by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
In late September, I attended a gathering of the FOCUS alumni living in the Kansas City metro area.
FOCUS is an acronym for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the Gospel of Jesus with college and university students, equipping them for a lifetime of Christ- centered evangelization, discipleship and friendship.
FOCUS began in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison with just two missionaries. FOCUS missionaries are recent college graduates who make at least a two-year commitment to serve on college campuses. Today, FOCUS has more than 800 missionaries serving on more than 200 college campuses.
Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS, aware of the hostile faith environment on many college campuses, recognized the need for a specific ministry to Catholic college students, assisting them to grow in virtue, knowledge of their faith and the development of a rich, vibrant prayer life.
However, the goals of FOCUS were not exclusively directed at college students. Martin wanted to form young adults to be lifelong, engaged Catholics who would become what Pope Francis terms “missionary disciples.” Missionary disciples are not content with just preserving their own Catholic faith, but they wish to participate in the adventure of bringing others to experience the love of Jesus and the joy of his Gospel.
Thus, in recent years, the national leadership of FOCUS attempts to gather alums periodically to nourish and encourage them to continue living their Catholic faith with joy and enthusiasm. Many of the FOCUS alumni now are young married couples or are preparing for marriage and parenthood. At the recent Kansas City gathering, the FOCUS alums received practical guidance on how to sustain a vibrant prayer life and to live missionary discipleship in the context of marriage and parenthood.
Today, there is much discussion about a vocation crisis within the church. Usually, this is focused on the need for more vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. The church in general and our archdiocese in particular need more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
However, there is a much broader vocation crisis within the church that is often ignored. Many young adults are hesitant or even afraid to make any long-term commitment. For the first time in our nation’s almost 250-year history, less than half of the adult population in our country is married.
Many young adults are choosing not to marry or at least to delay marriage. This is caused, in part, by significant college debt. Cohabitation has become for many an alternative to marriage and amazingly has gained broad cultural acceptance.
Catholic moral teaching based on the Bible and the consistent tradition of the church considers cohabitation as seriously sinful. This is not because of a puritanical notion that sex is evil. Quite the opposite. It is because of the high esteem the church has for sexual intimacy and the language of the body.
Sexual intimacy between a man and woman is an expression of a total giving of oneself physically to the other person. In the context of the marriage vows, this is an authentic expression of what a couple is striving to do in every other aspect of their lives.
Moreover, in the context of the marital commitment, a couple can welcome one of the possible natural fruits of sexual intimacy: the conceiving of a new human life.
Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is dishonest. It communicates something physically, namely an abiding union, to which the couple is not willing to commit.
The conception of a new human life creates a crisis for the cohabiting couple. Marriage is the foundation of the family. When marriage is weakened or diminished, this inevitably leads to a diminishment of the quality of family life.
Some view cohabitation as simply a prelude to marriage. However, the social science data reveals something quite different. Couples who live together before marriage are more likely, not less likely, to divorce.
During the sexual revolution, the life- giving natural fruit of sexual intimacy was divorced from the most profound physical expression of human love. In so doing, the sexual revolution actually trivialized and devalued sexual intimacy.
God did not make some huge mistake when he combined the most powerful expression of love between a man and a woman with the miracle of conceiving a new life. The separation of the life-giving from the love-expressing components of sexual intimacy has been a societal disaster.
John Van Epp and J. P. De Gance in their recent book “End Game” assert that the great crisis in our culture is one of cultivating healthy and authentic relationships. They believe that the decoupling of sex from marriage, the decoupling of romantic partnerships from marriage and the decoupling of parenting from marriage have resulted in disastrous consequences for our culture and especially for children. The catastrophic consequences from rejecting God’s plan for love, sex, marriage and parenting are documented in social science data.
Nearly half of all Americans report sometimes or always feeling lonely. More than 40% of Americans sometimes or always feel their relationships are not meaningful; 20% of Americans report that they rarely or never feel close to people. Almost half of Americans do not feel that they have meaningful in-person daily social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.
Generation Z adults (those born after 1997) report the highest rates of loneliness in history, followed by millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). The rates of depression, anxiety and suicide have increased in the past 10 years for teens by more than 50%. Almost half of the American adult population is unmarried as compared with just over 25% in 1960. For the first time in history, we have more first-time mothers that are unmarried than married.
The breakdown of stable marriages and therefore strong and vibrant families has been harmful for adults, but even more so for our children. We need to renew our society’s appreciation for the beauty and importance of marriage.
Strong vibrant marriages bring so many benefits not only to family members but to the community, nation and church.
I want to thank all married couples for your vocation. Christian marriage is a call to heroic love. It is a commitment to seek daily the good of your spouse over your own wants and desires. Our marriage and family life office offers many resources and opportunities to strengthen and renew your marriage. If you want to make our world and nation better, then strive to live with passion the vows you made on your wedding day.
For those of us who are not married, I suggest that we all make an effort to encourage one or more married couples this week. After all, the long-term health of our society is dependent on their vocation.
I wish you could have all witnessed the goodness and beauty of those former FOCUS missionaries who are now living the adventure of Christian marriage. Part of their living as missionary disciples is passing on the faith to their children.
Vibrant Christian families, where the joy of the Gospel is celebrated each day, are a powerful evangelizing tool for a society that is battling loneliness and depression.
May their numbers continue to grow!