From a reader…
Fr. Donald F. Miller C.S.R.R. wrote in the pamphlet “Questions Young People Ask About Marriage” among other things that dating with no intention of marriage in a reasonable time is a near occasion of sin [high risk of a loss of chastity in that situation]. Is this true? If it is, should kids stop dating in grade and high school? If it is, why have virtually no priests said a word about this, save Fr. Miller in this pamphlet from the ’50s?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
Fr. Donald Miller was a Redemptorist priest and author active in the middle part of the 20th century. He appears to have written a number of good books and pamphlets, particularly dealing with moral questions. I can’t say that I’ve read his works, or am familiar with them, but on the surface, things seem pretty solid. His books have nihil obstats and imprimaturs.
However, Fr. Miller is not the magisterium. It’s important to note that, when a censor gives a book a nihil obstat, he is merely saying that nothing in the book contradicts Church teaching. It is not necessarily an endorsement of the book or the ideas therein.
When Fr. Miller wrote his pamphlet on dating, in the 1950’s, the cultural scene was much different than it is today – mostly it was better, but there were some things that were worse. Fr. Miller may have had some solid arguments for stating that dating without an intention to marry is a near occasion of sin, because such relationships might lead to being in danger of unchaste activity. While putting oneself in a situation that is, for one, a near occasion of sin is a morally questionable act, there was not then, nor has there been since, any solid magisterial pronouncement on the propriety or not of dating.
Putting the question into the context of today’s situation, I think we have to clarify exactly what “dating” means today. Among young people, so I hear, there is great pressure at a very young age, to put oneself in unchaste situations. As tragic as sexual activity within the dating scene of the 1950’s was, things have gotten so bad in many places that there is very little “dating” – merely sex, or “hooking up” as the current phrase goes. Thanks for this goes to the sexual revolution, the omnipresence of contraception, and the Hollywood culture that regularly broadcasts sex without consequences. Our young people navigate a world fraught with great dangers.
In this situation, there are some bright spots. Many good, virtuous young people are standing up to the culture that tries to get them to believe that this most intimate physical activity of which we humans are capable is nothing more than some enjoyable sport. There are young people who “date” – who see each other socially, spend time together, go out to decent movies or engage in sporting activities together and strive to remain chaste and virtuous as they discern God’s will in their lives. I think, since there is not any clear magisterial teaching on the matter, we are called to use our judgment – in conversation with our pastors, our parents, and other wise people in our lives.
As long as one is mindful of avoiding near occasions of sin, I think that appropriate dating can be a good way for young people to learn social skills, to discern God’s will, and even grow in holiness. At the same time, I do think that dating someone whom one would never marry can be a dangerous thing. Especially with teens, parents absolutely have a say in whom their children can and cannot date. Dating someone who does not share our Catholic faith, someone who is not interested in living a life of holiness and chastity, someone who has a history of past bad behavior – all of these things should be carefully examined by the parents as well as the one interested in dating. A common interest in a certain kind of music, or an attractive physique, or a mutual hatred of the Chicago Bears might be an attractant, but do not provide a solid foundation for a a potential marriage.