Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

Our Unconventional Christmas Tree

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

If you were to visit my home this Christmas season, you would be met with a most unusual sight.  Instead of the traditional pine Christmas tree, this year our tree is very unconventional, and you might be tempted to laugh at it as weird or silly.  But there’s a story behind it, and it might make a little more sense out of our strange Christmas tree.

Here’s a picture of it:

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Very odd, indeed.  Here’s the story:

This autumn has been very difficult for us.  My wife, Peggy, is getting close to finishing her Masters degree in Library Science, and she’s been slaving away at her final project.  For the last month, it’s pretty much all she’s been able to do.  This has been a particular challenge for her, because she suffers from fibromyalgia, an unpredictable and debilitating disorder that gives her acute pain at unexpected times and usually leaves her exhausted and unable to concentrate.  The fact that she has been able to do masters-level work with this condition is amazing to me.

Peggy is very traditional, and loves to decorate the house for Christmas.  She loves to make the place special for us, our children and our guests.  So it was particularly painful to her that she was so busy with her masters paper — which she finally handed in, three days before Christmas — we weren’t able to get out and buy a Christmas tree this year.  Our house won’t be well-decorated, and she’s deeply embarrassed about it. Tears have been seen in the vicinity of our home.

One of the watchwords of our marriage has been that we will always try to adapt and overcome any problem that arises.  So we came up with an idea for a different kind of Christmas tree, the one you see in the picture above.

It’s an umbrella plant, and Peggy gave it to me when we were first dating, way back in 1979.  It was much smaller then, but she’s kept it alive ever since (I have a black thumb).  It’s kind of like our marriage — growing and thriving after all these years, despite all the twists and turns that fate has given us.  So, in a way, this tree is a symbol for the generosity of God that was manifested at Christmas — and the great gift of each other, united and in love, still going strong.

At the base of the umbrella plant, we put another small plant, a Christmas cactus.  It belonged to my mother, and thanks to Peggy’s care, it has bloomed for the first time in many years.  So it, too, is another symbol of something central to Christmas — the fruitfulness of life, and the legacy of our wonderful parents.

The last piece of the story is also important.  I read in the newspaper of the terrible plight of Christians in Iraq, displaced from their homes and unable to celebrate Christmas.  They have no trees — traditional or unconventional — and no gifts.  So we decided that the money that we would have spent on a Christmas tree would instead be donated to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which is doing such great work to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  So our odd tree is a symbol of something else essential to Christmas — the vocation to be a gift of self to each other and to all those in need.

So, yes, it’s a very unconventional and strange Christmas tree.  But I hope that the story behind it has helped make sense of it.  If that doesn’t help, let’s look back at the the original Christmas story.  The Son of God emptied himself, and became human in the poorest of circumstances, being born in a cave where the animals lived.  His family suffered to bring him to birth, and they became refugees to protect him.  They sacrificed for the love of each other, and he sacrificed all for the love of us.

I’d like to think that the Lord who came in such a way, and who lived such a life, would like our humble little tree.  I think he’d smile at it, and appreciate what it means.  And he’d feel perfectly at home in its shadow.

The Way Forward on Marriage and Family

Friday, October 24th, 2014

The dust has now settled a bit after the tumultuous Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.  Viewed from afar, the two-week meeting of bishops was filled with fascinating stories, from allegations of internal intrigue to the emergence of the African bishops as major players in the universal Church.  Western news sources, of course, fixated on their favorite issues — homosexual and divorced couples — and treated the deliberative assembly as if it were an American political convention (or a mixed-martial arts match).

Since the issue at hand — the health and care of the family — is so important to me, I thought it would be worth adding a few reflections of my own about what has happened.

The first thing I would note is that I have virtually no interest in the internal politics of the Vatican and the episcopacy, and I think it’s probably unhealthy for people to focus on such things.  I’ve had a limited view into the engine room of the barque of Peter for 20 years now (to use Ronald Knox’s phrase), and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that fretting about all these kinds of things accomplishes nothing for the state of my soul or to advance the Kingdom of God.

Of course, it’s still frustrating to watch the internal operations of the Church in action.   But I just don’t see that I can do anything worthwhile about it, beyond praying that the bishops and the Holy See (particularly the press office) someday become acquainted with the notion of message discipline.

