Voters’ Guide!

As we adults prepare to exercise the responsibility of voting, we must keep the following people in mind:

  1. The innocent and defenseless unborn children who have no rights. Abortionists slaughter them with impunity, by the thousands, every day.
  2. All our children, who deserve to grow up in a society where the law preserves the bond of marriage between parents.
  3. The potential victims of the immigration enforcement called for by Messrs. Trump and Cruz.

Re: #3…  We cannot imagine that any genuine justice lies in a specious attempt to distinguish “legal” from “illegal” immigration. From the point-of-view of the immigrant, the “legal” immigration of three, four, five, or six generations ago differs in no way from the “illegal” immigration of the past two generations. What changed was the arbitrary stipulations of American immigration statutes.

voting-boothDid our undocumented neighbors have the option of coming to America legally, but failed to exercise that option, through their own blameworthy fault?  Hardly.

We have to start with the fact that our neighbors are our neighbors.  Can any decent person support the proposal that the government remove some of my neighbors by force, for no good reason? No.

In fact, even now Trump’s and Cruz’s ideas have the effect of terrorizing whole families. If we have any decency and Christian love, we will rush to declare that we ourselves have no share whatsoever in such cruel nonsense.

…Now, we pastors do not have the duty to tell anyone how to vote. But as a shepherd of souls I say to you, dear reader:

We must think of 1. the innocent and defenseless unborn babies, of 2. all children, who have the right to a home with mother and father, and of 3. our undocumented neighbors who have no legal rights.

If we vote without thinking of these brothers and sisters, who have no vote, we will face a rigorous judgment for our negligence, when the Day of the Lord comes.

The Marriage-Law Titanic

Titanic

I do not hold myself out as any kind of sage, and certainly no scholar of law.

But I can honestly claim to have had at least one conversation per day, for the past twelve years, on the subject of marriage. Not marriage as a theory or concept, but marriage as a practical fact, as in: “Father, I want to get married.” “I want to be married.”

That’s because, for twelve years, I have happily served as an officer of marriage. As an officer of marriage, I must look at marriage in one particular way: as a binding contract, publicly made.

The marriage covenant binds spouses in this special way: You renounce the option of having sex with anyone else for as long as the person lives. The contract is: I will have sex with you, and only with you, until death.

marriage_sacramentAn officer of marriage therefore has one primary obligation. He must assure himself that both parties who propose to marry each other are, in fact, free to do so. As the suffering of poor Hagar shows us, bigamy doesn’t work.

Simple enough, it would seem.

But: of the thousands of conversations about marriage that I have had, a good 85% of them involve doubts about this.

“But, Father, she has a divorce from the courthouse in Guilford County, North Carolina.” “Father, my first marriage was before a Justice of the Peace in Hawaii.” “Father, I’ve never been married before.” “And your fiancée?” “Well, she’s been married five times. But she’s not Catholic.”

A big mess. And at the heart of the matter lies the question of jurisdiction. Who has the authority to officiate a marriage?

Holy Mother Church has never conceded to any other authority the power to legislate how marriages begin or end. But we officers of marriage have to deal with the endless mess that has been created by other authorities claiming to do so, a mess that burdens and confuses people who want to act in good faith, people who really want to get married and enter into the binding contract in an honest way.

No one has authority over how marriages begin and end, other than God. The idea that any other authority can govern marriage: this is what has produced all the painfully impractical situations that burden so many people. One of the things that I have heard people say lately is that the Catholic Church needs to get out of the civil marriage business and deal with marriage solely “as a sacrament.”

But, as an officer of marriage, I can say that that will not work. An officer of marriage must, out of justice, always give the benefit of the doubt to a marital contract that has been publicly declared. Otherwise you risk, as an official, being a party to the crime of bigamy. If someone, who wants to marry, got married before, to someone else, no matter what the circumstances, I have to presume that the person is not free to marry now.

