Monday, March 8
What about 'Going-Steady'?
The Answer to What about 'Going-Steady'?
Here's an article from 1956 that still rings true in 2010
by Rev. Daniel Egan, S.A.
I have no statistics to prove this, but I venture to say that the very pagan and immoral custom of going steady too early in life is responsible for more juvenile delinquency, more sins of impurity and more unsuccessful marriages than any other single cause. I venture to say, also, that it is responsible for most of the unwed fathers and mothers and, consequently, most of the forced marriages.
It therefore follows that there is something far more at stake here than a mere custom or crazy fad. Some customs, like wearing red stockings or pink stockings or green stockings involve no sin. Some styles of haircuts or teen-age clothing may make a kid look a mess, but of themselves these very "goofy" fads are not sinful.
But when we come to the custom of high school kids going steady without a reasonable hope of entering a happy, holy, successful marriage in a reasonable period of time — this is a sinful custom. And because it concerns God's glory and the very salvation of souls, it is something we can never condone, no more than we can condone or compromise with anything else that is sinful — no matter how many people do it!
The Meaning of 'Going-Steady'
Before we explain the moral theology of going-steady, let's first agree on what it means.
First, it means that a boy and a girl are going together exclusively. And it's still "exclusive" even though they "occasionally" (when they're forced into it!) date someone else. It's "exclusive" as long as . . .
Second, they see each other "frequently" — two or three times a week. By this we don't mean just walking home together or having a "coke" together. We mean that . . .
Third, they frequently visit each other, alone, in a "cozy situation," like in a car, parking, at a "drive-in," baby-sitting, places where they are unobserved by other humans. And it doesn't change the occasion of sin simply because there's another couple present. The danger is still there if . . .
Fourth, they engage in frequent kissing. Though they usually claim to be "in love," it doesn't really matter for this discussion whether they are or not. Many teen-agers frequently kiss their steady, and yet admit there's no "love" between them. So, as long as they engage in frequent kissing, then they come under the category of "going-steady" — if the other conditions are also present.
The Morality of 'Going-Steady'
Now if any boy and girl are dating this way, then they're "going-steady." What, then, is the teaching of moral theologians about such courtship? They all agree that this type of steady company-keeping in itself is always some occasion of sin, and, because it is, the only reason that will permit it is the reasonable hope of marriage in the near future. Even then they must observe all the proper safeguards to avoid sin. Noldin-Schmitt insists that:
"Familiar associations which are called company-keeping per se contain an occasion of sin. If they take place in view of marriage they are lawful. But care must be taken lest lawful meetings become a proximate occasion of sin. The hope of a future marriage is the only reason why these visits are rendered licit.
Furthermore, "going-steady," as we have defined it, is not just an occasion of sin. Theologians usually define it as a proximate, dangerous occasion of sin. Father Connell, C.SS.R., of Catholic University hesitates to declare that juvenile courtships are always proximate occasions of sin, but he does agree with the theologian Damen that "company-keeping is generally a proximate occasion of grave sin (and consequently forbidden under pain of grave sin) when it is practiced without any intention of entering marriage or when there is no hope of marriage in the near future." Therefore, says Father Connell, if a boy or girl have proved that this manner of association is a proximate occasion of sin for them, they are guilty of mortal sin by continuing this type of companionship without any expectation of marriage in the near future. The fact that they have committed grave sin together is a sufficient proof that their steady company-keeping is a proximate occasion of grave sin, and hence must be given up.
Here let's insert a note to priests who hear the confessions of high school students "going steady." It is the commonly accepted theological doctrine, as explained by Noldin-Schmitt, that
when boys and girls accuse themselves of external sins against chastity with a person of the other sex, they are to be asked if they are keeping company (in our language, "going steady") with this person.
If they answer in the affirmative, they are to be asked further if there is any hope of a future marriage. If there is no such hope, and if, a fortiori, there is no intention of matrimony, it is absolutely necessary that they break off the company-keeping, since they are in a proximate occasion of grave sin without a just cause.
