Cardinal Dolan Sees New Urgency Around Marriage
by David Gibson
A decline in the number of young Catholics marrying in the church and the “vocation crisis” witnessed today “in the call to the sacrament of matrimony” has prompted New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to propose a “new phrasing” of a prayer of the faithful during Masses.
His rephrased prayer would petition God “for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life and the sacrament of marriage.”
Speaking Aug. 7 in Anaheim, Calif., during the supreme convention of the Knights of Columbus, Cardinal Dolan said he wanted to “salute marriage.” Catholics, he commented, are “hopeless romantics … when it comes to married love.”
Marriage and the Vocation Crisis
Three reasons he believes marriage should be looked upon with a “sense of urgency” and promoted anew were presented by the cardinal. The first reason involved the present-day “vocation crisis” related to “the sacrament of matrimony.”
It is sobering to hear “the gloomy statistic that only 51 percent of our young people are approaching that sacrament,” he said. He suggested that this “piece of data” was one that members of his audience “somberly see verified,” even among their own children and grandchildren.
Cardinal Dolan recalled a “well-said” observation offered some years ago when he was archbishop of Milwaukee by an archdiocese pastoral council member. The council was discussing ways of increasing vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life.
In that context, the pastoral council member stated that “the greatest vocation crisis today is to lifelong, loving, faithful, life-giving marriage.” She added, “You take care of that one, and you’ll have all the priests and sisters you need.”
Religious Liberty and Marriage
The second reason marriage is an urgent concern today is that “the very definition of marriage as a lifelong, life-giving, faithful union of one man and one woman is in peril,” Cardinal Dolan said.
He explained that “a well-choreographed, well-oiled crusade” is under way seeking “to conform marriage to the whims of the day instead of conforming our urges to God’s design as revealed in the Bible, nature and reflective reason.”
“A government that presumes to redefine marriage is perilously close to considering not God, but itself, as ‘the Almighty,” said Cardinal Dolan.
Addressing the defense of religious freedom, the Anaheim convention’s theme, the cardinal insisted that “in the noble American project of ordered virtuous democracy, government exists not to invent, define, grant or impede genuine freedom – the ‘first and most cherished’ being freedom of religion – but to protect liberties which come not from any human whim but from the Creator.”
A third reason for renewing the promotion of marriage involves “its singularly pivotal, irreplaceable role in what the modern popes have called the civilization of love,” Cardinal Dolan told convention participants.
He pointed to “traditional marriage and family” as “the most effective guarantee of a civilization of love rather than the survival of the fittest, the culture of life over the culture of death, the law of the gift rather than the law of the ‘get,’ solidarity rather than selfishness.”
In fact, he said: “When that goes, we all go.”
Saints, popes and theologians, along with historians, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists “predicate marriage and family as the central, love-promoting cell of the human enterprise,” Cardinal Dolan stressed.
Hopeless Catholic Romantics
Early in his speech, the cardinal announced he would “turn the tables” by looking out upon the married couples present “with awe, admiration and deep appreciation.”
He said, “We Catholics are hopeless romantics, you know, when it comes to married love.” For, “against all odds we still believe that when a man and woman vow that they’ll love and honor each other ‘for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part,’ they really do mean it.”
“We still have in our gut the church’s timeless ‘Valentine’s Day card’ that the love between a husband and a wife has the same characteristics as does that of God for us,” Cardinal Dolan continued. “It is faithful; it is forever; it brings about new life in children.”
Catholics “are such hopeless romantics” about marriage, he said, “that they “contend the best way to get a hint of how God loves us now and in eternity” is to look at how “married couples love one another.”
Of course, “this romantic, poetic, lofty, divine luster of marriage can at times be tarnished a bit in the day-in, day-out challenges of lifelong, life-giving, faithful love,” Cardinal Dolan acknowledged. “Tension, trial, temptation, turmoil – they come indeed.”
Yet, he said, “just as Jesus worked his first miracle at the request of his Blessed Mother for a newly married couple at Cana by turning water into wine, so does Jesus transform those choppy waters . . . into a vintage wine of tried-and-true trust in marriage.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.