Pope Leo XIII, entombed in the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Given the state of public discourse (at least what I have heard of it), I think a thoughtful Christian might find him- or herself thoroughly confused by the “gay-marriage” cases which the Supreme Court will hear this week.
Some preliminary observations:
1. No true Christian would ever think it acceptable to abuse or mistreat anyone–including, certainly, any homosexual person. 2. Any member of any generation prior to ours, upon hearing that the Supreme Court of a major nation would consider the possibility of “gay marriage,” would laugh out loud, because it must be some kind of joke. 3. This problem which we have at hand is, in fact, enormously profound; it cannot be settled without simultaneously questioning whether or not divorce should–or even can–be legal; it requires a Christian to put American patriotism in its proper place in the hierarchy of loyalty, namely, under religion and allegiance to the Church.
If there were two fishbowls in which people could live, the one being “secular” and the other “Christian,” then we Christians could say to the state: You have your laws of marriage, and we have ours, and let’s just leave each other alone.
The Council of Trent
But there aren’t two fishbowls. There’s just one, in which God calls people into His Church at different points in their lives, in which men and women with different priorities meet each other and fall in love with each other and have children together, in which the Church fulfills Her sacred mission for the good of every human being.
If you will permit me, I would like to say first that I think the key fact, the fundamentally decisive reality, is this:
Every individual human being has a mother and a father. There is no way to come into existence as a human being without a mother and a father.
It seems to me that all sound doctrine in the fields of marriage law, sociology, social work, psychology, child care, marriage counseling, religion, home economics, education, developmental psychiatry, neonatology, pediatrics, addictions counseling, even interior design: all theories and teaching must be based on the fact that every human being ever (except for Adam, Eve, and Jesus Christ) has had, has, and will have a human mother and a human father. In other words: without my mother and my father, I simply would not exist. Any person of love and decency thinks of all people (and especially children) in this light: every person has a mother and a father.
When anyone experiences sexual attraction towards someone whom he or she cannot think of marrying, this is a cross, a burden, a trial, a difficulty. We owe it to our neighbors to help each other struggle through these challenges. The more purely we love each other in Christ, the more we can help homosexual people to be chaste–and all people to be chaste. Because all of us, at some point or another, experience sexual attraction towards people we cannot think of marrying.
Now, to what the Church has taught in the past:
Council of Trent:
It is something singularly execrable to violate the freedom of matrimony.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve were free to marry. If someone had tried to tell them that they weren’t, the world might never have known the need for diapers. But no one told them not to. So they did it.
Before sin entered the world, I think we can say, there was no need whatsoever for external laws of marriage. But sin did enter. So the Savior had to come.
Now: We hold that the Savior restored marriage to its original state of permanence and exclusivity.
Christ made marriage a sacrament of His grace.
Marriage, indeed, has, from the beginning, been a sign of the union of God and man, destined to last forever in heaven. By the power of Christ, Who shed His blood on the cross for His beloved Bride, marriage is now such a sign again.
The sacred sign has been entrusted to the Church.
Hopefully, dear reader, you have noticed that this means that there is no such thing as “civil marriage.” Never has been and never will be. Marriage is inherently sacred, inherently religious, inherently Godly. God made Adam and Eve out of elements that only He could fashion into human persons, and He endowed them with the power to bring new human persons into the world–through marriage. Spouses co-operate with the Creator in bringing new people into the world and into the Church.
Marriage and child-bearing, therefore, establish the situation in which a state or nation can exist. The fundamental fact, when it comes to this week’s Supreme Court cases, is this: The state has the prerogative to establish laws pertaining to certain practical exigencies of married life. But civil authority does not have the power to establish any laws regarding what marriage is, or whether or not a particular marriage bond can or does exist.
A state might be a tranquil and beautiful republican democracy; it might be a repressive dictatorship; it might be a monarchy—doesn’t matter. Under no circumstances whatsoever does any civil authority have the prerogative to establish what marriage is, or to determine who is married and who isn’t, or who can marry and who can’t. That prerogative belongs solely to God, and the only competent judges in such matters are those who have been designated as such by the proper authorities in God’s Church.
Canon 12 of Session 12 of the Council of Trent:
If anyone says that matrimonial causes do not belong to ecclesiastical judges, let him be anathema.
Pope Leo XIII:
Marriage was not instituted by the will of man, but, from the very beginning, by the authority and command of God; it does not admit of plurality of wives or husbands; Christ, the Author of the New Covenant, raised it from a rite of nature to be a sacrament, and gave to His Church legislative and judicial power with regard to the bond of union.
So, please, dear brothers and sisters, let us not be confused. We certainly hope that the Supreme Court will not make a decision which, in the long run, will prove to be utterly laughable. But they might make such a decision.
If and when the time comes when the laughable decision could cause me and other priests, deacons, and bishops, to have to pay fines and/or go to jail, we’ll let you know. For now, the people who need our advocacy and prayers are a) anyone involved in health care who, reasonably, refuses to have anything to do with in vitro fertilization and other similar child abuses, and b) case workers confronted with “married” couples who have no legitimate claim to be considered as potential adoptive parents.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that painful things will happen to the Church if the Court makes the wrong decisions on this week’s cases. Time, however, will tell. The fact of the matter is that we really cannot agree with either side’s arguments. Both positions concede to the government an authority which it does not possess.
So I think we should persevere in peace and tranquility. If any of us have marriage cases pending before ecclesiastical tribunals, let’s put it all in God’s hands and trust that the matter will be resolved according to the divine plan.
Where we really need to focus, I think, is in supporting each other in living chaste lives. A poor soul has to be very far estranged from the friendship of Christ to find him- or herself in such a situation that he or she would a) marry and/or have a child with someone whom he or she cannot realistically look forward to living with until death, or b) think of “marrying” someone of the same sex.
Let’s strive to stay close to the chaste and celibate Christ, Who reigns in heaven as the fulfillment of all our desires, and Who shares His life with us in the sacraments and prayers of the Church.
By staying close to Him, each of us does his or her part to help others stay close to Him. “Same-sex marriages,” or second or third “marriages” (with former spouses still living), are not really the concern of anyone who lives daily in the friendship of Jesus Christ.
Let’s hope and pray for the day that no one gives a thought to same-sex marriage or divorce, and let’s be kind and understanding toward everyone who does—and offer them the friendship of Christ, which is the only real answer to their problems.