As far as the substance of the Synod, it seems clear to me that the Holy Father has a pastoral agenda that he intends to implement to lead the Church.  It’s laid out in the Aparecida document (issued by the Latin American bishops in 2007, which the Holy Father helped write when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires) and his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.  It’s a renewed focus on evangelization and outreach, particularly to those who are marginalized and alienated, with an emphasis on the basic proclamation of the Gospel as a source of meaning and hope.  The bishops as a body are generally on board with that agenda.

In the context of the specific topic of the Extraordinary Synod, I think that it may prove to be a significant turning point for Church, and that it will help the bishops to focus on responding to the real problems with the family and marriage.  Instead of getting bogged down on the “hot topics” that the Western media is obsessed with, I hope that the bishops will now be able to recognize the real crisis in marriage — under the baneful influence of moral relativism and gender and sexual liberation ideology, as well as the sinful human tendency to hedonism, society has lost a notion of the importance of authentic marriage, and why it should be encouraged and supported.  I don’t know what the pastoral strategy will ultimately be in response to this, or how the bishops will respond to the special cases of divorced people, or those living in same-sex relationships.  But if they can keep their eye on the ball of how to preach the truth about marriage, and work to strengthen actual marriages, I think they’ll be on the right track.

So for me, the challenge is to prayerfully assent to the will of the Church, as expressed by Her hierarchy, to be obedient to my superiors, and not to be too distracted by speculation and second-guessing. Psalm 131 is wonderfully consoling to me in this regard.  In the meantime, I have to continue the apostolic work that God has given me, and strive to develop the virtues necessary for that work, trusting that God’s providence is somehow guiding it, and guiding the Church as a whole.

The Manhattan Declaration Challenges and Rallies Us

Friday, September 27th, 2013

On Wednesday evening, September 25, an amazing event was held on the campus of Columbia University, “The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home”.

The Manhattan Declaration is the ecumenical statement of conscience by Christian leaders, dedicating themselves to defending life, marriage, and religious liberty.  It was signed in 2009 by numerous leading figures of every Christian denomination and church.   The Declaration has since been signed by over 550,000 other people, who have committed themselves to its core principles.  It is a vitally important rallying point for people of faith who are engaged in the struggle to defend and restore a true civilization of life and love in our nation.   If you haven’t signed it yet, I strongly encourage you to sign it right away.

This event at Columbia was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese, Alliance Defending Freedom (who have been heroic leaders in their defense of the Declaration’s core principles), the New York State Knights of Columbus, and DeSales Media from our neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn (who livestreamed the event over the internet).  The event was a landmark, because it represented not only a return of the Declaration to the borough where it was signed, but because of the power of the presentations and the uplifting spirit that they gave the audience.

The speakers were a powerhouse lineup of experts and activists: Eric Teetsel (the director of the Manhattan Declaration); Alan Sears (head of the Alliance Defending Freedom); Ryan Anderson (The Heritage Foundation, and co-author of the seminal book, What is Marriage?  Man and Woman: A Defense), Sherif Girgis (Ph.D. Candidate at Princeton University, J.D. Candidate at Yale University, and co-author of What is Marriage?); Marjorie Dannenfelser (Susan B. Anthony List), Eric Metaxas (Bestselling Author and Radio Commentator), and Jennifer Marshall (The Heritage Foundation).  The evening kicked off with an ecumenical prayer service featuring Cardinal Dolan, who got the program started off on just the right note of prayer and dedication to God’s mission among us.

I served as the emcee of the event, and I made just one small point in my introduction.  In spite of the conditions of our society, and the challenges we face, people of faith remain convinced that it is our duty, our privilege, and our honor to bring God’s light into the public square, into the marketplace of ideas.  We believe that the eternal truths have something important to off our secularized world.  And we are certain that God’s light and truth will enrich the lives of every single human person, and society as a whole.

“The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home” event was important on several levels.  It offered people an outstanding panel of speakers who are actively working to defend life, marriage, and religious liberty.  Their work and expertise offered a sobering view of where we are in America on these issues, but also hope and encouragement for the struggle ahead.  The event was also significant because of where it took place — Columbia University, which was founded as a religious school but now is completely secularized and largely inhospitable to Christian values.  Having this event, at this location, is a microcosm of the work people of faith are doing in the public square — bringing timeless principles of our faith to a society that has largely lost those values, and challenging them to recapture the truth and beauty that they are still yearning for in their hearts.

