Is Marriage Defensible?
Orange County Thomas More Society Presentation
November 20, 2013, Fr. Joseph IlloThank you for participating
Thank you, Greg, for that introduction, and to Steve Contungo and all of you for inviting me to your meeting this month. Steve’s children attend Thomas Aquinas College, where I serve as chaplain, and I had the privilege of helping his daughter Sarah with her senior thesis last semester. I am pleased to say that in our college Student Center, we have only three paintings of saints: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Joseph, and … St. Thomas More. The patron of Catholic jurists is quite well loved at Thomas Aquinas College.
Arguably, Catholics make the best lawyers, since you have 2000 years of legal tradition behind you, and belong to the organization most responsible for developing the western system of rule of law. I saw on your website that you’ve organized an annual diocesan Red Mass. In my last parish, we held an annual Blue Mass to honor and pray for first responders, and a White Mass for physicians, but never quite got the Red Mass off the ground, even though we had a lot of attorneys in the parish. Every time we held a planning meeting, the lawyers could never agree among themselves…. Is a priest competent to speak on marriage?
I’ve been asked to speak on the question of marriage, and of course, never having been married, I immediately agreed. Priests, perhaps like lawyers and doctors, imagine that we are experts in every topic, or at least can talk like we are experts. I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage, but I began life in a marriage (my parents celebrated their 60th anniversary this year), and for 23 years have been “marrying” all the finest ladies in my parish. Not only do priests prepare couples for marriage, and celebrate their weddings, but more importantly we talk them through the difficult times after the wedding, and in the process learn a certain amount of inside information about marriage dynamics. And I might say, that celibacy affords us a certain objectivity, a disinterestedness, when engaging the emotionally-charged difficulties couples must face. Finally, priests study and teach theology, and so are able to apply some fundamental principles to the question of marriage.
One further disclaimer: I am a parish priest by trade, not a professional theologian, sociologist, or legal expert. At my disposal is a basic grounding in theology and many years’ parish experience, but I am not an expert and scarcely the last word on the subject. Although I would suspect you all would be less likely to succumb to the fallacy that “whatever father says is true,” many take what a priest says on a spiritual subject like matrimony as magisterial. My talk centers mainly on natural-law arguments for marriage, although of course it depends on ideas developed in the Christian tradition. We are here to think through this question together, and I encourage your questions and comments after my presentation.What is marriage: framing the question
Is marriage defensible? To answer that question, we must first ask: What is
marriage? It seems an obvious question, but suddenly, nobody can agree on a definition of marriage. But the simplest things in life are often the hardest to define. St. Augustine famously said in the 11th chapter of his Confessions
, "What then is ‘time?’ If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it, I know not."
Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, has written a little book on this question, along with co-authors Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson, entitled: What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.
Defining marriage turns out to be a complex question, difficult to encompass and articulate. Even this book, which I highly recommend, having made an essential definition, circles around and about that core trying to articulate just what it is. Robert George and his co-authors, however, have come up with a most succinct definition: marriage is a “comprehensive union.” That is, marriage is a union of body and soul inherently oriented toward the generation of new life
. As I will explain, and is perhaps already self-evident, this can only obtain between one man and one woman.What distinguishes the marriage bond
There exist all sorts of friendship bondings among humans: coffee klatches, business partnerships, a grandfather and granddaughter, two bachelor brothers keeping house together, communes of like-minded adherents, from Catholic monasteries to nudist colonies, reading clubs, sports clubs, scout troops, etc. What makes the marriage bond
distinct, and why would the state want to regulate it? The government doesn’t issue “friendship licenses” for hiking clubs, or require divorce procedures for two elderly sisters who had lived together but go their separate ways after an argument. Why does the government involve itself in marriage at all? The reason must be that marriage—the union of will and body between man and woman (ratum et consummatum)—generates new human beings, new citizens, the care and education of whom greatly affects society. Government must help rightly order our societal goods, among which children are the most precious. Children are our future, and our present, and we neglect their health and education to our common demise. Even if we don’t care about children as individuals, our own public security and peaceful retirement depends on them. That’s why you see billboards on the freeway promoting “responsible fatherhood;” even the most radical secularist in “fatherless America” understands that children growing up without parents turn out very badly for everyone concerned.
