The Day of Judgment
This first stage of Advent, from Dec 1-16, prepares us not for Christmas but for Jesus’ Second Coming and his Final Judgment. The readings and the prayers say nothing about a baby in Bethlehem; they speak rather of justice will be meted out to the wicked and mercy to the righteous. We’re not talking sleigh bells and Christmas trees but apocalyptic judgment and a world remade in the image of God. The prayer over the gifts, for example: “O Lord, since we have no merits to plead our cause, come, we pray, to our rescue…” And the Preface: “We watch for that day to inherit the great promise in which we now dare to hope.” The first reading: “Not by appearance shall he judge: he shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth and slay the wicked.” And the Gospel: “Repent, …you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Even now the ax lies at the root.” Trees that bear no fruit will be cut down and thrown into fire.
Certainly everyone fears judgment. Even in our “enlightened” and “liberated” society, or perhaps especially among people that ignore the existence of a Divine Authority, people sense that man’s injustice cannot go on forever. But if God is not my judge, then no one is my judge. So people avoid judgment in cases of obvious wrongdoing—they hire lawyers to contest simple traffic tickets and insist on their innocence in cases of even grave crime. You just need the right lawyer—remember the OJ Simpson case, or the many corporate fraud cases such as Enron and Worldcom. “I did nothing wrong” insisted President Clinton in the Monica Lewinski affair. You will hear people say “I left the Church because it is so judgmental.” “No one can impose their morality on me.” We all pretend that somehow we will escape judgment, and many go so far as to pretend that God and natural law do not even exist. But as one of my seminary professors said, “you can’t break the natural law; you can only break against the natural law.”
The Winnowing Fan
Advent, like Lent, is a season to prepare for the coming of Christ by confessing, and submitting to, his divine judgment. That judgment is fearsome, for it submits itself to no human appeal. That judgment is also our only hope, for it decisively corrects human error. There will come a day, the last of human history, when God will right this tilting ship. There will come a time when the wolf will be the guest of the lamb, and the child will play by the cobra’s den—when children will play next to buildings that were once abortion clinics. There will come a day when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the water covers the sea.” That day will surely come, for God has promised it, and his promises are sure. But it will come only after the judgment, because divine mercy comes to us only through divine justice. Is Jesus a meek and mild baby in the lap of his maiden mother, Mary, or is Jesus a terrifying Judge coming on the clouds with fearsome power? He is both: for the faithful, Christ’s judgment is mercy; for the unfaithful, his judgment is swift and terrible justice.
We will all be threshed
“All Judea and the whole region” were rushing to John the Baptist by the River as they “acknowledged their sins.” God’s judgment is a threshing, a separation: he will separate wheat from chaff. The chaff he will burn and the wheat he will gather to himself, into his barn (heaven). John asserts that “His winnowing fan is in his hand….” A winnowing fan was a pitchfork that a farmer used to toss the mixture of wheat and chaff into the air, so that the wind could blow away the chaff while the heavier grain would fall to earth. It is said that a friend is one who separates wheat from chaff in the one he loves. And yet this separation, while a necessary dynamic of friendship painfully shakes us up.
God threshes every man, shaking out our sins like a man shakes out a dirty rug. He is doing that already, for purgatory begins now, in this life. Let God thresh and winnow you. “Take what he gives, and give what he takes, with a big smile,” in the words of Mother Teresa. A saint is simply one who submits herself to the threshing judgment of God, who does not resist when she is tossed about by divine providence, who allows herself to be purified of her chaff. Trust the Lord’s threshing of your life, for He knows what he is about.
The Immaculate Conception
Today is the patronal feast of our Nation, the Immaculate Conception, although we will celebrate it tomorrow so as not to displace a Sunday. Our Lady is the only daughter of men that did not need to be threshed, because she had no sin. And yet God did thresh her: he led her through trial, sorrow, confusion, and darkness. Like Jesus, she experienced the full weight of sin’s consequences, even though herself without sin. If even she patiently underwent this threshing, cannot we also patiently accept God’s disciplines in our lives? With her, we gladly offer difficulties, aches and pains, perplexities, weaknesses, and darkness. We allow God to winnow us, so that we may be gathered into his heaven with the Immaculata and all the saints, for he is the judge, the just judge, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen.