This struggle is difficult, and the challenges are many.  The world is working very heard to discourage us, and to convince us that the battle is over, and lost.  But we know better.  As Ryan Anderson reminded us, and as the Manhattan Declaration proclaims, the battle is never lost as long as we have truth on our side.  Truth always wins in the end, over any alluring lie.

What’s Next for Marriage and for Us

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

I was asked yesterday to contribute to an online symposium at National Review Online about the implications of the Supreme Court decisions on marriage.  Here’s my contribution:

From a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA is extraordinary and far-reaching. Our entire legal history and tradition regarding marriage continues to be dismantled. Nobody can know what will come from redefining thousands of federal statutes and regulations — wherever the words “marriage” or “spouse” appear. It will take decades to know the ultimate legal consequences.

But there is a deeper meaning. We have been engaged in a great struggle for the soul of our society, and the souls of individuals. The battleground has been over the nature and significance of marriage, and why people should choose marriage as the centerpiece of their lives. We have long been contending against a hostile culture.

This task will go on, regardless of whatever the law might be. Families, schools, and churches will all continue to teach the authentic meaning of marriage — one man, one woman, lifelong, faithful, and inherently oriented to having children. But the terms of engagement have dramatically changed. The Court’s ruling will make our mission more difficult, by branding the real meaning of marriage as mere bigotry, hatred, and irrationality.

In a way, though, this may enable us to become more effective teachers. The big lie at the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision — that same-sex relationships are the same as real marriages — cannot ultimately gain sway over the hearts of people. It is false, and deep in our hearts we know it. And it will only highlight the contrast between the false values of a corrupted society and legal system, and the true virtues of authentic, loving married couples.

The law is a great teacher, and this Supreme Court decision teaches a lie. But the truth about marriage will continue to be attractive to people, who always prefer truth to lies.

Many of the other contributors took a “it’s not as bad as it could have been” approach.  I’m not convinced.  The expansive, dismissive language of the majority opinion — claiming that bigotry alone supports laws defending real marriage — will certainly be used by future litigants to attack the laws of the states that have not yet gone over the edge.  Same-sex “marriage” advocates have already begun predicting that it will only be a matter of five years before they will succeed in overturning all those state laws.

The language of the decision will also be used in the public square to shape the debate, by branding us as the equivalent of racists.  Soon, the media won’t even try to obtain and present our side of the story.  There won’t be much of a debate, if only one side is allowed to show up.

The Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act will also shape the implementation of a wide range of federal laws, which reach far into every recess of American life.  Think only of ERISA (which governs employee benefit plans and pension plans) and the Affordable Care Act (which governs health insurance plans), and you can see how significant will be the redefinition of “marriage” and “spouse” under federal law — every benefit plan, and every health insurance plan, will likely have to cover benefits for same-sex “spouses”.

The potential for conflict with religious liberty and conscience rights will be just as severe as with the HHS mandate.

Likewise, we can easily see a time when the IRS will play a role.  When it scrutinizes the policies of organizations that seek (or already have) tax exempt status, what will happen when it finds that an organization “discriminates” against same-sex couples in employment, benefits or services?  Will “discriminatory” churches be denied tax exempt status, or have it stripped from them? Remember, the old saying, “the power to tax is the power to destroy”.

While I continue to be optimistic that people will see through the lie in the Supreme Court’s decision, as an attorney I’m pessimistic.  People will still choose authentic marriage, and we will continue to teach about it, and call people to it.  But from a lawyer’s perspective, it’s very difficult to see a future that is free of continuing legal and social pressure and conflict, all designed to make us conform to the new view of marriage, and punishing us if we fail to do so.

The Supreme Court Casts Us Beyond the Pale

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Our black-robed Platonic guardian rulers on the United States Supreme Court have now decreed that the federal government — the democratically-elected Congress and the President, that is — may not define the word “marriage” to mean what it always has meant, and always been understood to mean.  Our entire legal history and tradition, dating back to its roots in Roman and English law, has now, at the stroke of a pen of five unelected judges, been swept into the dust heap.