So the idea of the Church getting out of the civil marriage business is exactly backwards. It’s the state that needs to get out of the business of declaring marriages valid or invalid.

scales_of_justiceSecular governments have produced the mess we now have, by granting divorces. The Church has not produced the mess. The Church’s laws are clear and commonsensical compared to the unmanageable and almost-always-unfair labyrinth of secular divorce law.

Like I said, I make no claims to special legal knowledge. I appeal only to my practical experience as an officer of marriage who likes to help people get to a stable situation in life.

From the point-of-view of a practicing officer of marriage, I just want to say this: The decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, which were announced yesterday, are impractical. Impractical to the point of being genuinely ridiculous.

For about a century and a half, the secular state has presumed to have authority over marriage. She does not possess that authority. By presuming to do what she doesn’t know how to do, the state has done untold harm to many people, mainly women and children.

Maybe 2013 will be the year when the conscience of the Western world begins to realize that the marriage business operated by the secular state is an un-moored disaster zone. It’s like the Titanic after being struck by the iceberg.

Basic Marriage

In one week we will start our Fortnight for Freedom.

I think we can safely simplify the religious-freedom threats by naming three “what-counts-as”-es: what counts as health care, what counts as a genuinely American immigration policy, and what counts as marriage.

Today let’s focus briefly on marriage, since our Lord teaches us about it in the gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass.

HL Mencken and Christ agree on the subject of divorce
HL Mencken and Christ agree on the subject of divorce
Apparently everyone agrees that marriage involves two things: 1) an expression of irrevocable consent, and 2) sexual intercourse.

Two distinctive characteristics of marriage, which make marriage marriage: Both parties publicly acknowledge their intention to share the conjugal life permanently. Then they actually do so. That’s a marriage.

Thing is: the Lord Jesus humbly and frankly points out for us that the simple and commonly understood facts about marriage clearly render divorce impossible. Divorce is impossible not simply as a matter of obedience to an external law given by God—though, of course, God, through the prophet Hosea, said: “I hate divorce.”

No, the impossibility of divorce is not just a matter of obeying God’s laws. It is more fundamentally a matter of genuine personal integrity.

koc action religious freedomI give myself to someone for life by words and then by conjugal deeds. I can’t go back on that without doing genuine violence to myself. To be married means a true physical union with my spouse.

I have to acknowledge the physical reality: My spouse has become a part of me and I a part of my spouse. Like two vines that have grown into each other on a trellis. If I try to pull myself loose, I will rip myself apart. I simply won’t be myself anymore.

What distinguishes marriage as marriage is not that it provides an automatic best friend. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Nor does marriage provide an automatic source of delight and enchantment. It might provide that; it might not. The truth is, sometimes marriage winds up being the heaviest cross that a person has to carry in life. Marriage has one simple distinguishing characteristic: “The two become one flesh.”

God, in His incomprehensible wisdom, made this simple and basic thing, marriage, to be a sign of salvation. God made marriage—commitment and physical union—for many reasons, some obvious, some beyond us. But He has revealed the most fundamental reason why He made us male and female: to give us an image of His loving union with us.

Unbreakable commitment. Inextricable physical intertwine-ment. Between man and woman. And between God and man in Christ.

Marrying Well

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. (I Cor 13:1)

All Christians clearly must take a stand for a few things in our day and age. Among these, “traditional marriage” has a nice ring to it. And we can take heart from the fact that statewide referenda have thus far defeated the idea of “same-sex marriage” 32 out of 32 times.

But if we really want to bear witness to divine love–the divine love we read about in St. Paul’s letter at practically every wedding–we have to dig deeper.

It’s not just that marriage is between one man and one woman. There’s also the fact that it involves a bond that only death can break. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

Still we have to keep digging. Why get married? According to God, the reason is clear enough: Be fruitful and multiply. Onan wasted his seed on the ground; what he did greatly displeased God (Genesis 38:10).

