by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, while deplaning, one of my fellow passengers commented on the good behavior of another passenger’s dog.
It was true the dog had not made so much as a whimper, much less barked, during the entire trip. The proud dog owner replied that had she known the satisfaction of having a pet dog, she never would have had children.
While obviously this woman was being humorous, she reflected an attitude that is prevalent in our culture. Caring for a newborn, a baby, a toddler, a child, an adolescent, a young adult is much more challenging and difficult than taking care of Fido.
Dogs or other pets can be great companions, but they are not capable of composing beautiful music, writing inspiring literature, painting masterpieces, making scientific discoveries, etc. While pets can show appreciation for their masters — for the hands that feed them — they cannot enter into meaningful conversations with human beings or develop mutual relationships with their owners.
It is quite astonishing the amount of money Americans spend on dog food, animal toys, pet wardrobes, veterinarian visits and even weekends at pet spas. While I am not denying the enjoyment pets can bring to individuals and families, it cannot compare with the rewards of human friendships or familial relationships.
This past spring, the Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker delivered the commencement address at his alma mater, Georgia Tech University. Butker was considered a distinguished alum not because of his talent as a motivational speaker, but for his ability to kick an odd-shaped ball over a crossbar and through a set of goal posts.
However, in my opinion, Butker gave both a provocative and inspired message to the 2023 graduates. He also generated quite a media stir because of his countercultural advice to his audience.
What did Butker say? He spoke about the importance of faith in his life. He acknowledged the positive impact that he had experienced from his active participation at the Georgia Tech Catholic Campus Center. Yet, what caught the most media attention was his encouragement to the graduates to get married and start a family.
Though he had personally attained a certain level of both fame and fortune, Harrison discouraged the graduates from making these their highest priorities.
For Butker, striving to be a loving husband and a good father was what he personally found to be most challenging as well as most rewarding.
Marriage and parenthood were more fulfilling than his performance on the gridiron. In fact, Butker shared that when his relationships with God, his wife and his children are healthy, it has a positive impact on his professional life. He told the graduates that his wedding ring was much more important to him than either of his Super Bowl rings!
I enjoy watching a Sunday football game as much as anyone. However, Sunday is first and foremost a day to worship and honor God. It is a day to enjoy and strengthen the bonds of family. What happens every Sunday at Mass, where Jesus Christ — the King of kings and Lord of lords, makes himself present to us — is much more important than a football score.
Not everyone is called to Christian marriage. Ultimately, seeking to do God’s will with our lives should be our goal. We can honor and glorify God in many ways — as a priest, a religious Sister or Brother or a single person. However, living the adventure of Christian marriage and parenthood is the pathway for holiness for many, if not most, Catholics. Making God’s love real and tangible for one’s spouse and children is much more life-giving and impactful than playing football, much less watching it. The family is the foundation for culture, society, the nation and the church. Marriage is the foundation of the family.
Sadly, many young women have difficulty finding marriageable men, in part because so many young males are addicted to video games and pornography. We were not created simply to entertain ourselves, to seek personal pleasure and to be self-absorbed.
Similarly, many young men find it difficult to find a woman who is willing to make the commitment of marriage, to be open to the challenges of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth and the demands of motherhood.
Marriage well-lived is an antidote to selfishness. Marriage demands being other- centered, seeking the good of one’s spouse and children over personal desires and preferences. Marriage requires tremendous generosity, not just for a season, but for a lifetime.
I have encouraged all of our pastors to make ministry for married couples a high priority for parishes. The church needs to be a place where people can come to learn how to develop good friendships. Our parishes need to equip our young people to know how to form healthy relationships, thus preparing them to be good future husbands and wives as well as wise Christian parents.
Be good to your cat and dog. But make your family relationships, as well as healthy and holy friendships, a much higher priority! Let us reclaim Sunday as the Lord’s day, as well as a day for family, friendship and service!