The Sacrament of Matrimony: A Conversation with Millennials

Abbreviations

LG: Lumen Gentium, Second Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

MR: Missale Romanum (Roman Missal) (2010)

SC: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

Introduction

There is no debate that among those of the millennial generation, religious/sacramental marriages are in decline. Why are sociologists predicting that 25 percent of millennials will never marry, and that, currently, 25 percent of millennials between the ages of 25-34 cohabitate, instead of marrying?1 Furthermore, Mass attendance and charitable giving to the life and support of one’s parish among millennials is also down from previous generations. Why is this, and why do I have anything to say about it?

First of all, I graduated from high school in 2001 … I am the very definition of a millennial! I know and understand the millennial generation—my generation—not because I am a sociologist or statistician, but because I am a part of the millennial generation. Second, the two opening statements above are true for good reasons:

  1. The economic recession of 2007/2008 greatly impacted the earliest demographic of the millennial generation, and our career advancement, as well as our earnings potential. In addition, the incredible cost of college education and incurred debt has become prohibitive for young couples who wish to start a new life together when such debt can negatively affect one’s approval for a home mortgage.
  2. Twenty-four percent of millennials grew up with divorced parents and 11 percent of millennials grew up in a single-parent household, not knowing (at least, well) their other parent. Why would our millennial generation commit to marriage, when we fail to see, in such a huge demographic of our parent’s generation, that marriage has a favorable outcome?
  3. Religious practice among millennials, specifically Catholic millennials, is split. And this is a slight anomaly among millennials, because millennials, generally speaking, are very much united since the philosophy of “inclusivism” is probably the strongest value held by them. Thus, this particular point needs further exploration.

Religious practice among millennials varies. There are those who grew up in the enthusiastic embrace of Pope St. John Paul II, and who also loved Pope Benedict XVI. These millennials were greatly influenced by World Youth Day, and other such events, and papal teachings. On the other hand, there are those who grew up in a more secular or nontraditional home because their parents had lost the faith during the turbulent days of the 1960s and 1970s, or were divorced, or single-parent families. These millennials are more taken with contemporary trends and sociopolitical movements, which are largely at odds with traditional Catholic teachings on faith and morals. This is the “spiritual, not religious” crowd. Of course, there are also millennials who are just rebellious. Still, there are those who are faithful, church-attending Catholics, but marked with a clear interest characteristic of millennials, that is, they favor “change” and/or “inclusivism.” Specifically, they seek change regarding the Church’s stance on gay marriage, contraception, sex outside of marriage, and similar social issues. This “change” crowd feels that “inclusivity” is more important than centuries old understandings of marriage and family. Now, these characterizations are broad and general. But the millennial generation is all about being unique so, most likely, a millennial reading about these generalizations will find fault with them. Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, they do characterize, in broad terms, the millennial Catholic.

Yet, we millennials are not a “lost” generation to the faith. Among millennials, there are certain characteristic marks that intrinsically lend themselves to religion. We have a great thirst for the mysterious and supernatural (will there be yet another movie or TV series about wizards, vampires, or the supernatural?). We are generally liberal, and thus express a great interest in social justice and service to the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. We millennials are also upbeat and positive. We are self-confident, sometimes too much so; and we are respectful to our elders. Lastly, we see Jesus as “inclusive,” and inclusivity is our banner. The free gift of salvation is offered to all people of faith, hope, and love in God. Marriage as a sacramental sign of that inclusive offering of salvation by Christ is a point of emphasis that must be developed and proclaimed among us millennials. Any creative and insightful pastor/parish priest should be able to “tap” into these traits and give us millennials what we desire most: a sense of belonging. When we, as millennials, feel we can take some ownership, and are welcomed into a community such as a parish, that is a positive and inclusive message, and we will become a lifelong asset.

But for one issue, millennials need not become another lost generation to the Catholic Church. In the past, if a person was less active in the Church during adolescence or young adulthood, after marrying and having children, he or she would return, once again attending Mass faithfully, and participating in the parish community. Yet, with millennials (of course, we have to be different), this is not the trend. Why? Because what the Church teaches is wrong, bad, or exclusionary? Absolutely not. The problem is the oldest and simplest: a lack of understanding. We do not understand the message of the Church regarding marriage. This is probably due to any number of reasons, some of which include our experience of an unsuccessful marriage, or our experience of family life in our own upbringing. Poor catechesis during childhood is another possible reason (let’s make a collage!); or the influence of the secular media; or social issues “hitting home” with family or friends; or apparent, but not necessarily conflicting, values such as faith in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and inclusivism.