The Court’s specific ruling was to strike down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by wide majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton.  This provision stated that for the purposes of federal law, “marriage” could only mean a union of one man and one woman.  Until ten years ago, that provision of law would have been completely unremarkable, indeed, unnecessary.  After all, until a decade ago, nobody would have considered it possible that any person would consider “marriage” to mean anything different.

But now, in the post-modern world of ethical, moral, and rational relativism, words no longer mean what they have always meant.  And “democracy” certainly no longer means government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

Instead, five Justices (including one who graduated from my own alma mater, Cardinal Spellman High School) have decided that anyone who believes that “marriage” means “one man, one woman”, is irrational, motivated solely by hatred and a desire to stigmatize and insult homosexual persons.  Yes, the Supreme Court has now said that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the vast majority of Protestant communities, Orthodox Jews, virtually all Muslims, and many others of no faith, are mere bigots.  We have been cast out of polite society.

This may sound like “sour grapes” or hyperbole.  So don’t just take my word for it, consider this section from Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent from the Court’s judgment:

But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions…  In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.

The Court’s calumny of our position is, of course, utter nonsense.  There are an abundance of rational reasons to defend the authentic definition of marriage.   Just consider the scholarly arguments made in the recent book What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense by Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Gergis.  Or, you could watch this video of a presentation I gave to a parish meeting to explain the many reasons that support the real definition of marriage.

It is a sad day when millions of Americans have been slandered by the Supreme Court.  It is sad when reason, history and tradition are traduced so casually.  And it is even sadder when one of the highest institutions of our government gravely wounds the fundamental  structure of society.

The Holy Father Gets to the Heart of the Matter

Friday, January 4th, 2013

In the comments box of one of my recent posts about the redefinition of marriage, I had an interesting discussion with a homosexual gentleman about the nature of sexuality.

In that discussion, our essential disagreement came down to a fundamental point about what it is to be human.  As I framed the question (I’ve cut and pasted from separate comments to boil this down to its clearest expression),

The whole idea of “gender” reflected in your posts is that it’s just a bundle of attributes that are largely socially determined, and that can be revised according to the subjective desires of the individual… Our position rests on the notion that sexual difference can’t be assumed away. The complementary (i.e., different, equal, and necessarily interdependent) nature of male and female sexuality is a constitutive element of what it is to be a human being.

The Holy Father has now addressed this point directly and powerfully, in his annual address to the Curia — what you might call his “State of the Church and the World Address”.  His comments, which come in the context of a discussion of the threats to the family, are worth quoting at length (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

The Holy Father thus gets to the precise center of the question — the debate about marriage and family is, at its heart, about the nature of the human person.  It is in the end a question about “who created me”.  The modernist approach is to create myself in my own image and likeness, making myself into my own little god, answerable to no objective or higher truth.  We’ve already seen how that false and destructive approach works (see Genesis 3, and the entire history of the Twentieth Century).

The Holy Father has pointed to us the way out of this problem — to embrace the truth of our nature and the truth of our origin, and to defend the social expressions of those truths in marriage and the family.

Our Motto

Monday, June 11th, 2012

(My wife Peggy and I were recently invited to submit a guest column to the Knights of Columbus outstanding website, Fathers for Good.  Here is what we contributed.)

Peggy and I have been giving marriage preparation classes for the last 17 years.  We enjoy the days very much — they’re a chance to meet the new, young and enthusiastic couples who are making the counter-cultural choice to get married.

They’re so filled with hope and optimism, and we try to encourage that.  But we also have to tell them a truth that they may not like to hear — that the road ahead for them is not always going to be easy.  We speak openly about the challenges they’ll face — and how we’ve faced similar ones — and we try to build their confidence that they can overcome these obstacles.

The most important thing we tell them is our motto — “nothing, nothing comes between us”.

We all go into marriage with a “Plan A” in mind.  That’s the one where everything will be great, we won’t have any troubles, and all the breaks will go our way.  In other words, it’s a totally unrealistic plan.

Every married couple is quickly confronted with the collapse of Plan A.  And that’s when the true challenge kicks in — can we come up with a new plan?  And another?  And another?

I like to describe to the engaged couples the experience of Mary and Joseph.  Talk about Plan A not working!  I’m sure that Joseph had it all mapped out in his mind — marry Mary, raise a family, pass the business along to his son, and all that.  Well, once the Angel Gabriel came along, and Mary said “yes”, that plan went out the window, and they had to come up with Plan B.

