The death last weekend of Miracles founding member Bobby Rogers—may he rest in peace—reminded me of one of my personal bête noires: the retreat from marriage. The Motown singing group fronted by Smokey Robinson scored their first No. 1 (and first No. 1 for the label) with “Shop Around,” a memorable if not especially deep number extolling the alleged merits of a man’s taking his time to find just the right wife. What the Miracles meant exactly by shopping is not made altogether clear, but given the double entendres that were stock and trade of pop music from the very first, we don’t have to try very hard to imagine.
At least the song had marriage as its stated end. Today young men, and increasingly not-so-young men, are in a state of perpetual shopping. Some of this behavior is easy enough to condemn: the serial fornicators who are not really looking for a wife and are instead gratifying their glands as they make their way from one mattress to the next. Their souls shrink so small in the process that the devil will need a magnifying glass when he comes collecting.
More puzzling is the behavior of boys—and, yes, boys is the word, be they 25 or 35—who are practicing Catholics and who won’t get married. By practicing, here, I mean even devout. They may be daily Mass goers; they probably tell their beads every Saturday in front of the local abortuary; they love to get together on Saturday nights, open a bottle of cabernet, and discuss the social-justice encyclicals. And all this while “discerning their vocation.”
Let me help.
First, the single life is not a vocation. Now, before a barrage of vitriol from the unmarried, I am not saying that someone who is single cannot live a life in which he or she gives glory and honor to God. I am saying that man (man the species: homo, hominis, not vir, viris) is intended to live in the context of a vow. Even the pagans knew this, but since the Incarnation these vows have been transformed in Christ, thus given a sacramental quality.
Second, discerning the vocation to marriage does not take much effort because the call to marriage is universal. Are there pathologies that prevent some from marrying? Yes, but that is why we call them pathologies, they are deviations from the norm. Again, even the pagans understood the universality and necessity of marriage. Marriage is a natural institution without which there can be no society. The institution of marriage preexists human society and the Church. It is for this reason that G. K. Chesterton observes in The Everlasting Man, “The truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticize the state. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the hearth.”
Third, because of the universal human inclination to marry, the only discerning that a young man must do is whether or not to give up the good of marriage for the higher calling of priest or religious. I appreciate that discerning a religious vocation can take some time and that there have been saints who practically made God spell it out for them. Francis de Sales comes to mind. On the other hand, a wise Basilian once told me that if a young man feels called to the priesthood and the Church will have him, he probably has a vocation. However difficult discernment may be, it is not a lifestyle. It is a means to an end.
Fourth, once a young man has decided the priesthood is not for him, he needs to go out and find a good wife, and I sense that doing so is considerably easier for a practicing Catholic man than it was for me more than two decades ago. Over the past twenty years, the goofiness of post-conciliar liturgical abuses and theological innovations has been steadily replaced by piety, fervor, orthodoxy, reverence, and a growing desire to know the Catholic Faith. There are whole parishes to which young people seeking these qualities flock. These parishes are overflowing with young ladies who want to be wives and mothers and rear joyful Catholic families. Are they supermodels? Thank God, no. Nor are they perfect saints the likes of Teresa of Avila or Joan of Arc. Thank God again, men, because hobbled by your own shortcomings you could never live with such a lady.
Five, no one is ever “ready” to get married (or to have children, for that matter). There will never be “enough” money, “enough” higher education, “enough” job security, “enough” of a house, and indeed, “enough” certainty that she is the one. All these objections boil down to something embarrassingly pusillanimous: a lack of faith.
Six and most important, perhaps, love is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Msgr. Ronald Knox once said that the problem of our age is not one of broken hearts but hardened hearts. To this I would add that the hardened heart is the heart not given. Only in giving ourselves away are we fulfilled.
Catholic Answers is taking the defense of marriage to the Supreme Court this month. If you want to do something magnificent and lasting to save marriage, and to save your own soul, and the souls of your wife and children, quit shopping around and go get married!