What does dating have to do with Praise Be: Pope Francis’ (very-Saint-Francis-like) encyclical on Creation and its dignity?
A lot, actually. For starters, who read Aziz Ansari’s article in Time Magazine on love, online dating, and modern romance? He begins it by telling the story of trying to find a place to eat dinner while on a comedy tour in Seattle.
First I texted four friends who travel and eat out a lot and whose judgment I trust. I checked the website ‘Eater’ for its ‘Heat Map’, which includes new, tasty restaurants in the city. Then I checked Yelp. And GQ’s online guide to Seattle. Finally I made my selection.
He showed up at his choice restaurant and found it closed. It only served lunch. While he ate a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich on the way to his show, he was startled to realize that it took him longer to decide on a place to eat lunch, than it did for his father to decide on a wife.
His father, who had an arranged marriage, met his future bride for thirty minutes before deciding to marry her. Thirty-five years later, they are still happily wed.
Aziz points out that our culture’s milieu of options has created a crisis of decision-making in all areas of our lives; including dating and marriage. The more options, he notes, the less apt we are to decide upon one – due to FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s a real thing, you know.
And that’s where Pope Francis comes in. He explains in Praise Be that:
When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.
Some of those ‘great sages’ are our grandparents, and the elderly among us, who met their spouses at the age of nineteen, married at the age of twenty and remained together ‘til death did they part.
As Dr. Edward Sri pointed out at the 2015 National Catholic Bible Conference: “Today, I love pizza like I love beer like I love a good book like I love Beth.” Our current, cultural definition of love is filed under the area of consumption. Love is something that is good for me in the moment but as soon as I am done with it – I throw it away.
Take that mind set into dating and you have an onslaught of problems. People live together because it is working, so why mess it up with marriage? Online dating becomes an online game with a lot of swiping involved. Guys and gals seem interested in each other, and then move on; and then interested in each other, and then move on; and then interested in each other, and then… move on. Either we cannot decide, or the situation is no longer good for us – so we move to the next bling-bling, or person.
The problem is that we are treating people like things. We consume each other, and then move on. At this rate, we will never settle. And if we do settle on just one, it is through great pains because… what if there is someone better??
Aziz’s father met his mother for a thirty-minute meal. Many elderly couple’s stories start with similar, simple beginnings. Here are a few in-house examples:
Me: “Why did you marry her?”
My father, happily married 33 years: “I knew she would make a good wife and mother.”
Me: “Why did you marry him?”
My paternal grandmother, happily married 56 years: “He was cute.”
Me: “Why did you marry her?”
My maternal grandfather, happily married 62 years: “We had known each other as kids.”
People are getting married at a later age today than they were a generation ago. But, Pope Francis in Praise Be tells us “the family is the heart of the culture of life in the face of the so-called culture of death.”
Yet if you look in the cities and the suburbs, many Catholics are guilty of the same statistic: delaying marriage. Unsure of who to date, unsure of ‘what they want’: modern adults are overall unsure of their vocation.
The great sages of today had simple beginnings to their marriages. They did not have to try out every profile, pretty girl, or handsome fellow.
Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical on the laity tells us “the family is the basic cell of society…. The lay faithful’s duty to society primarily begins in marriage and in the family. This duty can only be fulfilled adequately with the conviction of the unique and irreplaceable value that the family has in the development of society and the Church herself.”
In this culture of living together and divorce, it is Catholics who stand out as believing in the tradition of marriage between one man and one woman, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.
So… how many popes have to tell us “the family is the foundation of civilization” before we start getting married? For when you marry, you not only save civilization, as Pope Saint John Paul II explains, you also restore the dignity of Creation, according to Pope Francis.