Those who seek to strengthen Holy Matrimony and stem the tide of failed marriages propose many remedies, among them better catechesis, improved marriage preparation, and greater emphasis on the sacrament in sermons. All of these are fine ideas and necessary steps, but let’s also ponder a deep but often unexplored root of the trouble with marriage today: idealism or unrealistic expectations.
Although we live in cynical times, many people still hold a highly idealistic view of marriage: that it should be romantic, joyful, loving, and happy all the time. It is an ideal rooted in the dreamy wishes of romantic longing, but an ideal nonetheless. Amor omnia vincit! (Love conquers all!) Surely, we will live happily ever after the way every story says!
Here’s the problem: Many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a new deal. Yes, many are wandering about thinking, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” to borrow from a U2 song.
There is no such thing as an ideal marriage, only real marriage. Two sinners have been married. A man and a woman with fallen natures, living in a fallen world that is governed by a fallen angel, have entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Like the graces of any Sacrament, those of Holy Matrimony are necessary not because things are wonderful, but because they are oftentimes difficult. Marriage is meant to sanctify. Like baptism, it offers graces that unfold gradually. The graces unfold to the degree that, and at the speed with which, the couple cooperates with God’s work.
It takes a lifetime of joy and challenge, tenderness and tension, difficulty and growth, in order for a husband and wife to summon each other to the holiness that God gives. Some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. Struggles and irritations are often opportunities to grow and to learn what forgiveness, patience, and suffering are all about. These are precious things to learn and to grow in. Frankly, if we don’t learn to forgive we are going to go to Hell (see Mt 6:14-15). Even the best marriages have tension; without tension there is no change.
This may not describe the ideal, happily-ever-after marriage, but it describes the real one: full of joy, love, hope, and tenderness, but also sorrow, anger, stress, and disappointment.
The real problem does not necessarily come from our ideals about marriage, which are good to strive for, but from the fact that we conceive of these ideals within a hedonistic culture.
Hedonism is the “doctrine” that the chief goals of earthly life are happiness and pleasure. (The Greek word hedone means “pleasure.”) In the hedonistic view, any diminishment of pleasure or happiness is the worst thing imaginable, a complete disaster. Many insist on a kind of God-given right to be happy and pleased. Even some devout Christians fall prey to these exaggerated notions and excuse some selfish and sinful behaviors by saying, “God wants me to be happy doesn’t He?” When the Church (or an individual) suggests that someone should do what is difficult, they react, not with puzzlement, but with downright indignation, as if to say, “How dare you get between anyone and what makes him or her happy!”
Our notion of an ideal (happy, fulfilling, blissful) marriage is seen through the lens of hedonistic extremism. If the ideal marriage is not found, many feel a need—a perfect right—to end it in search of greener pastures.
This is just more evidence of our instant gratification culture that is used to “Rush shipping,” “Buy it with one click,” and “Download now.” If the ideal marriage is not evident very soon, the disappointments and resentments come quickly.
There is a saying that “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.” How quickly unrealistic notions of the picture-perfect marriage are dashed on the shoals of reality.
Somewhere, not only in the Church’s marriage preparation programs but also in our work of assisting personal formation, we need to teach that unrealistic expectations are ultimately destructive. Our ideals are not the problem per se; we must become more sober about our conception of these ideals through the lens of hedonism and instant gratification. Growth takes time. Life moves through stages. Marriage is hard, but so is life. Cutting and running from the imperfect marriage—as some do rather quickly today—is not the solution. Sure enough, one imperfect marriage leads to another and perhaps yet another.
In the past, even the relatively recent past, people tended to stick things out, to work through some differences while agreeing to live with others. We would do well to regain something of this appreciation that earthly life is a mixed bag, that there are going to be challenges. Marriage is no different. Though we may idealize it, we should be aware that we are setting ourselves up for resentment and disappointment if we don’t balance it with the understanding that marriage is hard because life is hard.
Clearly there are many other problems that contribute to today’s high rate of divorce, but an overlooked root is the expectation of an ideal marriage. Yes, many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a newdeal. (We would do well to remember that in a world full of adults behaving like this, it is the children who really get a raw deal.) This is a deeper and less discussed cultural root of our divorce problem, a deep wound of which we should become more aware.
Both today’s first reading and the gospel speak to us of the miracle of marriage. If your marriage is working even reasonably well, it is a miracle! We live in an age that is poisonous to marriage. Many people look for marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a new deal. Our culture says, if it doesn’t work out, bail out. Thus, successful marriages today are a miracle. But marriages are also a miracle because they are, ultimately, a work of God.
Today’s readings bring before us some fundamental teachings on marriage. The following homily is not short. But many problems beset Holy Matrimony today and the vision of God must be set forth clearly and thoroughly. Let’s look at today’s gospel in five stages.
I Rejection – The gospel opens with the Pharisees approaching Jesus and asking, somewhat rhetorically, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” Jesus, aware of their hypocrisy (they do not really want an answer from Him on which to base their lives), asks them in return, “What did Moses command you?” They gleefully respond, in essence, that Moses permitted a husband to divorce his wife as long as he “filled out the paperwork.”
But Jesus will have none of it, telling them that Moses only permitted this very regrettable thing called “divorce” because of their hardened hearts.
Among the rabbis of Jesus’ time, there was the belief that this seemingly lax provision permitting divorce resulted because Moses had reasoned that if he were to say to the men of his day that marriage was until death then some of them might very well have arranged for the death of their wives. So, in order to prevent homicide, Moses permitted the lesser evil of divorce. But it was still an evil and still something deeply regrettable. God Himself says in the book of Malachi,
And this again you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering … You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord is witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. Yes … take heed to yourselves, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:13–16).
Thus, in the opening lines of today’s gospel, Jesus spends time highlighting how the Pharisees and many other men of His time have rejected God’s fundamental teaching on marriage. Jesus is about to reiterate that teaching. For now, though, just note the rejection evidenced in the question of the Pharisees, a rejection that Jesus ascribes to hearts that have become hardened by sin, lack of forgiveness, and rejection of God’s plan.
God hates divorce not only because it intrinsically rejects what He has set forth, but also because it is symptomatic of human hardness and sinfulness.
II. Restoration– Jesus, having encountered their hardened hearts, announces a restoration, a return to God’s original plan for marriage. The Lord quotes the Book of Genesis, saying,
But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. And for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.
Note that Jesus begins with the phrase, “but from the beginning of creation.” In other words, anything that may have happened in the aftermath of Original Sin, any compromises or arrangements that have emerged during the reign of sin, are now to be done away with in the reign of grace that will come as the result of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection.
On account of the grace that will be bestowed, we are now able, and expected, to return to God’s original plan for marriage: one man and one woman in a lifelong, stable relationship that is fruitful, bringing forth godly children for God and His kingdom. This is God’s plan, a plan that has no room for divorce, contraception, or anything other than fruitful, faithful, stable love.
In today’s Western culture there have been many attempts to redefine God’s original and perfect plan for marriage, substituting something erroneous, something humanly defined. And while current endeavors to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions are a particularly egregious example, they are not the first or only way in which God’s plan for marriage has been attacked:
The first attempts happened in the 1950s, when divorce began to occur among celebrities in Hollywood (e.g., Ingrid Bergman, followed by many others). Many Americans, who seem to love and admire their Hollywood stars, began to justify divorce. “Don’t people deserve to be happy?” became the refrain. And thus marriage, which up to that point had as its essential focus what was best for children, began, subtly but clearly, to be centered on what was best for adults. The happiness of the adults, rather than the well-being of the children, began to take precedence in most people’s thinking about marriage.
During the 1950s and 1960s pressure began to build to make divorce easier. Until the late 1960s, divorces had been legally difficult to obtain in America; wealthier people often went to Mexico in order to secure them. In 1969, California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the first “no-fault” divorce law, making divorce a fairly easy thing to obtain. Within ten years, most of the fifty states had similar laws. As a result, divorce rates skyrocketed.
This was the first redefinition of marriage. No longer was a man to leave his father and mother and “cling to his wife.” Now, at the first sign of trouble, men and women could just sever their marriage vows. But this is in direct contradiction to God’s plan, which tells them to cling to each other. Thus we engaged in what amounts to a redefinition of marriage.
