Marriage Is a Miracle! A Homily for the 27th Sunday of the Year

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. Marriages are also a miracle because they are, ultimately, a work of God.

Today’s readings bring before us some fundamental teachings on marriage. 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,” if you will.

Jesus will have none of it, telling them that Moses only permitted this 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. It was still an evil, however. 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 highlights 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 that the rejection evidenced in the question of the Pharisees is one that Jesus ascribes to hearts that have become hardened by sin, lack of forgiveness, and refusal to accept 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. While current attempts 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 attempts began in the 1950s, when divorce began to occur among Hollywood celebrities (e.g., Ingrid Bergman). 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. In this way 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 began to take precedence over well-being of the children in the mind of most people.

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 traveled to Mexico to secure them. In 1969, California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the first “no-fault” divorce law, making divorces fairly easy to obtain. Within ten years most 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 renege on their marriage vows, in direct contradiction to God’s plan. 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 a way of “accessorizing” a marriage 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 directly contradicts God’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply.”

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.

If that is truly the case, then there seems little basis 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.)

The heterosexual community has misbehaved for over fifty year now, redefining essential aspects of marriage. 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. Through His Church, His living voice in the world today, He also rejects the sinful and absurd redefinitions that our culture proposes, 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; 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; Jesus does not entertain any notion from the people of His day that will alter or compromise the 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. 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/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. Jesus once again establishes that once God has 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 are sinful and not recognized by God.

IV. Reemphasis – Now comes an interesting twist, which includes a reminder of one of the most essential purposes of marriage:

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 that 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. Because children are marriage’s most fundamental fruit, it makes sense that marriage should be structured based on what is best for them. The fact is, children are best raised in a stable, lasting environment in which their parents have committed to each other in mutual support and partnership in raising them. Further, it makes sense psychologically that a child should receive 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 even more unjust that children conceived under these promiscuous circumstances are far more likely to be aborted.

This preference for stable, lasting, heterosexual unions clearly excludes homosexual ones. Same-sex “parents” are far from ideal for a child. To raise children in such circumstances intentionally is an injustice, for it is to subject them 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. 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 “fuzzier” 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. Sadly, many who discuss rights only refer to the rights of adults; they seem to care much less about what is 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 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 taking precedence over what is best for children. To emphasize all of this bad behavior, Jesus points out the young children and says, “Do not hinder them.” Our bad behavior does hinder them.

V. 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, that so many people struggle to live this teaching today.

Whatever our own failures have been, we need to go to the Lord with a childlike trust, a trust that cries out for help. 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, and when they do they run to their parents for help. It is in this spirit that the Lord asks 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.”

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 avoid most 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 Father and seek His help. Even if one has failed in his/her marriage, one must still impart to the next generation what God teaches.

God’s plan remains His plan for everyone, no matter our personal failings. We have every obligation to run to Him, trust Him, and ask for His help. 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. We must be assured of 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.

A Post Mortem on the Maryland Same Sex”Marriage”Referendum

Among the unsurprising but very disappointing results from yesterday’s elections was the approval of Same Sex “Marriage” by Maryland residents 52 to 48%. Maryland is one of the most liberal states in the union, and it is been known for at least several weeks now, through polling, that the bill was likely to pass.

Here again it is a time for a kind of post mortem analysis of how the Church could have more effectively taught the faithful, and have opposed the referendum more successfully. A reader from yesterday’s blog reflecting on this very matter wrote the following:

I was very disappointed at the lame, almost non-existent reaction of the Catholic Church to the same-sex marriage vote in Maryland. Where were the commercials? Where were the road signs? Where were the interviews and lectures and public forums? Where were the homilies?

While I’m not sure that all these reflections are fair, it does remain true that the work we did in opposing the bill was unevenly experienced and, given that we lost quite soundly, our work could well have been more effective.

Perhaps a brief review of what we did do is in order.

