Let’s begin at the foundation. All of the moral directives and all of a reasonably healthy society’s customs regarding the sexes are aimed at strengthening the bond between man and woman, making them interdependent, and promoting and protecting family life. I take for granted, reader, that you want to do that. Now let me turn to an analogy.Restoring the Rules of a Healthy Society
I am not a doomsayer. What sky remains to fall? The rubble is all around us right now, the confusion, and the disheartening temptation to give up on what is natural and wholesome even in a fallen world, to give up, or to fail to seek it out, when you have never known it well enough to give up on it. The madness is here, and its pronouns are legion.
Let’s begin at the foundation. All of the moral directives and all of a reasonably healthy society’s customs regarding the sexes are aimed at strengthening the bond between man and woman, making them interdependent, and promoting and protecting family life. I take for granted, reader, that you want to do that. Now let me turn to an analogy.
Suppose you want to see a dozen boys playing baseball in somebody’s backyard, spontaneously, and certainly not as something overseen by a school system or a sports regimen that turns all leisure into labor and all labor into the quest for prestige, wealth, and power. What do you require?
You need the opportunity—the field. You need the tools—a ball and a bat, at least. You need the skills—the boys must know how to swing a bat and how to catch a ball. You need the persons—you can’t do much with only three or four kids. You need the knowledge of the game—you can’t play what you don’t understand, and you can’t press toward an end when you don’t know what the end is, or that there is an end at all. You need the rules and the willingness to abide by them—for the rules give a structure, a form to what would otherwise be a confusion of activity; they make the game possible.
Right now, to expect young people to get married while they are still young, and to choose a decent spouse while not doing things that tend to violate the very life of marriage and that thus set them up for disappointment and divorce, is like saying to your kid, “Go outside and play ball.” What field? Where’s the bat and ball? What are you talking about? With whom? What’s baseball, anyhow? How do you run the bases? Who else wants to? Why should I?
Yes, I know, people still get married—late, and with an exit sign posted above the side door of the chapel. And young Catholics and others who do abide by the moral law and who do not do the child-making thing before they are quite sure of their fellow sinner’s name are likely to be lonely—and that is wrong.
What we want are all the habits and customs that teach boys and girls from the beginning that they are meant for one another and that bring them together in the merriment that is made possible by the same kinds of things that make a pickup game of baseball possible, mainly by the rules. And to suppose that the world out there somehow or other is going to get these natural things done is just as absurd as supposing that some people randomly gathered on the town common are going to say, “Hey, let’s build a church!” Why, your public school is committed to the whole spectrum of ways to ensure that the things do not get done. When the world cannot or will not do what is necessary for human flourishing, the Church must do it, and that is that.
My father fell in love with my mother when they met for the first time at Chapman Lake, a few miles from where they lived. My Uncle John was dating my mother’s next-door neighbor, and she asked my mother if she’d like to come along and meet John’s brother Tony.
Now, let me try to describe to you what that scene was like. The place was crowded with people, many of them children splashing in the water or running about here and there, playing games. Women wore one-piece bathing suits, and they looked very fine in them. Men wore trunks, not Speedos. There was a big concession stand right there because the lake front was privately owned and run as a business, so you could get pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries, and something to drink. Inside, too, there was an arcade full of games like Skee-Ball, and you could play a friendly game with the girl you were with, or the two guys could play and compete for a prize for the winner to give to his girl.
The “rules” were in place. You could kiss—you were sort of expected to, but you wouldn’t make a slobbering of it in front of other people, particularly the children. Those rules at the lakeside reflected the rules elsewhere, too. You could, once you had gotten to know one another, take a drive by yourselves, maybe to a lookout somewhere, and kiss more at your leisure, and with more passion, but always keeping hands off what they weren’t to touch; and this, too, made it possible for people to fall in love in a secure and protected way, without the regrets that come in the wake of wrongdoing, whether we acknowledge the wrong or not.
Of course, none of this is possible now, and I doubt whether most of my readers under the age of 50 could understand most of it; because even if you do not pretend at marriage before you are married, the whole public world around you is missing, the world that gives a public meaning to what you are doing. So, you are set down in the sexual woods with a flashlight but no map.
What can the Church do about it? For starters, in our schools, from a very young age, we might teach boys and girls to dance. I don’t mean a series of spasmodic fits and starts. I mean folk dances, the Virginia reel, the polka, the waltz; the more the merrier and the merrier the better. The kids will be shy at first—naturally. But bring them together in pairs, all of them, so that no one is left out; and don’t put on them, yet, the pressure of having to ask and being declined. By all means, let the older kids join in, and the young singles who shouldn’t be single at all, and the married people, even Grandma and Grandpa.
I do not suggest that this should be a once-a-year event, though even that is better than nothing. Chapman Lake did not descend among us once a year and then float off into neverland. To supply the want of a “world,” you must make things regular, to be expected, just as boys once would find themselves in the middle of a ballgame without always being quite clear as to how it came about. If one parish is not sufficient for it, let two parishes pool their resources. Let it be every week or every two weeks. If the school has a gym, let that be the place. Always, always build.
Of course, there’s much more to say about this suggestion, and you may well take it in a variety of healthy directions. And I have more suggestions—rather, pleas—to come.
But this I will say. Look at the young person behind the counter at the store. It is almost certain that he or she has never once known what it was like to experience the nearness and the goodness of the body of someone of the opposite sex, with full innocence, carefree, and in accord with the rules; has never felt the arm around the waist as the couple went flying along with other couples, has never held hands without thinking of the bedroom, has never kissed for the pleasure of kissing and nothing more. You are looking at someone for whom Chapman Lake might as well have been in an alternate universe. As indeed it was.
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