Every Holy Week, Judas’ kiss haunts me, pricks my somnolent conscience. Since us clergymen kiss the King’s table to start every Holy Mass. Fresh from renewing our vows, we priests had better kiss the altar with pure honesty, with chaste hearts, and with humility, noting well what the Lord sets on this table. Otherwise, the Lord’s words to Judas will apply to us, too. “Would you betray Me with a kiss?”
Not just priests, though. All of us have to note well, have to behold, have to let ourselves be ravished by what the Blessed Sacrament of the altar really is.
Forgive me; I don’t mean to get crass here. But we find ourselves meditating on how the Lord Jesus gives us His whole Self on the altar, holding nothing back, on the very day when one of the big news items in Washington is: Catholic institutions go before the Supreme Court to object to artificial contraception.
The Lord gives us Himself, His whole self, all of Himself. How could we not object to artificial contraception? Could any of us note well what He gives us on the altar, and then turn around and play little games, interposing some artificial or chemical impediment in the middle of the love of husband and wife? In the middle of the gift of self that gives the world the next generation?
No. Or course not. We could hardly be so dishonest. Of course we object.
Lord, help us to note well what You give. Help us to give You ourselves in return.
Fact is: The Lord does not want for us to go hungry. We read at Mass today how He fed a multitude for which two-hundred days’ wages could not have bought enough food. On Sunday we will read about how He appeared to the hungry Apostles by the Sea of Galilee and gave them a nice breakfast. And He promised that, in His kingdom, we will sit at table, and He will wait on us.
The hand of the Lord feeds us. I for one love tamales, spring rolls, penne alla vodka, pancakes, pork barbecue, shrimp scampi, cannolis, mac’n’cheese with little chunks of Virginia ham, crisp apples, raisin bran, kippered herring, Greek salads, veal cutlets, prosciutto e melone, pad thai…
But man does not live on bread alone. Man lives on bread and the truth. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, the Chalice of Everlasting salvation.
But every day, no matter what day it is—Lent, Easter, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, even Saturday—baseball, basketball, football, or soccer season—every day, we need food for our souls. Christ. He feeds us.
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.
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.
They rebelled. The owner had planted and equipped an orderly vineyard, a beautiful farm where it was delightful to work. Justly, the owner expected to receive his produce from the land he himself had developed. He had provisioned his tenants, we can be sure, with more than enough to live on. When the owner sent his messengers, and then patiently even sent his son, he asked for no more than his rightful due.
But the grasping, impatient tenants rebelled. Blinded by selfishness, they could not see that they owed their entire livelihood to the good management and foresight of the owner. The tenants did not want to co-operate. They wanted to rule. But their blind lust for power gave them only chaos and death.
Now—if you are like me, you woke up this morning wanting news about:
1) when we would have a new pope and
2) when the federal-budget sequester would end.
I can make no comment whatsoever on the second subject. And I know I said a couple weeks ago that I thought we could look forward to having a new pope by Holy Week.
But, you know what? Maybe we won’t. Maybe the Cardinals will not decide things quickly. Maybe they will argue, and disagree with each other, and take a long time.
Let’s remember what happened in the fall of 1962, over fifty years ago now. The Second Vatican Council convened for its first session. Over 2,400 bishops met together in St. Peter’s Basilica. They sang together and prayed together. It was beautiful. Then they proceeded to argue and disagree with each other for two months. They did not reach the required 2/3 majority on anything. Anything. The first session closed in early December with no official teachings whatsoever.
Pope John declared with glee: The Council will have to have a second session! Praised be God for allowing us to show the world that the shepherds of the God’s Church love each other–and God, and the truth–enough to argue about it ad nauseum. All will be well. Good things take time. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.
A young priest, at the Council as a theological advisor, agreed. Heading home for Christmas, and looking forward to more intense debate in 1963, the priest said:
The fact that no text has gained approval is evidence of the great, astonishing, genuinely positive, truly epoch-making result of the first session.
A church school asked an employee to resign because of her ill health. She refused and threatened to sue. The church school fired her. She sued.
We march on Washington every January to assert this principle: The government/the state/the civil power bears the burden of protecting the innocent from grave injustice.
People are free to do many things. No one, however, has the freedom to kill an unborn baby. This must be prohibited by law.
Likewise, no one has the freedom to fire an employee arbitrarily and unfairly. Laws prohibit this, because justice prohibits this.
(I beg you, dear reader: If you know more about this than I do, which is enormously likely, please correct my mistakes here.)
Now, did Hosanna-Tabor School unfairly fire Cheryl Perich? We do not know. Perhaps they did; perhaps not. Her firing may, in fact, have been fair. In justice, both parties enjoy the right to argue their side of the case before an impartial judge.
But in this particular case, such an argument will never occur. The Supreme Court has found that the government cannot intervene in this dispute. Why? The First-Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion prohibits the government from doing so.
I disagree profoundly with this reasoning.
Are churches as liable to human failings–including injustice in employee relations–as any other institution of sinners? Yes. No reasonable Christian could or would disagree.
Governments, too, are so liable. Governments may begin to get the idea that they should run the church(es). Hence, the invention of the “ministerial exemption” by which churches are protected from lawsuits. The official ministers of any church serve at the pleasure of the church and the church alone, according to this provision of law. The government may not intervene in any way.
The problem here is: Protecting the Church from the burden of making reasonable arguments to defend Herself does not help Her. It impedes Her proper mission, isolating Her from public life.
E.G.: Is it unjust for the Church to limit Holy Orders to men alone?