Consequently, there are two things that are greatly needed:

  1. A clear, positive, and inclusive expression of the Church’s understanding of marriage as a vocation and service within the Church; and,
  2. Some practical/pragmatic aids to preparing for, and living out, a successful marriage.

With so many failed marriages as our model and general experience, where are we to turn, to learn how to make a marriage work? This one critical question offers a huge opportunity to the Church to provide a much-needed and wanted answer to our generation.

Yet, before exploring “what marriage is” and providing helpful guidelines—which is all good—what I want to express to my generation first of all, is why getting married is even relevant today. Do you want to feel fulfilled? Do you want to become the best version of yourself? Do you want to be truly happy? Or, do you want to live on your own and feel lonely?

The first issue is that staying single for one’s whole life is not necessarily a key to happiness. Love is relational: it is not something that can ever fulfill us unless it is relational and reciprocated. Thus, when I love someone so much that my day isn’t complete without being with that person, and I am not truly, fully myself without the complement of his or her presence in my life, I need to concretize that relationship in order to become the best version of myself. This can only come to its highest fruition if I commit myself to the other person in an exclusive, permanent relationship of unitive love. This is called marriage. It is from such a relationship that I draw strength, security, and the love that makes me grow into my best self.

A second aspect is what about the person who is “free,” and thus capable of just having sex without commitment? Isn’t that great? Only when one has the courage to truly commit, can life truly become exciting. Many sexual partners may be fun for a while, but ultimately, it just leaves you feeling empty, because real love, reciprocal love, has never fully occurred—sexual pleasure, sure. But, nothing real and lasting has taken place, nothing that can actually fulfill our need in life for love, meaning, and purpose. And, after a while, sexual pleasure can’t really provide for all that we would want to get out of life. Why? Because, if we live only for pleasure, we live selfishly, and by living selfishly, we will never feel fully happy or fulfilled. It is only when we love someone unconditionally, and someone else loves us unconditionally, that our life, meaning, and purpose take on endless horizons of joy. As paradoxical as it may seem, it is only when we sacrifice for another, who is likewise sacrificing for us, that we are truly conscious of the power of love in our life.

A third point to consider is that in a generation that is very accepting of so many alternative family structures, but is greatly impacted by divorce and single-parent upbringing, we are not “boxed-in” by conventional structures of family and marriage. This isn’t altogether a “bad” thing, because often, these days, both husband and wife need to earn a living. That said, cohabitation, which is so common in our generation, is not truly a “good” option. Marriage, when it is lived as it is supposed to be lived, as a vocation and service, is a concrete, loving commitment between two people, in which the emotional, economic, and psychological welfare of both people are accounted for. Cohabitation is not a commitment. It is “playing house,” an arrangement in which, in the end, either party can pull out at any time. Without making a real commitment to one another by uniting in marriage, we cannot truly commit our trust for emotional, psychological, and economic well-being in the other person.

A fourth point is that as a generation so well versed in divorce, single-parent families, etc., can you really deny that stability is a “value” that every child deserves? Marriage, as a service, provides the structures for children to be raised in a stable environment. Sure, if the marriage between two people wasn’t well discerned, then it could become a nightmare for the spouses, as well as for the children. That’s why the Church is so relevant, because with the help of God and the Church community, nourished and strengthened by the faith, not only will God and the Church help you find the right person, but it will give you the guidelines to help you live that marriage successfully with the right person.

The last point to be made is that God is Love and a union of that Love in three Persons, the Holy Trinity. True love needs God, and needs his Church—the instrument God wielding to bring about the eternal well-being of us all.

These are all messages that will contribute to a rise in marriages in our millennial generation:

  1. Promoting marriage as a positive experience by offering guidelines to a successful marriage.
  2. Emphasizing that marriage is supposed to express love and care for children, for the poor, and for the elderly.
  3. Adding that marriage can be embraced even before each partner is professionally and economically established—in fact, marriage can serve as a pillar of support for spouses, by assisting and encouraging them in their personal and professional development.

Together with the inclusive message of salvation of Jesus Christ, the support of the Church, and the power of faith for the success of one’s marriage, we will see a rise in Catholic millennial marriages—and, subsequently, a greater participation of the millennial generation in our parishes.