This, then, is what distinguishes marriage from any other type of human bonding or companionship or relationship: it is naturally and essentially oriented toward children. A side note here: we often fall into the trap of speaking about “traditional marriage,” which concedes that there are
different kinds of marriage. In the western legal tradition, at least until a few years ago, there have never existed various forms of marriage, such as “traditional marriage,” “open marriage,” “flexible marriage,” “same-sex marriage,” etc. Despite the recent iterations of the courts, there is still only “marriage,” which is distinct from any other kind of friendship, companionship, legal arrangement, or human bonding, precisely because it is capable of generating new life. We need to be precise in our use of the term; certainly those who want to redefine it are willing to wage protracted legal battles just to do that; we need to insist on its proper use, for our use of words indeed affects our concepts. So, when I use the word “marriage” in this talk, I’m talking about marriage,
which is the comprehensive union between a man and a woman. Some may argue that this begs the question of what marriage is, but it makes sense to start from the concept as commonly understood before we determine if it should be redefined.“Comprehensive Union”: Total gift of self
Again, let us attempt to define “comprehensive union.” Marriage is comprehensive in the sense that it comprehends everything in the human person. It is total, it is a complete
self-gift of body, soul, mind, and heart. Can marriage be partial—can I be “kind of married?” Is marriage a compromise? For years I’ve worked on Engaged Encounter and Retrouvaille weekend workshops with married couples. Any of those happily married couples will tell you that once you begin thinking of marriage as a compromise—I give 50% and she gives 50%, and maybe this week I can get by with 48%—once I start thinking like that, my marriage is headed south. Marriage requires 100% from each partner. It is not only
a business relationship (certainly it includes
a business arrangement) where contracts are drawn up and one party is not obligated beyond narrow contractual requirements. Marriage requires the whole
person. No-fault divorce, which began the process of redefining marriage forty years ago, reduces
marriage to merely a contractual arrangement. I was talking with my 80-year-old mother yesterday, who has been married for sixty years to my father, and raised six children with him—she knows a thing or two about marriage. She visited my older brother last week, who is caring for his wife after her surgery. “Bobby is caring for her, changing her dressings and her drains, bathing her, feeding her.” She was amazed that this little boy to whom she had given herself fifty years ago was now giving himself to his wife. He could have just hired a full-time nurse (he has hired a part-time nurse so he can get to work), but he wants to care for his wife as personally as he can. This kind of arrangement is not merely contractual
—it represents a total gift of self.“Comprehensive Union”: Faithful and permanent
Marriage is “comprehensive” in that it touches every aspect of the human person and requires a total gift of self until death. Nothing less can hope to bring about happiness in such an intimate relationship. It requires exclusivity, or what we call fidelity (monogamy), because the human person can only love one person at a time. Certainly, we can appreciate and love groups of friends, and both parents, and all our children, but when it comes to total surrender to another person, the human psyche needs a single object of that gift. Ideally, marriage should be lifelong, or “permanent,” because the human person finds it emotionally repulsive to surrender to another in complete trust, to build a life together over many years, only to see it collapse and then have to start over again. A comprehensive union takes all that we have to give, and we find it exhausting to do it more than once. Commonly those who have lost a spouse to death, or gone through a divorce, will tell you that he or she “isn’t ready to do that again” or “is not interested in marriage again.” The nature of a comprehensive union demands that spouses enter into marriage intending lifelong fidelity, even if that goal is not realized in every marriage.
Thus, if marriage is a comprehensive union of mind and body, it demands of that union totality, meaning fidelity and permanence. But fidelity and permanence could be said of same-sex “marriage” as well, although same-sex couplings do not have a very good track record when it comes to fidelity and longevity. You could say the same, however, for most marriages today, after thirty years of no-fault divorce. Most Americans are serial bigamists, if we could say so, a phenomenon of which we are perhaps even more aware here in Southern California.
So what is it about marriage—again, I’m referring to the exclusive, lifelong comprehensive union of one man and one woman—what is it about this type of human relationship that distinguishes it from other types of friendship bondings? It is not sex—anybody can have sex. It is not common interest, or emotional attachments—any kind of group or couple can have emotional involvement, but we don’t call them marriage. “Comprehensive Union”: Orientated toward procreation
The only factor that distinguishes marriage from any other human relationship—and this is my main point—is its inherent orientation
toward the generation of new life. No other human relationship organically results in new life. And if one man and one woman produce a child, then that child needs what we call a “home;” he has a right to his own natural father and natural mother, who are best suited to provide a safe, loving, nurturing, and educating environment for him. Children flourish optimally when their own father and own mother love each other and thus render themselves capable of providing a nurturing environment for their children’s development. Of course, this ideal is not always possible. Death, or irreconcilable differences, or work or war, or illness, may destabilize the relationship between mother and father and break the child’s home apart. But to deny marriage and family life as the norm, as the goal
, of societal development is to deny human nature. You may be unconsciously thinking that two men can be a marriage and a family, but I repeat, because we are inundated with revisionist propaganda: any arrangement other than one man and one woman does not a marriage make, certainly not according to the natural law.
