Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More on the Family

John Paul II famously said,

As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.

I think that most readers of thetheologyofdad would give tacit agreement to this statement.

Let's put some meat on its bones, though, by fleshing out some of the implications.

I was speaking with a good friend the other day and he gave me these statistics for Canada. In terms of marriages recognized by the Church (could be a marriage of Catholic to Catholic or Catholic to non-Catholic), we find the following:

In 2009 - 20,783

Now, I know that you have no idea how to gauge the significance of that figure. Is that a lot?

No, it is not.

Let us compare:

In 1993 - 42,107

In 1975 - 79,428

So in just 34 years the number of Church recognized weddings decreased by almost 75%. Let's add to this the fact that the population of Canada has increased by roughly 69%, from 23,209,000 to 33,739,900 over that sameperiod of time. In other words, the relative measure has a decreased frequency of Catholic wedding per person in Canada of around 90%. Look at it this way, in 1975 there was 1 Catholic Church-recognized wedding for every 292 Canadians, whereas in 2009 that figure drops to 1 in 1623 Canadians.

Now, there are a number of factors at work here, but none of them overrule the most general fact: having your wedding in the Catholic Church is about 90% less important to Canadians now than it was around the time of my birth, i.e. just about one generation ago.

Part of this is good news: I think a small element of this is that priests are exercising greater care against sacrilege than they probably were. That accounts for a very small fraction of the change here, I am sure. (Just for the record, pretending to marry people who are not able to form the marital bond is sacrilege, just as is giving communion to non-Catholics, etc.)

But most of it is bad, bad news. It is a sign that Canadians have lost their faith in the Church's view of marriage by a whopping degree.

Or is it bad, bad news?

Glass half-full.

I have no stats here, but let's compare this to number of priests in Quebec. I am picking on Quebec because it would prove my point most dramatically, I am sure. Before the 'Quiet Revolution' the priesthood ran the Province.  Now the priesthood matters about as much as parallel port repairmen matter. (Parallel port cables were those things you used to connect your computer to your printer before the invention of the USB cable. I am not, however, certain that there ever was an avocation termed 'parallel port repairman.') What do you think would happen to medical schools in this country if suddenly doctors began to be paid half of what they are now, or perhaps what public school teachers or policemen are paid? They would empty by half, at least. How would that remaining half stack up relative to the half that left for greener pastures? They would be the ones who really meant "I want to help people" when they wrote it on their medical school application form. Would they be better doctors? In some ways yes - they would care more; in some ways no - the average IQ of the medical schools would have seen an appreciable drop too. What about Quebec priests? I am sure commitment levels rose and IQ levels sank from 1960 to 2010. But the priesthood is not medicine. Commitment radically outweighs IQ in importance in the priesthood, which is not precisely true for medicine.

How do we tie all this back to the matter at hand, Catholic Church-recognized weddings?

Who is this remaining 10% who are getting married in the Church? I bet radically more committed than those of the previous generation. Yet, we must still bear in mind that 35 years ago religion was more important in society than it is now and so there were numerically more convicted Christians than now. But I would say that there were relatively even more merely conventionally-motivated Church-goers then.

35, 50, 70 years ago being a Christian could mean about as much as living in a city does now. It would have news-worthy to say you were not a Christian. Now it is news that you are. It means something spiritually almost necessarily. As I was saying to my class yesterday, the shift in the meaning of Christian discipleship between the 3rd and the 4th century was radically significant. Christianity was a capital crime up until Constantine rescinded this in 313. We are witnessing a shift as sociologically dramatic now, as these stats make clear.

No wonder the opposition to gay 'marriage' is as weak as it is. Canadians care 90% less about the Christian idea of marriage than they did 35 years ago.

But I think we have a great opportunity to remind ourselves of what marriage really is perhaps for the first time since Early Church days. This felt need serves to explain the great interest in the Theology of the Body. It's not because as modern people we're sex-obsessed. It's because we want to know the meaning of our life in Christ, and society at large is not able to supply that to us anymore. As a result of this question asking our understanding has been greatly enriched. A hundred years ago did your standard Catholic read about the meaning of Catholic marriage they were about to or had already entered? Nope.

If we don't think about the meaning of things, they are meaningless. Now we are thinking.

* Canadian population data was found at Google Public Data - which I had no idea about before today. Check is out. It's very interesting.


  1. Troubling and interesting at the same time. We do baptism prep at our parish, and I'd say about 80-90% of the couples we prepare for the baptism of their children are not married. Makes for challenges in catechesis, since try to emphasize a family approach. The good news is, some come to an experience of faith and realize that they have to get things in order and do decide to marry. I think the example of happily married couples goes a long way in getting people to at least consider that a lifetime of marriage is possible and even desirable. My two cents.

  2. Isn't that something. I never understand people. You live together, etc., even have kids together, want baptism, but don't get married.