Today, marriage has lost its attraction for many Americans. Fewer people are taking the walk down the aisle. In the last thirty years, the number of men and women exchanging marriage vows has fallen by 50%. At the same time that marriage has been declining, there has been a rise in cohabitation. Today ten times more individuals than in 1960 are opting to live with someone else in a sexual relationship without being married.
Many people simply do not subscribe to the value of forming a stable, loving, committed family unit into which children are welcomed. Sexual activity has become a personal choice devoid of its impact on the emotional life of the other person and apart from its natural purpose of bringing children into the world. Young people are living together more frequently and divorcing more often than their parents. Most disturbing is the divorce of marriage itself from parenting. More young people are becoming unmarried parents than two generations ago. Today, of all teenagers, only 45% live with their married biological parents.
Social sciences give us statistics about marriage that make the case for marriage on the level of reason itself. On an average, married people are more productive and experience greater joy in family life than the unmarried. They are able to form more meaningful relationships with each other. They have a more intense relationship than cohabitating individuals, even on the level of physical intimacy. Married people even have longer life expectancies than their single peers. Simply stated, men and women themselves benefit from the institution of marriage.
Furthermore, when children come into the world and are raised in a family where mother and father are married and stay married, the children themselves develop with a greater capacity for life. They are physically and emotionally healthier than their counterparts from broken homes. The risk of abusive or delinquent activity is substantially less than those from homes without a father or a mother. They are more likely to achieve a college education. When they marry, they have a decreased rate of divorce (cf. “Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Bradford Wilcox, Institute for American Values, www.americanvalues.org/html/r-wmm.html).
Marriage benefits and protects men, women and children. It also promotes the common good. Reason itself argues for the institution of marriage.
Revelation provides the model. God chose the stable family life of Mary and Joseph to be the birthplace of his only-begotten Son. He who was the Son of God from all eternity became the son of the Virgin Mary in a home formed by love and sustained by sacrifice. By being a part of a human family, the Redeemer sanctified marriage. The birth of the Son of God to parents who were married gave marriage itself an even greater dignity. Family life belongs to God’s plan for the world’s salvation.
At the home of the Holy Family, every family learns what it means to be open to God’s will, to respect life and to place the good of the other before one’s own comfort. Here both the goodness of work and the imperative of sacrifice find their strength in love that is total and other-directed. The intimate communion of love makes the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph the example of all the virtues needed not only to form a strong family but also to build a stable society where justice and peace give true freedom to all. The simple home of Bethlehem and the humble hearth of Nazareth are a school where we learn how to translate the Gospel into our everyday life.