Part I: What Is Marriage?

Marriage as Vocation

Getting married is a wonderful time in anyone’s life. There are many joys and new experiences to prepare for, such as:

  • living with someone, getting used to “how” they do things, realizing that you are no longer a single individual;
  •  becoming parents and realizing that you are someone’s mother or father.

All of these new realities are part of the “salt” in the new adventure of embarking upon the vocation of marriage. Marriage is a vocation, a calling of God which is experienced in our hearts, minds, and souls. Our generous response to our vocation leads us to holiness of life by our offering ourselves to the specific type of service God calls us to in order to help build up his Church. What?

Yeah, see, whatever God is calling us to do with our life is also the means that God is providing for us:

  • to become the best version of ourselves,
  • the most successful we can be in life,
  • and the happiest we can be in life.

The vocation of marriage brings forth the fruits of holiness for the married couple, their family, and the larger community. Each vocation—marriage, priesthood or religious life, and the single life—are meant to be God’s way of leading his beloved children to holiness. The love, which comes from God, and is an expression of God’s love, between a husband and wife, is meant to morally purify, intellectually illuminate, and perfect us in communion with God, and each other. That means, by getting married, your marriage to your spouse is going to make him or her a better person, and should provide that person the means—through your love for him or her—for the happiness he or she seeks in life. When we discern that we are being called to the vocation of marriage, we realize that it is through being married that we will grow in holiness, and most perfectly respond to the offer of salvation in Christ Jesus.

As a priest, I have learned that a vocation is discerned in prayer within the community of the Church. In other words, it’s when we ask God—surrounded and helped by other faithful people—that we are best able to recognize how God plans for us to become the happiest and best version of ourselves that we can be in life. Your vocation to marriage also involves your families. It is important that your marriage joins two families happily together. One’s marriage is not only a blessing to his or her own family, but to both families, as it should unite families in the bonds of love and friendship.

Friends also play an important role in this discernment process. Let’s face it, how many times have friends been right when they said, “Dude, he’s/she’s just not right for you!” or, “Hey, I want to introduce you to …” Yeah, sure, sometimes they were wrong. Sometimes our friends were way wrong! But, they’ve also been really right. My best friend has told me repeatedly, “Dude, I have never seen you happier in your life than since you’ve become a priest.” What an affirmation of my vocation! And, I have said the same to him ever since he met his wife. Friends know us and see us objectively. They most certainly help us to discern.

So, it is, ultimately, in front of one’s family and friends, within the church, the People of God, and during the sacred liturgy, that the couple will make their vows, and profess their love for one another. Hence, this act is truly ecclesial (public and in front of our fellow brothers and sisters in the family of God), as it occurs within the Church, and in the presence of the worshiping community, who love and support the bride and groom who are being joined together by the love of God shared between them.

The desire to love and be loved is deeply embedded within each of us. What our generation suffers from the most is loneliness. No matter how much Facebook, Instagram, etc., “connects” us, loneliness and a lack of feeling loved, appreciated, and wanted is one of the biggest issues in our generation. Marriage changes all of that. Your marriage is not a “private” reality. Marriage unites us with our spouse, our spouse’s family, our friends, and our parish community, and it gives us a special way to serve our new, extended family, friends, and the Church. But the Church is also here to nourish and strengthen our marriage. The relationship between married couples and the Church is not a one-way street. It calls us to better understand what the Sacrament of Marriage is, and how it is meant to be lived, within, and in service to, the Church. To do that, let’s look at the role of the Eucharist as the heart and life-giving source of the Church and every marriage.

Marriage Exists in the Mystery of the Church

Before we can totally understand what the Sacrament of Marriage is, we must first come to understand a bit about the Church and Christ Jesus. The Church is the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ. What does that mean? The Church consists of all the baptized, and is the instrument and universal sacrament of salvation (inclusive). Furthermore, all those “who seek you (God) with a sincere heart”2 are mystically related to Christ, his Church, and the fruits of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist (inclusive). 3 Jesus is married to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the People of God; Jesus is married to us. And, it is through this marriage of Christ and his Church that all people receive the graces necessary to live holy lives and, thus, enter into eternal life (inclusive).