So: Marriage is not just between a man and a woman. It is between a man and a woman for life; for richer, for poorer, sickness, health, as long as we both shall live. And marriage is a partnership of the whole of life, in which the man and woman become one flesh, without impediments of any kind (barrier, chemical) being admitted to the marriage of true minds.

Forgive me; I can’t help it: the idea of “gay marriage” strikes me as simply ridiculous. How can anyone take it seriously? Maybe one reason is because there is so much divorce these days. Some people have gotten the idea that marriage is nothing but an arrangement for my enjoyment which I make at will and control at will. A false idea indeed. But can we doubt that a lot of people have come by this idea honestly, because that’s what they see when they look around?

Morose delectation: Three INTs in a row!
So we have to keep digging. Why are there so many divorces? Is it because the marrying public these days is so much more wicked than in the old days? Maybe. But such an explanation does not altogether satisfy. The Church Herself has granted annulments in many of these cases, which means that the spouses involved are not in fact bound by the vows they rashly made, and neither of them is necessarily wicked.

It seems to me that the whole contemporary “marriage problem” lies at the beginning of marriages. The perennial fact is: it is not easy to marry the right person. To enter prudently into marriage requires prayerful discernment over a significant period of time; it requires the discipline of chastity; it requires mature faith in God.

Thanks be to God, the Church possesses this art, the art of marrying wisely and well. It really isn’t anything too complicated. It’s just a matter of following our rules, living a life of prayer, staying out of potentially dangerous situations, and—above all—nourishing and strengthening oneself with the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Penance. The faithful lives of countless married Christians bear witness to the successful application of the Christian method of marrying.

So I guess what I am saying is: I don’t think the world needs us just to be opposed to “same-sex marriage,” which of course we are. The world needs us to give freely one of the gifts that has freely been given to us: the humble and quiet art of knowing how to get married.

St. Thomas’ First Choice

Quick Catholicism quiz. Who can ordain a bishop? A bishop. Only a bishop can ordain a bishop. Kind of like only a human mother can give birth to a human child. Only a man who is a bishop can make another man a bishop.

Now, we’re not done. One other thing is necessary. In order for any bishop, anywhere in the world, to ordain a bishop, he must have something in hand. He cannot ordain another bishop unless he has a particular document. Right! A letter from the Pope which says, “Yes. Ordain this man a bishop. I approve.”

The Church operates in every country on earth. Every nation has its own distinctive characteristics, its own customs, its own politics. The Church cannot live her life in some sort of a-political vacuum. We always find ourselves embroiled in the drama of our particular place and time.

In any nation where the Church finds Herself, She embraces the place as Her home. In other words, a Catholic owes the same loyalty and allegiance to country as anyone else. In fact, we Catholics have all the more reason to cultivate patriotism. We love our country in God. We believe that the Lord has given us this place to be our avenue to heaven, day by day. We work out our salvation here. So we love our country like a monk loves his monastery or a nun loves her convent.

But a bishop cannot ordain another bishop without a letter from Rome. In other words, no nation can turn in on itself, like its own little world–and cut off the larger, universal family of Christ. Our country can and must demand our loyalty—but never in such a way that we would have to choose between country and Church.

We love America all the more because she makes no claim to be above God, or even alongside God. The United States: “One nation, under God.” Under. God above. Country below. God first. Country—not first.

St. Thomas More made a brilliant career as a lawyer and a judge of cases. He could clear huge courtroom backlogs quickly, because his mind retained and processed laws and facts like a supercomputer.

But, when push came to shove, St. Thomas did not rely on his own keen mind. He did not rely on his own incisive judgment. And he did not rely on the venerable laws of his island nation, either. King Henry wanted Thomas to declare that he, the king, had a case for divorce. Thomas said, “You know what? The Pope knows best. I defer to the judgment of the Pope.”

We revere St. Thomas More as a martyr of conscience. He searched his soul for guidance when others pressured him to go along with the king’s wishes. Thomas would not betray himself.

He cracked his brain for a workable solution. He never wanted to die a martyr. He would have been happier to find a compromise.

