What God Has Joined Together

(Mark 10:9)

Pope Francis wedding couples

Let’s take one brief moment to consider some of the things the Church governs, and some that She does not. After all, the Church does not govern everything.

Church does not govern penalties in the NFL, for instance. You could read the Code of Canon Law cover-to-cover and find nothing about ‘holding’ or ‘ineligible man downfield.’ The Church does not govern parliamentary procedure in the U.S. Congress. No canon treats the filibuster. The Church does not grant patents or trademarks. And no priest or bishop would claim that his office qualifies him to judge a chili cook-off.

But: marriage is one of the things which the Church does govern. We believe in the separation of Church and state; we respect other Christian groups and other religions, also. But the Church does not hesitate to claim ultimate legal authority over holy matrimony, whenever at least one baptized person is involved.

This makes sense, after all, because marriage is inherently religious, and inherently communal. A marriage is a marriage because a man and a woman make vows to God. Getting married is, fundamentally, an act of faith in God. And getting married always involves not just the two individuals, but also their families, the children the Lord may someday give them, and all the other people who will relate to the couple thenceforward as a married couple.

The Holy Catholic Church never wanted marriage to become a political issue. The idea that marriage could even be “political”—the idea that people would get all worked-up over whether or not our Holy Father smiled at Kim Davis on the way to his car before Mass—the whole business of marriage as a political hot potato can only strike us as amusingly shallow. Marriage is not a political issue. Marriage is what Jesus said it is:

1. God made us male and female.
2. A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.
3. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

Hard to disagree with my brother here. Nonetheless, we did pray hard yesterday to St. Therese, that she would implore St. Joachim to implore God Almighty to move Hurricane Joachim/Joaquin east. And it happened!

Kim Davis, Heroine?

Grayson Lake State Park, Kentucky
Grayson Lake State Park, Kentucky

I spent a lovely evening not far from where poor Rowan-County Clerk Kim Davis now languishes in jail. That day, the lake had recently flooded. The locals used the big pools of water left behind on the grassy meadows as impromptu swimming holes.

In those halcyon summer days of 2010, I can’t imagine that any of us at the lake that evening could have imagined that a serious person would ever walk into a courthouse and ask for a marriage license without a member of the opposite sex.

But: “Religious Freedom?” Honestly, friends, what does that phrase mean? If Kim Davis belonged to a hateful cult, which had taught her to believe that God insists on injustice, would she therefore have a right to do other people wrong in the name of religious freedom?

Tom BradyShe would not. Mankind must seek justice. And, if Judge Richard M. Berman’s ruling, which has freed Tom Brady from the clutches of Roger Goodell’s arbitrariness for the time being, teaches us anything, it is this: Mankind always will seek justice. Justice is real; written rules and laws cannot fully contain it; fiats rendered without probity cannot squelch our desire for it.

Let’s define “religion” as a matter of justice. We owe our Creator and Lord our worship. The slogan these days calls religious freedom “our first freedom.” But how about: Religion is our first debt in justice.

The controversy that Ms. Davis, God bless her, has somewhat fecklessly blundered into (she has been thrown in jail by a conservative, Catholic judge who doesn’t believe in gay marriage): does it have to do with religious freedom? Doesn’t it actually have to do with the humbler matter of what the word “marriage” means?

The forces arrayed against our heroine insist that all functionaries of every county in every state must participate in a farce that offends not just religion, but the fundamental fiber of family life. But, after all, county courthouses have seen plenty of farces when it comes to couples applying for marriage licenses, going back way before the “gay-marriage” movement began.

“I marry you.” “And I marry you.” Okay! Congratulations. Third, fourth, or fifth time? No problem. Any evident commitment to the duties of parenthood? Oh, yeah. Sorry for asking. It’s a “free” country, after all.

It seems to me that “religious freedom” has to do with matters of belief. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again. We hold to these truths with the firmest confidence, not because we have any way of learning these facts on our own, but because they have been revealed by divine authority; the apostolic testimony to Christ’s Passover has reached us by Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, outside the little crazy house on the road of history in which we live at the moment, people have not believed and will not believe that marriage involves a man and a woman, committed for life. They have known it, and they will know it, based on their spontaneous study of human nature.

Judge David Bunning, who threw Ms. Davis in jail, stipulated that he could not accept any appeals to natural law. But, of course, if nature did not have a law that we human beings must have judges to decide disputed points of our written laws, then Judge Bunning himself would have neither robe, nor bench, nor authority.

Let’s not demean the religious freedom which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council so eloquently taught us about in Dignitatis Humanae. The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision has made the business of handing out marriage licenses in county courthouses even more a farce than it already was. Unfortunately, Kim Davis, God bless her, seems more like a part of the farce than a champion of Christian discipline.

…Dear married couples, committed and generous, struggling through thick and thin to bring to maturity the gift from on high that is the next human generation! We salute you. You deserve better champions than dear Kim Davis.

In fact, you have them: St. Joseph, his spouse, and her Son. Not to mention the countless married saints in heaven who have understood what the word marriage means, and have made a religion out of keeping it real, for the glory of God.