Why Catholic marriage is what couples really, truly want

September 9, 2014

It’s no secret the institution of marriage, culturally and in the Catholic Church, is declining. 

If Catholic marriage were a product, and we the CEO and executives of RC Marriages Inc., we would be in crisis mode. We would be calling in the consultants, gathering focus groups and commissioning studies to find out why people in general aren’t buying marriage and, more specifically, why Catholics aren’t buying Catholic marriage. 

Marriage trends are clear and the picture isn’t pretty. While Census and National Center for Health Statistics figures usually generate yawns, the numbers on marriage are alarming. 

Nationally, between 1950 and 2010 the marriage rate per 1,000 population has gone down from 11.1 to 6.8. The U.S. population more than doubled in that time span. 

During the same period, National Catholic Directories figures show the number of Catholics more than doubled in the U.S., yet the number of Catholic marriages nationally dropped by 47 percent. 

In case anyone is wondering why these numbers are scandalous, we should take heed of St. John Paul II’s words in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” 

Marriage is the cornerstone of family and civilization; a society with no marriage is a crumbling, disordered and chaotic society. 

The Catholic Church without solid Catholic marriages ceases being “salt” and simply becomes a mirror image of the disordered society at large, one with no “spiritual fathers” and criminally defiant children. 

Before we are tempted to say the problem is happening everywhere else but here, the same National Catholic Directories show the trend holds true in our area. 

In 1950, there were 205,148 Catholics in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston with 1,445 Catholic marriages occurring that year. 

By 2010 the number of Catholics in the Archdiocese had grown to 1.2 million with only 3,472 Catholic marriages occurring that year. 

I’m no statistician, but it is obvious Catholic marriages have not kept pace with the growing Catholic population. In 2013, 3,292 couples were married in the Archdiocese, the last time we had comparable numbers was 1974 when the Catholic population neared 340,000. 

It is sometimes a surprise to Catholics to learn that, by virtue of their Catholic Baptism, they are not only claimed for Christ but also for His bride, the Catholic Church, in whose bosom Catholics are supposed to be nurtured and grow in the Christian life. 

Baptism puts Catholics on a trajectory toward Catholic marriage for most and celibacy for the Kingdom for others. The trajectory has been hijacked. The meaning and importance of Catholic marriage in the life of the Church and in the life of Catholics has become lost.

A Georgetown University (CARA) study conducted for the U.S. Bishops in 2007, Marriage in the Catholic Church: A Survey of U.S. Catholics, revealed 54 percent of Catholic young adults think Catholic marriage is “a little” or “not at all” important, while at the same time responding they were “somewhat” or “very likely to marry.” Catholic marriage has some competition. 

If Catholic marriage was a product and we compared it to the competition, mainly cohabitation and civil or secular marriage, what would we find? In a recent webinar on this topic, Catholic authors Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak offered a helpful way to assess the quality of the different “marriage type” products on the market. The Popcaks explained the quality of a couple’s union or bond is only as good as the promises a couple exchanges. Let’s take a look at the competition shall we?

• Cohabitation: In cohabitation there are no solemn promises or vows exchanged, therefore, no bond is created. There can be no real expectations in these unions since there are no promises. 

The common “arrangement” usually involves splitting the rent, bills, food costs and, of course, the usually unspoken assumption of sex on demand. According to “Why Marriage Matters, Third Edition,” cohabiting relationships suffer from a wide variety of problems including: higher levels of domestic violence, higher rates of depression for women and higher rates of emotional problems in children. 

From a Catholic perspective, cohabitation is out of harmony with God’s divine plan for sex and marriage, therefore it’s not a good option for Catholics or anyone else for that matter. 

Unexplainably, cohabitation, as inferior and low quality of a product as it is, it’s the top seller. 

• Civil Marriage: In civil marriage, also referred to as secular marriage, couples exchange some basic promises that deal with legal issues involving property and children. 

The marriage is set up as a legal contract and couples are free to “make up” their own vows. 

These vows have included such gems as “to make your favorite banana shake” (Jennifer Aniston to Brad Pitt in 2000) and “to mute the ball game” (Charlie Sheen to Brooke Mueller in 2008). 

While an air of permanence is present, no-fault divorce laws have made civil marriage extremely fragile and laws redefining marriage in some places have changed the meaning of marriage altogether. 

From a Catholic perspective, civil marriage is extremely valuable for non-Catholics, who don’t have any other option to formalize their intimate union, but for Catholics it misses the mark. 

Why? It proposes a secular vision of marriage, which is increasingly out of harmony with God’s divine plan for sex and marriage. Because it is out of harmony with God’s plan, civil or secular marriage is not recognized as valid marriage for baptized Catholics. 

• Catholic Marriage: In Catholic marriage, men and women exchange solemn vows before God, each other and the entire community, which include the basic promises required by civil law, plus, many more.

By saying “I do,” couples humbly and mutually forego their own personal ideas about what marriage is, and submit to God’s plan for sexual love and marriage as expressed by the Catholic Church. That plan includes permanence, indissolubility, faithfulness and openness to children. 
In the case of two baptized Christians the vows and consent create a living Sacramental bond between the man, the woman and Jesus. 

Catholic marriage recognizes it takes something truly supernatural to unite two very different people for life. As a “product” Catholic marriage is superior to all the others because the promises or vows, when entered into conscientiously and faithfully, best correspond to the great dignity of men, women, sexual love and the children that come from their union. 

Catholic marriage clearly sets the expectation that spouses are to love each other the way God loves: All in, selflessly and until death. Can someone please tell me who doesn’t want a love and a marriage like this?

If Catholic marriage were a product and we the CEO and executives of RC Marriages Inc., we would have to start believing again that what we have to offer is gold and not the fool’s kind. 

Catholic marriage is what corresponds best with the deep desire in people’s hearts to love and be loved, it wins hands down! All we have to do is unmask the competition — they had it coming — then we need to sell Catholic marriage as if our futures depend on it!