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Football, Prostitutes, and Marriage

August 23, 2011
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Presently college football is being rocked by allegations that University of Miami players received improper benefits from a sports booster who was imprisoned recently for securities fraud after his near billion dollar Ponzi scheme collapsed.  Among the improper benefits were cash payments to players, arranging prostitutes for players, hosting yacht parties, and in one case paying for the abortion of an impregnated prostitute.  The usual laments are coming forth on how this has stained the game of college football and amateur athletics.

Over at Deacon’s Bench there is a lament over weddings.  The lament is nothing special in particular.  The deacons hits one of the three or four things that are commonly complained about in an insider post on weddings.  As I was reading it, I noticed that the complaint could have been written by anyone in the wedding industry with a few tweaks.  Either in the post of the comments – it doesn’t really matter since the cliche is well worn – mention was made of the amount of money people spend on weddings now-a-days.  Admittedly, my own experience has been that people tend to be a lot more detail oriented and prone to believing that their prerogatives should be given sway when the amount they are spending is larger and more significant.  The thing about weddings is that everyone is pretty well compensated and what they are willing to tolerate is higher because of it.  In the land of parishes with $1000+ charges when everything is said and done, the Church is in the wedding business.

Of course Church officials will protest that they are offering a “bargain” when you consider x, y, and z, as if they were the first and only ones to justify their fees.  College administrators argue that they are offering a bargain.  The “student-athletes” are given a college education and room and board gratis while being allowed to compete against world class competition.  Without being snide, the problem with both mindsets is that they have come to believe their marketing points.  With colleges, fewer than 50% of athletes on scholarship graduate within 5 years.  Colleges knowingly and deliberately recruit basketball players who will declare for the NBA draft once their year of college makes them eligible for the draft.  Meanwhile, they commonly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece – sometimes millions – on personnel to improve their sports programs, dollars that have no direct or tangible benefit to the education of students.  While some claimed that GM was a medical company that made cars, a very persuasive case can be made that major American universities are sports franchises with side businesses of providing bachelor’s degrees.

Of course the Church is in the wedding business.  Weddings are the biggest recruitment vehicles for ongoing participation.  Baptisms follow in second place.  Not every customer that buys a wedding sticks around to pay tithes in two years.  Not everyone who buys a timeshare is using it in a couple years.  Such is the nature of sales.  Both groups are filled with people who truly thought they’d use the product.  Neither group views the sales presentation as the thing they are buying, even though they are the one’s paying for it.  In other words, people tend to view pre-Cana as a sales presentation.  The more cynical bunch will still purchase the wedding ceremony with no openness to continuing their faith.  However more people are just foregoing the whole thing and having a secular ceremony.  Even among faithful, there is often the advice to go get married and have your vows convalidated later;  I would personally advise against that.

To summarize a bit, there is the attitude that a couple needs a church wedding more than the Church needs it.  At the personal level, it just isn’t the case.  Despite ravings in comboxes, it is possible to marry and raise a family outside the Church.  The health and wellness gospel is an unsupportable fraud, and it turns out there are people outside the Church who are happy.  I will happily concede the argument on matters after this life.  But we also shouldn’t kid ourselves.  The Church very much needs marriage.  A church that doesn’t marry people and doesn’t baptize people is dead.  The vision of marriage and sacraments generally in the Church has been the continuity from birth until death in the same parish for all practical purposes.  That is dead and has been for over two generations.  My guess is the percentage is south of 50% of children who complete baptism, first communion, and confirmation in the same parish.  I imagine the day of one’s baptism and funeral occurring in the same church are almost to the point of anachronism.  That is the simple truth, and it introduces its own unique set of problems.  Acquiescence to the spirit of the times is not going to be an acceptable answer to most people and I think I would include myself in that group.

Difficulty enters the picture when the way forward is not the path back.  In college athletics, there are simply too many people who are making too much money for us to go back to the days of gentlemanly competition and competing for pride.  That money is for those we consider legitimately entitled to their lavish compensation.  It may be nice to return to the past, but those with the money and the authority will not allow it.  With college athletics, the most likely outcome is that a blind eye will continue to be shown because it is in everyone’s interests to do so.  With the Church, middle class whims and desires will continue to be catered to because that is where the money is and those are the folks who pay the bills, even if only 30 or 40% of them stick around after their wedding.  And there will continue to be those who buy the wedding.  In the mean time, we’ll conveniently forget that the poor have pretty much abandoned marriage.  They have also pretty much abandoned baptizing their children in the Church.  It is easier to be scandalized about Bridezillas than that.  It is easy and convenient to dismiss them as lacking faith, as if wealth and prestige were the places we found Christ.

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3 Comments
  1. Kimberley permalink
    August 24, 2011 8:04 am

    Deacon Kandra refers to a potential solution a couple of articles down..

    http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/2011/08/solemn-and-sacred-transformations.html

  2. Mark Gordon permalink
    August 24, 2011 10:03 am

    Having been a lay worker at a Catholic retreat center (religious, not diocesan), I can sadly attest that money is always a problem. But it’s more so when money – or the threat of money being withheld – drives program planning and marketing. On the other hand, it can often require enormous financial resources to keep parishes, schools, and retreat centers open, not to mention colleges and hospitals.

    • M.Z. permalink
      August 24, 2011 10:55 am

      Money always has been and always will be a problem. Fee for Service is the most effective way to raise money, and there is always the temptation to go to it. Funding out of the social deposit has always been pretty thin, and oftentimes it isn’t sufficient. During certain periods, the fee for service model was considered simony. I do think there can be a legitimate fee for service model, but there must be a very conscious effort to meet the spiritual needs of the poor. Too often it is informed by wishful thinking: believing things are more affordable then they are or that there just aren’t many poor people in a given place. Then there are the things that grate like fund raisers for cancer research – noble as it is – when basic parish needs aren’t being met.

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