by Theresa Notare
June 8, 2001
Recent census data reports for the first time that people who live alone now account for one-fourth of the U.S. adult population, outnumbering married couples with children. The median age of this single group is 35.5. A Washington Post writer was so startled by this news that he remarked, "If the United States were an actual person, then everyone would be slightly suspicious of her, or him. Thirty-five and lives alone? Hmmm."
For centuries men and women looked to marriage as the norm, and early marriage was seen as a way to ensure many years of childbearing as well as satisfy the sexual drive. To be wife, husband, father and mother conveyed social prestige while being a "spinster" or "confirmed bachelor" was seen as a stigma. Not so today. In fact, the single life has been embraced and even glamorized. "Singles develop all their talents and have exciting careers." "To be single is to be free." "Singles have lots and lots of romance!" From song lyrics to TV shows Americans seem fixated on the joys of being single.
Our acceptance of the myth of the single life has had a price. Single people, more so than those who are married, are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, have poor diets, abuse anti-depressants, and land in credit card debt. Fixation on self--or "navel gazing"-- can become an emotional trap for singles. Promiscuous sex, rampant sexually transmitted diseases and abortion are some of the results of non-martial sex. We need to assess the situation and help ourselves and our nation take the right fork in the road--the fork that leads to stable family life and thus a strong and stable society.
"Marriage and the family constitute one of the most precious of human values," says John Paul II in Familiaris consortio, because "the family is . . . the place of origin and the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society." Most of us come into the world through a family--except of course if one has the fortune to be raised by animals like Tarzan or Mowgli (for our younger readers)! "The family has vital and organic links with society since it is its foundation," says the Pope. The family both "nourishes" society by its "service to life" and participates in society's development by providing the "first school of the social virtues" for children.
This year the Church celebrates the twentieth anniversary of John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio. The U. S. bishops' Committees on Marriage and Family Life and Pro-Life Activities will co-sponsor a Symposium on August 15-18 to mark the anniversary. This leadership convocation will bring together for the first time directors of diocesan Family Life Offices, Natural Family Planning Programs, Respect Life Activities and parish Family Life educators. Take a look at the agenda at www.usccb.org/laity/marriage/symposium.shtml. If you are involved in these ministries, you may want to register.
Papal documents are not exactly on the hit list of light Summer reading, but a reading of Familiaris consortio will be refreshing. It aptly sums up the nature of the family and explores the family's ability to build a community of persons, serve life, and share in the Church's evangelization. In fact, make it "must" reading. Marriage and family life has taken a hit in our day. Familiaris consortio says that "the Christian family is grafted into the mystery of the Church" itself. In other words, the family shares in the saving mission of the Church. Healthy and holy family life is part of the solution to many of society's woes. If you take the time to mine through Familiaris consortio you will be surprised at the enduring truths about the family that it will reveal. And, if you can, join us in August for our Symposium. It will be time well spent in thinking and reflecting on the family, its "enduring truths" and "changing realities."
(For more information about the Familiaris consortio Symposium contact: Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth, 202-541-3040.)
Theresa Notare is the Special Assistant of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.