With the recent Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, Bishop Conley asked his priests this past weekend to make an announcement, which he had written regarding to case, and reiterate the Church’s teaching in our homilies.
Given that many of us have encounters with the issue of same-sex unions, perhaps because of friends, co-workers, or family members, I thought it valuable and necessary to explain precisely why the Church cares so much and, in the end, is opposed to this issue. Bishop Conley’s request to preach about it made the decision that much easier. Before beginning, however, I wish to make two quick disclaimers. First, if you’re struggling with this issue for any reason, I ask you to patiently hear me out. Secondly, know that this is only a quick discussion regarding the topic with
lots of assumptions being made.
To begin, here’s Bishop Conley’s statement: This week, the Supreme Court of the United States declared it a Constitutional right to redefine marriage. The Supreme Court has made a factual and moral error. Courts cannot change what God has determined. Marriage is the sacred and ancient union of one man and one woman—the cornerstone of every human family. Jesus Christ and His Church love all people, including those who experience same sex attraction. However, acting upon that attraction harms individuals and our society. This Supreme Court decision can bring no true freedom, no true peace, and no true joy. Not one of us can define the meaning of our lives— Christ alone reveals the authentic meaning of our lives, the meaning of marriage, and the meaning of our families. In the face of this decision, Catholics are called to witness to the love, peace, and joy that springs forth from moral truth. We are called to be the light of Christ in the face of darkness, confusion, and doubt. In the face of this decision, all Catholics are called to proclaim the Gospel of truth, of life, of joy and of real and everlasting freedom.
What follows is simply a commentary on the Bishop’s statement, which is densely packed with lots of significant teachings. He writes: The Supreme Court has made a factual and moral error. Courts cannot change what God has determined. Marriage is the sacred and ancient union of one man and one woman—the cornerstone of every human family. it has made, a factual error. What those in favor of this ruling wish to say is that “Marriage” may be between a man and awoman for a Catholic Christian, but it can be between a man and a woman or between and man and a man or between a woman and a woman for them. The assumption made is summarized in the following statement: There is no truth that applies all peoples. This very statement, however, is a truth that must apply to all people in order for this system of thought to get off the ground; thus, from the beginning, it is contradictory. On the contrary, we all share a common nature with common features because we are all created in a particular way, for a particular goal and purpose. Marriage has a specific role within this human experience of ours.
Secondly, it has made a moral error regarding the hierarchy of laws and goods. With regard to laws, there is first Eternal Law, which is God’s Eternal Reason by which He creates, orders, and governs all things. Next, there’s natural law, which is subordinate to eternal law, and is our human participation in that Eternal Law. We can develop our understanding of natural law through the use reason and the truth of natural things. Then, there are human laws, which, to be good, must always be founded on the truth and on what is truly good for all involved. Since it is subordinated to Eternal Law and natural law, if a human law contradicts either Eternal or natural law, that human law is unreasonable, unjust, and simply, a bad law. What we’ve seen passed in our country this past week is a bad law. It is a law that lies to us by telling us it is according to reason and nature that two people of the same sex can be married. Nature, however, according to right reason, clearly proves marriage is between a man and a woman. As the Nebraska Bishops wrote in a joint statement: The truth about marriage is written into the complementarity of men and women in the context of the family. While other communities within a society can aid in the procreation and education of children, no other “community” compares to what a mother and father can provide within the context of a family.
Some will object by pointing out bad marriages or families with a man and a woman; wouldn’t it be better, they argue, to have two men or two women who are better parents? Agreed, there are sadly many marriages and families that do not live up to their potential. Among other things, they do not contribute well-formed citizens and good human beings to contribute to the betterment of society. They, however, unlike same-sex unions, possess the potential which same-sex couples lack because heterosexual couples possess a natural complementarity because they are male and female.
Bishop Conley’s statement continues: Jesus Christ and His Church love all people, including those who experience same sex attraction. We continue treat others in general and in particular with true Christian charity, that is: willing the greatest good for the other. If we want the greatest good for them, we wouldn’t want them to live a lie, in error or sin. Perhaps we have co-workers, friends, or family members who struggle with same sex attractions or live openly in such relationships. We don’t shun, hate, or scowl at them; we are gentle yet firm with them, just as God is with us when we sin. I think of Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery: Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. He doesn’t condemn her, but He also doesn’t give her permission to keep doing the bad things she’s been doing; rather, He wants her to change her ways! This is true Christ-like love.
