A Second Look: Is St. Paul Down on Marriage?

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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This Sunday’s second reading contains what could be construed as a controversial statement from St. Paul about marriage. The reading is from 1 Cor 7:32-35, in which Paul writes:

An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

It seems like St. Paul is saying it is more pleasing to God for people to remain single than to get married. Indeed, you’ll find many who argue for the Church’s tradition of celibate clergy and consecrated religious referencing this passage. An unmarried man or woman is in many ways less encumbered by worldly concerns and more free to devote their life to doing the Lord’s work.

But does this mean marriage is bad, or that married people are not capable of holiness? Hardly.

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From the Beginning

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)
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Those who make the claim that Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage would do well to read the text of today’s gospel reading (Mark 10:2-16) in which our Savior explicitly says that man was created male and female, and that a man is to cleave to his wife so that the two become one flesh.

But I’m not going to address same-sex marriage.  Instead, I am going to address two things which, like same-sex marriage, go against the very nature of marriage itself, and yet are widely accepted by our society.  I speak about divorce and contraception.

DIVORCE
Jesus does not mince words when it comes to divorce. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:11-12).  Lest we think adultery is a light matter, a few verses on (Mk 10:19), Jesus lists it alongside murder as examples of grave sin.

But how can it be adultery if one marriage is ended and another contracted?  Divorce is widely practiced in our society, as it was in Jewish society in Jesus’ time.  There is nothing new under the sun.  But Jesus asserts that this is not the way marriage is meant to be.

Most see marriage as a contract.  If one party ceases to be faithful to the contract, the faithful party is considered relieved of their obligations.  But Christian marriage (that is, marriage between two baptized people) is not a contract.  It is a covenant.  And a covenant remains binding even if one party is unfaithful (for example, God always remains true to His covenant with us, even when we sin against Him).

This is why it is considered adultery for a baptized Christian who has been divorced to marry another person. The fact that you have left your spouse, or been abandoned by your spouse, does not negate the marriage covenant.  The only thing that negates the marriage covenant is death (“till death do us part”).  Therefore, while either party is still living, neither is free to marry another person because they are, in fact, still married to one another.  Any relations outside of that marriage covenant are adulterous.

So what is the Catholic Church’s teaching about divorce and remarriage?  It is exactly the teaching of Jesus in Mk 10:11-12 — no more, no less.  This may come as a surprise when one considers the many Protestant churches who claim to base their teachings on the Bible alone, and yet allow divorce and remarriage.  Even the Eastern Orthodox, who remain so close to Catholic teaching in most every way, allow divorce and remarriage.  Only the Catholic Church holds fast to this teaching for the simple fact that it is the clear teaching of Jesus which the Church has neither the authority nor desire to change.

CONTRACEPTION 
It is no coincidence that Jesus moves directly from talking about marriage in Mk 10:2-12 to talking about children in Mk 10:13-16.  Children naturally follow from marriage.  The Second Vatican Council reminds us that “by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (Gaudium et Spes 48).  In other words, children are an integral part of the nature of marriage itself.

Does this make marriage between a naturally infertile couple any less of a marriage?  No.  But the exception does not make the rule.  Marriage, as an institution, is directed toward the procreation of children.  Contraception perverts the meaning of marriage.  It prevents husband and wife from truly becoming “one flesh” (Gen 2:24).

The word contraception literally means “against the beginning.”  Contraception stands against the beginning of new human life.  But it also stands against the beginning of the marriage covenant itself.  When Jesus talks about marriage “from the beginning,” as He does in today’s gospel, he refers back to our first parents, Adam and Eve.  The first command that the first married couple received from God was “be fruitful and multiply.”  Contraception stands against this command.

Contraception not only acts against the natural end of marriage, but against the supernatural end, as well.  For the Christian, marriage is one of the two sacraments of service — the other being Holy Orders.  Just as the man ordained to Holy Orders is ordained for the service of others, so is the married couple consecrated for service.  Where the married couple is called to serve is principally in the home, to serve both one another and their children.  Children teach their parents vital lessons in selflessness, sacrifice, patience and love, and so help their parents grow in holiness.  Contraception says “no” to the rich blessing of children.

IN CONCLUSION
To put it bluntly and biologically, our reproductive systems are meant to reproduce.  Sexual intercourse is how we do that.  This is basic biology and not rocket science.  It can also be a very enjoyable and bonding experience, bringing husband and wife much closer together.  But these factors do not negate its primary purpose anymore than the good taste of food and the bonding that comes from a shared meal negates the fact that food is meant to provide nutrition.

