No surprise here. Many kids today being confirmed can't even name the seven sacraments, should we really expect them to know that marriage is a vocation if we don't teach them?)

On questions about the importance of lifelong commitment in marriage, millennials are more in step with their pre-Vatican II-generation grandparents, but on questions about the influence of Catholic teachings on their views about marriage, young adults agree with their boomer parents. (This note on the importance of lifelong commiment may not bear itself out in reality. Raised in a culture that doesn't accept or embrace any concept of redemptive suffering, they tend to drop pursuits, or change jobs at the first signs of conflict or difficulty. For example talk to any high school athletic coach today to hear how differently kids approach their "commitment" to the team. This is evidenced in the statistic above that the vast majority of 18-25 year olds feel that "falling out of love" is an acceptable reason for divorce. When things get tough in a marriage, and odds are they will at some point, it may simply "feel" like the couple has fallen out of love - an acceptable reason for divorce and finding a new relationship.)

The study, based on an online survey of more than 1,000 adult Catholics, "paints a mixed picture," said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the Subcommittee on Marriage and Family Life of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which commissioned the report. Catholic youth may have a more conservative outlook on life than their parents' generation but also an individualized idea of who should set the rules, said Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. "Most younger Catholics have defined their inner self as the authority, and many freely distance themselves from church practices they don't believe in."

Even the concept of "Catholic guilt" seems to have disappeared for younger generations: Catholic youth report no feelings of guilt overall, or about premarital sex or pornography, according to Mr. Smith's forthcoming article in the Review of Religious Research. (This is a real problem. There was a time when kids at least had some sense of guilt. No more and addictions are setting in quickly. Ask any priest who hears confessions on a regular basis - addiction to pornography, for both men and women, is an enormous and largely undiscussed problem.)

The Georgetown study shows that some 69% of Catholics age 18 to 25 believe "marriage is whatever two people want it to be," (what does this mean?!!) while just over half of their parents' and grandparents' generation agreed with that statement. This comes as no surprise to researchers following American family trends. With looser social norms dictating appropriate behaviors for husbands and wives, each couple -- regardless of religious affiliation -- must settle on their own rules of conduct, argues Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History." But when more issues must be negotiated, she notes, there are more points where negotiations can break down.

While research on other Christian denominations shows similar individualized attitudes about the role of faith in everyday life, the generational differences are more pronounced among Catholics. "Catholic teenagers are the most distanced from the church authorities," reports Mr. Smith, a fact he attributes to "largely ineffective" modern Catholic religious education. (BINGO!!! As I said at the beginning. We have made this mess by failing to teach the doctrines of our faith and not expecting people to try to live them out!)

To be sure, some caution is advisable when interpreting generational differences measured at different stages of life: The millennials are just at the beginning of adulthood, so their optimistic and individual-focused opinions may change with their circumstances. (They may just be at the beginning of adulthood, but why would we expect them to change if what they are being told doesn't change? That said, I do feel their optimistic opinions may change - unfortunately the good ones.) "Some of this is useful idealism and some of it is just inexperience," said Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Still, the cultural shift can't be ignored, Mr. Regnerus said. "We've been swamped by messages of romantic individualism. Those ideas can lead people to marry, but can lead you out of the marriage just as fast when things get tough."

Although young people often embrace traditional religious ideas to combat the influence of excessive individualism in the culture, they want to construct marriages that are more flexible than in the past, (More flexible than the past? What past are they talking about, because the past forty years has already been far to flexible.)according to Ms. Coontz. But it's a slippery slope, she says. "Once you start tinkering with the kind of set-in-stone beliefs that used to keep people in the same marriages and at the same jobs for most of their lives, where do you draw the line?"

Ms. Whelan is the author of "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women."

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