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Marriage; Same Sex Marriage and Why It Matters

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Oct. 01, 2012
Photo Credit: http://treymorgan.net

Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

It’s hard to imagine a world without text messaging, isn’t it? The jury is probably still out whether that’s a good thing or not - but the reality is that, in a short period of time, we’ve moved from just being curious about a new method of communication - getting a mini-email on your phones - to seeing it as an essential form of daily communication. With each new device, as each smart phone becomes “smarter” -  texting becomes even more a part of our routine.  So much so we need reminders, warnings, even laws about when to stop texting.   There are commercials on television warning of the dangers; as well as laws being passed banning “texting while driving.” Studies are being conducted about the effect texting has on stress levels, people’s sleep habits, etc.   There even was a discussion, not too long ago, about passing a law against texting while walking in New York City.

It seems silly that we’re at this point, doesn’t it? I mean, you’d think people would recognize the danger of driving on the Garden State Parkway at 65 miles per hour and texting simultaneously. Crossing an intersection in New York City is life-threatening enough without your attention being diverted by text messaging.  Yet, a recent story in the news shows that the message still hasn’t set in.  An Alaskan woman was walking around her house, which sits on a cliff. As she finished her cigarette, and prepared to get rid of it, she was texting, so she didn’t realize how close to the edge of the cliff she really was, until she slipped, and fell 60 feet, getting stuck between rocks and boulders. Despite the risk and difficulty involved in the mission, she was eventually (thankfully) rescued.

Obviously, logic and common sense don’t always seem to “do the job” for us. One would think we’d know how to use text messaging in the way it was intended. But it’s become more obvious -since the woman fell off the cliff - that we need voices, we need direction to point out when we’re doing something that’s not healthy, or helpful, or downright dangerous. So laws need to be passed (and enforced); advertisements need to influence people to (at least, try to) make better decisions.

Which is one of the essential things Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. Of all the things that we’ve been blessed with, one of the most precious gifts given to us by God is the gift of Freedom. We have the choice, the freedom, to choose to love God - or not. To live in relationship with Him - or not. He doesn’t force us or coerce us.  He loves us, pursues us and desires us to choose to live in relationship with Him. But, ultimately, that’s a decision that every individual makes - one soul at a time.   It’s hard enough for you and I to deal with our own sinfulness, our own failures on a daily basis. So what fires Jesus up in this Gospel today is the misuse of freedom, the responsibility we face when we mislead others. When we confuse them about what is true and not true.  What is and what is not a sin. When we disregard logic and common sense to advance things contrary to God’s will.  When we misuse God’s word for purposes of our own.  He uses dramatic imagery to point out that we should be extremely vigilant in not leading others astray.

In the last few years, throughout the United States, there has been a debate going on over what has been described as “same-sex marriage,” and whether such relationships should legally be recognized as “marriage.”  Perhaps it’s too charitable to say it’s been a “debate.”  Because debate usually implies that there are two sides that present their arguments, question one another on the validity of those arguments, and help people ultimately come to an understanding or a consensus on a particular issue.  It is true that, in this case,  there have been people on both sides who have been outrageous, horrendous in their characterizations of their ‘opposition.’  So much so, it’s a bit nerve-wracking even mentioning the topic – which is why I think so often we avoid talking about it.

It is disgusting to see “hate preachers” holding signs saying “God hates” and then using an atrocious term to fill in the blank, a term that is meant to demean and degrade people with same-sex attractions. Hearing people shout at a group of their fellow citizens, telling them they are “going to hell” is equally deplorable. We don’t believe in a God who hates people… any people, of any orientation. He who knows us, who created us in His image and likeness, sees the beauty of his handiwork. He knows our potential.  He knows our weaknesses. He knows how we struggle between the two - which is why he sent Jesus Christ, in the first place, to save us from our weaknesses, save us when we fall into sin, and to offer us new life in Him - both now and in eternity.  God doesn’t hate people – gay or straight.   And He never gives up on us. He would never simply dismiss an entire demographic to “go to hell.”  Jesus died specifically to save us from that nightmare. He always holds out hope for us, for all of us. That has always been the teaching of the Church - to the point that while the Church has always said that, yes, we do believe that Hell exists – none of us can say for certain that a particular villain (even one of the most infamous, notorious of human beings ever to have lived) is there now.

But it’s also true that there’s been equally unfair things said and done from those who support same-sex marriage who have bullied their opposition to the point that -sadly - the Church hasn’t explained her teaching nearly as clearly as she needs to.