Of course, Plan B didn’t work very well for Joseph and Mary either — the census drove them to Bethlehem, Herod drove them to Egypt, and by the time the Infancy Narratives end, they were on to Plan E, at least.  But they kept at it.  What else could they do?  Mary loved Joseph, and Joseph loved Mary, and they had the same motto we do — “nothing comes between us”.

Peggy and I have been married now for over 27 years.  We’re on Plan Triple Z by this point.  But we keep holding on to our motto.

The last couple of years have been full of everyday problems and stresses that could easily have led to problems between us.

My mother passed away last October after a ten-year battle with cancer.  Peggy was her main support, and in the last year, she was her primary care-giver.  Almost all of Peggy’s time and energy went into that, often leaving very little for us and our relationship.

Peggy’s been unemployed now for the last two years.  The strain of reduced finances wears her down every day with concern and worry.  She’s scratched together a couple of part-time jobs, but when you take into account my crazy schedule of night and weekend meetings, it’s hard to find time when we’re both awake and alert.

We’ve both had medical issues lately, and someone close to us is struggling with mental health problems.  It’s exhausting.

I have a high-stress job, and I’m a workaholic — it’s hard for me to disengage from work, and focus on my life.

We have three kids, two out of college, one in high school, and all living with us.  Every non-empty-nest parent knows the strain that this can produce on a marriage.

I suspect that every married couple could compile a similar list.  And every married couple struggles to find the answers, just as we have.  So we constantly have to come up with new plans and keep moving forwards.  If something doesn’t help, we try something different.  The one constant is that we’re working together.

We don’t do anything dramatic. The simple things work better:  A “daily debrief” — a few minutes to share with each other what happened each day.  “Date nights”, just walking down the block for a cup of tea or a drink.  Shared activities, like hiking or martial arts.   Volunteering together for the Red Cross disaster relief services, and a summer mission trip to West Virginia.  Making room for separate activities, like my bike riding.  Being attentive to our sexual relationship.  Making sure that there are no “off limits” subjects we can’t talk about.

Remembering always that God is on our side.  Mass together.  Bedtime and mealtime prayers.  Putting the strains and troubles at the foot of the Cross, so Jesus and his Mother can handle them for us.

And when things seem overwhelming, when everything is going wrong, we remind ourselves that “nothing comes between us.”

Another Casualty of the Sexual Revolution

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

An article appeared in the New York Post today that should break the heart of everyone who reads it.

Entitled “Among the Smuts”, it is an account by a teenaged girl of the hyper-sexualized atmosphere in our culture and our public schools.

It is a tragic story of a young woman who seems never to have been told of the beauty of her womanhood, the majesty of sex, and the benefits of chastity.   She describes the callous way in which girls are used and discarded, and the resulting marketplace for sex.  She says at one point, “lately I don’t trust any man” — and who can blame her?  That wound — the lack of trust — will be hard to heal, particularly if none of the young men in her life treat her with dignity and respect.  And it will be very difficult for her to enter into a good, rewarding, loving marriage unless the wound does heal.

The saddest part of this article is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Teens can make good decisions about sex, based on an appreciation for their beauty and dignity as children of God.  Groups like Generation Life and Corazon Puro, as well as our Chastity Education program, offer alternatives to the degrading and depersonalizing open marketplace for meaningless sex that our culture is selling.

Our society is all too ready to give up on teens, to assume that they will make bad decisions about sex, and to offer them nothing more than latex in response.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  There don’t have to be any more casualties.

Re-Orienting the Marriage Conversation

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Last week, an important step was taken to moving the national conversation about marriage forward.  It was entitled, “The Ring Makes the Difference”.  The participants in the event were Archbishop Dolan, Pastor Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Community, and the scholars Brad Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquard.  A video of the event is available here, and is well worth watching.  There’s also an excellent article in Catholic New York.

For the most part, the public debate has centered on the battle over the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.  That makes perfect sense, since there is very well-funded, active, organized movement to accomplish that goal.  The Church has been a major opponent of this movement — and a target of their vitriol — and we will continue to do so.