When they enter into marriage, a man and woman enter into that shared vocation of Adam and Eve, assisting God in His act of creation by their procreation.  To separate children from marriage is akin to separating the soul from the body.  One belongs to the other; without the other it is only a ghost or a corpse.

If marriage is not about starting a family, then there is no reason for marriage to be life-long.  And so we see the rise in divorce rates accompany the rise in contraception usage in western society.  If marriage is not about procreation, then there is no reason to limit it to two people of the opposite sex.

When people talk about marriage being under attack, this is what they refer to.  It did not start a few years ago with the push for same-sex marriage.  It started back in the 1930s when Protestant churches began to change their teaching about contraception, which led to wide-spread acceptance of them in the 1960s.  This was followed shortly by a loosening of our nation’s divorce laws, to where now anyone can divorce his or her spouse for any reason, and many couples enter into marriage with no intention of it being a permanent commitment.  Half of all marriages end in divorce and half of all children are born out of wedlock in our country.  Marriage is a mess.

But from the beginning this was not so, as our Lord reminds us today.  Each generation is a new beginning.  Each new marriage is a chance to do it right.  Most of you reading this today are not married, but most of you will be in the future.  The way to “fix” the marriage problem in our society is not with laws and Supreme Court rulings, but with an increase of faithful, life-long, holy marriages.

Speaking of the blessing God bestowed upon Adam and Even, Pope Francis recently said that “if we have sufficient faith, the families of the peoples of the earth will recognize themselves in this blessing.” The world continues on, and this world “is born in fact of the family, of the union of man and woman.”  Your marriage, or your future marriage, can help to give birth to a holier and happier world.

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Gospel For Today: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)

This past Friday the US Supreme Court declared that states have no right to limit marriage to two people of opposite sex.  Polls show a majority of Americans agree with that decision.  Our society’s understanding of marriage has changed; but that change occurred long before last Friday.

The Church recognizes marriage as a basic aspect of human nature.  I say “recognizes” and not “declares” because marriage is something which preexists the Church.  It was not invented by a Church council but is part of our very human nature.  This is why we recognize non-sacramental marriages between non-Christians as valid natural marriages, be they Hindu, Muslim, pagan, atheist etc..  But this does not mean that we recognize anything and everything as marriage.  Whether natural or sacramental, a valid marriage must be intended for life and open to children (Can. 1055). This presumes a complementarity of gender.  Societies across the world of all cultures and faiths have recognized these truths to some degree.  But sometimes societies get it wrong.
This is why the Church has procedures in place for annulments.  An annulment is the recognition by the Church that a valid marriage never existed; because sometimes we get it wrong.  If one party enters into the marriage not intending it to be life-long, or not intending children, then they are not truly married.  If one party is already married to someone else at the time, they are not truly married to their second “spouse.”  A wise priest commented to me once that the Church seems to be granting more annulments these days because there are fewer true marriages.  This is because our society’s understanding of marriage has eroded during the last century.  
In 1930 the Anglican Communion decided in their Lambeth Conference that contraception could be morally licit.  Soon nearly all Protestant denominations reversed their teaching on contraception.  Contraception was once illegal to sell in the United States, but by the 1960’s and the advent of the Pill, it was seen as the new norm.  The contraceptive mentality has led to an acceptance of abortion, the ultimate solution if your contraception fails.  Children are now treated as commodities to be purchased or discarded.  Have a baby but don’t want one?  Get an abortion.  Want a baby but don’t have one?  Get one made-to-order in a lab.  Whether you are married or not really doesn’t enter into the equation.  
Marriage is about creating a stable family for the upbringing of children, but if children are removed from the equation then there is no reason why marriage should be a life-long bond.  So in 1969 California enacted the nation’s first no-fault divorce law.  The rest of the country soon followed, meaning anyone could now divorce their spouse simply because one didn’t want to be married any more.  There is no longer an expectation that couples entering marriage will be together for life.  At the dawn of the 20th century, the divorce rate in America was 7%.  By the 1980s it had grown to over 50%. 
I relate all of this only to illustrate that there are certain requirements as to what constitutes a valid marriage, and for decades we have lived in a society where an increasing number of “marriages” do not meet those requirements. 
In our second reading today (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), St. Paul speaks of equality.  He reminds us that Jesus became poor so that we might become rich, and with the abundance He gives us we should supply the needs of the poor so that “there may be equality.”  St. Paul was talking about Christians sharing their material needs, but the same holds true for spiritual goods.  One spiritual good which many lack while others have in abundance is knowledge of the truth.
The collect from today’s Mass contains the beautiful prayer “that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.”  It is precisely by living in the bright light of truth that we can be lights to those who are spiritually poor, “that there may be equality.”  
The Supreme Court has not given us “marriage equality.”  Instead we have a great inequality between reality and practice when it comes to marriage in our society.  A proper understanding of the natural order is a good  Those who live in the light of truth have an abundance of this good.  Today, that abundance will have to supply the needs of our society.  How do we share this abundance?  Not by snarky comments on Facebook.  Not by spewing messages of hate.  Not by accusing anyone of being unworthy of love.  It is shared by living in the light of truth and generously sharing the love of Christ.
In many ways our scripture readings this Sunday are about restoring the natural order.  Our first reading assures us that “God did not make death” (Wis 1:13).  Death is not natural.  And so in the gospel we see Jesus overcoming death by raising the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:21-43).  There are other times Jesus restores the natural order.  Moses allowed a Jewish husband to divorce his wife.  But in Mark 10:1-12 Jesus says, “from the beginning this was not so.”  Divorce is not natural, so Jesus commands that what God has joined together, no man can separate.  Christ restores the natural order of marriage when society gets it wrong.
The world today gets a lot wrong when it comes to marriage — not just the one thing that was in the news so much last week, but many things.  It calls contraception a good, and children an inconvenience.  It considers life-long marriage to be an unrealistic ideal.  It says marriage has nothing to do with gender.  It says marriage is whatever you want it to be.  Tomorrow, who knows what the world will say about marriage?  But Catholic couples and others of good will can continue to stand in the bright light of truth by faithfully living their marital vocations.  Pray for all married couples that by the witness of their vocation they may share in Christ’s loving restoration of the world.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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WWJD?

