Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

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.

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.”

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.

Being Faithful

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on the current lurid story about the Congressman who has been sending indecent text messages and photographs to women.  But I was struck by a “man in the street” interview in one of our daily papers, which asked whether the Congressman had remained faithful to his wife, or if his conduct was “cheating”.

You would think this is a no-brainer.  But in our mixed up culture, people are apparently having a hard time figuring out the right answer.

Let’s start with the basics.  Marital fidelity means much more than just refraining from sexual contact with someone other than my spouse.   That’s certainly a minimum requirement, but it is by no means adequate or complete.

Real fidelity is not just about physical conduct.  It involves all of my person — my body and my soul, my conduct and my attitudes, my emotions and my will. I have to fully commit all of myself exclusively to my spouse forever.

To do that, I have to resist the temptations that are constantly presented to me.  Our world is certainly saturated with sexual temptations.  Every one of us who goes online, or who carries a smart phone in his pocket, or who walks down the streets of Manhattan, knows the reality of these temptations. It is very easy to fall into the trap, and to go down the path to destruction step by step.  There are so many excuses — it was just harmless fun, it didn’t hurt anyone, I never touched her, etc.  Of course, those are all lies, and in our moments of honesty we recognize them as such.

To really be faithful, I need to develop the virtue of chastity.  Kim Burdette, the Coordinator of our Chastity Education program uses a simple, but clear definition of this virtue:

Chastity is reserving all sexual actions and thoughts for your spouse to affirm your love for them.

I love this definition because it doesn’t focus on the feelings of temptation — those feelings come to us whether we welcome them or not.  But it reminds me that, like any virtue, chastity is built by repeated acts of my will — I have to make decisions in times of temptation to turn away from the allure of sin, to reject using others for my selfish pleasure, and to focus on giving myself only to my wife.

This is not easy.  It takes discipline, and it requires a renewal of commitment every time I fail.  Not that I can do this on my own, of course — if I rely on my strength alone, I am doomed to fail.  As the Holy Father said just yesterday, when discussing the virtue of marital fidelity, “this loyalty is not possible without the grace of God, without the support of faith and the Holy Spirit.”

But don’t just listen to me, or even to the Holy Father, about what we have to do.  Let’s put it in purely secular terms for a second.   The prophet Johnny Cash laid out the marital fidelity agenda very, very well:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line


Signs of Hope for Marriage

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

All too often, as we strive to defend marriage in the midst of this Culture of Death, it is easy to miss the signs.  They are there, right in front of us, but our concentration on law and public policy often leads us to miss them. Plus, the secular sources of information are hardly likely to give them much attention, since the media tends to stress the bizarre, the sensational, the dysfunctional.

Yet the signs of hope are always there.

Just within the last week, they have been called to my own attention very vividly.

Last Saturday, I attended the Spanish Couples Congress in the Bronx.  This event was co-sponsored by the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese and the Catholic Marriage Movement — a very vibrant and dynamic group of Latino couples who are dedicated to strengthening their own marriages and proclaiming the truth and beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage.    The day was beautiful and powerful — even to someone like me who understands very little Spanish!

The most encouraging thing was the luminous faith and love of the scores of volunteers and hundreds of attendees.  Many of these couples were native New Yorkers, but so many came here from distant countries — the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, and others.  But what they all have in common is a love for their spouse, and a love for God as an integral part of their marriage.

This truly was an act of hopeful witness to the power of married love, and the privileged place it holds in God’s plan for us.

A second event also provides us with a beacon of hope for marriage.  Every year, the Family Life Office sponsors the 5oth Wedding Jubilee Mass at St. Patrick’s.  It is a wonderful event — hundreds of jubilee couples come to the Cathedral with their families and proclaim their ever-new love for each other.  The church is packed and joyous, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house when the couples stand and renew their marriage vows.

These jubilee couples are a sign of God’s love — especially to the endurance of that love, no matter what hostile winds blow.  They testify to the potential of every marriage, and to the power of married love — a power that can change lives and transform the world.

The Jubilee Mass is one of my favorite events of the year.  Ironically, I couldn’t attend this year because I was presenting at a Pre-Cana class that day.  But it, too, gave me such encouragement and hope for the future of marriage.

Here before me I found sixty couples who were taking the courageous step of getting married in the Catholic Church — at a time when the culture, and perhaps many of their friends and loved ones, were telling them that they were crazy to do so.  They sat on hard chairs all day, listened to me offer them insights and advice about the nature of real married love — the gift of self to another.  Their smiles, laughter, genuine affection for each other, openness to me, and most of all their shining hopefulness all buoyed me, and reminded me that love and hope are always intimate partners.

There is no doubt that we are in a serious struggle to defend authentic marriage.  We also have the challenge to call couples to rise above the ways of the world and embrace God’s plan for their marriage.  But we must always remember to pay attention to those signs of hope that God in His goodness continues to offer us.  This is a struggle worth fighting, one couple at a time, and our ultimate weapon is the power of married love.

As St. Augustine once famously wrote, “Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love.”“Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love.”