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The fruits of complacency on marriage

My latest article on Zenit was published yesterday. It ended up being a sort of "part II" to last month's article. Last month I wrote about how the cultural forces seeking to redefine marriage are also redefining the relationship of parent and child. This month, I wrote about the advances in assisted reproductive technology that are doing much the same thing.

We currently find ourselves in a battle to preserve and protect the institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman that brings forth the gift of life from that union. I was privileged to attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday morning.  Both Dr. Helen Alvare, law professor at George Mason University, and the Most Reverend Michael Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs, focused on the defense of marriage in their addresses to the assembly. Their words were both insightful and informative. (Their remarks will be televised tomorrow morning at 10:30am ET on EWTN)

We all need to be engaged in the defense of marriage. The fact that we have progressed to the point that our culture now excludes children from the purpose of marriage and defines it as an entity that is independent of the gender and even the number of adult participants is the result of our failure to defend marriage from earlier  assaults.

From the time of Christ, there has been an attempt to pervert marriage from its original intent. The Jews questioned Jesus about divorce and his response left no question that the institution of marriage as God ordained was an unbreakable bond. The Anglicans separated procreation from marriage in 1930 when they accepted contraception within marriage. When the purpose of marriage became focused on adult pleasure then divorce seemed logical when the pleasure was gone. If marriage lacked permanence, then why bother with it? Cohabitation became the norm. And if marriage is only about the affection of adults, then why does the gender of these adults matter? And if the complementarity of the adults is not important, then the number of adults in the marriage is irrelevant as well. Do not think that the twisting of marriage will stop with same-sex relationships. Polyamory is the next permutation on the horizon.

We are here because of our complacency. Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae in 1968. It was a hard teaching during the time of a cultural sexual revolution. We did not want to offend or appear judgmental or seem backwards so we did not speak up on the immorality of contraception. When I say, "we", I mean Catholic clergy and laity alike. Our Catholic friends got divorced and when they remarried outside of the Church, we attended their weddings and celebrated with nary a thought to the sin of adultery being committed. We did not recognize or acknowledge that when our friends lived together before getting married they were making a mockery of the institution of marriage.  And now, because we have been so cavalier with the institution of marriage, we are facing its destruction. These are the fruits of our complacency.

The pastor at our parish has instituted a policy that cohabitating couples cannot be married with all the frills and flourishes of a big wedding. No wedding gown. No special music. No procession of bridesmaids. No Nuptial Mass. They may have a simple ceremony, attended by friends where they exchange vows. I am sure he has taken heat for this stand. But imagine if more priests had respected the sacrament of matrimony as much as my pastor does. We might have done a much better job of preserving the sanctity of marriage.

Likewise, I know of parents who told their daughters that if they choose to cohabitate, they will not provide a big wedding and reception. The celebration is supposed to mark the inauguration of a sacramental life together. If they choose to treat a wedding as a mere formality or an excuse for a party instead of the holy sacrament it is, then they forfeit all the trappings of a traditional wedding. How many mothers and fathers today are willing to look their children in the eye and deny them their dream wedding in defense of the institution of marriage? I am immersed in the planning of my daughter's upcoming wedding and I know how painful such a decision would be. I am very grateful that my daughter and her fiance have not made me make that choice.

But it is exactly these kinds of choices that are all the more urgently needed now. We have to defend marriage from the assaults of same-sex relationships and from polyamory as well as from the more subtle but equally damaging affronts that trivialize children as a primary purpose of marriage. Contraception, abortion, divorce, and cohabitation are also attacks on marriage. Complacency on any of these issues is no longer an option.


RAnn said…
I'd love to see a comparison 20 year from now of the couples your pastor said "no" to about the big church wedding and those who went down the street and were told "yes" by Fr. X. 20 years from now, which group has more church-going couples who raise their kids Catholic? Are the couples your pastor keeps from the dream wedding going to say "ok" and do it his way, or are they going to go down the street to Fr. X's church, or across the street to a non-Catholic church or reception hall? Are they going to say, in essence "We got off on the wrong foot but we are going to get right with God and the Church" or are they going to shake the dust from their shoes and move on--and complain to all they meet about how unreasonable your pastor is and how awful the church is? I don't know, but I'd love to see some data years from now (though I realize that's pretty much impossible).
Denise Hunnell said…
I don't know what the data will show in 20 years, but I know the data after decades of soft pedaling Catholic teaching is not good. 45 years after Humanae Vitae we have self-identified Catholics contracepting and divorcing as much as the non-Catholics. Catholics who skip Mass are far more numerous than Catholics who go every week. We didn't keep anyone in the Church by trivializing our doctrine. So will the straight up here-are-the-hard-teachings-of the Church approach do any better? I don't know. It can't do any worse and it is a whole lot more honest. If we are going to defend marriage we need to be frank about what it is and what it isn't. We would not be defending marriage against a redefinition to include same-sex couples if we had taken care of marriage between one man and one woman.
RAnn said…
My gut feeling is that if suddenly all priests became like your pastor we'd have a smaller but more committed church. If people weren't "allowed" to C&E Catholics or Catholics on the "hatch, match and dispatch" plan, there might be some who are now half-hearted, who, when forced to choose, choose to go all in. However given the state of society in general, my guess is that most of those C&E's or HMD's will just not bother with the church.

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