As a follow up to my previous posts on the “wedding cake” debate regarding same-sex marriage (from April 3 and April 4), I want to respond to certain criticism I have seen suggesting that those who decline to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies (such as bakers refusing to make wedding cakes) are being un-Christian.  The accusation is that people who make such decisions in the name of their faith are going against the teachings of Jesus.

It can be an effective argument.  Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example in love.  Christians are commanded not to judge others.  Are those who refuse, on religious grounds, to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages hypocrites?

Many memes I have seen along these lines have the same basic message.  Jesus ate with sinners; and you won’t even sell them a cake. Ouch.  That can cut to the heart, especially if we are refusing to bake that wedding cake out of hatred or fear of association with people we deem to be unclean, like modern day lepers.  And no doubt many people feel this way about homosexual couples.  But is that necessarily the case?

Again, as I mentioned in the last two posts I made on this topic, there are important distinctions many are missing.  There is a fundamental difference between associating with sinners and participating in their sin.  Jesus associated with known sinners.  Jesus never participated in their sin.  Christ dined with prostitutes and tax collectors (who were viewed as little more than government-sanctioned thieves).  Christ did not support or encourage them in their prostitution or thievery.  Jesus associated with sinners in order to lift them out of their sin, not affirm them in it.

Consider the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11).  The people were preparing to stone her for her sin.  Jesus poignantly said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”  The people walked away, because none of them were prideful enough to claim to be without sin.  The message is that it is hypocritical of us to condemn a sinner because we are sinners ourselves.  But the story does not end there.  Jesus also does not condemn the woman but instructs her, “Go, and sin no more.”  Christ forgives her in order to free her from her sins, not to allow her to continue sinning.  Jesus’ message to the same-sex couple is the same: “Go, and sin no more.”  (By the way, He has that same message for you and me).

Is the baker who refuses to make the wedding cake like the crowd wanting to stone the adulterous woman?  Again, an important distinction needs to be made between condemning someone for their sin and choosing not to involve ourselves in their sin.  Our faith teaches us not to judge others (Mt 7:1).  But we are required to judge actions — chiefly our own actions.  We are expected to do good and not evil.  That’s what the Ten Commandments are all about.  We are called to foster virtue and avoid vice.  It is sinful for us to engage in immoral actions, and doubly sinful for us to lead others into sinful actions.  A baker can refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage because he does not wish to involve himself in a sinful action.  By so doing the baker is judging his own actions and making a decision about what is right or wrong for him to do.  Now he may also be judging the same-sex couple in his heart, and that would be wrong.  But we have no way of knowing that.  To assume that the baker has hateful intentions would mean we ourselves are guilty of judging others.

