.- It always bothered Grace Raun when she heard her college classmates saying “nobody waits anymore” for marriage, because she knew it wasn’t true.
As a practicing Catholic who had been dating the same person for five years, Grace knew all about waiting. But she said following the rules of the Church regarding premarital sex never felt oppressive.
“I waited. I never felt like I didn’t ‘discover myself’ in college just because I was chaste,” she told CNA. “In fact, I felt like I knew myself better, because I wasn’t just looking for simple pleasures, but I was seeking a purpose to my life and the deeper meaning of who I was.”
Grace and Ben Raun may be a cultural anomaly. They waited to move in together until after marriage, and they married before the age of 25, while it is increasingly the norm among millennials to cohabit before marriage and to tie the knot later in life, if at all.
But the Rauns, as well as many other young Catholic couples, believe the Church has something to teach them in regards to marriage that the culture cannot offer.
“Even though our world is becoming more and more infatuated with pleasure and instant gratification, the Church’s teachings on what love is and what family is for has never been in error,” Grace said. “We need her truth now more than ever.”
Bishops in the Church will examine issues of marriage and family at the Synod on the Family, which is set to begin this Sunday, Oct. 5th in Rome. Particularly in the spotlight has been whether divorced and remarried Catholics who lack annulments may receive communion, though the topics at the meeting will reach well beyond that.
The permanence of marriage in the eyes of the Church, while it is something the culture rejects, gives great freedom to couples, said Mitch and Marilyn Klein of Kansas City, Mo.
“It seems that the cultural understanding of marriage has been watered down to the equivalent of shopping. It’s become utilitarian,” Mitch said. “(It’s as if) my spouse is only to bring me happiness and other things that I want, and once that stops, I have the ‘right’ to find someone else to give me what I need or want.”
Marilyn said her mom told her a long time ago that marriage vows made in front of God were not something to be taken lightly.
“When you marry a person, he or she is going to let you down and maybe make you feel like you deserve more or that this wasn’t what you signed up for, and it’s tempting to want to just quit and give up,” she said. “But when you promise Jesus that you’re going to love your spouse…it’s a promise to a faithful, loving God that is perfect, and so it’s much more binding.
“There’s a lot less fear and insecurity when you know your spouse isn’t ever going to leave.”
Many Catholics are hoping the synod will emphasize the sacramental value of marriage.
Chris Stefanick, who has been involved in youth ministry for 14 years and speaks to tens of thousands of young Catholics in the United States each year, said the synod needs to be a light for young people who live in an often misguided culture.
“There is profound confusion among the vast majority of young people about what marriage even is – its sacramentality, its purpose, the significance of the complementarity of the sexes, or even what a vow is,” Stefanick said.
“If the synod doesn't end up focusing first and foremost on these macro issues, I fear it will have will have been very out of touch with the cultural reality young people are facing.”
Father Matthew Eickhoff of the Diocese of Lincoln has spent 20 years helping couples prepare for marriage through retreats called Engaged Encounter. Over time, Fr. Eickhoff said he saw more and more young people fail to fully grasp the sacrament of marriage.
“I think that unfortunately young people do not have as strong of a sense of what marriage and what family really are, by God’s design,” he said. “They look at them more as kind of a means to a personal end, instead of a response to a vocation by God that has significant spiritual ramifications.”
Among young people today, there seems to be two “movements” when it comes to understanding marriage and the family, he said.
“I have seen a strong movement among young couples that are involved with their faith (who have) a more traditional appreciation for and understanding of the family, and are more generous with regard to having children and more conscientious about preparing for marriage as a spiritual vocation,” he said.
“But there’s also a contrary movement in the culture that is claiming many young people as its victims, and those are the ones that consider the Church’s teachings and moral standards a burden.”
Brendon Pond, who is in his second year of working with college students as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), married his wife Mikayla this summer before moving to North Dakota to serve on a university campus with her.
Brendon said he believes young people need to see examples of sacramental, traditional marriages in order to desire them.
“The unfortunate thing is that our culture is losing the witness of what the fullness of marriage is supposed to be,” he said. “Almost everyone has been directly affected by divorce – whether it’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles…”
A child of divorced parents himself, Brendon said it was his faith and the example of other faithful Catholic couples that made him desire sacramental marriage, and that attracts other young people to the same.
“Because in the few examples that there are of people living out the beauty and the fullness of the vocation, when people encounter that, they no longer can settle for anything less.”
Young people are looking for marriage to be something more radical than the currently popular cohabitation culture, Brendon added.
“When couples say, ‘Let’s live together to kind of test this out’, you’re taking a small step in the relationship,” Brendon said. “Marriage just becomes another small step after that, because what really changes? Then when things get tough, getting a divorce seems like just taking a small step backwards, because you never actually made that full step or full commitment.”
While some studies have linked cohabitation and divorce, Brendon said regardless of statistics, he has seen that young people are looking for something more.
“They see that if they continue to build relationships in the way the culture is telling them to…that there just has to be more than what the culture has to offer. And you can find that in relationships that are truly founded on the sacrament and truly founded on a Christ-centered marriage,” Brendon said.
“I think young people are done being deceived.”