To unpack this a bit further: marriage must be inherently open to the generation and nurturing of human life, or it is not marriage at all. Even infertile couples—either marriages of those who discover they cannot have children, or marriages of elderly people—are still oriented
toward the generation and care of children by the very physical and psychological nature of husband and wife. Not every marriage must bear children to be valid, but every marriage must be oriented and open to new life to be valid. Otherwise, why would the state have any interest in regulating and supporting it? Manifestly, then, marriage cannot be confected between two people of the same sex, because they are incapable of organically generating new life. The question of polygamy is less obvious, but it is fairly obvious that exclusivity—the total gift of self between individuals—recommends itself best to the care of children. If I have children with various women, it is likely that I will favor some children over others, as it is unlikely that I will love all their mothers equally. It’s hard, well nigh impossible, for a man to love two or more women equally with his whole heart; his heart will be divided; and of course, I would say it is even harder for a woman to love two or more men equally with her whole heart. The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother, as they say. A man with two “wives” can only love each mother of his children with part of his heart, and as we’ve said, marriage requires totality, a complete gift of one’s person.The Inherent Link between Sex and New Life
How do advocates of same-sex marriage, or serial marriage, or open marriage, argue against what seems manifestly evident from simple biology and more complex psychology? They do so by refusing to admit the crucial link between sexual intercourse and new life. Before technology permitted us to separate sex from babies (before hormonal contraception, and in vitro fertilization, and artificial insemination, and human cloning), society depended on marriage to generate and educate offspring. Marriage was the best way to provide for a stable and flourishing population. But with the advent of artificial generative technologies, and as the Christian ideals of fidelity and sacrificial love waned, we have quietly been separating sex from babies, and marriage from children, at least in our minds.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, apart from his duties as Archbishop of SF, serves as chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. In June he spoke to all of his priests on the subject: “
To put it succinctly,” he said, “sex is either for babies and bonding, or it is for fun and games.” The two views are mutually exclusive. All the world’s cultures, but most clearly the Christian culture, have defined marriage as oriented toward the generation and rearing of children. But how many of us think of marriage like this today? If I say to you, “marriage is about children,” I venture to think that you would say “no, marriage is about me and her. Marriage is about us
, not any children we might decide to have.” And therein lies the difference. If marriage is just an emotional bond between two adults, if marriage is not intrinsically ordered to the generation of new life, if marriage is essentially about adults, then marriage can take any shape those adults wish. It can be for a year or ten years, it can be with one partner or several partners, it can be with members of the same sex or a different sex, it can be based primarily on financial gain, or sailboating, or travel, or any other common interest. Marriage would have no intrinsic definition if it exists only at the whim of the adults concerned. Only
if marriage is intrinsically ordered to children can we define it in reference to an unchanging biological reality: that is, the generative process. Only
if marriage is fundamentally ordered to offspring does it need to be a monogamous, permanent commitment (most same-sex couples prefer “open arrangements” rather than exclusive, permanent bondings, and there seems to be no inherent reason to prefer one over the other).
We will never understand marriage if we don’t understand the intrinsic connection between sex and babies. One of my friends, who lived in a contracepted marriage for many years and then “went natural,” described procreation as the essential “glue” that holds spouse together. A few years ago, over hors d’oevres and some fine wines at a dinner party, the conversation veered into the decay of marriage over the last fifty years in America. An Episcopalian woman blurted out to me, “Father, it all started with the pill.” I solemnly agreed, but discreetly kept silent on the fact that it was her
church, the Anglican church, that first permitted use of artificial contraceptives at their Lambeth conference in 1930. At the time, contraception was illegal in most state constitutions; it was tantamount to prostitution or mutual masturbation—using another’s (or one’s own) body simply for pleasure, without accepting the responsibilities that authentic love requires. The widespread use of artificial contraception has since radically destabilized marriage, and ultimately rendered the concept of marriage unintelligible. If marriage is not about babies, it is not about anything, and it is about anything.Marriage based on love, not power
When couples come into my office for marriage preparation, I find it effective to lay the cards on the table in the first meeting: “marriage is about children, not only about you.” Couples “in love” tend think of nothing but themselves, understandably, but marriage based on no more than self-interest, or even common interests, does not last a lifetime, because interests change. Married love, to be all that it is designed to be, must be effusive
, to go beyond itself. Since I’m Catholic, and the couples are seeking Catholic marriage, I use the image of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to describe the Christian
ideal of marriage. In the Holy Family, the child was the most important (Jesus), and the woman (Mary) came next, and the man (Joseph) quietly supported both in the background. Post-Christian cultures, like pre-Christian cultures, see family life exactly upside-down from this: the man is the most important, since he has the most power, and then the woman, and last in consideration is the child. These are relationships based on power, not on love, and the divorce culture manifests how deeply we have bought into this. Disregard for the child in non-Christian cultures—evident in abortion, infanticide, child abuse and neglect, and divorce—is the inevitable consequence of power-based societies. We aspire to a society based on self-giving love.“Conjugal” and “Revisionist” views
Robert George and his co-authors describe the current controversy as between two opposing concepts of marriage, what they call the “conjugal view” and the “revisionist view.” You might call the “conjugal” view the traditional view, marriage as understood by virtually all cultures in human history up until the last forty years. In the “conjugal” view, marriage requires a physical bond in addition to an emotional bond, while in the “revisionist” view, marriage requires only an emotional bond. Paradoxically, bodily sex is more important to the conjugal view than the revisionist view, which includes any kind of “open” marriage—divorce, promiscuity, same sex arrangements, polyginy, etc. Only the conjugal view, which requires lifelong exclusivity to one spouse that is open to children, understands the body as a vehicle of a greater love. Only the conjugal view is “natural,” respecting the human body’s functions and structures without manipulating or forcing them into unnatural behaviors.
An interesting scientific fact is that sexual activity triggers the release of neurochemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and various endorphins. These chemicals narrowly focus bodily energy and mental attention on one object; they minimize pain and maximize pleasure; they sear into the memory centers of the brain an intense bond with the object of one’s affection. These chemicals naturally lead to permanence and exclusivity with the object of our sexual activity. In merely biological terms, then, our nature seeks to preserve the species by encouraging permanent, monogamous bonding. Sexual bonding is as natural as breathing. If the individual doesn’t breathe, he dies, and if the race doesn’t generate children, it dies. And the best really the necessary
, environment to beget and raise children, on which our social survival depends, is the permanent, faithful comprehensive bond we call marriage.
