Rorate Caeli

Sermon on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: MARRIAGE AND THE TRUTH OF CHRIST

From the First Epistle of St. Peter:  “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”.

Yesterday I witnessed the marriage of a wonderful young couple.  The Nuptial Mass was a Solemn Mass in the Traditional Roman rite. And as I listened to the epistle which is from the sixth chapter of the Epistle of St Paul to the Ephesians, where Paul uses the analogy of the relationship of the man and woman in  marriage to the relationship of Christ and his Church, and then listened to the gospel from St. Matthew that relates the discussion between Jesus and the Pharisess on marriage: “And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, '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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."(Mt. 19:3-9): once again the clarity of our Lord's teaching struck me. The teaching is clear: marriage as a human institution is ordained by God, and the bond of marriage is formed by God and is unbreakable. 

As I listened to these traditional readings for the Nuptial Mass I could not help contrasting them with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s written majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s decision to declare "gay marriage" a fundamental right.   I had read the opinion early yesterday morning.  I had little doubt that this is how things would turn out, since these decisions lately have little to do with law and everything to do with promoting a social agenda as members of the court see fit.  We live in an age in which Tradition with a capital T is always trounced by the “pursuit of happiness”.  Kennedy’s reasoning never addressed the origin and history of marriage as a human institution and certainly not as a religious institution.  That he nowhere mentioned procreation as a basic element in the institution of marriage and one of the reasons for the human institution of marriage was both remarkable and telling. The opinion was written in a way that was so sentimentally over the top that even those who favored "gay marriage" must have cringed at his words.  The basic premise is that everyone has the right to be happy, and if not being able to be married gets in the way of that right, then the obstacle must be removed.

It is true that the Declaration of Independence speaks of the pursuit of happiness as one of the unalienable rights of man within a section of that document penned by Thomas Jefferson who probably got it from the English poflosopher John Locke.  But whatever else we can say about these two personages, both Jefferson and Locke believed that happiness could not be separated from moral virtue. For them the state of being happy was not a subjective state of elation, not a feeling of contentment.  It was rather the result of living a life according to the moral law.  St. Thomas Aquinas insists on the relationship between happiness and virtue.  Perfect happiness (beatitudo) is not possible in this lifetime, but only in the afterlife for those who achieve a direct perception of God.  There can, however, be an imperfect happiness (felicitas) attainable in this lifetime, in proportion to the exercise of Reason (contemplation of truth) and the exercise of virtue.

But what happens when the pursuit of happiness is understood quite apart from truth or virtue and is based on my own desires, what I want, what will make me happy?  Then we get the self-absorbed individualism that is a mark of our society today.  The questions of truth and virtue never come into play.  The question of whether "gay marriage" participates in the truth of what marriage is or whether "gay marriage" is virtuous never came up and never will. Jesus’ stark answer to the Pharisees is an assertion of the truth of marriage, what it is.  St. Paul’s analogy of husband wife with Christ and his Church is essentially speaking about how a man and woman live a life of virtue within the marriage bond: mutual submission in love.

The question arises:  how did we get to this point and so rapidly? Of course the stock answer, and there is truth here, is the secularization and de-Christianization of our culture.  But we must remember that secularization is possible only if the Christian faith is no longer a real force in our culture.  And that is the case to a large extent, even if the façade has not entirely disappeared.  We think of this often in terms of Christians who have abandoned any grounding in Scripture and Tradition like liberal Protestantism, which has long abandoned any effort to counter license masking as rights.  But many Catholics in this country have bought into the American confusion of freedoms and rights, and so embrace concepts and the practical results of those concepts that are contrary to the teaching of the Church.  And they have done so because of a terrible lack of leadership from those who are entrusted with the office of teaching in the Church.  We think of this usually in terms of bad catechesis among our own people. And that is true.  But what has been lacking for so very long is real intellectual engagement with the world.  The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops did come out with a good statement against the Supreme Court’s decision on "gay marriage".  But it is no longer enough to repeat Church teaching.  There must be an intellectual renaissance within the Church that will enable the Church to respond in an intelligent and forceful way to the lies about the nature of man and the meaning of life that pervade this society.  The rapid rise and establishment of gender theory that seeks to destroy an ontological understanding of sexuality, of male and female was made possible in part by the intellectual silence of the part of the Catholic Church.  That silence must end, and the battle must be joined using the gift of reason strengthened by faith.

This is no time, my friends, to be despondent or to turn inwards and circle the wagons.  We must have the courage to be true to the teachings of Christ by living those truths in our own lives. Personal witness by a life lived in faith and hope will be very important in the future in countering the father of lies. In today’s epistle, St. Peter urges us that we should not fear those who act unjustly, that we should not fear suffering for the sake of justice and truth, and that we should always be ready to respond to those who ask us what the basis of our hope is.  May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, intercede for us, that we may have the courage, the wisdom and faith to be true to her Son and to bring His saving truth to the world in which we live.