By Dan Russo
WATERLOO — When discussing the state of marriage in the United States today, Matt Selby didn’t sugarcoat the situation — marriage is a vocation in crisis, he said.
The director of marriage and family life for the Archdiocese of Dubuque laid out a series of sobering statistics to open his presentation at the latest Pastoral Leadership Study Day Oct. 16 in Waterloo, before also giving reasons for hope.
According to sociologist Mark Regnerus: “As recently as 2000, a majority — 55 percent — of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married, compared with only 34 percent who had never been married. Since then, the two groups have swapped places.”
The trend has been mirrored in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, with the number of church weddings reducing by half in the last 15 years. In 2001-2002, there were 1,364 weddings. By 2016-2017, there were 682 weddings in the archdiocese, according to Selby. Research shows that the low divorce rate among millenials is causing the divorce rate in the U.S. to plummet, but a large chunk of this trend can be explained by the fact that young people in that generation are choosing to not get married or many are getting civilly married outside the church.
“Most people don’t see the difference between a civil marriage and a sacramental marriage,” said Selby. “Marriage has become little more than a civil contract — a piece of paper that gives you certain rights and privileges — we’ve lost the vision of marriage as a vocation and sacred, covenant bond.”
Selby believes one of the keys to reversing this trend is showing people the good that can be found in sacramental marriages. He cited Pope Francis’ words from the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” in which the pope stated: “We need to help young people discover the dignity and beauty of marriage.”
“Nearly everyone knows what the Catholic Church is against — contraception, gay marriage, pre-marital sex, abortion,” said Selby. “What if the Catholic Church was known for what it is for? What if Catholics had a reputation for great marriages and amazing family life? What if we embraced, and Catholic married couples lived, God’s design for marriage and family life? – free, total, faithful, fruitful.”
Selby asserted that it is important that married couples are witnesses to others of their vocation.
“It is essential that young people see the witness of good, holy marriages whether from their parents, their grandparents, friends or other family members …” Selby said. Selby closed his talk by giving the example of a married couple on the brink of divorce who were able to save their marriage by learning what the church teaches about marriage and then using it to transform their lives.
Selby himself has been married for seven years to his wife, Anna. They have three children. The couple tries to live out the sacramental vision of marriage in their own lives, acknowledging fully the challenges inherent in the vocation.
“We don’t know how people persevere in parenting, marriage, family life without faith, without God in the center of the relationship,” he said. “There’s been ups and downs and good times and bad times and struggles. We can turn to prayer, to God and our (church) teaching.”
The next Pastoral Leadership Study Day on April 29, 2019, will focus on “Marriage Ministry in the 21st Century.” For more information, contact Dan Rohner, director of leadership development and pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, at 563-556-2580 ext. 283 (email: DBQCLDPP@dbqarch.org). Selby can be contacted at 563-556-2580 ext. 233. (email at M.Selby@dbqarch.org).
A groom and bride hold hands on their wedding day. Feb. 7-14 marks the annual celebration of National Marriage Week in the U.S. (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)