Sexual union has an objective bodily dimension, what we call coitus, the joining of complementary
sexual organs. But sexuality is broader than mere genital contact—it involves the total person as male or female. Every cell in a man’s body is male, and every cell in a woman’s body is female. In the sexual confusion of our time, some undergo what they call “sex change operations.” This plastic surgery, however, only fabricates non-functional imitations of male or female genitalia. It does not change a person’s sexual identity. You would have to replace every cell male cell in a person’s body with a female cell to do that. George Burou, a Casablancan physician who has operated on over seven hundred American men, explained, “I don’t change men into women. I transform male genitals into genitals that have a female aspect. All the rest is in the patient’s mind.” Sexual union is a matter of body and soul, since the human person is a body-soul composite. Sexual union does not mean merely achieving orgasm; it means the union of bodies and souls that are capable of being so united. Conjugal view in culture: Casablanca
The other night the College showed a classic movie to the students, Casablanca.
It has been some years since I watched the 1942 film, and it struck me how clearly the concept of marriage was assumed in that movie. Ingrid Bergman (the Norwegian beauty “Ilsa”) is in love with two men, but only one of them is her husband. She had been told he perished in a concentration camp when she fell in love with Rick in Paris. When she finds her husband still alive, she leaves Rick so as to be faithful to her vows. When she and her husband find themselves in Rick’s Casablanca nightclub some years later, she realizes she does not have the strength to see him a second time. “You will have to think for all three of us,” she pleads of Rick. Deeply in love with her, Rick thinks correctly, respects her marriage vows, and arranges safe transport for Ilsa and her husband to America. He is left quite alone in German occupied-Africa, but one gets the sense at the end of the movie that Rick will find happiness because he has done the right thing. Despite his seemingly overwhelming feelings, Rick has upheld the permanent monogamous bond between Ilsa and her husband.
People no longer assume that respecting marriage vows is the right thing, because marriage does not mean the same thing it did. It has been some years since vows have taken precedence over “falling in love,” or that feelings trump promises. Behind Rick’s decision to respect the vows his beloved had made to her husband was an understanding of marriage radically oriented toward children and family life. Much more was at stake for Rick and Ilsa than their own emotional bond: at stake were any children that might be born to them, and even more importantly, the children born to any married couple. Rick knew, if I may surmise it, that his adultery with Ilsa would scandalize and cheapen other people’s marriages, and even if only in a small way, lead to the general destabilization of marriage and family life. Adults suffer when their marriages decline, but the first victims are always the children. My last parish supported a sister parish in Vladivostok, Russia. I spent two weeks there one year with a group of parishioners, painting, wallpapering, and building the youth center for our sister parish and got to know the state of Russian society today. The divorce rate is 95%, the economy is irreparably disabled, and more than half of the men in Vladivostok are alcoholics. Soviet Russia, too, redefined marriage, distributed free contraceptives, and paid for people’s abortions. Russia today is a wasteland of human wreckage, especially in places like Valdivostok, far from the wealth of Moscow. It is always the children and the poor that suffer the most when the educated and the wealthy decide to redefine social structures.Marriage: A sacred institution oriented toward human life
Either sex is essentially sacred, or sex is essentially profane. It’s possible to posit aspects
of sexuality in both terms, but it’s not possible to posit the essential purpose
, the final end, of sex in both terms. A minority understands sexuality as essentially salvific, that is, oriented toward an end beyond this world, to the ultimate salvation, or perfect health, of the human being: what we call heaven. To understand sexuality in this way, of course, you have to believe in heaven in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum, another minority understands sexuality as essentially recreational, with no deeper significance than immediate personal pleasure. For this minority, I suppose, transient human pleasures are as much as one can expect from this life. But the vast middle hasn’t thought through the question enough to have any clear ideas about a deeper meaning for sexuality or marriage, which rightly orders our sexuality. Most folks, I would bet, think of sexuality vaguely as something fun and important and a little sacred, but mostly kind of what you make of it. We have not so much rejected as forgotten
the essentially sacred nature of marriage and sexuality.Conclusion
There is much more that can be said on this topic. For example, we must more fully articulate the sociological and psychological benefits of marriage for spouses and children compared to the damage and dysfunction resulting from other forms of sexual bonding. Many studies, most of them disregarded or suppressed by the same-sex marriage lobby, have demonstrated this. We should also look at the legal questions—why should the state be involved with marriage at all? How and to what degree should government regulate marriage? But for our purposes this afternoon, I would just say that once we lose sight of the essential purpose of marriage—that is to generate and care for new life—we have lost any objective definition of marriage. Marriage is about love between spouses, certainly—that is the hook that brings two people together. But it must go further than this. It must blossom, develop, perfect itself in the generation and education of new life, and in every case be open to new life. Even if the spouses are not given their own biological children, their relationship’s radical orientation towards new life defines
their marriage. Without this orientation, marriage cannot be defined, still less defended.
In 2008 Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, now of Philadelphia, wrote a little book entitled Render Unto Caesar. He was alluding, of course, to Jesus’ prescription that we render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God. The Archbishop asks: What belongs to Caesar? This belongs to Caesar: Respect for his office, respect for the civil law, obedience to proper authority, and service to the common good—he didn’t mention paying taxes specifically, but that’s what comes immediately to mind. “It’s a rather modest list,” Archbishop Chaput notes. He then asks, what belongs to God? Everything else, he says, including our work, our homes and families, our hearts, bodies and souls, and our first loyalties. We serve Caesar best by not confusing him with God, by rendering witness to something greater than Caesar not simply as loyal citizens but also as faithful ones. As the Year of Faith draws to a conclusion this week, we might reflect on what it means to be a loyal and faithful American.
