Beyond the Competence of Politics
With the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting same-sex marriage rights, the uphill climb to preserve the sanctity of marriage is suddenly looking steeper. As one priest said to me (and here I paraphrase), “Just a few years ago one could be an advocate for the sanctity of marriage without running the risk of being called a bigot or accused of being hateful. But today, if one was to merely assert on Facebook or Twitter that marriage ought to be defined as a permanent union between a man and a woman, he or she would publicly be vilified, to be sure.”
Given this, it is important to understand how this cultural movement away from the Christian understanding on marriage has gained momentum in recent years. With regard to people’s attitude towards same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in recent years.
We have to first come to acknowledge one important law of history: The law of the land is, more often than not, a reflection of the people’s morality; not the other way around. In fact, when the State attemptsto decree or legislate high moral standards among its citizens, history demonstrates that such measures are woefully insufficient.
Although a bad law or ruling can make matters worse, good laws are often ignored or rarely enforced when the people’s morals are on the decline. Or to say it another way: Just as the erosion of marriage is not caused by the government, neither is it to be saved by the government. If truth be told, the legalization of abortion was made possible because the dignity of human life had first been lost in the hearts of too many Americans.
The same applies to the sanctity of marriage. When people grow indifferent to the true meaning of marriage, laws and rulings to follow will reflect that indifference. Hence, the liberty to promote the true meaning of marriage will suffer proportionately. Pope Benedict XVI warned us that, “Very soon it will no longer be possible to affirm that homosexuality (as the Catholic Church teaches) constitutes an objective disorder in the structure of human existence…” But as stated, to recover what has been lost - whether it be the Christian view of marriage itself or the religious liberty to proclaim it – is beyond the competence of politics.
In quoting a distinguished jurist, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore once reminded his brother bishops, “If liberty dies in the hearts of men and women, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”
The Church’s Jurisdiction
This is where the Catholic Church comes in. Entrusted to her is the “Finger of God” or – to put it more simply – the Holy Spirit. This Divine Finger, if you will, is far reaching. It has a reach beyond any political program of the State. In the deep recesses of the human heart, the Lord writes his law (cf. Ez. 36:25-27). He impresses his image, goodness and love upon that heart. And by creating the heart anew, he makes his dwelling there! In a wondrous manner, therefore, he brings to light what was once obscured in darkness. What before seemed impossible – such as virginity, chastity, monogamy, marital fidelity, indissolubility of marriage and celibacy – now suggest means of accomplishment.
Such is the beauty of the transformation of the heart in Christ. The fruit of this is a redeemed human sexuality.
However, in actual fact few people know of this truth because few people hear about it; even within the Church. It was once said by a papal biographer that the Catholic Church is the hope and despair of mankind. When her members are world-renouncing and holy, society prospers. But when Catholics become worldly and materialistic, society suffers decline. In other words, what happens to the Church happens to society.
I do wonder if the Catholic clergy as well as lay evangelists and teachers are making the connection for people that the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman is inextricably linked to economic and political prosperity. If the latter is a cause for alarm for everyone then increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage should be equally alarming. As Pope Leo XIII said, within the circle of family life the destiny of the State is fostered.
The human heart or the soul is the mission field of the Catholic Church. When it goes astray – when the sanctity of marriage and religious liberty no longer find a place there – the Church (at least in America) has to do some serious souls searching. We dropped the ball somewhere along the line. The result of our missteps has resulted in fewer new hearts remade in the image of God. In the absence of new hearts, people no longer aspire to the higher law that respects the dignity of human life and the sanctity of marriage. To repeat: A heart that is not inspired from on high cannot aspire to the high moral standards of the Gospel. The divine and natural law, so often referenced in Church documents, will cease to inform human law as it has in recent days.
Same-sex Marriage and the Image of God
For starters, it is important to know same-sex marriage not only undermines the true nature of marriage but it is an affront on the image of God. In Genesis, God said “let us make man in our image.” Then it states: "Male and female, he created them." If we are to have a correct understanding of God, at the very least, we have to get his image right! And his image – that is, the template and blueprint of who he is – includes one man and one woman. After all, both the masculine principle and the feminine principle come from him. We can even say that these two principles are mysteriously contained within his nature. Yes, God is Father and God is Son, but the prophet Isaiah likens the Lord to a mother as well. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Therefore, if we as Christians still believe that a marriage between a man and a woman symbolizes who God is – if marriagestill says something about Jesus, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church – then we have to get the image of God right and retain the marriage between a man and a woman as the only acceptable union! If you take away the man-and-woman combination and replace it with something else, the image gets distorted and the very understanding of who we are, how we relate to one another and how we relate to God, is likewise distorted.
Indeed, the proper understanding of human sexuality and the distinction between the male and the female gender – at some level – is absolutely necessary for a lifelong marriage. Moreover, a mother and a father is an image of God for the child. It is through this image that the child understands himself, God and the world. It is not an exaggeration to say the following: the image of God (as represented by a mother and a father and how they love one another and how they love the child) is an instrument of knowledge more powerful than a lifelong education!
The repercussions are even more profound than that of legalized abortion. Hear me out on this! Whereas the abortion issue addresses the dignity of the child’s body – as well as his very life – the challenge of homosexuality or same-sex marriage is broader in scope and even deeper. Alter this image – the primary medium through which we perceive reality and the natural channel through which God fathers us – then everything is thrown off balance.
Moreover, with the sanction of same-sex marriage, the incentive for couples to marry will decrease, the permanence of marriage will be increasingly seen as unrealistic and broken families will become the norm. And worse yet, God himself will cease to be known by many as he wishes to be known because his image – as comprising that of a man and a woman – will not be held up as the standard in society.
What can we conclude from all of this? What the family loses, the State gains. Political prosperity and democracy presupposes that the citizen is capable of exercising some measure of self-governance. And the institution that is most efficient at teaching self-governance is a strong, intact, traditional family.
If fewer hearts are being renewed in Christ; if fewer people have a respect for the image of God as it exists in a husband and wife or a mother and father; if fewer families are staying together; and if the power of the State has made gains; then Catholics – both clergy and laity – will have to ask themselves: What could we do differently?