The Church is the bride of Christ.4 “Christ loves the Church as his bride, having been established as the model of a man loving his wife as his own body (cf. Eph 5:23-24). The Church, in her turn, is subject to her head (Eph 1:22-23),”5 who is Christ Jesus. Jesus is indissolubly wed to the Church, meaning permanently, and incapable of ever being separated from her. Through the union of Christ and the Church, we receive all the fruits necessary for our growth in holiness and salvation. “He (Jesus) fills the Church, which is his body and his fullness, with his divine gifts (cf. Eph 1:22-23) so that it may increase and attain to all the fullness of God (cf. Eph 3:19).”6

Jesus is faithful to his Church, the People of God. And he does not betray this faithfulness. His salvation and love is always given to us through the Church. And while this faithfulness is exclusive, it is not a negative. After all, doesn’t marital love for another person rise to the level that he or she becomes the singular greatest object of that love? Surely, we still love others, but marital love for another singles him or her out in a unique way, making our love exclusively faithful to that spouse. Likewise, Jesus’ love for the Church, the People of God, is so strong that his faithfulness in relationship to us can never be adulterated.

The spousal union of Jesus and his Church generates life. It generates spiritual life through the grace we receive in the sacrament of baptism and the Eucharist. In fact, all the sacraments heal and nourish our life lived in Christ. The spousal union of Jesus and his Church also generates biological life through the sacramental union of one man and one woman in matrimony.

The marriage of Jesus to the Church is the invisible reality to which the sacrament of matrimony makes a visible, public witness. The couple requesting the sacrament from the Church is asked, “Do you want to enter a truly Christian marriage: one that is permanent, exclusive, and open to children?”7 The commitment to a permanent union between husband and wife witnesses to the union of Christ and the Church. The faithfulness to the union of husband and wife witnesses to the faithfulness of Christ made with the People of God, the Church, in the New and Eternal Covenant. It is through this covenant, made between God and all humanity, and witnessed to by the fidelity of husband and wife, that all people of good will receive the salvation offered in the New and Eternal Covenant of Christ Jesus (inclusive). In our openness to receiving the blessing to cooperate with God in the generation of new life, husbands and wives witness to the biological and spiritual generation of life through, and by, the marriage of Jesus and the Church.

The Role of the Eucharist in the Sacrament of Marriage

The New and Eternal Covenant, big words for the permanent contract that God makes with all humanity (inclusive) through Jesus, is made present to us in the Eucharist at every Mass. Marriage witnesses to the fidelity of this covenant sacramentalized and renewed in the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Eucharist is the celebration, par excellence, of the sacrifice of our salvation wrought by Christ upon the cross, and in his resurrection and ascension. “From that time (Pentecost) onward, the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery, reading those things ‘which were in all the scriptures concerning Him’ (Lk 24: 27), celebrating the Eucharist in which ‘the victory and triumph of his death are again made present,’ and at the same time ‘giving thanks to God for his inexpressible gift’ (2 Cor 9:15) in Christ Jesus, ‘in praise of his glory’ (Eph 1: 12) through the power of the Holy Spirit.”8 The Eucharist is the constitutive element of the Church. The sacrament of marriage witnesses to the reality of the Church; therefore, marriage witnesses to, and draws its energy from, the Eucharist.

As the sacrament of marriage witnesses to the marriage of Christ to the Church, so the priesthood marries the priest, as another Christ (alter Christus) to the Church, in order that they may minister according to the priesthood of Christ, as head of the Church. The priesthood is wed to the Church for the sake of the Eucharist. Without the ministerial priesthood, there is no Eucharist. No Eucharist, no Church. So, both the priesthood and marriage, exist to express the marriage of Christ to the Church. Consequently, there is a complementarity between these two vocational sacraments. The marital union of a husband and wife, when expressed sexually, is that privileged moment in which their union most perfectly expresses the exclusive unitive bond in love that can bring forth new life. Likewise, the consecration at Mass, for the priest, sacramentally witnesses to the intimate expression of the unitive bond they have with the priesthood of Christ, in which new life is generated, and eternal life is given through the Eucharistic sacrifice. The consecration is to the priesthood what sexual intimacy is to marriage. BAM! Never thought you were going to hear that, did you?

