Saturday, November 17, 2012

To Wed or Not To Wed?

Katherine is working on a degree in family studies. And, she’s a recent convert to the Catholic Church. She sent me an email recently and asked my thoughts on something she was hearing over and over in her classes. “The research is consistent in demonstrating that marriage does not benefit women on a personal, health, social, and emotional level,” she writes. And then she drops her question in my lap. “I remember you mentioning that you married young and divorced, and are now remarried. I would love to hear your perspective on this, as someone who has been on the front line.”

She said that the research, data, and facts are stacked against marriage for women. Men benefit greatly from marriage, but for women, it’s “a power structure in which women are oppressed.”

Her question seemed sincere. It didn’t seem like she was trying to goad. And yet, how could I address her questions honestly, when I had personally experienced some of what she described in my first marriage?

It’s true that many women do not experience anything remotely akin to marital bliss. Many give everything they have to their husbands and children, only to be cast aside when something new comes along. Some of my closest friends are living proof that women get the shaft all too often.

But then, Katherine makes an erroneous assumption. ” When I read the research, marriage no longer looks like it has any potential to be a sacrament.”

Marriage is a sacrament. What is broken is our society. We have taken the beautiful prenuptial dance and reformulated it. It no longer serves as a foundation for the sacrament of matrimony.

We call it marriage. But it is not marriage. And when the “marriage” self-destructs, we sort through the aftermath and come to the conclusion that marriage is passé. It’s so yesterday.

Katherine wants to know my “perspective on this, as someone who has been on the front line” because, as a single woman, the idea of marriage to her seems “absolutely terrible and terrifying.”

I immediately thought of Pat Barnard. Just days before Katherine’s email arrived, I had been with Pat. When I last saw her, she was standing beside an open casket, telling me stories about her life with her husband. Pat and Bob had been in RCIA class with me in 2005. Pat smiled, as she wiped away tears. So many good memories, she said. One of her favorites? The day she sat beside him, wondering if he still remembered her or if the Alzheimer’s Disease had taken that last precious memory, too.

“Do you still love me, Bob?” she’d asked him, not expecting an answer at all.

“I love you exceedingly.”

Somewhere inside that failing mind, the memory of their love still existed. And Pat clung to his words, even as she stood beside his body at the visitation.

Katherine, I can tell you that marriage is not outdated. It is not “a power structure in which women are oppressed” or "the wife usually dissipates and disappears” until there is nothing left of her. That is not marriage and any statistics generated by such a union must never be used to malign the sacrament of marriage.

Just ask the widow standing at the side of her husband’s casket. She’d give almost anything to have those years back again.

Real marriage is life-giving – in every way.

For the man.

For the woman.

For the children.

For the Church.

For the community.

For the country.

Coincidentally, my husband wrote his doctoral dissertation on poverty in the United States. He was the first one to tell me about the current cultural bias against marriage.

According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey (Annual Social and Economic Supplement), two fifths of single mother families are poor, triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population. Single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families. The poverty rate for single-mother families is 40.7% compared to 8.8% for married-couple families.

The Rand Corporation published an article entitled “Children at Risk: Consequences for School Readiness and Beyond” which says economically disadvantaged children lag behind other children in kindergarten readiness – which measures far more than academic and cognitive skills. The physical, social, and emotional development of these children is also compromised.

Bottom line? Marriage is intrinsically good, not bad. The problem is not with the sacrament itself. The problem rests solely with a culture that has trampled on marriage and now blames a host of societal ills on their shipwrecked recreation of marriage.

Yes, I was married before and divorced. The Church determined that my first marriage was not a sacrament. I married again. And I can tell you from experience. The sacrament makes all the difference in the world.

Katherine, don’t be afraid.

The statistics don’t describe sacramental marriage. They describe the imposter.

And the only authority qualified to make the determination on that which is a sacrament and that which is an imposter is Mother Church. But thankfully, we are not left to figure it out on our own.


1 comment:

  1. Wow. So beautiful. So powerful. When I was a deacon in a prior assignment in Colorado - I did a lot of marriage prep work - quite often for mixed-faith couples. (I would be marrying them later). We usually exchanged 20-25 emails, we met at least a couple times in person. And for some, my wife Dee and I would do dinners with them and 'work' on the Church's teaching and meaning of marriage. I tried my best to defuse the 'perfect wedding dress day' excitement and concentrate on what a Sacrament is -- what marriage is. We are still in touch with a number of those couples. Knock on your kneeler - we think the statistics of this work have been better than society's approach to marriage. Blessings. dt