“We are citizens of heaven first,” Archbishop Chaput writes. “But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so the glory and the irony of the Christian life is this: the more truly we love God, the more truly we serve the world.” Catholics should not be less involved in politics, but more; not less visible but more visible as Catholics
in the public square. We have both a mandate from Our Lord to work in and through politics for the Common Good, and a divinely-revealed magisterium with 3000 years of Judeo-Christian experience to guide us. The entire Western system of democracy, law, economics has developed from Christian principles, and has been adopted by the entire world. Who best can guide politics to the Common Good than Catholics guided by Christian principles? “The Catholic Church,” concludes Archbishop Chaput, “cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay out of politics…. Living our Catholic faith without excuses and apologies, and advancing them in the public square, are the best expressions of patriotism we can give to the nation.”
I say this because Christ’s two parables in the Gospel today depict not just the keeping, but the dissemination
of the Gospel: first, a man sows mustard seed in a field. The seed grows into a large tree, and the birds of the air (peoples of every class, tongue, and nation) come to dwell in its branches. The Church is a kind of spreading tree, uniquely suited to serving the Common Good, affording shelter to all who ask. But one must propagate
that seed, as we must propagate the gospel in the political order. In the second parable, a woman kneads yeast into three measures of flour—that’s about fifty pounds
. Have you ever kneaded even one pound of flour? I used to knead dough with my mother, with rather sore wrists, forearms, and shoulders afterwards. We finally got Mom a bread machine one Christmas…. Imagine fifty pounds of flour! Kneading God’s word into our culture, persistently and patiently, is long and hard work, and the particular job of the laity, once you’ve all been “kneaded” by us clerics from the pulpit (!).The Coming Wrath
St. Paul loves the Thessalonians in the Epistle, because they put in this work of evangelization. “We thank God for your unceasing
work of faith and labor of love…receiving the word in great affliction; from you the word of God sounded forth from Macedonia to Achaia, in “every place” your faith gone forth, your faith in Jesus, who delivers us from the “coming wrath.”
Last week, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize so-called “gay marriage.” The wrath is surely coming—the chaos and retribution that will inevitably result from our rejection of marriage and family life. It happened to the Romans when they gave up on marriage, and it will happen to us. Like the early Church, we must labor, perhaps go to prison, and even die, in order to propagate the saving Word of Life. It seems obvious, as American culture collapses, one state after another, that today’s American Catholics compare rather poorly with First Century Catholics. As Archbishop Chaput emphasized in his 2008 book, the times demand not less but more overt political involvement by faithful Catholics, providing that which only faith can provide for our nation. Let us turn to Our Lady, the first evangelist, both for inspiration and intercession. One simple bit of evangelizing you can do this time of year is to go to buy a hundred Madonna and Child stamps from the US Postal Service (before it goes bankrupt), and put them on all your letters—including the electric bill! We have every right, we have every duty, to keep Christ, and his Holy Mother, not only in Christmas, but in every aspect of the public square.
Recent funeral Mass for the Founding President
of Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. Ronald McArthur
Today, I repost a photograph of Dr. Ron McArthur’s funeral in our College Chapel last month. The photograph drives me batty, however, because in such a perfectly-proportioned chapel, with perfectly aligned priests, the black pall on Dr. McArthur’s casket is lopsided. I’ve done a lot of funerals in my time, and the funeral directors, God bless them, rarely place the pall evenly. Funeral directors and priests (mostly men) seldom have an eye for detail. How ironic that the man who spent his life straightening out crooked thinking lay beneath a crooked pall at his funeral Mass.
The evening before our Founding President’s Requiem Mass, the College showed a 60-minute talk he gave last year describing why he and his colleagues founded Thomas Aquinas College in 1971. “We had to do it!” he declared. Catholic education was collapsing throughout the country, and someone had to meet the need to preserve an authentic liberal arts curriculum in the Church’s venerable tradition. Christendom and the great Western Civilization it engendered—that’s all gone, Dr. McArthur asserted with characteristic hand chops. Yet we can and must preserve what we can of the liberal arts so there is some good seed that may germinate in years to come.
Among the first casualties of Catholic education’s demise, Dr. McArthur pointed out, is marriage. We can no longer think in a straight line from first principles to final ends, or even from intermediate causes to their inevitable consequences. Contraception, he said, is just such an intermediate cause: it has destabilized marriage, which shattered family life, which has inexorably destabilized society. Western civilization had rejected the common pre-Christian practice of contraception for 1900 years, but by 1950 religious “liberalism” (which denies that man can know first principles, and divorces spiritual causes from their effects) had won the day. The world began contracepting like no one’s business, and inevitably marriage, family, and society began to unravel. Those who had been educated in the Western tradition foresaw this, but as liberal education declined, fewer could see the straight lines between sexual health and societal health.
Contraception is still the root problem, followed by its consequences of promiscuity, divorce, and traumatized children. The current manifestation of sexual dysfunction is “gay marriage:” the complete rejection of marriage per se. Yesterday Illinois caved in to the terrorist tactics of the homosexual and secularist bullies. “If you don’t deny marriage and family life, we will destroy you politically; we will target your businesses; we will break your windows and vandalize your cars.” All this because we’ve given up on the hard work of liberally educating ourselves, and so we stumble and bumble about, mostly blind, unable to see or think straight.