Which is why this past week, our Archbishop John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark issued what is called a “pastoral letter.”  (you can read his letter here: http://www.rcan.org/archbish/jjm_letters/wtbo.pdf; )  For the most part, I think, Catholics think the Bishop’s job is to confirm people or to run the diocese. And while those are important, one of the chief responsibilities entrusted to the Bishop by the Lord at His ordination is to be the shepherd of the local Church that he is sent to.  So, in this 16 page letter, entitled, “When two become one: A pastoral teaching on the definition, purpose and sanctity of marriage,” the Archbishop explains the foundations of this institution that has been understood between one man and one women from the beginnings of civilization. The origins of marriage come from the reality that when a husband and wife had a sexual relationship - often times, that resulted in a child.  Those children, it was understood, depended upon these two parents who were so essential to their creation, to continue to love, care and provide for them, after they were born.  So, this relationship which had a physical, emotional (and, later, spiritual) aspect to them which was understood to be different from any other relationship on this earth.

Our Archbishop issued this letter because he knows we are living in difficult and, often, confusing times. The pain of divorce has touched far too many lives. The lie that “no one can make a life-long commitment” has been told and believed by too many. And the beauty, the meaning, the purpose of marriage seems to be lost to countless numbers of people.   When you have a celebrity (if you can call her that, I still don’t know what she does) like Kim Kardashian gaining the eyes and ears of the world as she was married for what, 15 minutes, to whats his name - it’s more and more obvious that many people just don’t know what they are doing within the institution of marriage.

And now we’re living in an unprecedented time in which there’s greater demand - by a small, but vocal group of people and politicians - to pass laws that further undermine the meaning and definition of marriage.  Instead of the idea of this physical, emotional and spiritual relationship which results in new life being born into the world, instead of this being the very foundation of marriage - people are now proposing that all that matters is love– who do you choose to love. 

So, the argument goes, it wouldn’t matter if the union is between two men, two women or a man and a woman - all that would matter is their love for one another. Despite the denials of those who support this re-definition, if we accept that premise, what’s to stop three people or more from wishing to be “married?” (Or, as I wrote in a blog earlier this summer, what’s to stop a single woman who wishes to marry herself from doing so? – you can read that here:  http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/can-you-marry-yourself.html ) Who’s to say that two cousins who really love each other can’t get married?  If “love” is the criteria, where is the line - and who can draw it?  Thats not being said to be inflammatory - that’s using logic to ask questions regarding an important issue (Which use to be the standard way we made laws)

It sounds extreme, I know . . . and ridiculous.  But, 10 years ago, the thought that marriage would be understood as anything other than the permanent, exclusive, life-long commitment of one man and one woman seemed extreme and ridiculous, as well.    

So, our Archbishop Myers has issued this pastoral letter in which he asks us, the people he has been entrusted to lead, to think about these things.  To read his letter, to use our hearts and minds and engage this topic with hearts and minds open to hearing why what the Church teaches is so important.  To recognize the specialness of the institution of marriage, and the need for us to hear the voice of the Lord through the Church, instructing us on how to use it properly. Pointing out how somethings  that are being done - or proposed - are not healthy, or helpful but downright dangerous - not just to the institution of marriage, but to society as a whole.  To ask us to reflect on this, especially in an election year, so that laws will continue to be passed which will influence people to make better decisions.

This can all be hard to hear, I know.  Especially as so many of us have friends and relatives we care deeply about, who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, and are, themselves, truly seeking love in their own lives - a true love, which we all hope they find.  And because of the explosive nature of this topic and the way it has been discussed by both sides, it saddens me that some feel unwelcome or loved by the Church, by Christ.   We need to do better with that - to minister and outreach to those who for whatever reason have felt disconnected to know that the Church wants to help each and every person find and experience the Love of Christ in their lives now and for eternity.    But, from the Catholic standpoint, same-sex marriage is not the answer to that search.  Marriage’s purpose is new life, and its meaning is love.  Those two cannot be divorced, one from the other.  That is, and always has been our church’s teaching.

Let us, at least, be clear about that, in our own minds and hearts, and as we - calmly and civilly - speak to others about our beliefs, and - as Christ was so passionate about in today’s gospel - let us guard against leading others astray, others who may, in all good faith, be looking to us for clarification about what a Catholic truly believes. Doing so with the same love of Christ who encountered difficult issues, spoke truth to them, but always did so with authentic, genuine, true love that He wants each and every one of us to know and experience in our own lives.

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