Pray With the Pope: June 2021
Let us pray for young people who are preparing for marriage, With the support of a Christian community, may they grow in love, with generosity, faithfulness and patience.
The beauty of marriage
The biggest challenge to marriage, according to a Google search, is money, along with the “division of labour” when the kids arrive. So, as well as praying for young people preparing for marriage, perhaps we should also be praying for couples who are already married!
When it comes to the financial arrangements of marriage, custom is very hard to change — because change means that someone is going to lose out. In European society, when brides were expected to produce dowries, some religious organisations used to help poor girls to find the money to pay them. In modern South African society, it doesn’t look as though lobola — the custom of the bridegroom’s family negotiating a payment to the bride’s family in livestock or cash — is going away any time soon. In fact, if the young woman has a modern education, this can mean a larger lobola. Modernity does not automatically trump tradition; in this case it seems to have merely tweaked it.
And even among cultures in which dowries and lobola are history, the money factor still looms large. Can the couple find the money for a bond on a house? Are they going to marry in community of property if they are both working and both have some assets? How much can they splash out on the ceremony and the reception? There are plenty of wedding organisers who are more than happy to sell them the dream, the themed wedding that they’ve seen on the soaps — for a price.
It seems to me that one thing the Christian community can do is to give the couple permission to opt for simplicity. I once overheard two farmers chatting about their daughters’ weddings. One said that the family had decided to hold the reception on the farm and to get the whole local community involved in order to cut out the expenses of catering companies and other wedding professionals. I remember thinking that the young couple were fortunate to have such a thoughtful father, and I’m sure the reception on the family farm, with the catering done by friends and neighbours, would have been as memorable as a fancy event dreamed up by an expensive company.
The financial dilemma
The money business is a serious pastoral issue, to my mind. There is much soul-searching going on in the Church about how few weddings are taking place these days, and how young people either delay marriage for a long time or simply don’t get married but just live together. There are certainly other problems, such as the modern fear of full commitment, but I believe the financial factor is often the obvious thing which we overlook.
Another area in which modernity has complicated matters is the high mobility enabled by globalisation and by cheap travel. Certainly, this has taken a knock since the Covid-19 crisis, but we are clearly not going back to a village life in which people settled down close to the community and extended family from which they came. From the poorest migrant worker to the jetsetting professional, the family is today more likely to be spread out over the globe than ever before.
So, another word of wisdom from family members might be to encourage young couples to temper their ambitions for the good of their family life. A job in New York might pay twice what the one in Cape Town would, but the grandparents won’t be in New York to help with the small children, and the children will miss the delight of knowing their grandparents.
The attributes of “love, generosity, faithfulness and patience” which Pope Francis mentions are all expressed in very down-to-earth, practical decisions. We need to pray that young people make sensible decisions, with the help of the wisdom and generosity of their elders.