Beginning, almost four years ago, when gay “marriage” was being forced on the residents of the District of Columbia by a mere City Council vote, the Church joined with many other Christian denominations in seeking at that time to have the matter brought to a vote for the citizens of the District of Columbia. This attempt was denied by the DC Board of Elections who claimed that “human rights” could not be a matter for referendum.

In the midst of that battle we began a campaign to teach on marriage entitled Marriage Matters. The goal here was, through sermons, published materials, and Internet sites, that we could lead to the people of God to back to a better understanding of the roots of traditional marriage in Natural Law, as well as Scripture and Church teaching. In the context of this wider teaching, we also sought to demonstrate why Gay “marriage” was not an acceptable understanding of marriage that Americans ought to adopt.

More recently, these materials were re-presented in a more focused way to the citizens of Maryland. Pastors were instructed to read several letters from the Archbishop, were asked to preach one Sunday on the topic of Marriage and why Catholics should vote against the recognition of Same-sex “Marriage.” We were also to provide written materials and other references to parishioners. This was to have been done on one of the Sundays back in September.

It is unclear to me whether the reader who commented on the blog yesterday attends a parish where, for some reason, this was not done. But the fact is, it was something that was expected of every pastor by the Archdiocese. Although I, have a parish in the District, not Maryland, since many of my parishioners live and vote in Maryland, I took part in this campaign. I read the letters, preached the sermon and presented written material to the congregation.

There was also an advertising campaign, in which the Archdiocese joined with others to purchase radio spots, and some TV spots as well. Initial funding for this advertising was good, but there was donor fatigue which set in when it became increasingly clear that the polls showed that gay “marriage” was likely to pass in Maryland. I received an urgent call from the Archdiocese three weeks before the election seeking to help identify donors who might make last-minute donations. I am also aware that some of the bishops personally sought donors as well. So, there were strong efforts made to raise the money and increase the advertising, but the money was generally not forthcoming in large enough numbers to afford major P.R. and advertising especially into October as the polls indicated we were unlikely to prevail.

Could we have done more? Certainly. Without simply excusing our less than adequate efforts, I would like to make a few observations however, about some things which make our efforts difficult.

In the first place, the Archdiocese of Washington is not a professional or full-time PR firm. Nor do we have endless monies to hire such firms. It is clear that, as we move forward, more monies, and fundraising are going to have to be done. We just have to get better at doing what is frankly, costly, complex, and requires great sophistication.

Secondly, there is also the problem of there being numerous fronts in which the Church must currently fight. There is Gay “marriage,” but there is also the HHS mandate, abortion and other life issues. Every year, the Archdiocese spends an enormous amount of money on the pro-life march. The Verizon Center is rented at great expense, as are other sites. There is also extensive time and money spent by the staff of the Archdiocese to coordinate with police and get marching permits etc. All the sophistication, fundraising, and coordination has taken decades to emerge. As we go forward other topics will require similar sorts of attention.

This brings a third point which is the pace of change. Many of the cultural issues have come upon us quite rapidly. Gay “marriage” has emerged as a credible threat, really only in the last five or six years. The HHS mandate, and the question of religious liberty, emerged only last year, though we have been fighting legal battles for many years over the attempts to exclude religious voices in the public square.

Fourthly we struggled to maintain a coalition with other denominations when it came to the gay marriage bill. While we are deeply appreciative of and respectful of the hard work done by many of the Protestant denominations, there remain some differences between us in the way in which we articulate and understand the problem of homosexual activity. The Catholic approach is to make careful distinctions between orientation and behavior. Many Protestant denominations do not speak with these distinctions, and sometimes consider the orientation itself to be sinful, not just the behavior. These differences have made it somewhat difficult, and or awkward for us at times to speak with a common voice and to stand together easily. The Catholic position on homosexual activity, and so-called homosexual “marriage” is clear but our pastoral practice is to maintain important distinctions, as a matter of pastoral practice and out reach to those who struggle with a homosexual orientation. All of this makes building coalitions, while not impossible, more delicate and difficult.

