This is one of those stories that tells you something wonderful about young people and the faith, and also something not so wonderful:
The wonderful: This 21 year-old mother was advised to abort her second child in order to begin chemotherapy for cancer; she refused and got the “win-win” – a healthy baby and full recovery:
When Daniella Jackson was diagnosed with cancer at five months pregnant her doctors quickly advised her to have an abortion . . But the 21-year-old, who is a devout Roman Catholic, refused, saying she felt too close to her unborn child. A year on, she is the proud mother of Rennae – her second child – and has been told that she is free of cancer . . . Aborting her child was never an option because of her strong faith, Miss Jackson insisted.
Heroic and inspirational. God bless Daniella and her babies, and her partner of 5 years, Andrew. They made a tough decision — one many people would not understand or support, and called it a no-brainer, to boot. It takes guts and trust; it often takes guts to trust.
But did you note the part about her “partner of 5 years?”
Yeah, that’s the thing to not feel great about, as a church. Andrew and Daniella are clearly committed to each other and are raising two children together. Daniella says her religion informed her thinking:
Abortion is not part of my belief as a Catholic. Religion was part of my decision. I wanted to fight for my baby.’
Again, that’s so heartening. And yet religion has not, apparently, informed her decision as to marriage, and one has to ask why that is? Clearly, young people Europe and in America are moving away from marriage. In the U.S., Catholic marriages have dropped from 415,487 in 1972 to only 179,000 in 2010. That same year fewer than 8,500 Catholic marriages were performed in all of England and Wales, compared to 44,931 in 1968.
Why do young Catholics feel no need to marry? I agree with Emily Stimpson, here, when she writes that part of it is rooted in our culture of no-fault divorce, and that part of it is a failure on the part of the church to teach the sacramental nature of marriage, or why marriage matters at all.
When it comes to showing the culture how marriage is supposed to work—the beauty, the glory, and the meaning of it all—we kind of stink . . . Roughly 25 percent of Catholic marriages end in divorce. Most Catholic couples married in the last decade cohabitated before marriage. Few unmarried Catholics remain chaste. And more than 5.5 million Catholics have divorced and remarried without an annulment.
She gives a worthy exhortation to her fellow Catholics:
Priests can speak out more on the nature of marriage from the pulpit and challenge parishioners personally when we’re not at least striving to live what the Church believes. They can offer marriages in crisis help, not a wink, a nod, and directions to the nearest tribunal. And they can give young couples preparing for marriage a heck of a lot more than a weekend retreat and an indulgent attitude towards their pre-marital living arrangements.
Us lay folks can do the same, chipping in to help build better Pre-Cana and marriage support programs in our parishes and dioceses. More importantly, we can take a serious look at our marriages, dating relationships, and sex lives and bring them back into line with the Church.
All true; also true is that if every Catholic couple suddenly pulled into line with the church, it would still take decades to effect a change in attitude and understand as to the nature and import of marriage. I don’t know if we can wait that long, or even if we need to. Must it take decades to teach? We can’t simply say it’s “commitment” or its “covenant.” Or even, “it’s an Office.”
At its heart, marriage is a mystery — it is a constant encounter with otherness and a reliance upon grace. People like a mystery, but how do we teach that? Why was it so understandable before, but not now?
“The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life. In his loving plan, from the beginning of creation, God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church. With this certainty, you, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, Homily in Santiago de Cuba during Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Journey to Mexico and Cuba (March 26, 2012)
They’re very old, now, the young people who met-and-married in a matter of weeks or months during World War II or the Korean War. They barely knew each other, and often they “didn’t have a pot to p*ss in or a window to throw it out of” and yet their marriages endured.
My in-laws were poor as church mice when they married; they’ve been together for 55 years and both of their siblings have been married even longer; they’ve raised five boys, lost one a few years ago, which broke their hearts. They’ve worked hard, cried together, fought, loved. They still walk to Mass together every Sunday — every day, during Lent — getting their early to light candles and say a prayer or two, and to pat a friend hello as they pass in the pew. Theirs has been a great example of a mighty marriage — I don’t know two people who more profoundly embody the idea of service toward each other — and yet only three of their sons managed to marry successfully.
Yeah, marriage is a mystery. Perhaps marriages worked 50-60 years ago because that was a different generation, a more obedient, less stiff-necked generation. But I am not sure about that. There’s Daniella holding her baby, and she and Andrew appear to have “the right stuff” to forge a marriage that can endure all of that mystery, all of the challenges. One suspects she might be bothering with marriage if someone was just bothering to tell her why it’s any different from just living together with a partner.
The Incarnate Word did not have to come to us as a baby, raised within a family unit, with a mother and a father. He could have materialized fully-grown; or he could have come to Mary, alone — or, for that matter, to Joseph, alone. It matters that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in a commonality we recognize; not as a lofty king, but as a boy in a family, with a mom and a dad. Would he have bothered, if it didn’t matter?
It’s worth pondering.