The need to pray for the upcoming Synod on Marriage and Family could not be greater. Sadly, so much oxygen has been spent on discussions about divorce, remarriage, and Holy Communion that little attention has been directed to defining functional marriage and upholding it for the Christian faithful. Granted we must deal with the wounded, but if all our time and energy is spent on pathology and none on good spiritual health, we lose our way and forget what a good and healthy family is.
Some good and thoughtful articles have recently been published on Crisis Magazine Online. And while to some extent they still address the pathology of modern marriage and family issues, they do a pretty good job of pointing the way back to a proper vision of Holy Matrimony. Here are a few excerpts from an article by Jared Staudt along with my commentary. Excerpts from the article are in bold italic and my comments are in plain red text. The full article is available here: A call to Heroism .
Unfortunately, I think we see marriage far too often in terms of personal self-fulfillment. Isn’t this even part of the logic of gay marriage? People need to be a marital relationship or a sexual relationship to be fulfilled.
This is well said and we have made similar comments on this blog before. Too many people today see marriage primarily in terms of what is best for the adults involved rather than the children or the common good. Too many think marriage is about two adults being happy. And as for children, they are basically a way of “accessorizing” your marriage. They are an “add-on” if this serves the pleasure and happiness of the adults in the marriage. Otherwise, they contracept, or more horrifyingly, abort. Of course if marriage is just about two adults being happy, then enter the “gay” community who are more than willing to ask the question, “Then what about us?”
And then of course if sex is “necessary” for fulfillment and we accept that premise at the cultural level, then “how dare” the Church limit what anyone “needs” to be happy and fulfilled? Everyone has a “right” to be happy, and thus the Church and those who seek to limit sexual expression in any way are guilty of infringing on the right of others to be happy and fulfilled.
Now never mind that many who have all the sex they want are still unhappy and unfulfilled; never mind that the whole premise of the argument is a lie, or at best a severe half-truth—never mind all that. Our culture has bought the lie and bitterly lashes out at any who seek to call it to responsibility and to frame sexual fulfillment within marriage and make it about having children. Never mind all that. No matter how high the body count goes through abortion and children raised in incomplete (even bizarre) settings, no matter how high the STD rate goes, the world will never consider its approach unwise or in any way problematic. No, it is we, the people who seek to “limit sexual expression” and thus to limit “happiness” who are wrong and even “immoral” based on the premise that marriage and sexual expression are essential for happiness and fulfillment.
If we simply accept an adulterous relationship as normative (in divorce and remarriage), aren’t we caving in to a position that would quickly recognize these other unions [i.e. homosexual, cohabiting, polygamous etc.] as valid? Other couples in a non-marital committed relationship will also seek the standing that [Cardinal] Kasper wants to provide, instead of accepting the Church’s teaching on abstinence. The problem is a misunderstanding of self-fulfillment. It does not come from following our passions, but by ordering them in virtue.” Exactly. For all the indulgence of passion in these modern times, our happiness is not greater—it is lessened. We do no one any favors by caving in to modern illusions. The Church needs to be “the adult in the room” and continue to point to the source of true fulfillment—the truth.
Kasper recognizes this in the published form of his controversial lecture to the Consistory of Cardinals, The Gospel of the Family: “The love between man and woman does not simply revolve around itself; it transcends and objectifies itself in children, who proceed from their love” (ch. 1) [Amen! Marriage is about children, not just the happiness of adults]. And further: “Their love is not a form of sentimentality revolving around itself.” I Couldn’t have said it better. True love and happiness are outward in their focus, not inward, selfish, and egotistical. One could only wish that the good Cardinal would stay on these points.
Here he seems to recognize what is at stake—marriage as a sacrifice to move beyond oneself. Kasper also rightly recognizes that “We are in this crisis. The gospel of marriage and the family is no longer intelligible to many. [All the more reason we must keep teaching untiringly on this matter!] For many it does not appear to be a livable option in their situation (ch. 3). [All the more reason for us and the Synod to hold up examples of couples who DO find and live this ideal. And there are many!] Returning to Kasper’s interview, he proposes a solution: “Therefore you have to emphasize and to strengthen prematrimonial catechesis.” We fundamentally need to reeducate Catholics and society on the nature of marriage!
Well OK, but that is not going to be enough. We have been trying that for years to little effect. We have to do that, yes, but even more. We have to teach not only couples preparing for marriage, but all couples, all Catholics, and the whole culture. It is a massive undertaking, but so was going unto all the nations and baptizing them as Jesus commanded. We have to widen the focus to everyone. The family (not the individual) is the basic unit of society. Every family must be reached with the undiluted truth and glorious vision of God’s plans for marriage and family. It may seem overwhelming, but with the Lord we can and will do it.
If we are going to follow Kasper on these points he gets right, we need to recognize that we cannot simply give in to our secular culture’s acceptance of non-marital relationships. If we accept the average or ordinary situation of people today we will be giving into secularism and at best mediocrity. [Exactly!] Rather, we need to challenge people all the more to take a stand, to live differently, to follow Christ boldly in the modern world. This will entail accepting suffering and sacrifices. Following Christ radically and even heroically is the only way to respond to the universal call to holiness!” [Amen]
Keep praying that the Synod on the family will not miss an opportunity to speak the truth in love to a world so increasingly lost and confused on marriage, sexuality, and the family. Pray that we will be a light in darkness and will not make foolish compromises that diminish that light.
Here’s a marriage motet that Palestrina wrote for his own Wedding. The text is from the Song of Songs and says, “Surge, amica mea, columba mea, formosa mea, et veni” (Arise my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one and come):