Dr. Ronald McArthur knew what he was seeing in 1970, and he did something about it. As I say, it’s unfortunate that the pall on his casket was crooked, but perhaps it reminds us that much remains to be straightened out. He leaves a successful project—the founding of an authentically Catholic liberal arts college—which must continue after his death. Be assured that the next generation of Thomas Aquinas tutors, staff, and students are doing just that.
Two Real Tomatoes, perhaps on their
I write on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and having just read an article in the Los Angeles Times declaring that even foes of gay “marriage” admit its inevitable legalization. What is this “gay marriage” they are trying to sell us? Is it the latest version of “Love American Style?” It can’t be anything more than another cheap American imitation, one without savor and without heart, that we are selling to the rest of the world.
Perhaps you have had a garden. Gardeners take supreme delight in their tomatoes. One of life’s greatest satisfactions is to pick a few garden tomatoes, if you can get home for lunch, and cut them up for sandwich or salad. Just a few wedges of freshly-picked tomatoes, with a drop of olive oil and a pinch of salt, maybe a sprinkling of pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The taste is real. It has heart. Food in Italy tastes so good because they use garden tomatoes rather than the mass-produced things we pick green and spray with ethylene gas to look ripe. These
“tomatoes” are generally tasteless and textureless and they don’t even smell like tomatoes.
But what if an entire generation grew up knowing no tomato but this plastic kind of “tomato?” They would not know what real tomatoes tasted like, looked like, smelled like or felt like. I suppose, in a way, you can call those plasticky, reddish, hard round balls “tomatoes,” but they are almost nothing like what you pluck from real, living, pungent tomato vines. Plastic tomatoes, plastic marriage. We’ve artificially manufactured a new kind of “tomato,” and we’ve artificially manufactured a new kind of “marriage” that does what we want it to. But there’s one problem: it’s not natural, and it doesn’t taste good.
The savor of marriage comes precisely from its difficulties, heroically overcome by spouses who learn, gradually, to give rather than to take, to accept rather than to manipulate, to receive rather than to demand. Ever wonder why the homosexual movement demands what it wants like a spoiled child? It’s because its members are not married. They have not learned to accept that you can’t put a round peg into a square hole. They are used to forcing nature. But our marriage problems began with artificial contraception, which unnaturally forces nature. They got worse when we began giving up on lifelong marriage. Now, please understand me: I’m talking about social trends. Many people have nobly sustained divorce and heroically rebuilt fine human lives from the wreckage. But as a culture, we’ve lost the nerve required to sustain lifelong married love.
Marriage is lifelong because it takes an entire lifetime to become a good person. We only learn to love another gradually, over the years, through trials and errors. Marriage forces people to mature, and without it we are a peevish, inconstant, selfish people. Yes, marriage has always been difficult, and folks have always cheated by having affairs with secret lovers and letting themselves devolve into the “married singles” lifestyle. But we’ve never come to a point of denying the goodness of marriage itself. Until now, perhaps. In the last fifty years personal wealth and security have increased to the degree that we can afford divorce. In years past, folks just couldn’t come up with the tens of thousands of dollars for divorce lawyers and therapists and setting up a second household. So they stayed married, and they worked things out, or learned to live with disappointment. If things were really bad, they divorced, but they didn’t deny marriage itself.
But we have done that, over the last fifty years. An entire generation or two has grown up with a tasteless, savorless, cheap imitation of “marriage” in America. Mostly what we have seen since 1968 is superficial, egotistical, confrontational relationships—on TV, in movies, among friends, and at home. We’ve grown up with a plastic imitation of marriage. How would anyone who knew nothing but “Love American Style” know what real marriage looks like, smells like, feels like? So when the totalitarians of culture tell them gay “marriage” is marriage, they say: “I guess so.”
But real tomatoes taste better, and so does real marriage. We can settle for plastic tomatoes, and we can settle for artificial marriage, but at some point, I suppose, we’ll get sick of it. We will make the sacrifices necessary to grow and ship and buy real tomatoes. And we will do the same with marriage. There comes a time when you just won’t settle for cheap imitations anymore. You plant real vines, and hoe around them, and weed, and water, and sacrifice, because you want a real tomato.
Pope Benedict, and now even more Pope Francis, both urge us to reverence God’s gifts in nature. Some call them “Green Popes;” they actually wear white and are simply “Catholic Popes.” The Church has promoted the good stewardship of earth’s resources since Jesus asked the Apostles’ to gather up the fragments from the loaves and fishes, “that nothing be wasted.” Catholic saints and religious orders practice simplicity and frugality, eschewing the lavish materialism practiced by most cultural elites. Most Catholics, of course, have gone along with our culture’s wasteful disrespect for God’s gifts. But the Church’s teaching and ideal has ever been authentically “environmentalist.”
That the Church authentically respects nature is proven by her respect for the natural processes of the human person. She promotes natural, rather than artificial, family planning. She defends natural, rather than artificial, marriage and sexual practices. And for this consistency in respecting nature she is condemned.