A priest’s faithful witness to the Eucharist can serve to strengthen the resolve and commitment of a married couple and vice versa. Priests need the faithful witness to marriage to gain strength by the faithful Christian witness of married couples, and married couples are strengthened by priests who live their vocation faithfully. When one or the other vocation is not faithful to what it is meant to witness to, the other suffers. There is a direct complementarity between these two vocational sacraments. Trust me, I know. I’ve benefited and suffered from the witness of married couples, and strengthened and weakened married couples by my own witness. Lastly, as a priest, married couples keep me grounded in reality and, as a priest, I get to help married couples rise out of the daily grind, and cast their eyes on the transcendent beauty of God.

The priesthood, which nourishes the Church with the Eucharist and the other sacraments, exists, in part, to nourish the vocation of marriage. In John 2: 1-12, “The Wedding at Cana,” we can see how marriage, priesthood, and the Eucharist are all tied together.

In conclusion, priests are here for you who are preparing to get married or are already married. We are here to talk with you, pray with you, and share your life in good times and bad. Please, do not hesitate to seek the advice and counsel of the healing hand of Christ, in his ever abiding presence, offered to you through his priests. And please know that we priests need you too! The faithfulness and friendship of my married friends is what has gotten me through hard times as a priest.

The Eucharist is the heart and life-giving source of every marriage, priesthood, and religious life. Frequent reception of the Eucharist strengthens your faithfulness to your marriage. Fed by the Eucharist, offered by the hands of the priest, each vocation, in service to and within the Church, strengthens each other.

So, enjoy your marriage, and realize that a faithfully lived marriage is a greater gift to the Church, and the world, than you could ever imagine!