In fact, the same-sex “marriage” movement seems to believe that the only important discussion about marriage is about them.   It’s become difficult to even bring up the subject of marriage without the redefinition advocates interrupting and clamoring for their cause.  And the “Ring Makes the Difference” event was a perfect illustration of this.  They protested outside the theater, and dominated the question/answer session with their personal appeals for the recognition of their unions (apparently they didn’t get the memo that their bill was passed already in New York).

But in a larger sense, the debate has never really been about same-sex couples.  Most reliable surveys show that only about 4% of the overall population self-describes themselves as “gay” or “lesbian”.  In those states where marriage has been re-defined, only a small percentage (an estimated 5%) of that small percentage have entered into “marriages”.  In fact, recent Census reports show that there are only about 130,000 same-sex “marriage” households in the United States.  To put this in context, there are about 60,000,000 households that are founded on real marriages, and another 7,500,000 unmarried opposite-sex couples who are cohabiting.

Let’s do the math.  Based on those Census numbers, same-sex “marriage” couples make up about 0.2% of all households — just two tenths of one percent, or two out of a thousand.

So why is the discussion being dominated by such a tiny population, most of whom don’t even seem to want to be married anyway?  How about if we start talking about the 99.8% of the households who are not in same-sex “marriages”.  Shouldn’t the discussion be about how the redefinition of marriage affects them, and what social policies we can develop that will help them?

That was the point of the Ring Makes a Difference event, and that’s why it’s so important — to focus our attention away from the small special interest group, and towards the vast bulk of the population, and the common good.  In fact, the conversation needs to concentrate on the nature of conjugal love, which is oriented to the union of man and woman, with the procreation and raising of children as an inherent part.  The debate can then appeal to the unchallenged scholarly consensus about the social benefits of marriage — how it is the best place for the emotional, financial and overall good of men, women and children.

To that end, the remarks of Archbishop Dolan were particularly apt.  He made four major points, which in my opinion can serve as a good outline for the discussion as we go forwards:

  1. The defense of marriage is not a religious issue, but is a question that stems from the natural law, and is an expression of responsible American citizenship.
  2. This is not an anti-”gay” issue.
  3. Our concerns about the re-definition of marriage can be seen in the very real threats to religious liberty that are emerging.
  4. The challenge to marriage does not just come from outside, but from inside as well — our own Catholic population has largely lost the proper understanding of true marriage.

The debate about marriage affects the vast majority of the population, and the common good of all.  It is a dis-service to have the conversation focus only on same-sex couples.  We need to re-orient the discussion.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Now that the reality of same-sex “marriage” is upon us, it is worth reflecting on what we should now do to protect and promote the crucial, sacred state of matrimony.

Since we experienced this most recent defeat in the public arena, the natural impulse is to redouble our efforts in the Legislature, to try to overturn the so-called “Marriage Equality Act” and to uphold the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  Together with our allies in the pro-family movement, we will be pursuing those aims, along with other efforts to mitigate the damage caused by this terrible legislation (e.g., striving for better conscience protections for individuals and institutions).

But we also have to recognize that the seeds of this public policy defeat were sown over many years, as our culture — and individuals — gradually turned away from the values that underlie authentic marriage.  We see this in the separation of marital sexuality and child-bearing thanks to contraception, the de-linking of sex and marriage thanks to the “sexual revolution”, the acceptance of non-marital cohabitation, the deterioration of the notion of permanence and fidelity.   All these cultural and moral developments over the past fifty years have undermined the foundation of a marriage culture.  And all of these are rooted in the decisions of individuals to turn away from God’s plan for love and life.

This is the battleground as we move forward.  It is a struggle that will be fought on the level of society, but it is first and foremost an effort to “win the hearts and minds” of individual men and women, to convince them to embrace authentic love and real marriage, and to reject the counterfeits.

This struggle is actually very similar to the campaign to promote a culture of life.  That pro-life effort has never been merely “anti-abortion”, as the media likes to portray it.  Rather, it has always been a sustained initiative to build a culture of life in all arenas of society — in law, education, pastoral support, and prayer.   In fact, marriage and true love has always been a crucial part of the effort to build the culture of life and civilization of love.

In his great encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul set out the blueprint to build a “new culture of life”.  Based on this model, we can see that there are three major areas in this effort:

Proclaiming Marriage — The foundation of this proclamation is the person of Jesus Christ Himself, who is authentic love Himself.  His free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of self is both the model and the personification of real love and real marriage.  We must be unafraid to proclaim this truth, and we must do it in a sustained, systematic way — to our children at home and in religious education, to our parishes in liturgy and preaching, to adults in marriage preparation and enrichment programs, and to the world through the personal witness of the lives of married couples.