But the king made Thomas choose. Choose between loyalty to the Church and continued life on earth. Let go of the sure bond you have with Christ, and live. Or keep your grip on that sure bond, and put your head on the chopping block.

St. Thomas prayed for King Henry until the end. He prayed for him until the axe fell. Thomas would have preferred peace. Better to have harmony between Church and state, friendship and patient tolerance for everyone.

But conflicts can serve to clarify things. When St. Thomas faced his final choice, the decision he had to make could not have been clearer.

I love my country. I love my king. I love my family, and my home, and the good work which God has given me the talent to do. But do I love these things more than my Church? More than God and truth and my hope for eternal life?

God first. Our immortal souls come first.

Good People Oppose Same-Sex Marriage

The United States Catholic Conference prepared an excellent Q&A on this subject. I am not trying to re-invent the wheel.

Nonetheless, I would like to tackle the problem from the point-of-view of: What should good people do about this?

So here are some indisputable answers to some crucial questions. (I would be very glad for your comments and additions.)

Vademecum on the right to “same-sex Marriage”

scales_of_justice1. What are the duties of a good person who fights for justice?

All good Christians must love everyone, and all people are bound to be just. No one has a right to impede the legitimate freedoms of another without good reason. Christians are bound to will the good of others and to do everything possible to help other people get to heaven.

2. Is there an individual right to marriage?

No one has an absolute right to marriage, because it is impossible to marry without a consenting partner. The freedom to marry is NOT, therefore, an individual right. An unmarried man and an unmarried woman–who are not related–are free to marry.

3. In order for all people to be truly free, must we permit anyone who is not married to marry anyone he or she wants to marry, regardless of sex?

Entering into marriage involves a renunciation of freedom. Married people are not free to marry, and they have obligations to their spouse and children. The vows of marriage explicitly renounce freedoms; in other words, they impose duties.

dag-blondIt makes no sense to speak of the right to marry as a “freedom.” It makes more sense to think of marriage as a solemn duty undertaken for the good of others.

4. Is sex good or evil?

The conjugal union of husband and wife is beautiful, albeit fraught with pitfalls because of human weakness.

Sodomy is inherently ugly. Sodomy is itself a pitfall for people suffering with same-sex attraction.

Sex outside of marriage is selfish. It is not an option for good people.

5. Who has the authority to make laws about marriage, and where does the authority come from?

Civil laws have binding force insofar as they harmonize with the law of God. The state, which enacts and enforces civil laws, arises because of marriages and families.

In other words, marriage is an institution more fundamental than the state. The state has no prerogative to govern marriage. The Church alone has the prerogative to do so.

The Church may concede to the state some practical aspects of marriage law. But no authority can change the constitution of marriage, because marriage is marriage because of the way God made things.

6. Why can’t a man marry a man or a woman marry a woman?

A couple is not married until the marriage is consummated. Acts of sodomy cannot consummate marriage.

7. What is wrong with a man attempting–even though it is futile–to marry a man or a woman attempting to marry a woman?

Such a ceremony would make a mockery of a beautiful and sacred thing. The marriage of baptized Christians is a sacrament of the love of Christ for His Church. An attempted ‘gay marriage’ is therefore a sacrilege, an injustice to all married people, and a crass charade unworthy of any self-respecting civilized society.

…Now, because discerning minds recognize that confusion about marriage has arisen because of two widespread evils, here is a short appendix:

no-divorce18. Can married couples get divorced?

Wedding vows include promises for life. The commitment of marriage terminates only with death, as the vows themselves say.

Bad circumstances can arise which require spouses to separate–even for indefinite periods of time–but divorce is impossible.

9. Can people have babies in any way other than the old-fashioned way?

For a child to be conceived in any way other than through sex between husband and wife is unjust to the child. Everyone has a right to be conceived in his or her mother’s womb, as the result of his parents’ loving embrace. In disputed cases, the rights of children always trump. In vitro fertilization is therefore unjust, and all good people must oppose it.