However, acting upon that attraction harms individuals and our society. This new law claims that it is good for society that two people of the same sex have the right to marry. In fact, the majority opinion stated: It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage. If by “transcendent purposes of marriage”, they mean fruitfulness of a couple and their one-flesh union, then same-sex couples may aspire to them, but they do not even have the potential to achieve such purposes. Such a thing is only possible between a man and a woman. Yes, Marriage between a man and a woman is a central institution in our society because it’s good, not just for the two persons in that relationship, but for the children in that family, and for society as a whole. The family, as the basic building block of society, composed of a man, his wife, and their children, contributes to society goods, fundamentally well-formed citizens who contribute to that society, a task which no other group can so fully accomplish! As the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church states: It is patently clear that the good of persons and the proper functioning of society are closely connected ―with the healthy state of conjugal and family life. (#213). Again, the Nebraska Bishops wrote: Marriage, as ordained by God, is the cornerstone of every human family, an ancient tradition in every culture.
Again, some will object by asking: what if they love each other? Are you going to tell them they can’t love each other? The confusion here is that they are blurring various forms of “love.” I love my mother, but I’d never marry her; I love my brother, my fellow priests, and my parishioners, but I would never marry any of them! Marital love is a unique kind of love where two people give themselves wholly to one another with the potential of giving life. This is ONLY possible between a man and a woman.
Bishop Conley continues: This Supreme Court decision can bring no true freedom, no true peace, and no true joy. Not one of us can define the meaning of our lives— Christ alone reveals the authentic meaning of our lives, the meaning of marriage, and the meaning of our families. In the face of this decision, Catholics are called to witness to the love, peace, and joy that springs forth from moral truth. We are called to be the light of Christ in the face of darkness, confusion, and doubt. In the face of this decision, all Catholics are called to proclaim the Gospel of truth, of life, of joy and of real and everlasting freedom. When he attended the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976, the then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla said:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think the wide circle of the American Society, or the wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the Gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The is confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously…
As stated above, our response is what it has always been: charity and truth. We continue to love our neighbors as Christ loved us – whether they agree or not. We love them by proclaiming the truth, in this case, the truth about Marriage, as a sacred union between one man and one woman. Further, we continue to live our Catholic Faith in the world, because it’s TRUE and because it’s GOOD for us, for those around us, and for the world. We are called to be the light shining in the darkness; the darkness is certainly increasing, and we have a choice to make. I began to wonder as I sat around Friday afternoon thinking about this Supreme Court decision: who will be the first to go to jail? The Bishop? My brother priests? As St. Paul once wisely wrote to the young bishop St. Timothy:
Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.
This most-recent Supreme Court decision should not surprise us; we knew from the beginning, and have seen in every time and place, that deceivers would come; that men would prefer errors to the truth, and darkness to light. As St. John, however, reminds us in his Gospel: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. In their statement on this case, the US Bishops Conference wrote: Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Bishop Edward Rice, an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis pointed out: Governments have come and gone. Presidents have been elected and unelected. Kings and queens have taken the throne and they have been dethroned. And throughout the history of the Church, many governments have tried their best to destroy the Church…but the Church has survived.
Certainly, there’s a storm raging, but the Church is no stranger to storms and opposition. We are to remain hopeful; as a friend of mine likes to say: We know who wins in the end, we just have to gracefully run out the clock. I emphasize gracefully; we must be filled with grace, that is, God’s life, the God Who is Truth and Who is Love. When we are filled with Him, especially by means of our daily prayer lives and the Sacraments, it cannot help but overflow in our daily lives. People may be convinced this Supreme Court decision is best for our country or they may be indifferent, but we cannot be indifferent. Further, we must remember that authentic love never fails; the most convincing argument we can give others is the witness of our lives.
Finally, I close with the words of an ancient Christian document regarding the nature of Christians in the world (from the Letter to Diognetus): Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.