Part II: Guidelines

Preparation for a Successful Marriage

  1. Pray: Every day, pray at least once for the other when you are together, and once for the other when you are apart. Those who pray together and for each other, stay together!
  2. Go to Confession: Confession is not just for horrible, mortal sins. Go and dump off, or vent, anything that is bothering you, coming between you and your fiancé, and most especially, anything that is coming between you and God. If you are at peace, then and only then, can you be at peace with the person you are spending most of your time with, day in and day out.
  3. Develop Open and Honest Communication: If you are keeping things from each other, not being honest, being evasive about concerns, anxieties, fears, pet-peeves, reservations, one’s past history, expectations, desires, conditions, or if there are any questions about the other person, then you are setting yourselves up for a problem. Furthermore, you should always be interested about the other person’s day and his or her needs, wants, etc. You have to have an open and honest line of communication about everything—every aspect of your life with your future spouse. The two become one, so there should be no secrets, and no fear about sharing everything with one’s future spouse. If this person truly loves you, nothing should come between you, or become the “elephant” in the room.
  4. Discuss, Not Just the Positives, but Potential Negatives: What if one of you has an affair? Is this really a marital bond breaker? Or, loses one’s job and cannot provide? Or, one’s health hugely deteriorates? Or, one’s physique changes for the “worse”? Or, one develops an addiction? And so on. What is meant by “in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer”?
  5. Evaluate One’s Maturity and Readiness to Marry: Are you ready to make a lifelong commitment? What is meant by “until death do us part”? Are you truly free and unencumbered, without any pressure to get married? Are there any reasons, other than love and the desire to start a family, that you are getting married? If there are, don’t get married! Make sure your intentions are pure and true.
  6. Love or Lust: Sexual attraction? YES, it’s necessary! Lust has no place. If you just want to have sex with this person, that is not a good enough reason to get married.
  7. Are You Best Friends: Not only does this mean that you have many common interests, but it means that there is no other person beyond your future spouse with whom you want to spend every moment of time. You should know all about the other person. Dating is a period of studying the other person. In dating, studying, you get to know that person, and the greater your knowledge of that person grows, so should the greater your love for that person become.
  8. Premarital Sex: Oh, so fun, but oh, so obstructive! Sex is great, even really, really, really great! Hence, while exploration may help you to know if you are “sexually compatible,”—a “good match” for one’s sexual wants and needs—this “fun” and “really great” time can obstruct your capacity to get to know your fiancé as your best friend. The sex was “so great” that you didn’t really get to know the other person as a person, but, rather, just as a sexual mate. Then, one day after you get married, you wake up and ask yourself, “Who did I marry?” You let sex overshadow the development of a deep, interpersonal relationship and friendship. Besides, premarital sex is objectively sinful. Whether you think it is, or not—it is!
  9. Cohabitation vs. Commitment: Isn’t it fun to “play” house? Sure is, because it comes with no real responsibility, accountability, or commitment to the other person. Marriage is a lifelong, permanent, indissoluble commitment. Are you truly ready to make such a commitment?
  10. Entitlement: Be honest. Who, among our millennial generation, has not ever felt entitled? A lot of us millennials were raised to believe that we are special, and that we deserve to have the world at our fingertips without any effort on our part. This creates narcissistic qualities which lead us to think, “Who needs God? I can do it on my own.” Also, being in a relationship for his or her own benefit is not conducive to a good relationship. Other than improvement through hard work and, at times, some trials which we will later see as blessings, we are not entitled to anything!
  11. Life Plans/Goals: It is vital to a couple’s growth and maturation of their relationship that each other’s life plans/goals are discussed and shared, so, as a “team” the couple work together toward these shared goals. This includes financial/economic goals, home and lifestyle goals, and family plans. A couple’s plans for their financial health, lifestyle, and family goals need to intertwine, one person’s with the other’s, and possibly change or modify so as to become the shared goals of the future husband and wife, together.
  12. Love at First Sight: Yeah, this is great. But, a relationship needs time to develop. No doubt, sometimes, you know from the first moment that that special someone is “The One.” This doesn’t mean that you both don’t still need time. There is never a need to rush into marriage, but if you feel pressured into it, it will someday cause an implosion. Don’t do it!
  13. Sacrificial Love = Matrimonial Bond: If we are honest, we know that as a generation, we millennials can be rather selfish/self-centered. Come on, we are the “selfie” generation! We even invented a stick to help us take “selfies.” But loving your spouse means you are willing to sacrifice your own desires, plans, and so on, and put the other person’s best interests before your own: “No greater love hath any man than to lay down his life for his friend.” Matrimonial love is about selfless, self-giving sacrifice for the other person, the recipient of your love. Thus, we must ask ourselves, “Is this commitment truly selfless, self-giving, and sacrificial, or is it selfish and self-centered, about my wants?” Sacrificial love is also vital for one’s development of purity in a loving relationship. We have to ask ourselves, “If I am tempted to look at porn, is this decision truly selfless, self-giving, and sacrificial, or is it selfish and self-centered, about my wants?” If I am tempted to give up my marriage, is this decision truly selfless, self-giving, and sacrificial, or is it selfish and self-centered, about my wants? If I am tempted to masturbate, is this decision truly selfless, self-giving, and sacrificial, or is it selfish and self-centered, about my wants? And so on. The answer is that anything that is driven by lust, and is not sacrificial, is not truly relationship building, and thus, not truly loving.
  14. Church: Start going to church often, now! Your faith in Jesus is the single most important aid for a successful marriage. Know Jesus! Make sure that your individual spiritual maturation and growth in holiness is not neglected. Your marriage is meant to sanctify each other. Your spiritual maturity in the virtues of faith, hope, and love are what will be the most necessary for you to help and support each other.

Living Out a Successful Marriage

  1. Openness to Children: Ratum et Consummatum (Ratified and Consummated). No marriage, not only in Church law, but in civil law in every country in the world, is considered validly contracted until it is ratified in the presence of a justice of the peace (legally deputed officiant) or religious minister and two witnesses, but also sexually consummated. Sorry to be blunt, but vaginal penetration, not anywhere else, must occur to be consummated. Further, contra bonum prolis means that if any form of contraception is used, therefore, against the good of reproduction, the marriage is not sacramental since it is not expressive of all three marks of the sacrament of marriage: unitive love, exclusive fidelity, and openness to children.
  2. Yes, Dear: Learn it, Live it, Love it!
  3. Enjoy: Yeah, there will be difficult times, but if you really did the right kind of preparation, then you are each other’s greatest support. Thus, with faith, hope, and love of God, and in each other, there is no obstacle too great for the two of you. So, ENJOY the adventure!
  4. It Takes Work: No relationship is sound without hard work to maintain and grow it. There will be challenges. There will be times of loneliness. There will be times when you want to give up! Love takes patience, perseverance, and resolve. If you “stick with it,” it will grow, deepen, mature, and fulfill in ways that you didn’t first plan or envision, but in a way that is even better than you could have imagined. You don’t always get what you want … but you will get what you need, and in ample supply.
  5. No Fear: You must not go into a marriage or live out that marriage in fear (especially now that you are married) that the marriage could break down. This fear will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When challenges and concerns arise, you must face them fearlessly, together. Doing so will only unite you, and strengthen and deepen your relationship.
  6. Keep the Faith and the Family: Marriage is necessarily bound to family. Nothing unites a family more profoundly than faith and prayer.
  7. Lastly, Everything You Did during Preparation Must Carry Through!
  1. Murphy, Meg. “NowUKnow: Why Millennials Refuse to Get Married,” bentley.edu/impact/articles/nowuknow-why-millennials-refuse-get-married, (accessed July 5, 2015).
  2. MR (2010), “Eucharistic Prayer IV,” 122.
  3. See LG, 16.
  4. LG, 7.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Prenuptial Investigation for Catholic Churches in the State of New Jersey, Part I, 8.
  8. SC, 6.
Father Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, STL About Father Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, STL