The second redefinition of marriage occurred when the contraceptive mentality seized America. It began in the late 1950s and continues to this day. Though God said to the first couple, Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth … (Genesis 1:28), children have become more of a way of “accessorizing” a marriage rather than an integral part and an expected fruit. Children are no longer seen as an essential purpose of marriage, but only an optional outcome based on the wishes of the adults. This, too, is a redefinition of marriage; it is in direct contradiction to God’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply.” The happiness and will of the adults is now preeminent; children, rather than being an essential fruit, are only a possible outcome.
The third redefinition of marriage, the current rage, is the attempt to extend it to include same-sex unions. The absurdity of this proposal flows from the sinful conclusions of the first two redefinitions, which in effect state that marriage is simply about two adults being happy and doing whatever pleases them.
And if that is the case, there seems little basis in most people’s mind to protest same-sex couples getting “married,” or, frankly, any number of adults in any combination of sexes, getting “married.” (Polygamy and/or polyandry are surely coming next.)
We in the heterosexual community have misbehaved for over fifty year now, redefining essential aspects of marriage. And the latest absurdity—and it is an absurdity—of gay marriage flows from this flawed and sinful redefinition. We have sown the wind; now we are reaping the whirlwind.
In the end, Jesus will have none of this. He rejects the attempts of the men of His time to redefine marriage. And He, through His Church, His living voice in the world today, also rejects the sinful and absurd redefinitions that we in our culture propose, be it divorce, contraception, or homosexual “marriage.”
God has set forth that a man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and that the two of them become one flesh. In making a suitable partner for Adam, God created Eve, not Steve. And hence homosexual unions are excluded. A man is not a suitable partner for a man; a woman is not a suitable partner for a woman. Further, in making a suitable partner for Adam, God did not make Eve and Ellen and Jane and Sue and Beth. Hence, polygamy, though mentioned and tolerated for a time in the Bible (but always a source of trouble) is also not part of God’s plan.
God intends one man, for one woman, in a relationship of clinging; that is, in a stable relationship that bears the fruit of godly offspring.
This is the Lord’s plan; the Lord Jesus does not entertain any notion from the people of His day that will alter or compromise His original design for marriage. He thus announces a restoration of God’s original plan for marriage, as set forth in the book of Genesis.
III. Reality – As is true today, Jesus’ reassertion of traditional, biblical marriage was met with controversy. In Matthew’s account, many of the disciples react with disdain, saying, If that is a case of a man and his wife, it is better never to marry! (Matt 19:10)
In today’s gospel we see that the disciples are somewhat troubled by what Jesus says and ask Him about it again later. But Jesus does not back down; He even intensifies His language, saying, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
There will be no apology from Jesus: divorce and remarriage is adultery. There may have been some in Jesus’ time (and today) who would hold up their divorce papers and say that they have a divorce decree. Jesus implies that He is not impressed with some papers signed by a human judge and is not bound by the decision of some secular authority. What God has joined together, no man must separate. In other words, Jesus once again establishes that once God has in fact joined a couple in Holy Matrimony, the bond which God has effected is to be respected by all, including the couple.
Marriage has a reality beyond what mere humans bring to it or say of it. Marriage is a work of God; it has a reality and an existence that flows from God’s work, not man’s. All of our attempts to redefine, obfuscate, or alter marriage as God has set it forth is sinful and is something that God does not recognize as a reality.
IV. Reemphasis – Now comes an interesting twist, which includes a reminder of one of the most essential purposes of marriage. The gospel text says,
And people were bringing their little children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
This is not a new element to the story, neither have we gone into a separate pericope. Rather, Jesus’ remarks about children remind us of the essential reason why marriage is structured the way it is. Why should marriage be between two heterosexuals? Why should it be stable? Why should it include a father and a mother rather than two fathers, or two mothers, or just a mother, or just a father?
The fundamental answer is that the essential work of marriage is to procreate and then raise those children! Since children remain marriage’s most fundamental fruit, it makes sense that marriage should be structured based on what is best for them. And the fact is, children are best raised in a stable, lasting environment in which their parents have committed to one another in mutual support and partnership in raising them. Further, it makes sense psychologically that a child should be receiving influence from both father and mother, the male parent and the female parent. There are things that a father can teach a child that a mother cannot; there are things that a mother can teach a child that a father cannot. Psycho-social development is best achieved in the environment that God and nature have set forth: every child growing up with both a father and a mother; a male and a female influence.
Anything else amounts to something that is less than ideal. To the degree that we intentionally impose the less-than-ideal on children, we are guilty of doing them an injustice. Bringing children into the world prior to marriage or apart from it, such that they will be raised in a single-parent home, is an injustice. It is an even greater injustice that children conceived under these promiscuous circumstances are far more likely to be aborted. To kill a child through abortion is a horrific injustice; it is also an injustice to raise a child apart from a marriage situation.
This preference for stable, lasting, heterosexual unions clearly excludes homosexual ones. Same-sex “parents” are far from ideal for a child. To raise a child in such circumstances intentionally is an injustice, for it is to subject the child to that which is unnatural and far from ideal.
Catholics have every obligation both to uphold and insist upon traditional marriage as what is right and just, not only because it is God’s plan, but because it is clearly what is best for children. And marriage is fundamentally about children. It is not simply religious sensibility that should lead us to this position; it is a position deeply rooted in natural law, common sense, and what is best for children.
Traditional marriage should be encouraged in every way. Becoming more “fuzzy” about what marriage is, or “defining it down” does not help our culture to esteem traditional marriage. Traditional marriage has pride of place because it is focused on raising the next generation and is critical to the essential functioning of our society.
There is much talk today about the rights of people to do as they please. So-called gay “marriage” is presented within this framework. But, sadly, many who discuss rights only refer to the rights of adults; they seem to care less about what is really best for children. What is good and right for children needs to have a much higher priority in our culture today than it currently does.
Jesus reemphasizes the teaching on marriage by pointing to the young children before them and telling the disciples not to hinder the children. One of the clearest ways we hinder children from finding their way to God and to His kingdom is with our own bad behavior: promiscuous sexual acts (endangering children through abortion or single-parent households), divorce (placing children in divided situations and saddling them with confused loyalties), and insistence on adult rights over what is best for children. To emphasize all of this bad behavior, Jesus points out the young children to us and says, “Do not hinder them.” Our bad behavior does hinder them.
IV. Reassurance – To be sure, this teaching about marriage is to some degree “heavy weather.” Indeed, many in our culture have tried, and failed, to attain to the vision of marriage that the Lord teaches. There are complicated reasons, too many to note here, why so many people struggle to live this teaching today.
But whatever our own failures have been, we need to go to the Lord with a childlike trust, a trust that cries out for help. Thus, Jesus says at the conclusion of today’s gospel, Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.
Children often feel overwhelmed, but in the midst of that, they run to their parents and seek help. It is in this spirit that the Lord asked us to receive this teaching. Indeed, many may well have to run to God and say “Abba, God, I don’t know how to live this teaching. My marriage is in ruins, and I don’t know how to save it. I’ve tried, but my spouse is unwilling. I can’t go back and undo what I did years ago.”
But note how the Lord embraces the child in this gospel. He is willing to embrace us as well, in our failures and our difficulties. If we have failed, we should be like a young child and run to the Father. What we should most avoid is being relentlessly adult-like, digging in our heels and saying, “God is unreasonable; the Gospel is unreasonable!”
In the end, only God can accomplish strong marriages and strong families for us. We must run to Him as a Father and seek His help. If we have failed, we must not fail to tell the next generation what God teaches, even if we have not been able to live it perfectly.
God’s plan still remains His plan for everyone, whatever our personal failings. We have every obligation to run to Him, trust Him, and ask for His help. But even in the midst of our own personal failures, we can and must announce and celebrate the truth to others. In the end, God does not give us His teaching in order to burden us, or to accuse us, but rather to bless us. Our assurance must be in His mercy and His ability to write straight, even with the crooked lines of our lives.
If we in this generation have failed, and many of us have failed, we must still announce God’s plan for marriage to the next generation. We must not cease to hand on God’s perfect plan.
Here in the middle of the Christmas Octave, the Church bids us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. On the old calendar, the Feast of the Holy Family falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which makes a little more sense since the gospels appointed for the feast often take us far forward in time mere days after He is born. The gospel this year is only forty days into the future (unlike other years when the gospel takes us twelve years into the future), but today’s gospel is still well past the Feast of the Epiphany, which we have yet to celebrate.
Nevertheless, here we are. Perhaps it is a good time to reflect on family life. For, at Christmas time, family and extended family often gather together. We are also in the midst of a reflection by the Church at Synods in Rome on the modern problems associated with the family. These problems are rooted in the loss of God’s vision for human families and sexuality. Pray for the synod members, that they will look less to diseases now and more to the solutions given in God’s Word. It is true that we must understand the problems, but it is even more important that we understand what God teaches and effectively proclaim it.
In terms of this Feast of the Holy Family, let us consider marriage and family along three lines: structure, struggles, and strategy.
I. Structure – All through the readings for today’s Mass, we are instructed on the basic form, the basic structure of the family. For example,
God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons (Sirach 3:2).
May your wife be like a fruitful vine, in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants, around your table (Psalm 128:3).
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they may not become discouraged (Colossians 3:20–21).
Each year, Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover … Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety … (Luke 2:45, 51).
And he was obedient to them; … And Jesus advanced in age and wisdom and favor before God and man (Luke 2:51–52).
And thus we see the basic structure of family:
A father in honor over his children
A wife and mother, supportive of her husband and his authority
A mother, having authority over her children, supported, loved, and encouraged by her husband and obeyed by her children
Children who both honor and obey their parents
Fathers, and by extension mothers, who instruct and admonish their children, but not in a way that badgers and discourages them, but in a way that encourages and builds them up
A family structure that helps children to advance in wisdom and age, and in favor before God and man
So, a father, a mother, and children, all reverential and supportive of one another in their various roles and duties.
Here, then, is God’s basic teaching on family and marriage. Here is the basic structure for the family as God sets it forth: a man who loves his wife and a woman who loves her husband. And in this stable, lasting, and faithful union of mutual support and love, they conceive and raise their children in the holy fear of the Lord.
Add to this, the principal description of the book of Genesis, which lays out how God sets forth marriage: “A man shall leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). And to this first couple, God gives the mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22).
Note, too, how the structure of the family takes its basic form based on its essential work: procreation and the rearing of children. Why should marriage be a stable and lasting union? Why is Adam told to cling to his wife, to form a stable and lasting union with her? Why? Because this is what is best and just for children! Children both need and deserve a stable and lasting union of their father and mother, and the complementary influence of the two different sexes. This is what is best for children to be raised and formed. Hence, the family structure of a father and a mother, a male and a female parent, flows from what is best and just for children. The structure of the family, as set forth by God, is rooted in what is best and just for children. This is what is sensible and best, sociologically and psychologically, for the proper development of children.
Even before we open the Bible, it makes sense that a child should have a father and a mother, the influence and teaching of both a male and a female. There are things that a father, a male, can teach a child that a mother, a female, cannot teach as well. Further, the mother, a female, can teach and model for children what only she knows best. Both male and female influences are essential for the proper psychological and sociological development of the child. Clearly, then, God’s biblical mandate that marriage should consist of a father and a mother is not without basis in simple human reason and common sense.
To intentionally deprive a child of this context is both unjust to the child and unwise. Hence, we see that the basic structure for marriage takes its shape from what is best and just for children. Both God and nature provide for a father and a mother, a male and a female, to conceive and raise a child.
It also makes sense, based on simple human reasoning, that that relationship should be stable, something the child can depend on from day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year, through all the formative years.
Here then is the proper structure for marriage. It is set forth both by God and human reason.
II. Struggles – And yet, what should be obvious to us as a culture seems to be strangely absent in the minds of many. Let us be clear: sin clouds judgment and makes many think that what is sinful and improper is in fact okay or even good. It is not. In our current culture we gravely sin against God and against our children by consistent misconduct and by the refusal to accept what is obviously true. The words of St. Paul are fulfilled in our modern times: their senseless minds were darkened, and they became vain and foolish in their reasoning (Rom 1:21).
It is clear today that the family is in grave crisis. And it is also clear that it is the children who suffer the most. Our modern age in the western world shows forth a mentality that is both deeply flawed and gravely harmful to children.
Marriage and family are in great crisis due to the willful and sinful habits of the vast majority of adults in our culture regarding sexuality, marriage, and family life. The rebellion of adults against the plan and order of God has caused endless grief and hardship, and has set forth a culture that is poisonous to the proper raising and blessing of children.
Previously, there has commentary on this on the blog regarding this. Without repeating whole blog posts, the following excerpts stands forth:
Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. And while not all of us are equally guilty of contributing to the suffering of children, none of us is wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.
Consider that most children born today are no longer born into the stable and lasting family units they justly deserve, with a father and mother committed to one another till death do them part.
The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. And while most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so because of what it does primarily to children.
The fact is, many children are conceived of fornication. Tragically, most of these children who are thus conceived are outright murdered by abortion. 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. And for all the vaunted declarations of how contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed with the availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility; it is lust, promiscuity, fornication, and adultery. And contraception fuels these problems by further enabling them with the lie that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. The promises associated with contraception are lies; contraception does the opposite of what it promises.
Thus fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with their death in huge numbers. And the children conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are nevertheless subjected to the injustice of usually being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other irregularities.
Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. And make no mistake about it, these shredded families cause great hardships and pain for children that include children being shuttled back and forth between different households each week, having to meet “daddy’s new girlfriend” or “mommy’s new boyfriend,” and all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, since legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural relationships.
All of this misbehavior, individual and cultural, harms children. Not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many other social ills, starting with poverty.
The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
71% of poor families are not married.
Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
2 times more likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
33% more likely to drop out of school,
3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
And twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves. [*]
And add to the burdens children must experience, the new trend of same-sex adoption. Never mind that it is best for the psychological development of a child to have a father and a mother, a male and a female influence. No, what is best and just children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Same-sex couples must now be given equal consideration under the law (in many states) to heterosexual couples. It’s the adults and their rights that seem to matter most here; what is best for children is quite secondary.
Here then are our struggles. Our families are in grave crisis and MOST children in our culture are not raised in the stable and committed homes they deserve. And let us be even more clear: to intentionally deprive children of this sort of home by raising them outside of marriage, or in same-sex unions, etc., is sinful, wrong, and an injustice.
Disclaimer – Let us also be clear that it is not possible to personally judge every case of a broken family. The modern world has experienced a cultural tsunami and many have been influenced by lies and other false promises. It may be true that, if you are divorced, you tried to save your marriage but your spouse was unwilling. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, perhaps before your your conversion to Christ, you fell and bore children outside of marriage, but have done your best to raise them well.
But in the end we must say that children have had much to suffer on account of adult misbehavior in our culture. It is a true and sad fact, and we need to repent and beg God’s grace and mercy to undo our grave sins of commission, omission, and silence. We have set forth a bitter world for our children to inherit.
III. Strategy – What are we to do? In a phrase, “Preach the Word.” Whatever the sins of us in this present generation (and there are many), we must be prepared to repropose, unambiguously, the wisdom of God’s Word to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Even if many of us in the current generation have fallen short, we cannot hesitate to announce God’s plan for sexuality, marriage, and family.
Our strategic proclamation must include these key elements:
No sex before marriage, ever, under any circumstances. Sexual intercourse is rooted in the procreation of children and there is no legitimate use of it outside of marriage, ever. There are no exceptions to this.
Children deserve and have the right to expect two parents, a father and a mother, committed to each other till death do them part. Anything short of this is a grave injustice to children and a mortal sin before God.
Gay unions, or single mothers and fathers are NOT an acceptable alternative to biblical marriage. To intentionally subject children to this, for the sake of political correctness or for the perceived needs of adults, is a grave injustice to them.
Marriage is about what is best for children, not adults.
Married couples must learn to work out their differences (as was done in the past) and not rush to divorce courts, which offends God (cf Malachi 2:16).
The needs of children far outweigh the preferences and needs of adults.
Whatever the personal failings of any of us in this present evil age (cf Gal 1:4), our strategy must be to preach the undiluted plan of God for sexuality, marriage, and family to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
In short, “Back to the Bible! Back to the plan of God! Away with modern experiments and unbiblical schemes!” God has given us a plan. And we, thinking we had better ideas, have caused great sorrow and hardship for our descendants. We have acted unjustly, murdered our children through abortion, and, sowing in the wind, have caused those who have survived our misbehavior to inherit the whirlwind. It is time to repent and help our heirs to rejoice in chastity, marriage, and biblical family. Otherwise we are doomed to perish.
God has a plan and it must be our strategy to get out of our struggles and back to God’s structure for our families.
This song says, “So, humbly I come to you and say. As I sound aloud the warfare of today. Hear me, I pray. What about the children?”
Many breathed a sigh of relief when the summary document of the extraordinary Synod on the Family was much improved and the seriously flawed sections (which no one seems to know who wrote!) were removed. But in this case we cannot allow the better to become the enemy of the best. And frankly the relatio, though improved, ought not escape sober scrutiny by those who seek to allow the upcoming (Ordinary) Synod to become what it really ought to be: a synod on families, not on dysfunction.
No doubt the family is in grave crisis, not just in the West, be really throughout most of the world. But to focus only on the dysfunction and to make it the main matter of discussion is to miss the solution which comes from focusing on what is functional and healthy.
Consider the medical world. It is clear that they must look to the pathologies and diseases that afflict the human family. But the definition and picture of what is healthy must drive everything doctors do (except perhaps in the palliative care department). The role of doctors is not to make sick people feel better about being sick, it is to make them well; it is to restore them to good health. I suppose it is not a bad thing that doctors make patients feel welcome and comfortable in the office or hospital, but that is secondary. If I go to the doctor with cancer and all the doctor says is “I affirm you! Don’t feel embarrassed or hurt; lots of people are sick. Heck, I get sick too.” Well then I am going to have to say, “Thanks Doc, but how about the cancer? What are we going to do about that?”
Yet too often in the Church today those entrusted with the care of souls talk like that chatty, affirming doctor. Too easily it’s all “bedside manner” stuff, and not enough good, strong medicine that calls disease what it is is and points to the charts and indicators of what true health is.
It would seem that an awful lot of the time at the Synod, at least in the discussions that were most publicized, was spent talking about what is dysfunctional and trying to make people in dysfunctional situations feel better and “included.” It would seem that less time has been spent looking at what true family health and functionality is and working to rebuild that by insisting on it, preaching it, and getting people used to it again. Where is the focus on functional families? How have they succeeded? What are the elements that most contribute to family health? Where are the panels of couples married 25, 40, and 50 years being consulted for solid advice? Where is the pointed and solid exegesis of scriptural texts, teachings from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and witnesses to married love down through the centuries?
Sadly, most of the oxygen thus far has gone toward what is not working. The “Synod on the Family” might need to be renamed the “Synod on Divorce, Remarriage, and Alternative Families.” As such, we seem more like the “cheerful” doctor above who spends all his time welcoming and reassuring but misses his most essential role: combating pathology and restoring health.
A recent article in Catholic World Report highlights the seemingly skewed emphasis in the Relatio and in current discussions. The article highlights what the Synod did NOT say and focuses on two specific omissions. Here are some excerpts from the article (by Matthew Christoff) in bold italics, with some additional commentary by me in plain red text. The full article can be found here: The Bishops and the Man-Crisis.
Christoff begins by listing two serious omissions he sees and then detailing them. (Remember I am presenting excerpts.)
The Synod completely ignored the essential importance of men in the faith lives of the family and the broader Catholic “man-crisis.” The second shocking omission is that the Synod failed to acknowledge and address the majority of families in the pews, families with married moms and dads who are facing crushing challenges with successfully passing on the faith to their children.
Omission 1: Men
In the Relatio Synodi, the Synod Fathers offered only one sentence with 25 words addressed to men and fathers who represent about half of Catholics. For perspective, homosexuals, who represent 1-2% of Catholics, merited two whole paragraphs. Wow, ONE sentence, ONE.
Rather than recognize the contributions of fathers or their unique spiritual and evangelization needs, the Synod Fathers offered this short, critical admonishment to men and fathers:
Fathers who are often absent from their families, not simply for economic reasons, need to assume more clearly their responsibility for children and the family (Paragraph 8).
Well, admonishment is good. A lot of men are sinfully absent and/or passive husbands and fathers.
But admonishment without instruction is ineffective. This is especially true today when many men hear the message that seeking to be the head of their household, to provide for their wife and children, and to be be a leader are bad things. Men who talk like this are often scolded for being patriarchal, insensitive, misogynistic, etc.
Thus scolding without teaching men, women, and even children of the biblical vision of a man as the head of his family, is ineffective because it does not provide men or families with a framework that clarifies the “responsibility” the bishops speak of and how it is to be properly described and fulfilled.
It is strategically flawed to believe that the Church can bring the New Evangelization to the family without addressing the Catholic “man-crisis”. The New Emangelization Project has documented that there is a Catholic “man-crisis” that is widespread and serious. Fully one in three baptized Catholic men in the U.S. have left the Church … Of those who remain 50-60% are … men who don’t know the faith, don’t practice the faith and are not committed to passing the faith along to their children … Men are essential in the passing along of faith to the children. Various studies have been published that underscore the essential nature of the father in the transmission of the faith. The active involvement in the faith of an evangelized and catechized father is the single biggest influence on whether the children will remain in the faith when they become adults. The reason the Church is losing so many young people is that the fathers have not been evangelized and catechized. This is the essence of the Catholic “man-crisis.”
OK, are we clear: the Synod has to focus a LOT more on men and their role as husbands and fathers. One sentence is NOT enough. Some teachings regarding men that should be emphasized for the restoration of good, healthy families should include: What does scripture teach of the role of a man as a husband and father? What does scripture mean in calling a man the head of his wife? How is this role properly exercised (and not set aside as outdated)? What are ways the Church can once again summon men to leadership roles in the parish and community? How can we better form young men to be husbands, fathers, priests, deacons, or religious?
ONE sentence? Really? Major omission! Much more has to be said and done about the “missing man syndrome” in the Church and in the family.
Omission 2: Intact Families
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (Marriage in the Catholic Church: A Survey of U.S. Catholics – 2007), sacramentally married Catholics represent the single biggest portion of Catholics (some 35-40%). These Catholics received no pastoral emphasis by the Synod.N.B. There are still a lot of functioning families. Not enough to be sure, but there ARE still a good number.
[Instead, the Relatio] focuses on five [other] types of families for pastoral care: engaged couples, married couples in their early years, couples who are not sacramentally married, divorced and remarried couples and single parent families, and homosexual persons. Here is the relative emphasis based on word count:
Those to be married (7% of the word count) Those newly married (7% of the word count) Those living together or civilly married (17% of the word count) Those who are divorced or single (61% of the word count) Homosexuals (7% of the word count)
Each of these groups are certainly worthy of evangelization and are rightly acknowledged in the document. What’s missing is the largest portion of those families who are Catholic: sacramentally married with intact families.
Once again, WOW! 61% of the word count on the divorced or still single and almost nothing on functioning, traditional families. True, the engaged and newly married receive 14% of the word count. But the skew is clearly toward what is at variance with God’s plan and is dysfunctional: cohabiters, the divorced, and those with same-sex attraction. Hence the wonderment as to whether this really is the “Synod on the Family” and not the “Synod on Divorce, Remarriage, and Alternative Families.” I will admit that I am not sure how these percentages were determined, so I am just assuming the count as reliable, though I suppose what category every word goes into may be a matter of some debate, at least at the margins.
Intact [traditional] families face grave issues that desperately require the Church’s attention. Many of these families are casual in their faith and will not be able to successfully transmit the faith to their children without dramatic new enthusiasm, catechesis, and skills. All the trends suggest that the Church is failing in helping intact families pass their faith along to their children: since 2000 in the U.S., 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education participation of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, baptisms of infants has dropped by 28%, baptism of adults has dropped by 31% and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%. Something is desperately wrong with how the Church is evangelizing and catechizing existing families.
To use a common sense analogy from business: Businesses that flourish are extremely attendant to their loyal customer base (for the Church, those sacramentally married couples with children in the pews); great emphasis is placed on helping these customers grow in their loyalty (for the Church, helping parents grow in their faith and successfully pass their faith along to their children) and increasing their use of the product (increased Mass attendance and participation in Reconciliation). A losing strategy in business is to focus marketing efforts on wooing back those customers who don’t like the product (for the Church, those who reject the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality) and have stopped using the product (those who have left the Church).
Admittedly, this analogy is only partially correct for the Church; Christ teaches that the lost sheep should be pursued, and so they should. But Christ’s last words to Peter are repeated three times: “feed my sheep.” Sadly, in the Relatio Synodi, the largest portion of families are completely ignored; the sheep in the paddock are not being fed. Amen!
Christoff concludes with a plea to Bishops:
As fathers, bishops, and priests must begin to take responsibility for their own families (their dioceses, their parishes) and develop new ardor, methods, and expressions to successfully evangelize and catechize men and intact families in the pews….it is imperative that the Church realize and correct the Synod’s shocking omissions and realign attention to the evangelization and catechesis of men and those intact families who are in the pews. Without a new and dramatic hands-on effort to “feed the sheep” (i.e., men and intact families), the flock will continue to wander off in the coming decades.
Here’s a complex song. But among other things, it celebrates the formation that takes place in families.
Every now and again when I write on Holy Matrimony, especially the Church’s more staunch biblical teachings (indissolubility, no contraception, etc.), someone will inevitably write in with a kind of sneer and wonder at or even laugh at a celibate man advising married people about marriage. To be sure, inner experience of something has its place, but so does external observance. I remember as a youth that my swimming coach, who was out of the water, would often correct us if our form was wrong, and advise us on how to adjust it to swim better and faster. His perspective from out of the water gave him an understanding that even I, an experienced swimmer in the water, could not have. I might think my form was perfect, but he could see that it was not.
Similarly, priests and other celibates (such as religious) DO have something to teach about marriage. What we teach is not better than the advice of married people, but it is different; it is given from a different perspective. From our position, sometimes we can see things about Holy Matrimony that even the married have trouble seeing. Further, it is to be hoped that priests and religious are also well-versed in the Biblical teaching on Matrimony and family life and can offer the benefit of our study of God’s Word and our relationship with the Author of Holy Matrimony.
With that introduction, I would like to present some of the teaching of Pope St. Gregory the Great and his advice to the married. For spiritual reading, I am currently finishing up his Pastoral Rule, which contains this teaching. Since he is a priest and Bishop, his advice is less on practical things (such as communication, conflict resolution, etc.) and more at the level of theology and priorities. And yet it does have very practical importance. The following excerpts are taken from his Pastoral Rule (III.27) and are presented in bold, italics.
My own comments appear in red text.
Those who are joined in marriage should be advised that, as they mutually consider what is good for their spouse, they should be careful that when they please their spouse, they do not displease their maker. In other words, they should conduct their affairs in this world without relinquishing their desire for God … They should remain aware that their current situation is transitory and what they desire is permanent.
And in this is the heart of St. Gregory’s advice: God comes first. And even if a spouse may pressure one to forsake what God teaches, or to neglect to pray or attend to sacred duties, let that one with charity and confidence withstand any temptation to negligence of or disobedience to God. Pleasing God is more important and more required than pleasing one’s spouse. And while these two are not necessarily or even usually in conflict, when they are, God must be preeminent.
St. Gregory also reminds that Matrimony is of this world and therefore transitory, while the things of God remain forever. We frequently forget this and focus instead on passing things, joys, and troubles, and forget or minimize the things of the life to come, which have greater significance since they are permanent.
Such an insight is focused on seeing not only marriage’s joys in their proper and passing perspective, but also its sorrows and difficulties. “Trouble don’t last always.” And in this is a remedy that helps to endure difficulties and to see beyond the crosses to the glory that waits and endures.
[Though] as [the married] cannot completely abandon the temporal things [they] can desire union with the eternal … therefore, the married Christian should not give himself entirely to the things that he now possesses, or else he will fall completely from that which he ought to hope … St. Paul expresses this well and so simply saying for he who has a wife should act as though not having one. [In other words he means that] he who enjoys the consolation of the carnal life through his wife, but does so in such a way that his love for her does not divert him. He also has a wife as though not having one, who understands that all things are transitory.
Here, too, while the love of one’s spouse and the goods of marriage are not necessarily, or even usually, in conflict with the desire for eternal things, nevertheless the married must not fail to consciously work to keep these desires connected and to not allow worldly desires to eclipse or attenuate the desire for heavenly things.
This happens in other areas beyond marriage, too. For example, we have attained great comfort in the modern age with electricity, running water, entertainment, good food in abundance, etc. And sadly, there is a pronounced diminishment today for spiritual things and the things of Heaven. Even many Christians in their so-called spiritual life and prayers, pray more and longer for better finances, improved health, and worldly things than they do for holiness and even Heaven.
Thus the joys of this world and those of matrimony ought to be seen as a mere foretaste of far greater glories to come for which we must more truly long.
The married should be advised that they endure with mutual patience those things that occasionally bring displeasure and that they exhort one another to salvation … They should be advised that they not worry themselves so much about what they must endure from their spouse, but consider what their spouse must endure on account of them. For if one really considers what must be endured on his account, it is all the easier to bear the things of others.
It is so easy to list the sins and shortcomings of others. But every spouse should begin by saying, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it … I am a sinner and I married a sinner, knowing he was a sinner … I am living in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and I myself have a fallen nature.”
The patience that Pope Gregory reminds us of is a reference to the Cross. And the Lord tells us that we must be willing to endure the Cross or we cannot be His disciples. Frankly, people often lay the heaviest crosses on those whom they love. This is because they care about them.
And love brings vulnerability. The word “vulnerabilty” is rooted in the Latin word “vulnera” meaning “wound.” Thus to be vulnerable is to be able to endure wounds out of love. And patience is rooted in the Latin word “patior” meaning “to suffer.” Hence patience bespeaks a capacity or willingness to suffer on account of others.
The married should be advised to remember that they come together for the purpose of producing children, but when they become immoderately enslaved by intercourse, they transfer the occasion for procreation to the service of pleasure … Thus St. Paul, skilled in heavenly medicine writes “Concerning the things you wrote to me, it is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman, but on account of fornication, let everyone have his own wife and every woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1). And thus, by beginning with the fear of fornication, Paul did not extend this precept to those who were strong, but rather showed the couch to those who are weak, so they would not fall to the ground. He then adds, “Let the husband give what he ought to his wife, and similarly the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:3). … [He says this] because there are many who [though] clearly forsaking the sins of the flesh [i.e., fornication], nevertheless, in the practice of marital intercourse have not limited themselves solely to the confines of righteousness (i.e., intercourse without procreative intent).
And thus, though marital intercourse is both licit and noble, like any pleasure it can take on an importance either too large, or out of connection with its truest purposes.
In the modern age, the contraceptive mentality insists that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. When this error (contrary to both natural law and revealed truth) is indulged, sex is reduced to the thing itself and we divide what God has joined. Sex merely for pleasure too easily devolves into demeaning, even unnatural behaviors and to the reduction of others, even spouses, to sexual playthings, rather than eventual parents. A man who looks at his wife as (potentially or actually) the mother of his children sees her differently than if he sees her as a sexual plaything.
It was in this context that Pope John Paul controversially stated that it was possible even for spouses to lust after one another in violation of the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:28. And what is lust? Essentially, it is reducing the human person to his or her body and the pleasure that body can provide. It is forgetting that this is a person to be loved for his or her own sake, even if his/her body is not available for pleasure, or becomes less “desirable” through age or sickness.