All too often we have spoken of marriage in muted terms, out of a well-intentioned sensitivity to those in irregular situations.  But we must never be shy about speaking about marriage and its essential role in God’s plan for humanity.  Pope John Paul said, “The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love, and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full significance.” (The Gospel of Life, 81)

This proclamation is the task of every part of the Church.  It is an unpopular message, but, as Pope John Paul also said, “we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking” (The Gospel of Life, 82)

Celebrating Marriage — As with all of our initiatives, the celebration of marriage is rooted in prayer and in liturgy.  It is only by prayerfully contemplating the beauty and splendor of God’s love that we can appreciate the true nature of human love and the vocation to marriage.  In this regard, the daily simple prayers of married couples, widows, and those who aspire to the married state are crucial.

In addition, the liturgical celebration of marriage must be emphasized, particularly its importance to the entire community.  Our parishes can encourage this in simple ways, such as including blessings of engaged couples, the newly married, and jubilarians in the regular Sunday Mass. Congregations can be encouraged to attend weddings, so that they are not just private affairs but true celebrations of the entire People of God. Every opportunity should be taken to incorporate nuptial themes in preaching the Gospel at Mass.  And special days of celebrations, such as “World Marriage Day” can be emphasized in the regular liturgical calendar of parishes.

The ultimate celebration of marriage can be found in the daily lives, the strong witness, of married couples.  We all know that marriage is not easy.  But as we struggle through the vicissitudes of life, we testify to the power of self-sacrificing love of “the many different acts of selfless generosity, often humble and hidden, carried out by men and women, children and adults, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick.” (The Gospel of Life 86)  This is especially true of the heroic married couples who remain faithful and committed to their bond despite bearing particularly difficult crosses — sickness and disability, discord in the household, substance abuse, mental illness, infertility, and chronic discouragement.

Again, the celebration of marriage is the task of every part of the Church.  It is “everybody’s business” that there be strong successful marriages, and the heart of that is the spiritual and sacramental life of the entire Church.

Serving Marriage — At a time when so many marriages are struggling, and so many people are doubting whether a successful marriage is even possible, we must focus tremendous energy on providing practical loving assistance to couples and individuals.  This is a mission rooted in the command of Jesus Himself: “In our service of charity, we must be inspired and distinguished by a specific attitude: we must care for the other as a person for whom God has made us responsible. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to become neighbours to everyone (cf. Lk 10:29-37), and to show special favor to those who are poorest, most alone and most in need.” (The Gospel of Life, 87)

This will involve a sustained effort at educating people, to promoting the vocation to the married life, and to teaching the practical skills that are needed for a successful marriage.  We spend a great deal of effort already in marriage preparation classes, but they must be preceded by years of education in chastity and in the nature of true love.  The promotion of Pope John Paul’s beautiful Theology of the Body has been of enormous help in this regard.  But we as a Church currently spend very little time and energy on the vast majority of married couples — on marriage enrichment and marriage rescue programs, which offer help and support when it is most needed.

As with all of our efforts, this comes down to the commitment of our entire Church.  We need to call and train more married couples who can share their vocation, their troubles and their triumphs.  We need to help and train our clergy, who are so often the “first responders” to those married couples who need help, and who turn to Mother Church for aid.  We are in desperate need for more authentically Catholic counselors and therapists, who can offer the professional assistance that can mean the difference between a broken marriage and a saved one.

A particularly important area in which we can serve marriage is in public policy.  The passage of the “Marriage Equality Act” here in New York is not the final word, by any means.  That law is invalid as an offense against natural law and has no binding force of conscience.  We will continue to resist it as best we can — especially any attempt to expand recognition to other immoral unions like polygamy and polyandry.  We will continue to support pro-marriage legislative and litigation efforts on the federal level and in other states.

So, that’s where we go from here.  We pick ourselves up from this defeat and we soldier on.  This is a broad-based struggle for the soul of our culture, and for the souls of individuals.  No marriage is a private matter.  Our entire Church has an interest in proclaiming, celebrating, and serving marriage.

This battle is far from over.