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Rebuilding the logic of marriage as a ‘cornerstone’



Jay Wonacott - Marriage for Life

Bishop Peter Christensen will offer a special Mass to celebrate milestone wedding anniversaries on Dec. 2 at St. John’s Cathedral. This annual event reminds us of the importance of marriage as the cornerstone of society and the family. During this special Mass, Bishop Peter recognizes the grace emanating from the couples whose milestone anniversaries give witness to their faith and steadfast love. The many couples honored at the special Mass provide a strong counter-witness to the notion that declining marriage rates, the crisis of fatherhood and the erosion of the family are inevitable.


Communio, a national organization dedicated to the renewal of marriage, recently released a study reflecting the insights of over 19,000 church attendees “conducted during worship in 112 evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic congregations in 13 different states.” The Communio Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships reveals that “the collapse in marriage and the resulting decline in resident fatherhood may offer the best explanation for the decline of Christianity in the United States.”


I will highlight a couple of interesting statistics and insights from the research, but I recommend reading the whole study to understand the current marriage crisis in our society. To find the study, scan the QR code below.


I recently gave a short talk on marriage at the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults class at St. Mark’s in Boise. The presentation lays out the basics of marriage as understood by the Catholic Church. It is called “What Are You Saying ‘I Do’ To?” Catechesis on marriage is needed now more than ever. This is evidenced by the study and the response of those attending the OCIA class. The study notes, “To evangelize fruitfully in the twenty-first century, we must reverse the declining number of marriages, improve marital health, and increase the effectiveness of fathers in those marriages. By addressing these three issues, we can spark a sustained revival in Christian faith and active church attendance. The link between marriage and faith is clear, yet 85 percent of all churches in the United States report spending $0.00 annually on marriage and relationship ministry.”


I was shocked to read the sobering statistic that 85 percent of churches spend no money on marriage and relationship ministry. While many Catholic parishes prepare couples to get married, they have no enrichment and support ministries for those already married. Marriage rates have declined drastically in the past 15 years, with fewer couples coming to the Church for marriage. There is a serious need to invest both financially and spiritually in the renewal of marriage.


The study notes the shift in sexual morality of younger people delaying or declining marriage. For many today, marriage is no longer a cornerstone of their lives, but a capstone. This extended section of the report offers great insight.


Despite scriptural teaching to the contrary, research has shown that most never-married Christian men and women are not living lives of sexual chastity. This engagement in sexual relationships outside of marriage coincides with and likely fuels delays and declines in marriage.


The delay in marriage represents what some scholars have called the shift from a cornerstone view of marriage to the idea of marriage as a capstone institution. Under a cornerstone model, marriage is an essential relationship to construct a happy and successful life. One accesses marriage in a cornerstone model before fully establishing himself or herself professionally. For Christians, it is held up as the most common path to grow in holiness. When this model is embraced, chastity as a single Christian is more common.


In the capstone model, marriage is entered into only after getting ahead in life and after reaching some preset level of financial and personal achievement. Individuals who pursue the capstone model often have a longer list of requirements before selecting an ideal “soulmate.” Sex before marriage is common in this model. While some celebrate this shift, the explosive and societally dangerous levels of loneliness among the never married shows one major defect in capstone marriage.


Over my years of ministry in the Church, I have seen the value of offering on-going marriage enrichment opportunities for couples of all ages and life stages. We recently received feedback from couples who attended our annual diocesan retreat, indicating our parishes need more enrichment and opportunities to help marriages.


As Bishop Peter celebrates marriage with the annual milestone anniversary Mass, our parishes, too, should make the effort to encourage marriage renewal. Small steps will turn the tide. These can be mini-retreats, marriage talks, homilies about marriage, parish recognition of special wedding anniversaries, a dedicated section in the parish bulletin for practical and spiritual marriage tips, a webpage with resources, and much more.


To quote the study one final time, “In his book, The Future of Christian Marriage, Mark Regnerus has shown that for every year in a nation when marriage is delayed, the number of individuals who will never marry also rises. Beyond the moral and Biblical imperatives, church leaders must not reinforce the current zeitgeist. Instead, they must find ways to push back against the cultural narrative [supporting capstone marriages] and re-establish a cornerstone model, because, in part, it leads to less loneliness, more relationship satisfaction, and greater happiness.”



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Diocesan Pastoral Center

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