Is it not curious that many “greens,” who advocate strict respect for nature, also advocate decidedly unnatural sexual practices? What true environmentalist would chemically interfere with nature’s fertility cycles? Artificial contraceptives not only throw the human endocrine system into chaos, leading to higher rates of cancer, but they also poison our water systems and kill entire populations of marine life. What real Green would violently interrupt natural reproduction through forced abortion? What person respectful of the natural order would promote homosexual unions, which is found in nature only in aberration? But the most outrageous hypocrisy, perhaps, is the support of “naturalists” for so-called “sex reassignment surgery” (SRS). One cannot change one’s sex just by sewing on fake genitalia and taking artificial hormones. A man cannot become a woman, but only the appearance and artificial illusion of a woman. George Burou, a Casablancan physician who has operated on over seven hundred American men, explained, “I don’t change men into women. I transform male genitals into genitals that have a female aspect. All the rest is in the patient’s mind.” This is not to discount the real pain men and women suffer from sexual trauma. In a sexually-dysfunctional society, an increasing number of people grow up with sexual identity crises. But so-called SRS, while it may grant the appearance of a solution, only worsens their condition. It is a surgical response to a psychological condition, rather like cutting someone’s head open who suffers from depression. (Linked to this blog is a good article on SRS from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.)
How is it that we imagine we can change our very nature? Man will always wonder about his identity, which is mysterious. But if we deny the fact that we did not make ourselves, then the mystery of our identity takes on terrifying dimensions. If we doubt God’s existence, we are cast into terrible doubt of our own nature. Without Nature and Nature’s God, we don’t know where we came from and where we are going. This is particularly so in the question of sexual identity.
I got on a bus one night in San Francisco. At the following stop a lesbian got on, dressed in tough clothing with a butch haircut. But she was tired, and her feminine nature was impossible to hide. Also at that stop a transvestite man got on. His long hair, false breasts, and flamboyant clothing did not mask his masculine nature either. The lesbian seemed so feminine compared to him, and he so masculine compared to her—I suppose they were both too tired to maintain their respective illusions. I chuckled at their attempted disguises, and rejoiced in spirit that their natural beauty could not be hidden. Certainly they needed help to accept their nature, but a sex-change operation they did not need. They needed real compassion, not a city-funded mutilation of their natural and healthy organs.
At conception nature makes us male or female. Our sex is written on every cell of our bodies, and determines the development of our brains from our mother’s womb. If it seems that confused people, angry at nature (just as I wrote these words the Superior of the convent here in Peru brought me a newspaper with the news of the bombing of a Boston metro station), are destroying the natural order, let us not be too disturbed. Yes, many will suffer from the chaos gripping our society. All of us will suffer when man disrespects the natural order. But God’s harmony, expressed in this beautiful world, will always recover. We cannot destroy nature, nor even the nature of our own bodies. Nature’s beauty and order, guided by Nature’s God, will always right itself eventually. We are not so mighty as we think: nature will always have the last word.Additional Study:
As the French government stands poised to recognize same-sex unions as “marriage,” a vast number of supporters of authentic marriage protested in central Paris on Sunday. Organizers said the vast crowds that filled the city’s wide boulevards numbered 1.4 million, while the French police put the number at 300,000. Who is ordering the police to distort the numbers? (Who is ordering the U.S. Park Service to routinely under report numbers at the annual Walk for Life in Washington?) Even if “only” 300,000 protested, how can the French government ignore such a manifestation of its own citizens’ will? In almost all major media, the facts of the French protest are misreported. Who is censoring the newspapers and websites?
Yesterday the US Supreme Court began hearing arguments in favor of California’s constitutional amendment protecting authentic marriage. The Los Angeles Times
over the last few days has dumped a blizzard of articles favoring the homosexual position. All the major newspapers walk in lockstep on this issue, refusing to cover those who defend marriage. The Times
routinely falsifies perspectives (e.g., in illustrating the French pro-marriage marches, photographs show only homosexual counter-demonstrators, as if the march were promoting gay “marriage”). Who is paying for this media censorship?
The media portrays the same-sex “marriage” movement as a civil rights battle. But note this obvious difference: in civil-rights battles, the people force the government to change laws; in the same-sex “marriage” battle, the government is forcing the people
to accept a change in the law. Which look more like the civil rights marches of the 1960s—the immense marches in Paris and Washington or the small gatherings of homosexual “marriage” supporters? The fact is that the gay “marriage” issue has been manufactured by the government and media elites. The people for their part have rejected same-sex “marriage” in almost every popular vote. The people of California, for example, voted to protect marriage by a constitutional amendment in 2008; one man
from the government, U.S District Judge Vaughn Walker, overturned the will of the people. It is true that the peoples’ will is slowly changing—but only after forty years of relentless propaganda from government and media.
Which raises the question: why is the government, and the media, so bent on dismantling marriage? What do they gain from it? And the answer, it seems to me, is simply one of power. Rulers seek influence and control. The single most effective check on governmental control is the family, based on authentic marriage. The family is a powerful governing force independent of the state. It thinks on its own. Unified and organized families hardly need any governing principle beyond themselves. And this independent power has become increasingly intolerable to the globalized, all-encompassing governments of our day. Promoting promiscuity, sexual infidelity, and divorce are all ways to destabilize the family. And now, the government seeks to render the very idea of marriage irrelevant by claiming two men—or whatever number and arrangement it so deems—is a “marriage.” It is a most effective way of neutralizing the power of the family. By dismantling the family, the government makes every citizen a de facto ward of the state.Link
Note: I don't have internet here but will use my phone.