Fifth – teaching on this matter at the homily moment, as pastors were instructed to do can be effective, but also depends upon the capacity of preachers whose skills are often very uneven. It is a sad truth, that over the last decades, most Catholic priest instinctively avoid speaking about controversial issues, and as a body, have a poor skill set in addressing matters of controversy forthrightly and with charity. This is beginning to change with younger clergy, but the fact remains that when too much depends on the individual priest, the overall effect is very uneven.

Six – Another problem in using the homily moment, is a matter of time. Most Catholics have an expectation that the homily should be 7 to 12 minutes, no more. Setting forth the Catholic teaching on marriage, and why we oppose so-called gay “marriage” does not easily fit into such a brief format.

Of course then, if it is not the Homily moment, when can such information be given the people of God? Would they attend special seminars, would they come to a parish meeting? Not likely in large numbers.

Surely then we should use the Internet, and we have. But it remains a fact that most religious people, especially Catholics, do not get most of their religious information from the Internet. There are also email outreaches, flyers, bulletin inserts, etc., but frankly, most people no longer read much.

Yard signs etc. could have been more ubiquitous, as could have bus ads etc.

In the end however the greatest challenge, it would seem, is simply to get our own house in order.

Most Priests are well aware that increasing numbers of Catholics, especially younger ones, have no idea why we oppose so call gay marriage. Further, marriage has been in such disrepair in the Church for over fifty years now that almost no one even knows what marriages is at all. Contraception, has shredded the meaning of sex and marriage and severed their intrinsic relationship to bearing children. Divorce has also shredded the meaning of marriage. Pornography has destroyed innocence and, after over fifty years of heterosexual misbehavior, most people think of marriage as little less than two adults being happy with or without kids, whatever they choose, for only as long as they please.

Yes, we have sown in the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. If most people merely think of marriage as two adults being happy for as long as they please, of course it is difficult for them to understand why to Gay people can’t get married. If marriage is not intrinsically about children in its fundamental meaning, why should it either be stable or heterosexual, necessarily?

Increasing numbers of Catholics, especially younger ones just don’t get it. Marriage of course is fundamentally about children, and takes it structure as heterosexual and stable because they are Integral to the meaning of marriage.

That is why marriages should be stable, lasting unions, and why divorce is wrong and why a child should have a father and a mother, because this is what is best for children. This is why contraception is wrong, why marriage must be heterosexual. But a lot of this doesn’t make sense to modern people who reject many if not all of these premises.

We have a lot of work to do to restore a biblical understanding of marriage.

Yes, even more than publicity issues, here is where the Church needs to do some very deep soul-searching. Too many of us clergy have said little over fifty years of heterosexual miss behavior, and deep misunderstanding about marriage has gone largely unaddressed.

When no-fault divorce railroaded through this country in 1969, it is hard to note that the Church said much of anything We were inwardly focused at the time, turning around altars, tuning up guitars, debating liturgy and authority etc. Yes, for over 40 years we have been inwardly focused and we lost the culture.

More than yard signs, or PR in this latest go-round, we have some serious repenting to do. We have not done in maintain the family or preserving marriage in the Church. We have been sleepy and distracted. It will be a long hard journey back to sanity in our culture, and to a good degree we must accept our responsibility for the mess we’re in.

This has happened on our watch.

Words Matter

As you probably know by now, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled 5-4 to prohibit the initiative to define marriage in D.C. as between a man and a woman.  What this means is that there cannot be a ballot initiative on the issue which would give the residents of the District of Columbia the opportunity to vote in support of marriage being between one man and one woman. Unlike, thirty-onestates in which people were given the opportunity to weigh whether changing any part of the definition of one of the most fundamental constructs of society is the right step to take, judges ruling against the decision write “even if we assume that the people at large are more likely to discriminate against minorities than are their elected representative…there are numerous checks and balances in place to protect against the tyranny of the majority.”   This comment led to a lively “water cooler” discussion in the office this morning. My colleagues, Peter Murphy, Director of the Family Life Office and Patty Mazariegos, Coordinator of the Hispanic Family Life ministry were stymied by the use of the word “tyranny.”

