Redefining Marriage Is Nothing New

FamilyStudiesThe “question” of marriage is nothing new. That marriage is now a divisive and controversial issue is also centuries old. Many people, particularly those on the left, seem to believe that their current fervor in support of gay “marriage” reveals their unique understanding of a thoroughly modern truth. They hold rallies and marches and pat themselves on the back for their forward-thinking, post-modern insights. They imagine (because that’s what they do) that no one has ever been as smart as they are because they want “marriage” to be different. The real truth is that people have been trying to mess with marriage since at least 1530. What do you think Henry VIII wanted from all those divorces and beheadings?  He had a new vision of what he wanted marriage to be. He didn’t like that the Church taught that marriage was (and is) a covenant between one man and one woman, sworn before the Lord’s altar and lasting for a lifetime. He didn’t like that he couldn’t change the definition of marriage to suit his political and lustful ambitions. And so, being king, he killed the one man who stood publicly to oppose him and to defend God’s law: St. Thomas More. Thomas had been Henry’s lifelong friend and advisor. But Henry had him imprisoned for not going along with his marriage idea and eventually he had Thomas executed. St. Thomas famously said,”I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” See, when you stand in the way of redefining marriage, you can lose everything. Except your immortal soul.

Now skip ahead 458 years to 1968. During that hot Roman summer, Pope Paul VI had been reading and reviewing a report from a commission his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, had created to review the Church’s teachings on artificial birth control. The Pill was being widely introduced as a safe and easy form of no-fuss birth control. It offered sex without consequences, if by “consequences” you mean a baby. The world was busy separating sex from love, sex from marriage, sex from procreation and everything from the province of God’s vision for us. The Pontifical Commission was composed of priests, bishops, cardinals, theologians, physicians and (gasp!) women. Most of the members concluded that the Church needed to “modernize” her teachings on birth control. But the Pope chose to uphold the Church’s teachings: that marriage is more than the union of a man and a woman. Marriage is the union of loving couple with a loving God and the man and woman cooperate with Him in the creation of new life. “Marriage does not allow for arbitrary human decisions which may limit divine providence.”  When we mess with marriage, we try to limit God’s plan for our lives.

Henry VIII made his arbitrary human decisions about marriage. Pope Paul VI reaffirmed that artificial birth control limits God’s creative right within a marriage. Whenever we mess with what God has created and the Church has upheld, we diminish the greatness of creation. We put God in a box. Sex without consequences reduces each partner to “a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires; finally, abuse of power by public authorities, and a false sense of autonomy” (Humanae Vitae). Wow. Read that quote again. More than 40 years ago our Pope foresaw that we were on the road that would lead to the government getting involved in our most private moments and beliefs. Like the findings of the Supreme Court. Like the consequences of Obamacare which requires Catholics to pay for abortions. Like the IRS overseeing and managing your health care. Sex outside of Holy Matrimony and sex without openness to new life gives us a false sense of autonomy. We begin to believe it really is all about us and our genitals. We don’t see sex as a gift from God which was made to glorify Him and to mirror the love of the Holy Trinity. We believe babies are clumps of cells and have no intrinsic life to be born. We no longer believe that God has a place in defining what’s right and what’s wrong. We’re adrift like a ship without a rudder. We’ve lost our way.

So today’s battle over the meaning and purpose of marriage is an old one. If you oppose what the king wants, you’re liable to be persecuted or even killed. At the very least you’ll be accused of being a hateful homophobe, a backward-thinker, a right-wing reactionary. The Church continues to uphold the teachings on life and marriage given to her by Jesus Christ. Last week, in writing for the minority opinion on the SCOTUS decision on marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia said: “In the majority’s telling this story is black and white: hate your neighbor or come along with us.”  Well, some of us won’t be coming along with the majority. We’ll be standing with our Pope and our bishops. We’ll be praying for our country and asking St. Thomas More to pray for America, too. And we’ll be voting.

                 “What was true yesterday is also true today.”
                     —Pope Benedict XVI, May 12, 2008
                         Commenting on “Humanae Vitae”

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