When I think of spiritual traditions, I think about the story that I heard about Baal Shem Tov, who’s the person who ended up creating Hasidic culture. He was walking with an Orthodox rabbi and—I may be butchering the story a bit—they were walking together and there was a guy who had on his prayer robe, his prayer clothes, on, and he was on his hands and knees washing his wagon wheel, and his prayer shawl was getting dirty. The Orthodox rabbi was like, ‘Oh, what has it come to that these people are doing these mundane, dirty chores while wearing the sacred and ceremonial robes?’ And Baal Shem Tov’s response was ‘How incredible is it that, even while this person is washing his wagon, he’s praying?’
The common indifference to marriage condones and favors this unconscious hostility, which passes unnoticed and uncondemned. Among a marrying people like the French Canadians it would be conspicuous, horrifying, and promptly extirpated. With us it remains an idiosyncrasy, except that it has serious consequences. Our young men are never trained for marriage. Although the bookshops carry a good stock of books on the marriage state, so little are the young men interested that they never read them. In the old-fashioned times when marriage was foreseen and prepared for, the growing youth learned about his coming responsibilities by direct teaching and by listening to the family talk over a particular wedding; a discussion which considered the fitness of bride and groom, their genealogy, the wedding outfit, the possible troubles, and the local histories which illustrated each point; he learned to save for his wedding, to become a wage-earner, to win a good reputation, so that his parents would have no difficulty in making the contract; his youth was a steady and careful preparation for a great event and a noble responsibility. Talk now with the average young man of any class and he will tell you at the age of twenty-three that he is too young, that married life is too expensive for his salary, that women expect too much luxury, and that thirty-five is a good age for marriage. He has learned this from observation and talk, and home influence has confirmed it. His sisters demonstrate for him the extravagance of their sex, and his parents approve of the thirty-fifth year, knowing that if he remains a bachelor till then it is unlikely he will ever marry. He spends all his surplus money on pleasure for the next ten years. He knows no more about the married state than what he hears from disgruntled men, whose sufferings prove their marriages failures. His ignorance is simply astonishing. At thirty-five he is as unfit for matrimony as for a voyage in search of the North Pole. The same history may be written for the young women, but not in so marked and emphatic a fashion. The girls still dread to become old maids, and they have made an honest, enthusiastic, but badly directed effort to keep marriage popular. They have spent too much money on dress and too much time on good manners and entertainment; too much time at the piano and too little at the cook-book; too much effort to win the youth and none at all to overcome the forces working against them in the household, and in society. Their parents have made them hypercritical about the young fellows, and they have dismissed the _willing_ youths; public opinion has accused them of extravagance, their dress and behavior have borne out the charge, so that the _unwilling_ youths have been confirmed in their obstinacy; the real values of the matrimonial state have escaped them, and so have the young men. What pastor has not seen a group of two hundred likely young people smiling at one another in the same town for ten years, between the ages of twenty and thirty, and never getting married? At the close of a decade they sought husbands and wives among strangers: in a French village they would all have been married within the first three years. In such places it comes to be said that our people do not marry.
It may be worth while to make a distinction between the young priest and the elderly one. One lady with whom the subject of this article was discussed remarked, “All young priests are shy, but they get over it quickly.” A seminarian expressed the same view in the same words. The young priest is very formal. Doctrine has more influence with him than experience. He has only the book terms, not the human terms in which doctrines may be understood. His timidity before the dangers of the world is intensified because of the keen and admirable hold that he has on priestly ideals. He recoils against what he calls worldliness. Again, this worldliness is one of definition, not of observation. His timidity in the presence of general social contacts rests rather on the memory of lessons studied than upon conviction of the truth of them. Young priests who are intelligent will work out an intelligent attitude. Some of those who fail to do so will unconsciously resort to shyness as their final solution of the problem.