I wondered what is the dividing line between the will of the people (31 states with constitutional laws against same-sex marriage, 15 with no legislation and only four with laws allowing same-sex marriage) and “tyranny of the majority?”  Peter suggested that it is commonly understood that tyranny is the imposition of something on a people against their will.  It is not a tyranny when people have the opportunity to express their opinion (popular or unpopular) through a vote…that is not tyranny but democracy.

What is so frustrating about our work on this issue is that it has yet to be proven how marriage between a man and woman is discrimination; it is a completely different relationship than the relationship between two men or two women. The very gift of the masculine and feminine is at the heart of what it means to give yourself to another in marriage. It is not discrimination to call two different things, different names.

Even though it may not be fashionable, it is time to stand for truth. Marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman with potential to give new life.  It serves a societal benefit that no other relationship does.  Study after study show that having a loving and involved mother and father creates and nurtures the best environment for raising children.  Let’s work to support marriage, not re-define it.  For information on the church’s teaching and to follow the church’s efforts in supporting and sustaining marriage and family life please see MarriageMatters.

With thanks to Peter Murphy for his help on this post!

What Would Jesus Say about Redefining Marriage?

The District of Columbia City Council against the wishes of the majority of citizens today imposed a new definition of Marriage. Refusing to put the important issue to vote, 11 of the 13  Council members have used legislative fiat to force this redefinition of marriage.

It occurred to me to wonder what Jesus would say about the redefining of Marriage that is happening in this country of the last number of years? Many today insist that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality or so-called Gay Marriage. Such a remark of course distorts the understanding that the same Holy Spirit who inspired and authored the four Gospels also authored all the epistles and there is plenty of teaching against homosexual activity there.

However, even if we accept the limit imposed that we should find Jesus himself saying something, we are not without any text. In Matthew 19 Jesus does actually address himself to the confused understanding of marriage among the Gentiles. Let me first give the text and then some background and interpretation. I am using here the Catholic NAB translation:

[Jesus said] whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”  (Matt 19:9)

Now the phrase, “unless the marriage is unlawful” translates a Greek word πορνείᾳ (porneia). The usual meaning of the word is “fornication” (i.e. sex between two unmarried people). However, depending on context porneia can refer to other forms of sexual contact which are illicit or irregular by biblical standards. For example many Greek lexicons (e.g. Strongs and also Thayer & Smith) define  porneia broadly as “illicit sexual intercourse” and then go  on to define porneia  more generally to include,  fornication, homosexual activitity, lesbian activity, 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 than Catholics. We do not since there is another Greek word (μοιχᾶται – moichatai) for adultery. We therefore do not consider adultery to be grounds for divorce based on either Matt 19 or Mat 5.

So, fundamentally porneia most often means fornication (pre-marital sex) but it 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 mission to the Gentiles. As the Gospel left the Jewish-only  world and reached out to the Gentile world it encountered 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 from Jewish ones. Gentiles often called “marriage” what the Judeo-Christians would call incest. There were also difficulties encountered with  homosexual unions and other arrangements that the Christian Church could not and would not recognize. (The most thorough discussion of this background that you will find is 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 conisdered marriage at all,  one could and should leave them without being guilty of divorce and they were free to enter a licit marriage. The bottom line is this: there was a defined understanding of Marriage which Jesus insisted on and he freely declared that just because someone called something marriage didn’t make it marriage.

We seem to have come full circle in our own day. Many have wanted to redefine marriage into something other than a man and a women in a fruitful (child-bearing) relationship until death do them part. I have little doubt, based on biblical evidence alone that Jesus would call such redefinitions “not marriage at all.” I also have no doubt what Jesus would say based on the fact that he still speaks through the living Tradition and Magisterium of the Church. Jesus said to the first Apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).  Hence, by faith, I have no doubt what Jesus would say since he speaks a resounding “NO” through his Church which stands so clearly against this attempt to redefine marriage.

Bottom line: Jesus would say “No” I have it on the best of authority: Scripture and Tradition speaking through the Magisterium.

