The Catholic understanding of marriage as exclusively the lifelong union of one man and one woman open to new life is perhaps the most despised of all Catholic beliefs in 2020 America.
|Deacon Kyle Eller
It’s also true. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s rational. It’s loving. It’s life-giving. It’s demanding and challenging. It’s fulfilling. It’s inspiring. It’s realistic.
And it’s necessary. It’s integral to our faith — to our understanding of who God is and who we are, to our understanding of our relationship to God, to our social doctrine, to our defense of the dignity of human life. As for society, it’s a necessary condition for genuine human thriving and social progress, as can be seen by the consequences of its breakdown: an unending torrent of human misery.
In short, this teaching is the exact opposite of all the lies our culture tells about it: that it’s an embarrassing, arbitrary, ignorant, irrational, bigoted, unrealistic, regressive, oppressive relic of a superstitious age long buried.
We know this truth by both faith and reason.
In Scripture, it is not just a few scattered verses, it’s a fundamental theme running literally from the beginning of the Bible to the end, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and in Revelation the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. That wedding feast in heaven is the culmination of how God has, throughout salvation history, described his spousal relationship with his people. Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as the bridegroom and the church as his bride.
It’s no less clear in the realm of reason, where God has written the nuptial meaning of marriage, of the two becoming one flesh to be fruitful and multiply, into creation itself, stamped right into our bodies. It’s the wellspring of society, its most fundamental building block, and prior to any government or even tribe. It’s where human life is conceived and nurtured.
The complementarity of men and women as a defining characteristic of marriage is so obvious that virtually every society that has ever existed, in every time and place, across cultures and philosophies and religions, held it without even a whisper of a doubt, until about 15 minutes ago, where the arguments against it amounted to “Love Wins” bumper stickers.
This was only possible after decades of propaganda and indoctrination. That’s why this truth “fell” in the popular mind only far down the road of the sexual revolution, after society had already been sold contraception, fornication, divorce, adultery, pornography, masturbation, cohabitation, abortion, artificial conception, each step slowly darkening and entrapping hearts and minds, slowly obscuring the intrinsic relations between men and women, the marital act and marriage, the marital act and procreation, conception and the marital act, children and their mothers and fathers, and marriage and children.
This tsunami has left a vast wake of destruction — children in families shattered into a million constantly shuffled pieces, an endless trail of broken hearts, the destruction of children’s innocence, porn addiction, loneliness, despair, poverty, abuse, cynicism. And that’s not to mention the millions of aborted babies keeping up the pretense it’s all working.
Only the overwhelming cultural dominance of sexual revolutionaries, who run the newsrooms and the movie studios and the courts and so much else, obscures this from our eyes. But if you look, you can’t possibly mistake it. It’s all around us, getting worse every day.
Our teaching on marriage is undeniably demanding and difficult. All of us are wounded and tempted in various ways by the sexual revolution, and virtually all of us have failed our call to holiness in these matters in some way. We are dealing with powerful, pervasive structures of sin all directed at leading people astray.
For people in certain situations, such as those with same-sex attraction or those who have divorced and remarried, the call can be even harder. Harsh judgment on poor sinners just like ourselves should be the last thing on our minds. That’s where Pope Francis’ teaching on accompaniment, on meeting people where they are and walking with them lovingly, step by step, toward a better path, is so good and important.
This church teaching is not directed against anyone. We are caught at night in a shipwreck at sea, and it’s the lighthouse guiding us to life. And that’s why the controversy over Pope Francis’ comments in a recent documentary hurts us so profoundly.
Let’s get some things clear. First, popes don’t exercise their teaching authority through media interviews and documentaries. What he said about “civil unions” is not Catholic teaching. It’s an opinion the pope expressed.
Second, it has been established by the transcript that his words were deceptively edited, splicing together fragments that were not originally together. The longer first part of the quote drew from comments not referring to civil unions but to parents loving their LGBT sons and daughters, who remain part of the family, which is good and needs saying.
The shorter second part of the quote referring to civil unions was drawn from a longer quote in which he reaffirmed, as he so frequently has, the irreformable doctrine of our faith that same-sex “marriage” is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. It was in that context that he expressed his personal support for civil unions, an opinion that appears to contradict what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope St. John Paul II, said in 2003.
Among the reasons the CDF said civil unions should be opposed were concerns that it would appear to bless homosexual acts that are sinful, would subject children to situations that deliberately deprive them of a mother or father, and would obscure the meaning of marriage, treating relationships that are not marriage as if they were something similar.
Reaction to the pope’s words — from activists, journalists, politicians, and across social media — would seem to validate those concerns 100%.
There are pastoral situations, probably more prevalent elsewhere in the world but here too, where people need to be admonished not to reject a gay son or daughter. But in 2020 America, it’s far more likely a person will be shunned by family for holding to Catholic teaching on marriage. People continue to lose jobs and businesses over it, get dragged in front of courts and tribunals and HR departments over it, get harassed and bullied because of it, have academic success threatened over it.
So I hope in his pastoral concern Pope Francis will find room in his heart to “strengthen the brethren” who are enduring these persecutions for remaining faithful to Jesus. I assume it was not his intention, but the persecutors have taken the pope’s words as another stone to throw at his flock.
Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross.