An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

A Culture of the Temporary: Pope Francis

Young People love Francis BrunoPhoto credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families: Seven Great Quotes
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Here is the fifth quote, from the meeting with bishops on September 26:

“Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust.”

As noted last week, fidelity as a virtue is no longer upheld in the culture. This is one contributing factor to the phenomenon that Pope Francis points to in today’s quote: young people are marrying at a far lower rate now than in the past. The capacity to bond with another person, to commit to them, and to entrust yourself to them, seem to be diminishing. The culture does not encourage qualities like trust, listening, patience, vulnerability, or commitment, all of which are necessary for marriage.

The fact of widespread divorce has resulted in many adult children who do not have personal experience or support of parents who have remained faithful to their spouses. They are understandably more anxious about making a lifetime commitment, because they fear that they, too, will “fail”.

Even if their parents are married, many young people buy into the lie that they need to “try the other person out” sexually before they make a commitment. Ironically, engaging in premarital sex with multiple partners actually diminishes the physical and chemical bond that forms through the sexual act, thus diminishing the likelihood of commitment rather than increasing it. This attitude toward sex plays directly into what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture.” Instead of seeing another person as a gift, a person who should be loved and never used, a man or woman sees the other as a possibility for “fun” or “release” without regard to their dignity or to the future.

Young adults often turn to cohabitation as a way of “easing in” to a commitment, which turns out to be counter-productive, as these relationships are less stable by design. Accustomed to living together without marriage, these couples also appear less likely to stay married when trouble comes. Researcher Brad Wilcox concludes that living in a cohabitating household is now the largest problem for children in America.

Social media and other forms of technology also seem to feed into a culture where there are no strong bonds between people. As MIT researcher Sherry Turkle notes, “Once we remove ourselves from the flow of physical, messy, untidy life — and both robotics and networked life do that — we become less willing to get out there and take a chance” (Alone Together). Connections through technological means are more frequent but less deep, and almost never require sacrifice. It is no wonder, then, that young people have a harder time choosing to commit to one person for the rest of their life, when they have not practiced faithful, sacrificial friendship.

Marriage, then, is like a revolt against the culture of the temporary. As Pope Francis said at World Youth Day in 2013: “I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love.”

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