Taking up the conversation on Catholic Charities…

In the early church, debates on the divinity of Jesus and the nature of the Trinity were the talk of the town. The Church fathers record stories of these debates happening in the village square, in the market place and around kitchen tables. A debate is indeed swirling around town, not of the nature of dogma but nonetheless critical to the practice of our faith. In this debate, blogs are the new village square. Over the last couple of weeks in blogs and opinion pieces politicians, college presidents, attorneys, radio hosts, professors and people in the pew have weighed in on how same-sex marriage legislation will alter Catholic Charities partnership with the city.

Under Consideration

I want to respond to Nancy Polikoff’s piece in the Washington Post in which she writes “that Catholic Charities is misleading the public about the impact of the D.C. marriage bill authorizing same-sex marriage.” The Archdiocese has explored a number of options talked about in the press;including “the San Francisco option” and Ms. Polikoff suggestion to move our health care plan under ERISA. Our research shows that the reality is that the U.S. Labor Department has released that ERISA only applies to pension benefits and not health care. This does not seem to hold promise as a real solution.

She also suggests that what might really be at issue is that Catholic Charities needs to cut its budget and is using the city as a “scapegoat” to deal with budget issues. Now, that seems just plain rude, especially in light of the fact that Catholic Charities recently received an award for its ethical and business standards. In a statement, Edward Orzechowski, President of Catholic Charities writes “everyone, from government to business to nonprofits, has reduced services and programs in this challenging economic environment, and sadly budget pressures will continue to impact everyone – her [Polikoff] comment is insulting to the dedicated staff and volunteers who serve at Catholic Charities every day.

Religious Liberty

As I blogged earlier, at the heart of this debate and at the heart of the Archdiocese’s concern is the erosion of religious liberty as the government increasingly imposes requirements on religious organizations in their policies. Under the narrow religious exemptions in the bill, Catholic Charities might become ineligible to partner with the government in the delivery of social services.

We desire to continue a partnership with the city that has successfully served those people most in need. We know that it would be next to impossible to continue the breadth of our services without this partnership.  The language we are proposing insures  the kind of religious exemption that is more consistent with existing protections and exemptions under the DC Human Rights Act, the Constitution and federal protective statutes.

It will not be a bad thing if issues related to religious liberty will be discussed with interest and passion around kitchen tables, at the water cooler and in the public forum because they are indeed critical to our practice of the faith.

Church-State Partnerships

socratic school

Church-State Partnerships

If your family and friends are at all like my family and friends, you probably talked a lot about the state dinner party-crashers at the White House. That story certainly provides a welcome diversion to some of the other headlines over the last couple of weeks. If you have been following our blog, you know that the Catholic Church has been in the headlines quite a bit. Nationally, as we contribute to the health care debate and locally as we oppose the legislation to legalize same-sex marriage and more recently in stories as about the possible closure of some of our Catholic schools. We will come back to these stories in future blogs because in one way or another they are part of a very important debate in which we–the laity– need to listen and participate. At issue is the nature of partnerships between church and state. The more common language is the presence of   faith based initiatives and public funding.

Indeed, in the United Sates we have a long and proud history of partnerships between church and state in the field of education, health care and social service; our many great Catholic Universities, the Young Men Christian Association(YMCA), The Salvation Army are just a few “faith based initiatives” that are part of the fabric of  public life.

It Begins with Matthew 25

For Christians, we are obliged through our discipleship to care for those in need. In Matthew 25, a follower of Jesus’ asks, “Lord, when did we see you hungry?” Jesus tells us that in the face of our neighbor, we see his face. As Catholics, we have been enormously creative in founding and sustaining programs that address people’s physical and spiritual needs. We welcome opportunities to work with–as Gaudium et Spes puts it– “all people of good will.” To this end we see our involvement in civil society as a service provider and not a political power.

