Reports were received from 12 focus groups in 11 dioceses. More than 110 young adults participated. Ages ranged from18 to 43. The majority of participants were either college aged (19-22), or in their 30’s, with some in their late 20’s and early 40’s. The ratio of male to female was 40% to 60%. While all considered themselves “open to marriage,” only a few people stated that marriage is their vocation. Most participants were still unsure if they were called to marriage, single life, the priesthood, or religious life. Almost all the young adults were involved in some form of church group or ministry.
1. Marriage as an Important Goal
To Consider Now: The majority of respondents reacted against viewing marriage as a “goal,” and instead viewed marriage as a vocation. They saw marriage both as a gift and a calling. While some expressed a desire for marriage, they still are waiting for God’s call. Others noted that they are not leaning towards one vocation or another, but are carefully trying to discern their vocation. A few said that marriage is an important goal because of parental pressure, or social acceptability when they have children.
To Consider Later in Life: The responses of those who reported that marriage was not an important goal now fell into two different but related categories. Some participants held the view that a person should finish education and settle into a career prior to marriage. Others have an immense fear of divorce. They are anxious about parenthood and their need to mature. Participants see marriage as important but think that everything possible, physically, and emotionally, to ensure that a marriage will work must be done before it can even be considered. One person described his desire to perfect his faith life alone before getting married. Another explained that he was staying single, “to err on the safe side…rather than fail.”
2. Hopes and Fears for Marriage
Hopes: The most common hope for one’s marriage was the ability to share faith and values with one’s spouse. The desire for children and a family was the second major response. One participant explained that he hoped to “help my spouse grow in holiness and raise a family of saints.” Others seek forgiveness between spouses and lifelong permanence in marriage. There was a desire for good communication, continued romance, good in-law familial relationships, and financial stability.
Fears: The most common fear was divorce. While all participants sought permanence in marriage, some believed they could be led to divorce by years of emotional stress or by finding out that the one they married, “turned out to be a different person.” Others were committed to lifelong marriage but feared that a spouse might leave them. Parenting was another common concern, coupled with worries about immaturity and the effects of the culture on children. Another common response was financial concerns, particularly if one had many children. Some expressed a fear of problems due to religious differences between spouses. A few participants focused on communication problems, ethnic clashes, loss of individuality, and loneliness.
3. Influences of Parents, Relatives, and Peers
Focus group participants agreed on the importance of parental influence. This is not to say that they were all good influences. All participants remarked that they had seen both good and bad examples of marriage. The young adults found inspiration in the good and learned lessons from the bad aspects of others' marriages. They stated that commitment, even through difficulties, is the most desirable characteristic. Some noted marriages that lacked evidence of the fruitfulness that flows from the Sacrament, as well as the shared faith that they seek in their own marriage, but they recognized the sacrifice and love in those marriages.
The marriages of friends and siblings, while sometimes inspiring, often provided examples of communication problems, divorce, or marriages that closed out other people. Another difficulty apparent in many relationships is around Church teaching. Even those who agree or are open to learning about church teaching on marriage find it very difficult to live in a culture that does not accept this view. One young adult claimed that he is challenging himself, but is not being challenged from outside. His peers live a very different life from what the Church teaches and he has no one helping him to be who he wants to be.
4. Church Teaching: Aspects found positive or helpful
The most common response concerning the positive role of Church teaching was the understanding of marriage as a sacrament, followed by marriage as a lifelong commitment. Participants also affirmed church teaching on sexuality. Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday catechesis, The Theology of the Body (specifically the understanding of marriage as an image of Christ’s love for the Church and as an image of Trinitarian love) was brought up by five out of the twelve groups.
5. Problematic Aspects of Church Teaching
The most common area of disagreement with church teaching was contraception. Six groups discussed their concerns about being open to children. Participants feared the financial and emotional difficulties of having many children. Their responses suggested a desire to listen to the Church and agreement with its teaching as an ideal, but they are concerned about the realities of finances and other family problems. Some disagreed with Church teaching on pre-marital sex and cohabitation. They do not see a difference in a loving relationship before and after a wedding. With their fear of divorce, they believe they need to try out a relationship before committing.
Many participants said that they did not know much about what the Church teaches. They cited confusion about Church teaching because of church leaders who send mixed messages about sex, contraception, and divorce/annulments. Most participants expressed a willingness to hear more about Church teaching. They want to know why the Church teaches what it does.
Participants reaffirmed that young adults do not want a watered-down version of the truth. One participant advised, “Instead of approaching sex as something wrong, approach it as something right, but in the context of a faithful marriage.” A few asked that the Church explain its stance on the single life as a vocation. Most groups expressed a desire to learn why marriage is a sacrament and what makes it joyful.
6. Marriage Preparation
The overwhelming recommendation regarding marriage preparation was that it begin earlier than Pre-Cana. Many offered ideas for teaching youth in high school, stating that young people often have no real contact with the Church between Confirmation and Pre-Cana. While one participant stressed the need for more lay role models, another young person requested that the priests become more involved, stating that they, too, are witnesses to the holiness and commitment found in marriage. One young man recommended that the Church talk about, “dating to marry,” and another requested more teaching about courtship. A few expressed difficulty over being pressured towards one vocation rather than another by parents, priests, and others. Some groups spoke highly of the practice of matching married couples with engaged couples to mentor them before and after the wedding. Another participant noted the disparity between the preparation for religious life and preparation for marriage.