Rev. Fr. Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, STL, is a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. He is associate coordinator for Evangelization, coordinator for the Ecumenical, Youth Events, RCIA and Cultural Diversity Offices, and assistant coordinator for the Diaconate Program. He is also the chaplain at Prince of Peace Chapel and Bishop Rodimer Catholic Campus Ministry Center at William Paterson University in Wayne/Haledon, New Jersey.

Comments

  1. Tom McGuire says:

    Fr. Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, I am amazed you had time to write this article with all the jobs you have. When do you have time for prayer?

    I like a lot of what you say; you deal with the reality of a generation of people that are a complete mystery to my generation; I am 75 years old. It is only when we listen and respond to the questions of any generation that we can impact the deeper part of their life. You have obviously listened and found in your own generation great response to a Catholic way of marriage. That being said. I have a few questions.

    1. There is a group of millennials born to happily married couples who have lived as faithful Catholics. This group also shares in the values you describe as part of other groups of millennials. Can you explain why they have not followed the example of their parents?

    2. I am surprised that you did not talk about the sex abuse scandal that has been a large part of the public image of the Church for the millennial generation. What part do you think this plays in the skepticism toward the Catholic Church of the millennial generation?

    3. The daily news online is a continuous flow of sexual information that informs readers of the delight and freedom of open sexual relations. Of course the easy access to pornography, one cannot help but be exposed to it. How does a theological response counter the data based information and the emotional charged daily exposure most online users experience?

    4. Openness to Children: Very few Catholic families are large, I come from a family of 14, one mother and one father. I would assume that big families would be common if couples were not practicing artificial birth control. The data seem to indicate the practice of articficual birth control is well established in Catholic family life. The economic pressure you indicate in the beginning of the article plays a part in decisions to practice birth control. How does a theological response counter the lived experience of faithful couples who for generations come from families where the practice of artificial birth control is well established? What is your response to the reasonable theological arguments that support some form of artificial birth control?

    4. I was surprised that you did not write about the change of heart that takes place when one encounters Jesus Christ. Can any Catholic theological explanation of human sexuality or marriage make sense to one who has not first had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ?

    5. Finally, you call for prayer, nothing is more important. Many if not most in the millennial generation seek spirituality, not religion. They find spirituality in many different religious traditions where they learn the meaning of prayer and contemplation. I travel a lot and hear homilies in many different Catholic Churches. Almost none say anything about how to develop a sense of Catholic spirituality. Do you have any experience of how millennials develop an authentic Catholic spirituality?

    Keep up the good work as a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ.

    • Dear Tom,
      Thank you for your very well thought-out reply to my article. I am glad that, overall, you were pleased with its content. In response to your questions, I feel your first question about those who were raised in “good” Catholic households and yet have rejected the faith of their parents falls in the same category of “rebellion” that could be spoken of in previous generations, such as during the 60’s and 70’s, which saw plenty of Catholic households experience the rejection of the faith, at least initially, in the young adulthood of their children. It is with firm faith that I do believe that when a young person “uproots” them self from a healthy garden, though they may wander for a while, they will someday return. Since the days of James Dean, who has not rebelled in their 20’s and 30’s?

      Your second question has to do with the clergy sex abuse scandal and its influence on the millennial generation. This may have been avoided by me due to some form of subconscious prudence. In short, there is no doubt that it has likely injured many millennials in their respect given and acceptance of the moral authority of the Church, especially regarding marriage, family and sexual ethics. That said, most of the young people I have dealt with do not exhibit signs that this is a conscious concern. It is with a strong hope in the final products of the Extraordinary Synod last October, the Pope’s Visit to the US and World Meeting of Families, as well as the Synod this October that we will have not only a clear pastoral method/approach for dealing with issues of sexual ethics, marriage and family, but also a renewed public acceptance of the Church’s moral authority for these issues.