Thus sexual desire, though beautiful and given by God, is, on account of our fallen nature, unruly and must be governed carefully by reason. It must not be allowed to eclipse what is right and what is greater than sex—God and the new life and the family life of which it is in service.
St. Gregory therefore interprets that St. Paul also teaches that a man ought to give his wife what she is due: not merely his body, but himself, wholly. He also should give her what is due by loving not merely her sexual charms, but her very self, her whole self. Likewise for the wife in return are all the same duties.
If marital intercourse is just about pleasure and not about bigger and lasting things like the other person and children, pleasure has a way of running its course and becoming routine or boring. Building a marriage on things more lasting than pleasure and happiness is essential. Hence Pope Gregory uses creatively the notion that St. Paul shows couples the couch of true marital sexuality and bids them fall on that couch rather than all the way to the ground through lust, contraceptive sex, or fornication.
Some wisdom from a great Father, pastor, and Saint of the Church. St. Gregory the Great, Pray for us!
All the way back in 1973, George Gilder published a book entitled Men and Marriage. He expanded and republished it in 1986. In his book, Gilder argued that our culture was marginalizing men, to its great peril. He articulated the critical role that marriage has in helping men focus their sexual energies in a creative and beneficial way. Women have their nurturing role rather clearly defined in the very design of their bodies. But men’s role in the raising of children and in society in general is less evident. The traditional family gave men a rather clearly defined role that had dignity and supplied them with the feeling that they were needed, indeed essential.
But, as Gilder showed even then, much of that has been stripped away. Feminism and the sexual revolution are sources of the erosion, along with other deleterious social effects. And the erosion of esteem for the roles of husband, father, provider, and leader is hurting not only men, but children, women, and our culture as a whole. For when the sexual energies of men are not channeled toward creative ends, they tend toward destructive ones.
Gilder’s description of the problem is in full blossom today, and more and more social commentators now describe men as increasingly a combination of angry, disengaged, dysfunctional, cynical, fearful, and legally and socially constrained. The wider culture, heavily influenced by feminism, often depicts men as sexual predators, drinkers, imbeciles, buffoons, and as stupid and immature. And after consuming a steady diet of these portraits, some men do indeed display some of these traits.
Over the years, we have discussed many aspects of the problem on this blog. Most significantly, we have focused on the apparent lack of connection that young people today have with the ideas of courtship, dating, and marriage. Marriage is delayed any many are never getting there at all. The com-box lights up whenever I write on these matters. Many commenters are bewildered, like me, but others are young people who are quite angry and cynical about one another. Our culture has really poisoned the atmosphere between the sexes. Promiscuity makes even simple flirtation fraught with a sense of danger, and merely unwanted attention becomes the stuff of sexual harassment. The men who write in are the bitterest of all. One man wrote, “Sure women are beautiful but that is where the appeal stops. The relationship is nothing but trouble and power struggle, and I risk losing everything, everything!”
Welcome to the world of post-radical-feminism and the post-sexual-revolution. It is a toxic world for romance, let alone the deeper values of marital and family love. It is toxic for men and for women, but most tragically it is toxic for children, who are often raised in a culture of deepening confusion and conflict in its most necessary component: the traditional family.
There is an article on Brietbart that articulates the problem for men and their anger. It is a lengthy article, and I should warn you that if you click on the link to the article in the previous sentence you will read some rather “raw” language. But frankly, it IS raw out there today for increasing numbers of young people, who have inherited the whirlwind of the sexual revolution and radical feminism. It is a lonely world, a world in which hostility and widespread promiscuity have destroyed innocence and poisoned relationships between young men and women that used to be natural and oriented toward marriage and family.
Here are some excerpts of the article, which I present here as a kind of log of the cultural decline we are experiencing. The quotes from the article are in bold italics, while my comments are in plain red text.
Social commentators, journalists, academics, scientists and young men themselves have all spotted the trend: among men of about 15 to 30 years old, ever-increasing numbers are checking out of society altogether, giving up on women, sex and relationships and retreating into pornography, sexual fetishes, chemical addictions, video games and, in some cases, boorish [male] culture, all of which insulate them from a hostile, debilitating social environment created, some argue, by the modern feminist movement.
Of course in retreating from an ugly world, they dwell in an even uglier one. But to them it seems to feel less threatening, more predictable, and less complicated. Gilder discusses the observation that if men cannot be encouraged to commit to the creative and constructive relationship of the family, they will (as sociological studies show) tend toward destructive and damaging relationships that range from violent ones (gangs) to less harmful but disengaged ones like gaming, or drinking.
You can hardly blame them. Cruelly derided as man-children and crybabies for objecting to absurdly unfair conditions in college, bars, clubs and beyond, men are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: ridiculed as basement-dwellers for avoiding aggressive, demanding women with unrealistic expectations, or called rapists and misogynists merely for expressing sexual interest.
The new rules men are expected to live by are never clearly explained, … leaving [males] clueless and neurotic about interacting with [women]. “That might sound like a good thing because it encourages men to take the unromantic but practical approach of asking women how they should behave, but it causes a lot of them to just opt out of the game and retreat to the sanctuary of their groups … where being rude to women gets you approval, and you can pretty much entirely avoid one-on-one socialising with the opposite sex.”
Here, too, this “retreat” cannot receive approval, but some understanding of the disgust and fear that underlies it may be important. Generally, men used to seek the company of women and seek a wife. Now they do not. What has changed? While some aspects of the women’s movement were necessary (better access to jobs, fairer compensation, etc.) there now seems to have been an overcorrection, such that women now outrank men in terms of many indicators of social success such as graduation levels, income, and legal access to benefits and rights. Many men find the legal and legislative world hostile to them and discover that it is politically incorrect to say that the “corrections” are now harming men.
Women have been sending men mixed messages for the last few decades, leaving boys utterly confused about what they are supposed to represent to women, which perhaps explains the strong language some of them use when describing their situation. As the role of breadwinner has been taken away from them by women who earn more and do better in school, men are left to intuit what to do, trying to find a virtuous mean between what women say they want and what they actually pursue, which can be very different things.
Men say the gap between what women say and what they do has never been wider. Men are constantly told they should be delicate, sensitive fellow travelers on the feminist path. But the same women who say they want a nice, unthreatening boyfriend go home and swoon over simple-minded, giant-chested, testosterone-saturated hunks in Game of Thrones. Men know this, and, for some, this giant inconsistency makes the whole game look too much like hard work. Why bother trying to work out what a woman wants, when you can play sports, [self-gratify through masturbation] or just play video games from the comfort of your bedroom?
Yes, men speak to me all the time about such mixed messages, both here at the blog and in ministerial settings. Women make it very difficult to understand what they want. Part of the problem is that women are not monolithic. Different women want different things. But even with an individual woman, many men struggle to understand. Women have always had, in every culture and time, a “lot of moving parts.” But the frenetic and ephemeral quality of modern culture puts the inconsistencies on steroids and leaves a lot of men bewildered and angry.
Again, the retreat of men into lesser or native activities cannot be approved. But in merely reporting it here I do not do so. It is important to examine the trend and to try to understand it, since even many churchgoing Catholic males are manifesting these attitudes and behaviors.
The article goes on to discuss what drives women to exhibit the behaviors that men are fleeing. Here, too, you do not need to accept all that is said here or read it in terms of assigning blame. But women have widely changed their behavior, and once again it is good to ask why.
Women today are schooled in victimhood, taught to be aggressively vulnerable and convinced that the slightest of perceived infractions, approaches or clumsy misunderstandings represents “assault,” “abuse” or “harassment.” That may work in the safe confines of campus, where men can have their academic careers destroyed on the mere say-so of a female student … academics such as Camille Paglia have been warning for years that “rape drives” on campus put women at greater risk, if anything … damage [is] being done to them by the onset of absurd, unworkable, prudish and downright misandrist laws such as California’s “Yes Means Yes” legislation—and by third-wave feminism … which is currently enjoying a hysterical last gasp before women themselves reject it.
Another root of the problem is the school system, both public and private. We have discussed on this blog many times before that normal boyhood has been demonized and treated as something to be medicated away.
