A Call to Counter Cultural Witness

Sad . . . worrisome . . . but hardly surprising.

That’s how I answered another concerned person who asked my sentiments about Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision allowing the redefinition of marriage.

Sad, because the ominous erosion of the pivotal institution of society and civilization — marriage – has been accelerated.  Yes, the decision could have been more troublesome, but it’s still somber.

The understanding of marriage as the lifelong, faithful, loving union of one man and one woman, as a husband and a wife become a mom and dad to their babies, and bring about a family, is a given in the human heart, a constant in history, flowing from what philosophers term the natural law, a definition embedded in reasoned reflection on the human person, antedating any government, written law, or religion.

To protect and foster that union has been the driving force of civilization.  Sure, it’s been under pressure from the start – by, for instance, cheating on one’s spouse, abandoning spouse and children, lack of selfless love, or divorce, just to mention a few threats — but culture has always understood that such pressures could not prevail, and that this ancient institution had to be cherished if the human community were to flourish.  Governments then have a duty to enact and defend laws that protect this special relationship, in order to promote the common good of all.

For those of us who believe in God, things get even better, because this God has revealed that this foundational relationship of marriage is a mirror of the way God loves us!  In other words, God loves us like a wife loves her husband, like a husband loves his wife.  Since God’s love for us is forever, faithful, and fruitful (bringing life), so is marriage!

The creator elevated this natural understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithful and forever, giving us new life in babies, to a supernatural level, as Jesus taught.

In recent decades, this fundamental relationship of marriage has been under dramatic pressure:  no-fault, easy divorce; living together like a husband and wife before marriage, or even for years without the formal bond; glorification of promiscuity; and even same-sex “marriage.”

In the face of each threat, people of faith, and thoughtful, reflective people of no faith at all, have expressed genuine concern that the ordinary, intended, given definition of marriage was almost becoming the exception.  People of faith have tried — not always successfully, I admit — to do this in a non-judgmental, calm way.  In other words, we discourage divorce, without harshly judging those who have to suffer through it; we oppose same-sex “marriage” while never condemning those with same-sex attraction (a bigotry God also abhors); we consider adultery wrong, while forgiving adulterers.  In other words, we’re pro-marriage, not anti-anyone.  Thus, while we highly respect the Supreme Court, we find very troubling the statement that one’s defense of marriage as historically and naturally understood to be based only on bigotry.  The justices have the responsibility to interpret law, not the motives of honest citizens.

We love many people:  our parents and siblings, our good friends.  But we don’t marry them.  Marriage is about love, yes, but a unique love that procreates children.

This past Wednesday, marriage as classically defined, naturally understood, and historically defended, took a big hit.  That makes us sad.

We’re also worried, because those of us who will continue to hold to the definition of marriage consonant with reason, nature, tradition, and faith, might now be coerced to accept, promote, and allow what we find so sad and ominous.  We’ll be told to “keep our oppressive, bigoted, medieval, outmoded” opinions to ourselves.  If we want to hand those “opinions” on to our children, teach them to our people, behave in accord with them, and exercise the duties of our faith publicly — to serve, teach, heal — we’re worried we’ll be harassed.

We’re worried enough to ask, now just who is doing the imposing?  We’ve been stereotyped as imposing our strange “view” of marriage upon others.  We worry, because now the highest court in our land has undermined the definition of marriage, and imposed a new definition on everyone else.

We also worry about an apparent understanding of government that considers itself able to exercise such power.  If I remember my American Studies courses correctly, the wisdom of our founders, as we’ll celebrate Thursday, was that they viewed government as a human construct to protect and defend mediating institutions such as family, marriage, and faith, not to change or tamper with them!  Kings claimed a “divine right” to alter the natural order, and our founders rebelled against that claim.

So, as one commentator observed, “The government can talk and issue rulings all it wants, but nobody can change the very definition of marriage.”

Sad, worried, but hardly surprised.  I confess that I won a $5 bet last week, as I had wagered months ago that the Supreme Court would follow this rush.  The powerful engine to redefine marriage left the station about a decade ago.  Somberly, we’ve come to realize that, once Hollywood, the entertainment industry, college professors, the society and editorial pages of our big urban newspapers, the sit-coms, movies, and talk shows get behind something, get out of the way.

What becomes normative, then, is not natural law but the polls, not the Constitution but the “correct,” not the Bible but the blogs and the TV, not the Church but the chic.

No surprise . . .

What to do?  We can get mad, bitter, angry, and harsh.  Forget it.  That’s hardly decent, and it’s counterproductive.

We could “circle the wagons” and retreat from a culture that more and more finds our values toxic and wants to stifle us.  Don’t go there.  We’re to engage the culture, not run from it.