What if they insist on "going steady" in a way that is a dangerous, proximate, unnecessary occasion of sin? "In that event" says Connell, "the priest must forbid the company-keeping and must deny the absolution if this condition is not accepted. At most, a date in the future could be permitted on rare occasions on condition that they are not alone at any time.
Admitting that "going-steady" is, at least, always some occasion of sin, when does it become a proximate one? The theologian Wouters insists that "as soon as the company-keepers have sinned gravely, the occasion has become proximate, and must be treated as such by the confessors."
Now once the "going-steady" becomes the proximate occasion of grievous sin, then "whosoever does not want to give up a proximate free occasion of sin cannot be absolved. This is true even if the penitent is willing to try to make the occasion remote by means of prayer, etc."
So there you have it! Now it was necessary for me to line up the opinions of all these moral theologians to show that the Church is not mixed up. If some few of her very human teachers are confused, it is only because they are not following the best opinions of her moral theologians, or, knowing these approved teachings, they water them down in the face of growing custom.
'Pagan' Thinking and Acting
I said earlier that "going steady" as we have described it, without reasonable hope of marriage within a reasonable period of time, was "pagan." Any solution to a moral problem like "going steady" that is based on the opinions of the "crowd" and not those of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a downright "pagan" solution!
But the shocking thing is that practically all our Catholic youth who "go steady" in a way that is sinful look at the problem just as if they were unbaptized pagans! Simply because "everyone else does it," it's o.k.! Simply because some careless, ignorant or stupid parents "think it's cute," it's o.k.! Simply because it's "an easy and convenient way to get a date," it's o.k.!
When St. Paul said "let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus," he meant just that! He dared us to be different. But in the solution to this problem too many of our youth would rather be wrong than different. Is their thinking in tune with the thinking of Christ? Must they "go-steady" simply because spiritually stupid "specialists" in teen-age problems assure them that it's normal and natural? Don't they recall what Christ said about avoiding occasions of sin?
"If your eye scandalizes you, pluck it out! If your arm scandalizes you, cut it off! for it is better to go into Eternity without an eye or without an arm than to go into Hellfire with both!" By this Christ didn't mean we should ever cut an eye out or an arm off. Rather, we should have such deep hatred and fear and disgust of sin that we would cut out of our lives any and all occasions of sin that are dangerous, proximate and unnecessary. "Going-steady," as we have defined it, is just that — unless there's a reasonable hope of a happy marriage in the near future.
But suppose a young couple were to claim that "going-steady" is not a proximate occasion of sin for them — then what? My first reaction would be to judge that they're not normal. How could two normal teens see each other frequently, alone, in cozy situations, kissing, and not experience the physical effects of such lovemaking?
Those natural, physical sensations of sex pleasure that normally accompany frequent kissing are rewards that God intends only for marriage, as a sacred "bonus" for parental burdens of dishes, diapers, bills, sicknesses and burping the baby at two in the morning. But to deliberately seek or consent to the slightest degree of sex-pleasure outside of marriage is always a mortal sin.
Even if kids do not seek or consent to such pleasure, moral theology states very clearly that no one may even run the risk of consenting to passion without a proportionate grave reason. Now "going-steady" because "everyone's doing it," or because "we don't mean no harm to nobody," or because "it's a sure way to get a date," is not a proportionate grave reason of entering such danger. And as far as girls insisting that "nothing else happened, Father — we just kissed a few times and that's all" — you wonder how utterly stupid some girls can be! "That's all?" Most normal boys experience physical reactions to kissing that might shock an emotional, romantic girl!
Charity and justice demand that girls do all in their power to avoid arousing passion in a boy. They must do this because the darkness of the intellect and the weakness of the will that resulted from Original Sin makes it very difficult for a boy not to consent to such pleasures. From God's point of view, the only reason that would permit a boy and a girl or a boy or a girl to experience such pleasures (they may never seek or consent to them in courtship!) is the reasonable hope of a happy marriage in the near future.
