Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

With seven sons and two daughters, my mother figured out very early when we were growing up that taking all my brothers and me to a barber and my sisters to a hairdresser would be very expensive, so she saved a lot of money by learning how to cut hair herself. Actually, Mom was my barber until I came to Springfield. When I moved to Springfield, my barber was Larry Spinner, until he retired last year at the age of 85. My new barber, Pat Campbell, was younger: he was only 81!

I have been very pleased with the work of Larry and now Pat, but I was recently out of town for a number of commitments in Texas, Ohio, New York, California, and Chicago, and I found myself in need of a haircut while I was traveling. So I went to a barber shop in the Chicago area where the next available barber was 21 years old with two years’ experience. He did a fine job, but what I found fascinating was my conversation with this young man.

As he began cutting my hair, he asked almost immediately what I did for a living, which was not readily apparent since I was not wearing my clerical collar. I answered that I was a Catholic priest. That led to more questions about what attracted me to be a priest and he wondered what the next step is above being a priest. So I told him that the next step is a bishop, and that in fact I was the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.

I asked him if he went to church. He told me he went to a Protestant church when he was younger, but had stopped going. Although he was not Catholic, he knew that priests do not marry and said that he did not think he could do that since he could not go longer than a week without seeing his girlfriend. That prompted me to ask if he was planning to get married. He replied, “Oh no. Why would I want to involve the government in my relationship with my girlfriend?” He went on to say that his parents were divorced, and he had also heard from many of his customers how they had cheated on their spouses, or their spouses had cheated on them. Based on these conversations and his own family experience, he had a very negative view of marriage.

I asked him if he ever wanted to have children. He said no, he had two dogs and that was good enough for him. He thought that children would be too much trouble. Finally, I said that he was young and maybe someday he would fall in love in and would want to get married. He said, “Oh, I hope not! Yes, I’m young, so who knows what will happen, but I really don’t want ever to get married.”

I am telling you about this conversation with my young barber because I have been saying for a while now that we are facing new challenges in our culture today with the institution of marriage. While I certainly know young people who have recently gotten married and are generously giving of themselves to their spouse and family, the reality is that the views of my 21-year-old barber about marriage reflect the attitude of a substantial number of young people today.

To respond to these challenges, I believe we must be more pro-active in promoting the Sacrament of Matrimony. When our culture was more overtly Judeo-Christian, it was a given assumption that young people would look for a spouse and get married in their church or synagogue. That is not the case today in our secular culture, especially since the widespread acceptance of contraception and abortion have changed many people’s views of sex from procreation to recreation. Even those who have an ongoing relationship are often content with living together, but prefer not to get married or make any long-term commitment. No-fault divorce has not been helpful either.

In response to the current reality, we must actively educate and even recruit young people for marriage and family life, just as we recruit young men to become priests and young women to enter religious life. First of all, parents need to give a good example of marriage and family life to their children. Key to this effort is for the Sacrament of Matrimony to be understood as a total giving of oneself for the sake of one’s spouse and children. This means going beyond the narcissistic approach of selfishly seeking one’s own personal pleasure and changing the focus to what will make one’s spouse and children happy. Marriage is a social institution that precedes Christianity. It is a necessary component of a healthy society. Most of all, young people need good role models of married couples who have stayed together and continue to be there for each other in their old age.

Larry Spinner is now 86 years old. He and his wife Virginia (nickname Sue) just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Pat Campbell is now 82 years old. He and his wife Marcelline (nickname Marcie) are married for 62 years. They provide beautiful examples of marital love and commitment for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until they are parted at death.

As we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st, we also look to the example of married saints with children, like Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Saint Thomas More, and married couples who are saints, like Saints Joachim and Anne, Saints Zachary and Elizabeth, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse. We pray that these heroes of holiness may intercede for young people to follow the path of the Holy Family and embrace the blessed vocation of marriage and family life. May God give us this grace. Amen.