We could long for the “good old days,” and wring our hands about these awful modern times.  Of course, the older you get, the more you realize there were no good old days, and that our job is “to make pasta with the dough we got,” to work and live honorably and justly in the here and now.

We better start with ourselves, because, a good chunk of people of faith, even among our own Catholic people, do not share this sense of sadness and worry over Wednesday’s decisions.  Part of the New Evangelization is to present the timeless teachings of our faith – – like true marriage – – in a cogent, coherent, fresh way, re-convincing our people.

We remind ourselves of what Blessed John Paul II called our duty to be counter cultural:  that our beliefs are often at odds with contemporary trends, but that this reality only encourages us to live them out more heroically.  True freedom is not the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought.

We recover a sense of faithful citizenship, and, as loyal American citizens, continue to explore every method of reversing this sad and worrisome decision, reminding our elected officials and magistrates that the rights of conscience and religious freedom are not government favors or concessions, but flow from the very nature and dignity of the human person.

And, we never give up hope.  The witness given by our husbands and wives, moms and dads, to faithful, life giving, lifelong love is more cherished and essential than ever.  These days, the vocation of a man and woman, united forever in faithful love, leading to babies and families, is as potent a sign as celibacy is for priests!

Besides, “the truth shall set us free!”  That always gives us encouragement, and trumps worry and sadness, right?

A blessed Independence Day!

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12 Responses to “A Call to Counter Cultural Witness”

  1. Irene says:

    I’m among those who think we are imposing our religious beliefs on others when we try to insist that secular marriage conform to our religious definition of marriage.

    I feel like we want to have it both ways: religious freedom means other people can’t require us to pay for birth control but religious freedom also means we can prevent other people from marrying their same-sex partners. As far as I can tell, religious freedom seems to mean: we can do what we want and everyone else has to do what we want, too.

  2. Dennis says:

    I agree with Cardinal Dolan. God bless him! In response to Irene: Marriage is by its very nature religious. Religion is not imposing ‘religious’ marriage on the secular culture, however the secular culture is taking marriage, which is religious and making it secular, against its nature. It is impossible for members of the same sex to marry! It simply cannot be done by nature! God has deigned it as such and man cannot change that. it truly is equivalent to taking the priesthood and having the secular culture adopt it and say, now woman can become priests, it cannot happen, against the nature of what it is, same with men cannot become nuns or sisters. There was no such thing as “secular” originally, it was this nation that was founded on Christian premises that became separated from God. If people want to pretend to marry, they should go to a country that wasn’t founded on the Bible, which is totally opposed to same sex acts and clearly stands for marriage (one man and one woman for life). Jesus knows best and so does His bride, the Church. God bless you and I hope you see what I am saying, because it God would agree, why not you? Pax Chrsiti. :)

  3. Edward Prisby says:

    This article is all well and good, however, when will the bishops of the United States start enforcing Canon 915? It is a scandal that politicians that call themselves Catholic, like your governor, yet spit in the eye of the Church over these moral issues and then present themselves to receive our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist. Bishops must lead from the front and not from behind.

  4. Jan Nelson says:

    You speak of marriage between one man and one woman and the purpose to procreate. What if a couple does not want children? Is their marriage void and null in the church? I have been raised Catholic and went to church and Catholic school. Now, as an adult, I married a man, and had one son. The man I married cheated on me, drank, and spent his paycheck, if he had one before he came home. What kind of marriage is that? I raised my son as a single mom. He became a teacher like me. We did many things together. He turned out just fine. He has a good job, and a loving family, goes to Catholic church every Sunday and holydays.
    After he grew up, I met a lovely woman who became my partner and we married in MA. That was 8 years ago. My family loves us dearly. We spend time together, and have the grandchildren many days. What have I done wrong? Nothing. I retired from teaching this year after 25 years. I was well known and well liked in the community, and so was my partner. No one ever said anything harmful to me. What have I done wrong, again I ask? Nothing. And at 60 years old, I think I have become the person I was meant to be.

    I hope someone responds to my comment.

  5. Mike says:

    Cardinal Dolan I feel this Fortnight for Freedom to too little too late. This administration has been attacking the Catholic Church since 2008 and the Church has been relatively quiet. I’ve gotten the impression that my parish priest agrees with many of the administrations actions because of his silence. You need to instruct your parish priests to speak up and speak out. The Shepard needs to lead his sheep!

  6. Fr. Eduardo says:

    Irene, same-sex unions are not a religious freedom question. “The Catholic Church did not invent marriage as an institution limited to heterosexual couples. Neither did the state. Marriage is a pre-political and natural phenomenon that arises out of the nature of human beings. The Catholic Church, along with virtually every religion and culture in the world recognizes and supports this natural institution because without it, no society will exist or flourish.