Last Sunday somewhere between 400,000 and 800,000 French citizens filled the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. It was France's largest popular demonstration in thirty years. A police prefect described the atmosphere as "festive, calm, and family-oriented. The demonstrators carried banners showing a baby with the words "made in Maman + Papa." These million French insisted on what should be natural and obvious to a socialist government bent on forcing what is contrived and contorted. "We love homosexuals but a child must be born from a man and a woman, and the law must respect that," said comedienne Virginie Tellene. The "eldest daughter of the Church" has beautifully witnessed to the "laws of Nature and nature's God." Did the government take any notice of this "tidal wave" of her citizens, in the words of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro? Not a whit. With perfect insouciance, President Francois Hollande's administration simply said that no public demonstration could deter him from legalizing gay "marriage."
The question, it seems to me, is simply one of power. A government that ignores this magnitude of demonstration (as the US government ignores our largest popular demonstrations--the annual March for Life) seeks power more than democracy.
A key strategy in attaining that power is to eliminate society's most influential structure--the family. The government has only to promote infidelity, divorce, and now the irrelevance of the family in order to eliminate it. With the family removed, the government has cleared the way for its unlimited influence. The government becomes our "family," a mother and father to its subjects. Of course, this has been tried already, for example, in Soviet Russia.
Our French cousins, once again, are fighting tyranny. Unlike 1789, however, they are not revolting (!), but simply defending common sense, natural law, and their right to self-determination. The good people of France give us courage and joy. The people once led by St. Jean d'Arc are again relying on faith and reason to defeat error and irrationality. May God go with them!
Archbishop of Philidelphia,
From the Chaplain’s Laptop: Catholics elect persecution for the Catholic Church
September 28, 2012
Last week the Archbishop of Philadelphia stated unequivocally that it would be impossible for him to vote for Barak Obama. “I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion,” he told the National Catholic Reporter. The other day the Pew Research Center released a poll indicating that Mr. Obama leads Mr. Romney among Catholics by 54%-39%. Is the Archbishop out of touch, or are most of the nation’s Catholics out of touch?
Most of the nation’s Catholics are out of touch: out of touch with Catholicism. A Catholic who knows and embraces the teaching of his Church could never vote for a candidate who promises to provide more abortions, both here and abroad. A Catholic could never vote for a candidate who promises to further destroy marriage and family life by promoting homosexual practices. A Catholic could never vote for a candidate who has promised to force the Church to violate her own conscience.
You might be thinking that the Catholics who favor Mr. Obama are not “practicing” Catholics, and certainly among those who attend Mass “seldom or never” the margin jumps to 61% to 32% in favor of Mr. Obama. But even among Catholics who attend Mass every week, Mr. Obama leads Mr. Romney by nine points.
How is it possible that any Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday would vote for a candidate who has promised to persecute the Catholic Church? It is possible because of a fundamental ignorance of the faith among most Catholics (in the words of Pope Benedict, “a profound crisis of faith”). It is possible because bishops and priests have failed to make real converts of most Catholics. The Church in North America and Europe has failed to preach the Gospel with conviction and clarity. Thankfully, in recent years, a significant number of bishops and priests have begun to preach the Gospel, and many valiant laypeople are teaching Catholic truth through powerful means. Only time will tell if it is too little too late.
Tragically, we have largely failed in our stewardship of the Gospel. But God has not failed. The Word of God is not constrained (2 Tim 2:9) and no darkness can overcome it. Certainly, we will suffer for our sinful failure to speak God’s Truth, but the Lord will purify his Church through the very afflictions to be visited upon us. In the end, the Bride will return to her Lord and recover the joy of her youth. But we must pray to God, and to His holy Mother, to joyfully persevere in whatever persecutions may come to Holy Mother Church.
On May 8, North Carolina defined marriage as between one man and one woman. On May 9, our President “evolved” on this issue and affirmed his support for so-called same-sex “marriage.” Let’s be quite clear: for Christians, there is no such thing as marriage between anything other than one man and one woman. Jesus defines marriage repeatedly in the Bible (for example, in Matthew 19:5: “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”). President Obama affiliates with the Church of Christ, which is confused on this issue. Vice President Joseph Biden, who affiliates with the Catholic Church, but explicitly rejects the teaching of his own Church, is confused as well.
Let us not be confused. Let us be intelligent and informed. If we are Christian, if we accept the Bible, then we can never pretend that homosexual activity is harmless. It can only debilitate those who engage in it, and debilitate society. Those who suffer from same-sex attraction are good people, deserving of our love and respect. If they give in to destructive tendencies, they should be helped to develop good habits and overcome bad impulses. All of us suffer from destructive impulses of one kind or another, and we need to support each other for the good.
Cardinal Dolan, president of the Bishops’ Conference, stated that President Obama’s support for same sex “marriage” was a sad day for America. It is sad because our leaders have decided that America no longer needs Christian principles. Pope Benedict wrote in January of this year that “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” Throughout history, non-Christian cultures have accepted unnatural sexual arrangements (although none to my knowledge have ever called it “marriage”). Our great Republic grew strong precisely because it built a society in accord with the Natural Law and Christian principles. Natural families, naturally-born children, and spouses that work hard to be faithful and loving make us all strong. Are we willing to fight for marriage itself?