One cartoon I recently came across showed an overweight man in line at a fast food restaurant.   The young man behind the register is refusing to serve him because gluttony is a sin.  The message is clear: if we say it is OK to refuse service to someone because we think they are sinning, where do we draw the line?  This argument will no doubt convince a lot of people who do not make the distinction between associating with the sinner and participating in the sin.  The cashier in the cartoon is being hypocritical because he, himself, is a sinner.  But there is a difference between refusing to sell a cake to a same-sex couple because we think they are sinning, and declining to design and create a special cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.  There is a difference between a cake and a wedding cake, just like there is a difference between a dress and a wedding dress.  The latter is specially meant to celebrate and honor the occasion.  If we understand it to be an occasion of sin, we should be free not to involve ourselves in it.

So what would Jesus do?  Jesus was a carpenter, not a baker.  Would Jesus have made a table or a stool for a man who worshiped Baal?  No doubt he would.  Would Jesus have carved an altar to be used in making ritual sacrifices to the false God?  Can anyone even imagine Him doing so?  The question answers itself.

If we stop associating altogether with anyone we think is living a sinful lifestyle, then we are being judgmental and hypocritical.  A just society must be able to tolerate sinners to a certain degree because we are all sinners.  All of us fall; all of us need forgiveness.  But a just society must also allow each individual to follow his or her conscience and not force anyone to engage in a sinful act or participate in the sinful action of another.

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Apples & Oranges

Yesterday I posted about religious liberty, going into the distinction made in moral philosophy between proximate and remote material cooperation with immoral acts. I wrote about business owners’ right to decline certain jobs or contracts for things which would violate their conscience.

This discussion, of course, is relevant because of the ongoing national discussion over homosexual marriage.  You may have read my post from yesterday and asked yourself, “Wouldn’t those same arguments apply to those who disagree with interracial marriage?  People once thought that was wrong, but now we understand that to be bigotry which society cannot tolerate.  Isn’t same-sex marriage the same thing?”

Same-sex marriage and interracial marriage are in fact two very different matters.  The easiest way to explain the distinction is with a question.  The question involved in interracial marriage is, “Should these two people get married?”  The question involved in same-sex marriage is, “Could these two people get married?”  Those are two fundamentally different questions.

The Catholic Church has never viewed race as an impediment to marriage.  The opposition that once existed to interracial marriages was based on societal conventions, not Church teaching.  The Catholic Church and other Christian bodies have contributed to the ongoing change in attitudes over race relations.  The Second Vatican Council taught that, “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes, 29, 2).

The issue in the past with interracial marriages was never about whether the couple could validly be married, but whether society should accept people in such marriages.  Interracial marriages caused scandal in a society where black and white people were thought to be on very different rungs of the societal ladder.  Likewise marriages between rich and poor were seen as scandalous, as were inter-religious marriages.  People were expected to marry within their own social class.

The question in all of these cases was never “is this marriage valid?” but, “is this marriage a good idea?”  Today, due largely to the efforts of Christians participating in the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, marriages between people of different races, religions and economic classes are widely accepted.  This is a change for the better.

When it comes to the question of same-sex marriage, however, there is a different issue in play.  The question is not whether such a marriage is a good idea, or whether it would cause scandal.  The question at hand is whether this is a marriage at all.  Are two people of the same sex even capable of entering into marriage?  The answer, according to how the world has always understood marriage up to this point, is No.

For many centuries, western society has understood marriage to be what the Catholic Church defines as a “covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life… by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (CCC 1601).  Granted, throughout the long span of human history and across a wide range of cultures, one can find different understandings of marriage.  Not all societies view marriage as monogamous.  Not all societies view it as a life-long bond.  But all forms of marriage everywhere have involved a joining of male and female for the procreation of children.  The gradual widespread understanding of marriage as a mutually exclusive, life long relationship has been refined largely because such a relationship is best suited for the good of the spouses and of the children.

Accepting interracial marriages required a change in how our society understood race.  We no longer view race as a valid reason for discrimination, and rightly so.  There is nothing about the color of one’s skin that should prohibit anyone from entering into a marital covenant as described above.

But accepting same-sex marriage requires a change in how our society understands marriage.  When opponents of same-sex marriage say, “This issue is not about homosexuality, but about marriage,” this is what they mean.  To accept same-sex marriage means discarding old ideas about the nature of marriage and defining it as something else; some other kind of relationship.  What the new definition of marriage is to be is yet to be seen.  But this is what is at stake.

Whether society’s understanding of marriage should stay the same, ought to be changed, or has already been changed, is a topic for another article.  But comparing the issue of same-sex marriage to interracial marriage is like comparing apples and oranges.  It is a red herring that misses the crux of the issue currently before our country.

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