Service Providers

In the health care debate, we have a seat at the table, because we are the single largest private provider of health care in the country.  We have a particular competence but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches “our commission and competence is not to be confused in any way with the political community.” The church wades into the debate when the dignity of the human person is at risk or when a voice of moral judgment related to the fundamental rights of men and women is at stake (CCC, 2445-2446).

Thankfully, it seems to be the minority voice that is suggesting that faith based organizations cease taking public funds and entering into partnerships with the government to provide services. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently conducted a poll to see how the general public feels about some of these church-state questions. The whole study can be found at

Here are some of the most interesting findings:

  •  Currently 69% of Americans say they favor allowing churches and other houses of worship, along with other organizations, to apply for government funding
  •  37% think that religious organizations can do the best job serving the needy when asked “generally, whether religious organizations, non-religious organizations or the government can do the best job providing services for the needy.”
  •  74% say that religious organizations that receive government funds should not be able to hire only people who share their religious beliefs

This indicates there is strong support for the idea of partnerships. What this particular study does not address and what is critical to the ongoing discussion is what happens when civil legislation and the belief of the religious organization clash. How do both state and church balance the Constitutional separation of church and state with the Constitutional right to the free expression of religion? One example, as indicated in the study is that faith based organizations do not discriminate on the basis of faith when hiring employees. Another example is that faith based organizations provide social services to anyone who is in need, not just members of their faith. However, in other cases the issue of religious liberty is far more complex, particularly as society experiences less and less universal agreement on certain moral principles.

What is religious liberty?

In his recent editorial that ran in the Washington Post, Archbishop Wuerl asked  that the church not be forced to compromise deeply held religious beliefs and teachings in order to continue serving those in need in partnership with the city. The larger question that needs to be reflected upon, studied and debated in a serious way is how to balance the right of faith based organizations who wants to enter into service partnerships with governmental organizations but not be forced to violate their beliefs by adhering to legislation that is contrary to the teaching of their faith. Do faith based organizations have the right to seek exemptions and protection from civil legislation that is contrary to the teaching of the faith?

I have found myself saying again and again to friends that we have a responsibility to be active in this very important debate. As hard as it is sometimes to see another headline that presents the church in a negative light or to enter into a discussion that will be heated, we must be witnesses to the Good News in season and out of season as St. Paul likes to say.

DC Same-Sex Marriage Bill: An Imposing Agenda

marriage_logoFor many years now secularists and self-described progressives have made the claim that religious believers, especially those from traditional perspectives, were trying to impose their beliefs on others. They have also make frequent accusations that religious believers are “intolerant.” It has been my usual experience that people who stridently accuse others of things are themselves often most guilty of the attitudes they most decry in others. And now today we see just such an example in the looming actions of an increasingly extreme contingent of the DC City Council in reference to same sex marriage.

The crafters of the Bill have chosen to significantly narrow religious exemptions and thereby force religious organizations into the  untenable position of accepting and even promoting so-called same-sex marriage. The Archdiocese of Washington has released a a statement that pretty well details the situation. I reproduce it here:

 The DC City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary today narrowed the exemption for religious freedom in a bill that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples. The bill is headed to the full council.

The committee’s narrowing of the exemption leaves religious organizations and individuals at risk for adhering to the teachings of their faith, and could prevent social service providers such as Catholic Charities from continuing their long-term partnerships with the District government to provide critical social services for thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents. The bill provides no exemption for individuals with sincerely-held religious beliefs, as required under federal law. In fact, one council member opposed an amendment that would have respected an individual’s federally-protected, deeply-held religious beliefs by saying that would encourage a “discriminatory impulse.”

The committee rejected concerns raised in testimony by the ACLU, the Archdiocese of Washington, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and a group of nationally-recognized legal scholars, including Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor at Washington & Lee University Law School. In calling for broader religious liberty protections in the bill, the experts cited well established United States Supreme Court case law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law that applies to the District of Columbia.

Under the bill, religious organizations do not have to participate in the “solemnization or celebration” of a same-sex marriage ceremony. An earlier version of the bill also exempted them from “the promotion of marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.” The revised language significantly narrows that exemption to the “promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats.”