Meanwhile, boys are falling behind girls academically, perhaps because relentless and well-funded focus has been placed on girls’ achievement in the past few decades and little to none on the boys who are now achieving lower grades, fewer honors, fewer degrees and less marketable information economy skills. Boys’ literacy, in particular, is in crisis throughout the West. We’ve been obsessing so much over girls, we haven’t noticed that boys have slipped into serious academic trouble.
OK, so even if there was a need to correct and focus a bit more on girls, it looks as if we’ve overcorrected. This may not be politically correct, but it certainly looks as though the statistics indicate this.
Jack Donovan, a writer based in Portland who has written several books on men and masculinity, each of which has become a cult hit, says the phenomenon is already endemic among the adult population. “I see a lot of young men who would otherwise be dating and marrying giving up on women,” he explains, “Or giving up on the idea of having a wife and family. This includes both the kind of men who would traditionally be a little awkward with women, and the kind of men who aren’t awkward with women at all. “They’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and realized it is a bad deal. They know that if they invest in a marriage and children, a woman can take all of that away from them on a whim. He goes on: “Almost all young men have attended mandatory sexual harassment and anti-rape seminars, and they know that they can be fired, expelled, or arrested based more or less on the word of any woman. They know they are basically guilty until proven innocent in most situations.”
This is pretty clear and it is well aligned with what I am hearing, increasingly, from men.
Well, this is a tough topic to be sure. Not exactly the best topic for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception! However, it does illustrate well what happens when a culture loses its relative innocence, and sex becomes a toxic, cynical, fearful pursuit, one that is no longer tied to marriage and family. (Mondays are also my usual day for doing “culture check” articles.)
It will be admitted that not all young people are lost in this cycle, but increasing numbers are. A good start toward addressing the problem is raising awareness of and naming the demons. There was a time, not so long ago, when we got the courtship and marriage thing right … or at least largely right. People mostly got married and stay married. Our families weren’t perfect, but they functioned. Our culture wasn’t perfect—far from it—but its basic units and foundations were operative.
There’s an old story told about the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi. At one point he was so concerned that the players on his team had lost any sense of the basics of the game that he summoned them all into a classroom and had them all sit down at desks. Most of them expected a detailed review of the playbook, with diagrams on the board of X’s, O’s, and arrows. But to their surprise, the blackboard was empty and no playbooks were in sight. Lombardi walked in and stood in front of the quiet room. In short order he reached behind the desk and held up a familiar object, saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
Talk about back to basics! Lombardi then proceeded to talk at length about the game and its most fundamental aspects. He described the object of the game, the different stances (such as offensive and defensive), the different positions (such as fullback and right guard), and so forth. To experienced players, the lecture must have been quite embarrassing. But sometimes people get so confused that we can no longer assume that even the most obvious things are obvious anymore.
Given the recent confusion about marriage, sexuality, and the family, and with the Synod that was called to address the confusion in some cases intensifying it (or at least the media reports have done so), it seems opportune for all of us to go back to basics. Perhaps it is time for one of us to reach behind the desk and hold up a book or two, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Bible, and this is the Catechism, and this is what they say about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. There’s no need to reinvent, rename, or come up with new definitions. God has already taken care of all of that in what the Bible and the Catechism say.”
In the paragraphs that follow, I propose only a brief review of what these sources say. I recommend that you read the Catechism from paragraph 1601 to 1666. Can we not agree to go to sources of official Catholic Teaching? Despite what the Washington Post or the New York Times say, these teachings cannot change.
Back to basics! Here is what the Catechism and Sacred Scripture have to teach on marriage.
I. God is the Author of Matrimony – The Book of Genesis speaks to us not only of our creation but also of our very nature. In the first place, we are made for love because we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is love. A second and very important truth taught to us in the scriptural account of our creation is that man and woman were made for each other. God himself declares, It is not good for the man to be alone (Gn 2:18). So God created Eve from the very flesh, the very human nature of Adam. Note well that a woman is the suitable partner. A woman, not two or several women (hence bigamy and polygamy are excluded), and not another man (hence homosexual liaisons do not supply the suitable partner that makes a marriage). When Adam beheld Eve he was delighted and declared, Here at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gn 2:23). God also teaches in the Genesis account that in His creative act is the origin and understanding of marriage: For this reason a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gn 2:24).
Holy Matrimony is about Children – In Chapter One of Genesis, we are also given another important teaching about Matrimony. Adam and Eve are instructed by God, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it (Gn 1:28). Thus, the love of Adam and Eve was to reflect the love of God, which is fruitful and life-giving. Marriage has a central goal of producing children, hence its structure is both heterosexual and lasting, since that is what is first necessary and then best for children.
Here then is God’s plan for Holy Matrimony: a man and a woman in a unity of life and fruitful love so profound that they may be said to be one flesh. Adam sees Eve as his equal, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. He is delighted to behold her and acknowledges that it is not good that he should ever be without her and that he is completed and helped by her. Although the scriptural account does not record Eve’s reflections, we may presume that they were similar. Alone it was not possible for them to be fruitful and multiply. Alone and apart they could only find death; together as one they would experience the gifts of life and family.
To all demands that the Church recognize same-sex unions, polygamous unions, second (or third…) unions, or other irregular or unnatural unions as “marriages,” can only come the firm and clear answer, “No.” We recognize God as the author of marriage and are bound to what He has given and set forth both in Holy Scripture and Natural Law.
II. The Painful Reality of Sin – The wondrous communion of Adam and Eve intended by God and described in the book of Genesis was seriously disturbed by the consequences that flowed from the Original Sin they committed. This is dramatically illustrated by Adam’s response to God. When God noted that they had eaten from the tree of which he had forbidden them to eat, Adam blamed Eve, saying, It was that woman you put here with me, she gave me the fruit and so I ate it (Gn 3:12). See how strongly this contrasts with his former appreciation of Eve, whom he described as one with him, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh! Now division and hostility are experienced and expressed.
It is also highly significant that both realize that they are naked(Gn 3:7). Whereas before, their relationship was one of complete openness and trust, now they experience embarrassment and vulnerability before each other and before God. They feel they must cover up; they feel compelled to hide significant aspects of themselves.
God himself describes the consequences that will flow from the awful reality they have chosen. His words to Eve are particularly poignant: I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (Gn 3:16).
Adam, too, shall now have to toil for food to eat and the experience of Eve as his helpmate or co-worker seems greatly diminished (Gn. 3:17-19).
It is quite clear that sin and evil inflicted great harm on the original joy and communion between Adam and Eve. The Catechism describes these sad realities quite well:
This experience [of the evil flowing from Original Sin] makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character.According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust; and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work (Catechism 1606-1607).
The consequences of the divisions caused by sin continued to be felt down through the pages of the Old Testament in the polygamy of the patriarchs, which only gradually came to be forbidden, and in the permitting of divorce under Mosaic Law. Our Lord Jesus would later indicate that the fact that divorce was permitted was an indication of the “hardness of your hearts” (Mt 19:8).
III. Still a noble grace – Yet despite the distortion caused by sin, God continued to point to marriage’s lofty status by presenting it as one of the primary images of His covenant with His people. God was the faithful spouse of His bride, Israel. Through the prophets, He reminded His bride that she was espoused to Him. Sin was infidelity, but God’s love was everlasting and, though He chastised Israel, He would never forsake her. God even used romantic imagery. Consider this example from the Prophet Hosea:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure Israel, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her … And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. “And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, ‘My husband’ … and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD (Hosea 2:14-20).
And so it was that God never cast aside the lofty ideals of marriage. He continued to proclaim them to His people.
IV. Established by Christ as a Sacrament – It is in this context that Jesus proclaimed an absolute return to God’s original plan, which the regime of sin had distorted.
In the Gospels, Jesus proclaims His intention to return to God’s original plan for marriage. Divorce had entered the scene through sin. But Jesus came to destroy the ancient power of sin and cancel its effects. He is able to empower couples, through His healing grace, to live up to the original vision of marriage given by God.
