In its document, Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, no. 32, the Pontifical Council for the Family wrote: “Proximate preparation takes place during the period of engagement. It consists of specific courses and must be distinguished from immediate preparation.” Unfortunately, because I misread what John Paul II had to say about “immediate preparation” in Familiaris Consortio 66, I had considered the engagement period to be part of the ”immediate preparation” for marriage. Thus, the two earlier essays in this series on the “proximate preparation for marriage” should in fact have been included as part of the “remote preparation for marriage.” I apologize for my error. This is the first piece of three on “proximate preparation.” A final essay will focus on “immediate preparation.”
I begin with the very important practical matters identified clearly by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio 66 whose management is necessary for a happy and lasting marriage: a stable job, adequate financial resources, and homemaking or housekeeping. Today the current socioeconomic situation in the United States makes the issues of a stable job and adequate financial resources exceptionally difficult for young people today.
I am 82 years old and a “senior citizen,” and as such in a group that, at the expense of their own children and grandchildren, are privileged members of contemporary American society. When I married in October 1958, I was only making $95.00 a week at my job in Milwaukee, but I was able to buy a small home for $7000.00. We outgrew that home by 1962 and were then able to buy a larger 3 bedroom home with a den that could be—and was—used as a bedroom for $21,000. In February 1969 we moved to the Washington DC area and I purchased a 4 bedroom home, with a family room and a huge basement that later served as another bedroom and den for $42,000—a sum I thought excessively high. But beginning in the 70’s inflation hit the area. The home – where we raised 7 children -sold for some $700,000 in 2006. My six children, after their marriages to spouses who had decent paying jobs for the time, had to pay exorbitant sums for a decent home in the Washington area, down payments for which far exceeded that demanded of me. How difficult it is for them—and will be for their children—to have “adequate financial resources” when they marry.
More must come to show that I and all members of my generation are a “pampered class” in the United States today. I worked until I was 80 years old. It was only during the final 10 or 15 years of my working life that massive sums were paid out in Social Security along with Federal and State taxes. During most of my working life, the sums withheld for Social Security were modest. Now, I and others of my generation reap large benefits in monthly payments from the Social Security treasury, which is now raided by the government to fund all kinds of programs. A powerful lobbying group, the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), effectively makes sure that my generation continues to get healthy sums of “social security” money.
Unfortunately, my children and now my grandchildren, who are the ones in the stage of the “proximate preparation for marriage” or perhaps “immediate preparation,” are saddled with the burden of having usurious sums withheld from their hard earned income to pour into a Social Security system that will be bankrupt when and if they retire.
There is thus urgent need for a new and powerful lobbying group that I would call the AAPMF (the American Association for the Protection of Marriage and the Family) that would effectively compel our nation’s leaders to revamp the social security system completely and remedy the gross injustices of our tax system that allows married couples only a minuscule sum for each dependent child, a child whom they love and cherish and on whom, moreover, the future of our society depends.
A stable job and adequate financial resources
Since I am not an economist or financial expert, my basic advice for help on these issues is to consult a good financial advisor who also holds that moral considerations have a priority over financial ones. I would also like to point out what Pope John Paul II had to say about women’s right to take part in public functions and to work outside the home in Familiaris Consortio 23. There we read: “While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions [and to work outside the home], society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family.” In another document on the Dignity of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem) he argued that women who choose to stay home and care for their young children ought to receive adequate compensation for their valuable work.
Having said all this I now offer my own reflections on this matter.
By the time a person marries he or she should have a job suitable to his or her knowledge and skills. Even if the individual is, for instance, pursuing graduate studies and a graduate degree, he or she should have, in my opinion, some decent part-time job sufficiently remunerative to cover his or her living expenses with some left for saving. Today this problem is exacerbated because of the at times enormous student loans young people have had to take out in order to go to undergraduate school and then to graduate school. I am in no way skilled in economics and finance. Knowing this, I humbly suggest the following: 1. Forego attending the more prestigious schools unless offered substantive scholarship help; instead, matriculate at universities in your state of residence insofar as tuition in such institutions is modest and can be paid by work during the summer (community colleges followed by a state university provide another option). 2. Perhaps, given conditions today regarding higher education, consider pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies part time while gainfully employed, saving money for the future to offset costs of tuition and other expenses.
Frequently, because of the kind of economic conditions noted, young people while still in graduate school or perhaps even while still in undergraduate school become engaged to marry. If so, they can and should then get married so as to avoid difficulties in remaining chaste prior to marriage. If they marry, it may be necessary for at least one to forgo graduate studies for a time in order to work at a job that will enable them to have adequate living conditions, and these should be such that they are prepared to welcome a baby into their lives. They may well have serious reasons to use fertility awareness methods (i.e., Natural Family Planning) in order to avoid causing a pregnancy, but they should remain open to the gift of a child and, should a pregnancy occur, they must regard this as a “surprise” pregnancy and not as an “unwanted” pregnancy.
Similarly, because of current economic conditions, young people today may find it necessary, especially during the early years of marriage, for both husband and wife to work outside the home. And it may also be the case that the wife’s skills and knowledge enable her to provide greater income than can her husband with his skills and knowledge. If this is the case it does not seem to me to be wrong for the husband, at least for a time, to stay home and be the homemaker.
Homemaking or housekeeping
I prefer the term “homemaking” to “housekeeping,” and the goal here is for those in the proximate preparation for marriage stage to realize that the end of “homemaking” is to make the family home a cheerful place where the joy and peace of a happy married life is evident. The family home should be a place where the parents and children can bring their friends and invite strangers and make them feel “at home.”
Homemaking is by no means a task that falls only on the wife-mother. Both husband and wives, mothers and fathers, have an obligation to help each other in making their home a happy and joyful place, where their children will want to bring their friends. It obviously requires that they keep the home clean by making use of the means to keep it clean and in good repair, and there are some chores that are more fitting for the husband-father (e.g., mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, etc.) and others more fitting for the wife-mother (e.g., sorting wash after it is laundered). Moreover, parents should assign chores to their children as they mature, chores suitable to their ages and abilities, because they must learn that it is their home. As far as cooking goes, it seems to me that this can easily be a responsibility shared by husband and wife; each might become adept at special dishes, and some men enjoy cooking much more than do their wives.
The main thing is, for those preparing for marriage during the proximate stage, to understand why homemaking is so important and that a livable, cheerful and happy home does not depend on wealth but on the persons living in it. A poor family’s home can definitely provide a happy, joyful, loving environment whereas the homes of the wealthy, perhaps with servants, can be an unhappy, miserable environment from which those who must use it as their primary place to get fed, clothed, and rested flee as soon and as frequently as they can.
Perhaps I may have gone overboard a bit in my portrayal of the terribly unjust burdens placed on my children’s and grandchildren’s backs to allow members of my pampered generation to enjoy the good life, but I do not think that I have, and there is surely desperate need for a group such as AAPMF and for self-serving public “servants” to work for and not against the people they represent. Moreover, the practical advice I offer is definitely just one suggested way of coping with some of the terribly serious issues regarding adequate financial resources, and persons with knowledge of economic and financial matters probably could offer good alternatives for doing so. One of my aims was to stimulate thinking about this issue.
The next article on proximate preparation focuses on considerations prior to engagement: moral character, where to find a person suitable to marry, and warning signs. The one after that will develop in depth the meaning of a chaste courtship.
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