As a result, religious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

“It is our concern that the committee’s narrowing of the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them and open up the agency to litigation and the use of resources to defend our religious beliefs rather than serve the poor,” said Edward Orzechowski, president/CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Catholic Charities serves 68,000 people in the city each year. The city’s 40 Catholic parishes operate another 93 social service programs to provide crucial services.

The teachings of the Catholic Church, including those of the Archdiocese of Washington, hold that all individuals have equal dignity and deserve equal respect. However, marriage by its very nature must be between a man and a woman. One essential purpose of marriage is an openness to creating and nurturing the next generation, which is the reason that governments and cultures throughout all time have given these relationships special recognition and support. See for more information on marriage.

Many media reports today have indicated incorrectly that the Archdiocese of Washington is “threatening to end social services to the poor” if the Bill is not changed. But the true fact is that the Bill would force us out since to accept or administer even $1.00 of DC money would put us under a whole series of unacceptable rules requiring us to recognize or even facilitate aspects of Gay “marriage.” I could also open us to lawsuits and to “decertification” which would exc;ude us from providing social servies in DC. It is not we who threaten, it is we who are threatened by the implications of this Bill.

I hope you can see what is happening here. Through judicial fiat seculars and progressives are trying to impose recognition of same sex “marriage.” By severely reducing religious exemptions members of the City Council and their allies are simply bullying and forcing their will. They have the votes on the Council and refuse to allow the citizens of this city to have their voices heard by placing this initiative on the ballot. This Bill is, simply put, an imposition.

It is also an example of intolerance toward the traditional religious community. The views of the religious communities in question are not some recent trend or theological speculation. The definition of marriage that is being rejected is some 5,000 years old and stretches all the way back to the earliest pages of Scripture. There are also solid Natural Law arguments at the root of the traditional understanding of Marriage. We are not bigots or homophobes merely for holding the traditional view of marriage. The narrowing of religious exemptions in the current draft of the Bill seems another  example of intolerance for ancient and deeply held religious belief.

It is an irony that many who have marched under the banners tolerance and open-mindedness, now that they have power, show that it never really was about either of those things. It appears it was really about power and imposition. The very ones who have so often accused the religious and traditional of imposing our will and being intolerant now give evidence of the very things they accused others of.

Marriage Matters in DC–Lift Up Your Voice

Marr_JamWr09_webMonday, October 26 is a critical day for all those concerned about the legalization of same-sex marriage. If you are a resident of the District of Columbia and you are looking for opportunities to give voice to your concerns, there are a number of ways to lift up your voice.

Same-Sex Marriage legislation

The DC City Council will hear public testimony on Bill B18-482. This legislation would redefine marriage so it no longer is the union of one man and one woman. Please tell the Council “no” on B18-482.

Marriage Initiative Act of 2009

On the same day, the DC Board of Elections & Ethics will hear public testimony on the Marriage Initiative Act of 2009 that would uphold the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Please tell the Board “yes” on this initiative, which would give residents a vote on this significant issue.

 Here’s what you can do:

  • Attend the DC Board of Election & Ethics’ hearing, Monday, October 26, 10:30 a.m., 441 4th St. NW, Suite 250N (202-727-2525)
  • Attend the hearing of the City Council Committee on the Public Safety and Judiciary, Monday, October 26, starting at 3:30 p.m., John A. Wilson Building (Council Chamber), 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
  • Submit written statements on B18-482 for the official record through November 9, 2009 to Ms. Deborah Kelly, Legislative Clerk, John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Room 5, Washington, DC 20004, or by email to [email protected]. Text of the bill is online at

Attend a Rally

In addition, on Sunday, October 25, Stand4MarriageDC is sponsoring a “People’s Rally,” 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. at Freedom Plaza –14th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., NW.

And always we can call on the power of prayer, whether  we are residents or not  for we are all residents of the city of God! Please take some time on Monday, to offer a rosary, or pray before the Blessed Sacrament or attend Mass and ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance for all of the citizens and leaders involved in the proceedings.