This, too, is clearly taught in the Catechism:In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning. Permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts (Mt. 19:8). The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder”(Mt 19:6). This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus … himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ (Mt. 19:11). (Catechism 1614-1615)
It is in the context of His solemn teaching on marriage that Christ established marriage as a sacrament and St. Paul could declare it a great mystery (sacramentum) . The Catholic Church has acknowledged it as such ever since.
Note the phrase used in the Catechism, which speaks of Christ’s unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond. The word “unequivocal” is a strong one, and must be insisted on, especially to those who wish to equivocate on this matter. Let this be clear: no validly conferred marital bond can be broken. What God has joined is not to be separated. To leave a valid marriage and enter another sexual union is to be in an ongoing state of adultery.
V. The Outward Sign of the Sacrament – The outward sign, that which is seen and heard, is the exchange of consent (vows) before the Church. The Church is represented by a priest or a deacon. The vows are usually worded in this or similar fashion: I take you to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
Note here the rather all-encompassing quality of these vows! Often a reminder of these vows can help to overrule notions that a marriage should end. For, indeed, there will be some bad times, sickness, and even poverty. But marriage is for better OR worse, in health AND in sickness, for richer OR for poorer.
Too many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal they want a new deal. But the vows speak directly to the fact that while marriage does bring joy and many graces, no marriage is perfect. Difficult times must be endured as part of the expected picture.
VI. The Graces of the Sacrament – The three most basic qualities of Christian marriage are that it is permanent, faithful, and fruitful. The graces of the Sacrament all serve to create and preserve these realities.
Permanence: Since God himself is the author of every valid marriage, there arises a bond between the couple that can never be broken. This stable and faithful relationship is itself a great blessing since it provides the couple a sturdy foundation on which to live and experience trust, mutual support, and encouragement. It also provides the best environment in which to raise children. It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love. (Catechism 1649)
Faithfulness: Marital love is also of its nature always undivided and exclusive. This love is a special love, which is never to be shared by the spouses with others. In addition to these graces, Christian couples receive all the graces they need to perfect their love for one another and strengthen their unity. By these graces they assist one another to grow in maturity and holiness. Marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving. (Catechism 1609)
Fruitfulness: Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God’s love is fruitful and marital love is to be a reflection of that love. When God established marriage, He instructed the first spouses as to its nature, Be fruitful and multiply (Gn 1:28). So by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of children. This of course includes more than a college education. It includes every aspect of the personal development of children: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and supernatural life. God grants to parents an awesome dignity when He entrusts the care of immortal souls to them. This of itself helps us to recognize the high calling of marital life and helps us to understand how crucial and necessary the Sacrament of Matrimony is for the Church and for the world.
VII. The structure of marriage as being both heterosexual and stable (permanent) is due to its essential work of raising children.
Our modern culture speaks of marriage as being about and for the happiness of the adults.The Lord, however, sets forth marriage as being first and foremost about children and what is best for them. Our culture prattles on endlessly about the rights and feelings of the adults in the marriage, but it is what is best for children that should be the first priority in speaking of Matrimony, its proper structure, and the conduct of the spouses.
The modern world has wholly shifted the focus to adults, insisting on their absolute “right” to resist children through contraception and even to kill them through abortion. And this is all so that adults can follow their own wishes. In separating children from marriage and sex, we have separated what God has joined and are now reaping a whirlwind of confusion along with bad and destructive behaviors.
Back to basics, fellow Catholics! Read the Scriptures; study the Catechism; respect Natural Law. And above all, get on your knees and pray for an end to the confusion. It will take a miracle in this darkened and decadent world, but God is able!
Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court not to take up numerous state appeals regarding same-sex unions pretty much signals that the secular redefinition is here to stay. This is really no surprise given the rather deep confusion about sexuality and marriage in our culture. The polygamists and any number of other groups demanding recognition for their aberrant notions of marriage are sure to follow with all due haste. And what is to stop them, legally, at this point? The word “marriage” is now largely meaningless since, if marriage can mean anything, marriage means nothing, in the linguistic sense. At my parish, we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and are retooling our documents with this new designation wherever possible.
While Jesus did not directly address the issue of same-sex “marriage” (since such a bizarre notion would not even have occurred to anyone in the Jewish world of his day), he did address the notion of illicit or unchaste unions. He did this in the “Matthean exception” (Matt 19 and Matt 5). While Jesus forbade divorce, He set aside or excluded certain unions that were illicit or unchaste and indicated that these were not unions to which one should cling. In effect, He said that they are not marriages at all so the term “divorce” does not apply to them and they should be set aside.
Consider the text from Matthew 19. Let me first present the text itself and then provide some background and interpretation. (I am using the Catholic NABRE translation.)
[Jesus said], I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery (Matt 19:9).
The RSV (Catholic Edition) translates the passage this way: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.
Now the phrases, “unless the marriage is unlawful” and “except for unchastity,” are translations of the Greek phrase μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ (me epi porneia). The usual meaning of the word porneia is “fornication” (i.e., sex between two unmarried people). However, depending on the context, porneia can also refer to other forms of sexual contact that are illicit or irregular by biblical standards. For example, many Greek lexicons (e.g., Strongs and Thayer & Smith) define porneia broadly as “illicit sexual intercourse” and then go on to define porneia to include fornication, homosexual activity, lesbian activity, sexual intercourse with animals, sexual intercourse with close relatives (as spelled out in Leviticus 18), or sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman. Protestants tend to include adultery in the definition of porneia more so than do Catholics. The reason that Catholics in general do not is that there is another Greek word specifically for adultery: μοιχᾶται (moichatai). Therefore we do not consider adultery to be grounds for divorce based on either Matt 19 or Matt 5.
So, fundamentally, porneia most often means fornication (pre-marital sex) but can mean other illicit things as well.
Why then does Jesus utter this “exception” to the otherwise air-tight prohibition of divorce? The answer would seem to lie in the influence of certain Gentile notions, which the Lord wanted to be clear to exclude, at least in the settings Matthew recalled. The Gentile world was a very sexually confused—even depraved—world. All sorts of strange sexual practices were tolerated and even tied into some of the pagan religious practices. Gentile notions of marriage were often at wide variance with Jewish ones. Gentiles often called “marriage” what Judeo-Christians would call incest. There were also difficulties encountered with homosexual behavior and other sexual liaisons that the Christian Church could not and would not recognize as legitimate or anything but sinful. (The most thorough discussion of this background can be found in the Navarre Biblical Commentary.)
So, in effect, Jesus is declaring that certain so-called marriages that featured porneia (some form of illicit sexual union) were not marriages at all, and that His forbiddance of divorce should not be seen as applying to these illicit unions. The implication is that since such unions were not considered marriage at all, one could and should leave them without being guilty of divorce. The bottom line is this: there was a defined understanding of marriage that Jesus insisted upon, and He freely declared that just because someone called something a “marriage” didn’t make it a marriage.
Many today want to redefine marriage into something other than one man and one women in a fruitful (child-bearing) relationship until death do them part. I have little doubt, based on biblical evidence alone, that Jesus would declare such unions as “not marriages at all,” since He clearly set aside certain unions of His day by calling them unlawful, or more specifically, unchaste.
To those who would argue that Jesus did not specifically mention homosexual unions, I would point out, as already noted, that the term porneia can and does include all forms of illicit sexual unions: incest, fornication, and homosexual acts. Hence His use of the word here does include an exclusion of unions based on this form of unchastity.
As an aside, many today argue that Jesus never explicitly mentioned homosexual acts (though I’d like to point out that also didn’t explicitly say “Don’t beat your wife,” either) and they seek to conclude from His “silence” that He therefore would approve of homosexual acts. But of course Jesus does address the sinfulness of homosexual acts—through His appointed spokesmen, the Apostles, to whom He said, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). The New Testament teachings of the apostles, who speak for Jesus, clearly describe homosexual acts as sinful (e.g., Rom 1:18ff, 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:8-11) and contrary to nature (paraphysin – Romans 1:26).
Hence, the term porneia (here understood widely as unchastity) surely does include homosexual acts (as any Greek dictionary will affirm). In the Matthean exception or exclusion, Jesus thus sets aside unchaste or illicit unions since they are not true marriages at all. Divorce does not apply to them and such unions should be discontinued since they are unchaste.