Marriage & Family: What happened to keeping vows?

by Adam Storey | September 27, 2018

Adam Storey

This summer has been painful for Catholics in the United States. It breaks my heart to see the wickedness that we are capable of. Hearing more stories of unthinkable abuse and cover-ups is just crushing.

Yet I am hopeful, because I know that wounds only heal in the light, I know that Christ remains with his Church, and I know that this pain can be a purifying fire.

Many people have been looking for the root causes of this crisis, and I’m certainly not informed enough, or qualified, to try to answer that question.

Still, in my work as the Marriage and Family Life Office director I can identify a problem that at least contributes. In our culture today there is a great aversion to, and little respect for keeping our vows.

Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and in part that is due to a great fear of vows. Young people often see marriage as something that would stifle them, something that would trap them. In the back of the minds of many couples there is a fear that they are incapable of keeping their vows, or that they’re committed only as long as the marriage is deemed rewarding. As a culture, we not only accept this attitude, we encourage it as something liberating.

The mistake is that we miss Jesus’ promise that vows are freeing (Mk 8:35). Our vows set us free, because they give us a context in which we can truly love unconditionally, where we can give our lives away. Next time you see someone who has lived their vows well (whether as a priest, religious or married) ask them about it.

I’m willing to bet no one will say it’s easy, but they’ll all say there is a deeper joy that only the persevering know. I am reminded of one of the best essays I’ve ever read, G.K. Chesterton’s “A Defense of Rash Vows”. The essay is online and I’d highly encourage you to read it.

It would be a great gift to our Church and our world if we once again stood up for keeping our vows. It would be foolish and insulting to say that this is a comprehensive answer to the wounds before us. Beyond prayer, penance, fasting, and tears there is no such answer. And yet, I am convinced that a recommitment to our vows will bring light into this darkness, and I’m convinced that both the laity and our priests can be a great witness through their vows.

Adam Storey

Adam Storey leads the Marriage Ministry Department for the Diocese of Des Moines, which seeks to work with parishes and couples, walking with all families in all their stages, in their joys and sorrows, their celebrations and challenges.