So I still insist, if they're normal, it's a rare thing that any young couple can make "going-steady" for six months or more, as we have defined it, a remote occasion of sin. But suppose it really is? Suppose they do not engage in repeated prolonged kissing ("necking"), which theology considers to be usually a mortal sin, suppose it is pure and chaste, and there's very little danger of it becoming a proximate occasion of sin?
America's leading moralist, Father Connell, insists that even in this case, where there is no hope of marriage within a reasonable period of time, the company-keeping must be reckoned a venial sin, inasmuch as the couple are frequently a remote occasion of grave sin without a sufficient reason. Furthermore, such steady company-keeping helps to promote a custom that is surely dangerous to the younger generation in general.
This is the opinion of most moral theologians.
Confusion on the Issue
It is difficult to understand, then, how anyone knowing their theology and knowing human nature could ever teach youth that going-steady is an indifferent act. How could it be an indifferent thing to freely enter an avoidable occasion of serious sin? Whether they have sinned or not, it is still a remote occasion of sin to go steady without a sufficient reason. But the only sufficient reason, as we explained before, is the reasonable hope of a happy marriage in the near future.
And yet in the face of all that moral theology teaches, I have been in cities where priests themselves were adding to the confusion by telling kids there was "nothing wrong in going-steady as long as no sin is committed." No wonder parents are confused! And no wonder kids are confused! Are our spiritual instincts becoming so dead that we think nothing of venial sin?
Even the most "innocent" type of going-steady without a reasonable hope of happy marriage in the near future is a venial sin. Is venial sin something trivial? The Bishops of Canada considered it so serious that they openly condemned the practice in their pronouncements of 1953. But kids from Canada tell me it's far worse here in the States than in their country.
Making a Virtue of Necessity
We have stated repeatedly that the only reason that can permit going-steady is the reasonable hope of entering a happy and holy marriage in the near future. If this reason is present the "going-steady" becomes, as it should be, an immediate prelude to engagement and holy marriage. It then becomes an unavoidable, necessary occasion of sin. Yet, even here, the young couple must prudently avoid those places and situations that are dangerous and unnecessary.
Prayer, sacraments, and devotion to Our Lady will never go against human nature. Therefore, even though a young couple are going steady, they are still bound to do all in their power to make the courtship a remote occasion of sin.
Again, it may be necessary to go steady, but it is never necessary to enter dangerous, avoidable situations — like parking, "drive-ins," "baby-sitting" — that usually result in sin. If, then, the couple are prudent, and if they frequently pray, receive the sacraments and cultivate a strong and tender devotion to Christ and His Mother, they will remain chaste. Though temptations often assail them, and they feel more and more their human weakness, they will find all their strength in frequently, daily if possible, receiving together Our Lord's Own Body in Holy Communion.
Though "three's a crowd" when dating, the couple always will bring Our Lady with them as the third party on every date. In her presence, they will make every kiss a reverent expression of pure affection. It will well-up from heart and soul, and never become just physical lust that is chained to the body.
A Call for a United Front
Here then is one issue about which we must present a united front. For those who are necessarily going steady, because they have the reasonable hope of entering a happy and holy marriage in the near future, we must do all in our power as parents, priests, and marriage counselors to encourage them with the highest ideals of modesty and chastity in courtship.
In our lectures, teachings and pre-marriage forums we must help youth to ruthlessly guard against "falling in love" until they have some degree of moral certitude that once they've fallen it will end up in a successful marriage.
For those who are "going steady" without the reasonable hope of successful marriage in the future, we must spare no hurt to force them to their senses. Parents, priests, educators — all who in any way work with youth are bound to know the true teachings of moral theology and make no compromise in applying its principles to such a sinful custom.
Editor's Note: Keep in mind that the above article was written in 1956. But everything it asserts about morality and sin hasn't really changed in the last 56 years. Have a prayerful reflection on this dated article. God bless you.
Describe the type of "going-steady" that is condemned in this article.
How can parents help their children withstand the present-day current which makes "going-steady" an acceptable, even a laudable, practice?
Why is the custom of "going-steady" without a sufficient reason morally intolerable?
What is the sufficient reason which justifies steady "company-keeping," and, even where that is present, what precautions must be taken by the young couple?