      In response to your third question, as I said, “A second aspect is what about the person who is “free,” and thus capable of just having sex without commitment? Isn’t that great? Only when one has the courage to truly commit, can life truly become exciting. Many sexual partners may be fun for a while, but ultimately, it just leaves you feeling empty, because real love, reciprocal love, has never fully occurred—sexual pleasure, sure. But, nothing real and lasting has taken place, nothing that can actually fulfill our need in life for love, meaning, and purpose. And, after a while, sexual pleasure can’t really provide for all that we would want to get out of life. Why? Because, if we live only for pleasure, we live selfishly, and by living selfishly, we will never feel fully happy or fulfilled. It is only when we love someone unconditionally, and someone else loves us unconditionally, that our life, meaning, and purpose take on endless horizons of joy. As paradoxical as it may seem, it is only when we sacrifice for another, who is likewise sacrificing for us, that we are truly conscious of the power of love in our life.” The theological reflection that confronts pornography, “Free Sex”, and all the sexual content in the media is one that looks at fulfillment, meaning and purpose in life. It also looks at the reality that if love is not reciprocated, then it just leaves us empty. So, while pornography may provide a lonely person a form of intimacy for a few moments, in the end it ultimately leaves us even emptier than we were before pornography and masturbation, because it is without a real sense of reciprocal relationship.

      Your fourth question about the encounter with Jesus. I don’t think I didn’t speak to the life-changing experience of an encounter with Jesus. But, what I think I did is I designed this reflection for a millennial to get there on their own and not be told about it. I want them to have that experience, I pray they have that experience every day, but it is not for me to tell them what that experience should be, should look like, etc…

      Your last question, “Do you have any experience of how millennials develop an authentic Catholic spirituality?” That’s the topic for a whole book. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t been working on such a project for the past twelve to thirteen years. Problem is, being a millennial myself, such a reflection needs to mature and offer a matured look at the spirituality for a millennial. And, while a lot of work has been done, some 160 pages or so, I always wonder whether it has matured enough to offer a millennial all that they need. In short, take a millennial on a journey into the mystery of love and relationship, express its depth through sacrifice, mercy, truth and worship, then I think you will be on to something truly marvelous.

      Thank you for your questions. I really appreciate them as they help me continue to think about the topic and deepen my own meditation. Honestly, by tonight, I will probably feel my responses were inadequate after even more thought.

      Yours in Christ,
      Fr. Philip-Michael

  2. Dear Fr. Tangorra,
    I enjoyed your article and agree with your analysis. Reach out to the Retrouvaille communities in North Jersey. They have lived through the highs and lows of marriage and can speak powerfully of the Graces that God offers through the sacrament of matrimony. Bringing them to the pulpit and other events will help evangelize both the married and unmarried!
    Peace,
    Chris Bermingham
    Retrouvaille International Deputy Coordinator

  3. Tom McGuire says:

    It is a great joy to share my thoughts with a Catholic author that does not have all the answers, one who demonstrates the characteristics of a seeker. Thank You Fr Philip Michael. As I thought about our exchange and the coming family synod, my greatest hope is that it does not come up with an overall pastoral plan for the family, but rather calls all members of families to be missionary disciples filled with joy of the Gospel. Francis, Bishop of Rome, is doing all he can to encourage us all to speak the Gospel and more importantly put into action what Jesus taught. People are astonished at his teaching, just as they were with Jesus. What if we all were like Him? The crowds would be astonished many would be healed, some would become disciples.

  4. Anne Marie LoPiano says:

    Rev. F. Phil,
    God has truly Blessed you with a special gift. You are truly a genius.!
    I am married with a teenage daughter. Your article is 200 % accurate.
    You have an incredible insight to all our challenges we face in this time of turmoil in the world. . In addition, you provide us with how to cope. The best advice you give to us is to always be close to God and to receive the Holy Eucharist and go to confession ( even if its just to vent)
    Thank you God for giving us Rev. Fr. Philip- Michael Tangorra, S. T. L.
    My husband, daughter and I pray for you everyday.

    God Bless You
    Anne Marie

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