According to the Supreme Court, the Church need not answer this question. It is a “theological” matter. No claims of justice can be made by aggrieved parties when the disputed point is “theological.”
My dear friends, if we cannot make reasonable, convincing theological arguments, then may God help us. Theology ≠ Esoterica. Theology = reasoned discourse based on Divine Revelation. (Including reasonable arguments as to why what we say is divinely revealed IS, in fact, divinely revealed. Not that we can prove it. But no one can demonstrate our assertions about Divine Revelation to be arbitrary, because they are not; they are reasonable.)
If we cannot explain why there is, in fact, no injustice in limiting Holy Orders to men, then we suck.
If we cannot explain–based on science and reason–why we cannot perform abortions, we suck.
If we cannot explain–based on logic and anatomy–why two men cannot marry each other, or two women, we suck.
Please, Supreme Court: Do not protect us from the burden of making these arguments! You do us no favors by doing so; in fact, you treat us like an intellectual cripple.
The fact of the matter is that making these arguments gives us joy and vigor! Our duty, our lifeblood is to speak the truth humbly, patiently, with love and respect for all.
If, someday, they put bishops in jail for refusing to ordain women, praise God! If they send police officers into Catholic hospitals to try to collect unpaid fines for refusing to dole out contraceptives, praise God!
The truth will always win in the end. We Catholics are not unreasonable kooks who hide behind esoteric mysteries to avoid explaining ourselves. Everything we believe and teach is perfectly reasonable. If an unreasonable state oppresses us for it, then to God be the glory, because it will only serve to win souls to Him.
Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
Commenting on these verses, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:
Existing without an expectation of eternal life, the pagans held for a mortality of the soul contrary to faith and hope.
In “What I Believe” (1925), Bertrand Russell wrote:
I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive…
It would be ridiculous to warp the philosophy of nature in order to bring out results that are pleasing to the tiny parasites of this insignificant planet.
We can conclude that Russell’s doctrine is perniciously erroneous.
As Father Mowbray said of his obtuse catechumen Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited, Russell’s darkness of mind is so extreme that it does not even “correspond to any degree of paganism known to the missionaries.”
Judge McGeehan did NOT conclude that there is a standard of Christian truth that must be met by the doctrine of professors at public colleges. If he had, he would have articulated a fact that awaits clear legal articulation in this great land of ours.
As it is, the judge indulged in an untrue ad hominem* attack. He accused Russell of moral turpitude, for which there was no evidence.
It is true that purveyors of false doctrine usually teach their errors in order to justify their sins. But in the case at hand, the teacher’s sins were private–if he was in fact guilty of any. In order to keep dangerous error out of City College, Judge McGeehan libeled a world-famous philosopher who lived a perfectly respectable life.
The answer to error is not more error. And the answer to error is not force. The answer to error is truth, patience, the benefit of the doubt, and humble love.
The only way for us to conquer Bertrand Russell’s disciples (who run the show in this country these days) is by proposing the truth in love, patiently. Slow and steady wins the race. Actions speak louder than words.
(And Preacher’s aphorisms/bromides will stop at this point, until the situation demands more.)
*Nota Bene: This link is very much worth clicking.
With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of the churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception.
The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.
It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion…
…There is reason to suppose that a hundred years hence Catholciism will be the only effective representative of the Christian faith…
–Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” 1930.
As we can see, Bertrand Russell was a ravisher of altars, intellectually speaking. We should credit him with forthrightness–most of the enemies of the faith clothe themselves in sheep’s garments.
The question is: Should Russell have been prohibited from teaching at the City College of New York by the Supreme Court of the state of New York? This is exactly what happened in 1940.
Judge John E. McGeehan acknowledged that no written law empowered him to grant relief to a concerned mother who sued the New York Board of Higher Education. The judge ruled under “the law of nature and nature’s God.” A miscreant like Russell could not be permitted to teach. His teaching the young–at taxpayer expense–would constitute an injustice to the God-fearing citizens of the state.
Judge McGeehan rightfully pointed out that teachers exercise an influence over the whole of their students’ lives. It was a red herring for Russell’s defenders to claim that as a philosopher of science he could not influence his students’ morals.
We also have to note Judge McGeehan’s empathy with the aggrieved taxpayer. He was on to something here: A judge who refuses to understand written laws by the light of the higher law of truth and justice will fail in his duty to the poor and defenseless.
Russell dismissed Judge McGeehan’s ruling as the ravings of a benighted, prejudiced, parochial Catholic mind.
Nonetheless, the judge was no friend of justice in this case. He did an injustice to Bertrand Russell. I will explain myself next time.
I have no choice but to admit that in the past two days, I have witnessed not one, but two miracles of liberal journalism.
Don’t know if you heard how a professor at Harvard was arrested in his own house. He claims to be the victim of police racism.
The first thing that occurred to me when I read the conflicting accounts of what happened: Wasn’t the police officer probably trying to secure the house after having received a burglary report? Why would Dr. Gates refuse to comply with the officer’s request that he step outside? Isn’t it reasonable to think that the officer asked Dr. Gates to step outside for his own safety, in the event that there was an intruder in the house?
To you and me, it might seem like a legal footnote.
But the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts will have a huge impact on some of the unsung heroes of criminal justice.
Of course no innocent person should ever be punished for a crime committed by someone else. On the other hand: Should criminals go free just because they have tricky lawyers who can out-talk hardworking crime-lab scientists?
Are there any latent examiners out there who would like to comment on this? Please chime in, and enlighten us ignorant laymen.