I moved to San Francisco after college in 1983 and found it very exciting, even for a daily-Mass-going, daily-rosary-praying, pro-life activist college graduate. My little brother and I arrived with one small suitcase each; both of us found girlfriends, but neither of us married them. When he did marry, my brother moved to a sensibly small town, and when I married it was to the Church as a Roman Catholic priest in a sensibly suburban diocese. And yet I missed the city, and eventually the city missed me: the archbishop gave me an assignment in the city.
When I returned to the Big Singles’ Bar on the Bay eight years ago, the Archbishop gave me a task: establish a Catholic Young Adults group. I did so, and Star of the Sea has one of the city’s most successful Catholic singles apostolates. When our young adults marry (24 of them have done so over the last 18 months), they drop out of the Young Adults Group and most leave the city. I greatly miss them, but I am happy that they have found love. Mission accomplished.
But many young adults do not find love. They spend years, perhaps the rest of their lives, searching for love and suffering disappointment. Certainly those who marry will also suffer disappointment, but at least they have found love in sacramental matrimony. Matrimony, by the way, means “mother-hood” or “baby making” from the Latin mater. Although marriage is not perfect, it will save the spouses if they remain open to what matrimony was designed to do; that is, to bear children and educate them for heaven.
Matrimony is a good thing in itself, even if no marriage is perfect. The Sacrament of Matrimony works well enough, however, like a car that doesn’t run perfectly but gets you where you need to go, or like a job that annoys at times but pays the bills and contributes some good to society. Marriage is like any friendship that has points of irritation but is better, in the end, than no friendship.
I have been pastor and father to many single people over the years. Many suffer quietly for years, waiting to be loved and at a loss as to why no one wants them. Certainly many married people despair of love too—the “neglected wife who knows her husband is ashamed to be seen with her” (Peter Leithart), the unwanted husband despised by his wife and hated by his children. But to remain single is never to have even been given a chance at love.
When I was ten years old, TV shows modeled marriage and family: Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, even The Partridge Family. Then came that awful show Three’s Company, and from then on New York and Los Angeles taught us that marriage was for losers. Success in life was to remain single: free, in control, and endlessly entertained (coincidentally, by the same products New York and Los Angles were selling).
Single, free, and in control is not good for most of the young adults I know in San Francisco. My job as a father to all my young adults is to get them married. It is the sacred task of all fathers who love their children.