Catholic Answers has a new Blog and I'm very impressed by the quality of the stuff they are posting. I recommend you follow it on Google Reader. The blog entries are relatively short, less than one page long, but they often touch upon a very important facet of our modern life that Catholics generally have remained silent about. Today an article came out from one of my favorite Catholic writers, Christopher Check. The topic was that of getting married early on in life, which is something I'd had been planning to write about for a while myself.
Everyone knows that society is crumbling due to high divorce rates and rampant sexual sins. The astonishing thing about this is that few Christians talk about one of the most elegant and time tested antidotes to divorce and sexual sins: getting married at an early age. The reason why Christians don't like to talk about the importance and wisdom of getting married at an early age is because most Christians are caught up in the false ideologies of Liberalism and Modernism. This applies even to faithful Catholics who oppose contraception.
These false ideologies are centered around the idea that man is self-sufficient for all his needs. He doesn't have any duties towards anyone, meaning he should be free to live as he pleases. Most Christians don't talk like this, but they live as if this were a given. The result is that young adults are not raised with a focus and instead are deliberately left to figure life out on their own. This is precisely what the modern college mentality is about: after high school their next task is to go to college to figure out "what they want to major in," and spend the next four to six years chasing a degree. But the problem then is, once they have their degree, their next task is to find a job in order to make use of this degree they've invested all this time on, including paying back the (often) outrageous college debts they've incurred. So about 8 years after they've graduated high-school, putting them at about 26 years old, most young adults find themselves single and sharing an apartment with someone. From there, if they can hope to become financially stable, they can then (finally) look for a spouse. This is precisely why the average age for marriage these days has been pushed up into the late twenties and early thirties. Hopefully people can see the dangers going on in the background here.
In case you didn't realize it, the danger is that of not dealing with one's sexual urges in the proper context. The timeless words of St Paul have gone largely unnoticed by the modern Catholic "theology of the body" school, taught by even the most conservative Catholics. Speaking to those who are unmarried, St Paul said: "If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Cor 7:8-9). Now when is the last time you've heard that? Think about when these sexual passions first arise: when a person's hormones first begin to give them the sexual urges. This happens around 17 years of age. This means that if a young adult does not get married until 28 or so, then they've been having to "fight" that sexual urge for (at least) 10 years without the proper outlet. The result is naturally going to be disastrous, with skyrocketing rates of cohabitation, fornication, pornography, and masturbation all taking the place of healthy marriages. Every sane culture in history, both pagan and Christian, realized that man was born to procreate, for he was created for community, and this is how society is built up and sustained. So what our culture has done is opposed nature itself, which is ironic considering the Enlightenment mindset was so concerned about following Reason.
Though the Catholic Answers article by Christopher Check failed to talk about this "sexual urge" aspect, the article did touch upon some significant points that modern Christian sexual ethics have also failed to incorporate. The first point Check makes is that the single life is not a vocation. Natural Law shows that man's natural goal for this life is marriage, not being single. And this leads to Check's second point, which is that "discerning the vocation to marriage does not take much effort because the call to marriage is universal." This is not to say that those who are single are bad or not pleasing God, but rather that they are an exception to the rules of nature, not the norm. With that in mind, the only way the single life can take on an objectively superior character to marriage is if marriage is given up for the sake of the Kingdom, namely the consecrated (celibate) religious life.
I think the case for early marriage is very sound, being clearly supported by Reason and Divine Revelation. Many would object to this by saying that young adults are not mature enough to make such "life altering" decisions such as marriage. The problem with that objection is that throughout history and in every culture, young adults have married young and everything has turned out fine. In fact, getting married has traditionally been the (logical) mechanism for a young adult to "grow up" and take responsibility, meaning that the earlier this happens the earlier they can become fulfilled and serve society. (How can a young adult couple be irresponsible and live selfishly when they have a child to raise?) Many would follow this up by saying that this would increase divorce rates, since these young adults would often regret their "uninformed decision" of getting married too young to know the "risks." Again, the logic here is exactly backwards: cheap and easy divorce is not the result of getting married too young, but rather arises from a cultural mindset of getting married too late! This is because late marriage naturally presuppose sexual activity has already taken place outside of marriage and that the individual has already been living a life of pleasure and no focus. So when it comes time for "marriage," the typical spouse only sees their "partner" in a utilitarian fashion, meaning the spouses evaluate each other based on their looks, income, and how good they are in bed. All of this is the epitome of the contraceptive mindset.
The contraceptive mindset would be completely undermined if our society encouraged marriage at an early age. This is because the couple would be forced to see marriage as the proper context by which to have sex with the intention of starting a family. If society only sees sex as something for pleasure, then of course it makes no sense to marry early to obtain that pleasure. So the antithesis to contraception is marrying young. When a couple marries young, they also naturally sidestep many heartaches that their single friends have to endure, such as losing virginity to someone you didn't really love (including involving a possible abortion) or a lonely life agonizing about finding a mate that often results in turning to masturbation for comfort.
Now onto Check's next point: "no one is ever “ready” to get married (or to have children, for that matter). There will never be “enough” money, “enough” higher education, “enough” job security, “enough” of a house, and indeed, “enough” certainty that she is the one. All these objections boil down to something embarrassingly pusillanimous: a lack of faith." Throughout history, even the poorest people got married, and they and their children got by. Our society has lost faith in God's Providence and Christian love, meaning that we're forced to trust in material goods and be at the mercy of government benefits, and as long as these human solutions are not meeting our needs means we're not "ready" to get married.
Not to contradict this last point, but it can rightly be said that many good Catholics out there want to get married but are faced with serious obstacles. For one, with parish life mostly devastated, there aren't many opportunities to meet single Catholics. One solution to this is to seek out a health parish or young adult Catholic group, but that's not always easy. Most parishes do not have a young adult group, so this might require you taking up the burden of starting one. Also, Catholic Social Teaching is very clear that society should be structured in such a way that a husband is receiving a wage sufficient enough to provide for his family. But our society is not set up in this way, meaning that a male will have a harder time finding sufficient employment, which will naturally undermine his desire for marriage. But I think a lot of this can be overcome if one has faith and especially a prayer life, including Adoration. Once married, the couple has to trust in God, and things will work out. It's not like a bad economy is only going to affect the unmarried male but not the unmarried female, so it's the same struggle to survive whether married or not, though marriage would provide many benefits.
The final "taboo" to cover is that of whether women should be going to college in the first place. This question will be answered in Part 2.