    The mere fact that a civil law harmonizes or agrees with religious beliefs with regards to marriage as between only heterosexual couples does not make it wrong or nor does it violate the establishment clause of the U.S. constitution. Marriage is a natural institution, and governments do not have the competence to redefine the fundamental attributes of marriage.”

  7. Edward Mendez says:


    There are consequences for redefining the natural, traditional form of marriage as Cardinal Dolan indicated. If “marriage” is to be redefined to anything other than what it has been traditionally, the next step is for same sex “married” couples to have children. Most people thus far have had the benefit of a traditional upbringing from one mother and one father. If marriage is redefined, the state will be forced to make decisions that it is not competent to make, i.e. deciding who pays for child support, or who decides who is the “mother” and gets custody of that child when same sex couples divorce.

    Also, Cardinal Dolan said it correctly on an interview in 60 minutes, “…where does it end?” The arguments for the defense of same sex marriage will also function for the defense of three people of the same sex who love each other, or two males and one female, or any combination there after. As a father, I see first hand there are unique, natural traits, some of which I cannot entirely explain, that I provide to my daughter that my wife cannot, and vice versa. I do not agree that marriage is a liberty nor a right, but rather a sacred, valuable, natural, traditional institution that needs to be defended. A liberty cannot be a liberty if it causes harm to others, and I argue that redefining marriage will do just that.

  8. Mary Reynolds says:

    In light of the 4th of July, focusing on freedom, and Ignatian Spirituality, interior freedom – allowing the Spirit to move us, Cardinal Dolan: allow the Spirit of God move the church where it is going vs. where you think it should go or not go. Our new Pope, that you helped elect, has breathed a new Spirit in a Catholic Church that was experiencing its own crucifixion and death. It’s time for new life to begin! Your comments are most interesting – I’d love for Pope Francis to read them and hear his perspective. Based on reading his daily homilies and talks, the Spirit is moving.

  9. captcrisis says:

    Jan Nelson:

    You have found love. There is nothing wrong with you, or your marriage. Neither is there anything wrong with my sister, who has been in a happy, stable, loving relationship for 25 years. (Unfortunately they live in a state which won’t recongize gay marriages.)

    With Jesus, Love was #1. Unfortunately with today’s Church, it’s #2 or #3 or maybe further down.

  10. Peter Asi says:

    Thank you so much and God bless you Cardinal Dolan. Your comments and reasoned response not only show the depth of your wisdom, but also your faithful pastoral sensibility. The fact that such a truth can even be denied or seen as anti-human is beyond my comprehension and it only goes to show where our world is heading towards. It is interesting to hear Mary Reynolds invoke freedom, ingnatian spirituality as if she had the sole understanding of these concepts. She also asks Cardinal Dolan to allow the Spirit of God to move the Church not the views of Cardinal Dolan who is a bishop and successor of the Apostles in the Church. I wonder the Spirit of which God she is talking about. Certainly the spirit cannot and will not move the Church beyond the natural norm He gave to humanity. Besides are you not allowing your opinion to prevail against that of the Church. Cardinal Dolan simply state the truth as Christ teaches us in His Church. Please read your catechism and the Bible. Once again, thank you and God bless you your eminence for your courageous teaching and leadership. We continue to pray for strength and wellbeing as you carry out your ministry.

  11. Amos Sheffield says:

    Mam, you should flip through Pope Francis’ dialogue with Rabbi Skorka in On Heaven and Earth. It seems our new Pontiff would agree with Cardinal Dolan – and the entirety of the witness of the Faith for all time. It turns out the Pope is Catholic.

  12. Julia Brandimarte says:

    Jan Nelson and others who agree with her:
    The Catholic Church does not recognize same-sex marriage as valid because God said marriage is between one man and one woman, and He has clearly revealed in His word that homosexual acts are immoral. Marriage was instituted by God (not the Church) for the procreation and education of children. If a couple cannot conceive children after they marry, that is God’s will for them. However, if they enter marriage with the express intent not to have children, then they are going against what God wills for marriage.
    Loving someone isn’t what’s “wrong”. It’s disobeying God that is wrong, in other words, sinful. Adam and Eve committed the first sin by disobeying God. God created Lucifer as an angel, but when he refused to serve God and man, he was thrown out of heaven. We are not God, but because of pride, we sometimes think that we know better than God.
    I’m sorry about what happened in your first marriage. Marriage requires sacrifice, and sometimes there is suffering, in addition to joys. There is hope for those who struggle, and the Catholic Church can help them. I know this first-hand.
    Pray for healing.