Advent looks forward, not backward
We have entered the Season of Advent and most of us are thinking of Christmas; in fact, I began my Christmas cards yesterday. But Advent is not about Christmas, at least in the Extraordinary Form readings; it’s about Christ’s Second Coming. The Epistle today clearly warns us to prepare ourselves, and the Gospel foretells a terrifying end of the world. The next three Sundays of Advent are less apocalyptic but no less focused on the Second Coming. They say nothing about the birth of the baby Jesus, nor do we hear any Messianic prophecies, as in the Ordinary Form readings. Advent, at least in the Extraordinary Form, is meant to focus us on the Second Coming of Christ, not his First Coming. What if Christ were to return to earth during this “Holiday Season.” Would we be ready for him? Would the world, which has removed the very name of Christ from Christmas, be ready for him? Here he comes, and there we are, waiting in line at Macy’s, or fuming with road rage on the way to the mall. If Christ knocked on your door an hour before your big Christmas party, would you let him in? “Honey, tell whoever it is to come back next week—I’ve got so much to do before the guests arrive!” I’m not forbidding Christmas parties, but let’s try to keep Advent in focus. Our priority during Advent, and Christmas, is not social fun, but prayer and Christian love and almsgiving, some measure of penance. Our Christmas parties and shopping and tinsel are fine, if we keep them within the authentic purpose of the liturgical season. The coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the guiding purpose of Advent.
People will die of fright
On the First Sunday of Advent, as I said, we hear of confusion and terror: the sea and the waves will roar; the powers of the heavens will be shaken. “Nations will be in dismay; people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming.” It is for these days that we must prepare, because they will surely come. At His First Coming, God came as a darling baby on the lap of his childlike mother Mary. At His Second Coming, Christ will come on the clouds with power and great glory, his authority fully manifest. “When these things begin to pass, look up, because your redemption is at hand.” We are preparing for our redemption, for we are not yet redeemed—it is “at hand,” it is near, but not yet here. God’s judgment on our lives, His sentence on our time, has yet to come. Everyone in this church today (especially me) could end up in hell, and it would be an unspeakable tragedy if even one of us were eternally damned. Advent calls us to keep this danger in mind during our Christmas parties and shopping adventures, but also to keep in mind the proximity of our redemption. Now is the time to prepare for judgment; now is the time to hope for redemption.
How do we keep a good Advent? Many Americans begin the “Christmas Season” with the new civic holiday we call “Black Friday.” The very name indicates a culture that was once Christian but has become the negative image of what it once was. Children of the light, St. Paul says, “throw off works of darkness.” If we’ve thrown Christ out of Christmas, then indeed it is a “Black Friday.” Do we prepare for Christ by eating and drinking? Again, St. Paul: “not in orgies and drunkenness, rather, make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Folks, we are supposed to lose weight in this season, at least before December 25. But we do live in a time that ignores and despises the Word of God. Yet everything but the Word of God will burn in the universal fires at the end of human history.
There is a true Advent, and there is a false Advent. The false is the negative image of the true. The true Advent has gradually been turned upside down, and we don’t often stop to think about it. Christians are to practice deeper prayer, charity, and mortification in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Funny thing is, we mostly do just the opposite. We pray less and we eat more. We waste more money at Christmas on more banalities, precisely at the time the Church urges us to simplify, to spend less time and money on distractions. Let’s try to refocus, to direct that time and money this time of year on the things that last: on deeper prayer, on sacrificial and heartfelt charity. Advent is a time to remember the neediest, to give gifts without expecting a return.
In the end, Advent prepares us for our own death, and the death of our world as we know it. Deep down, we long for the death of all that is imperfect and sinful, so that we can enter into a new and perfect life. Death is hard, and more than anyone, we need our Blessed Mother at the hour of our death. Our mother brings us to birth, and God has ordained that she be with us at the hour of our death. If Advent points us to the end of all things and the beginning of a new Kingdom, then Our Lady must be a large part of Advent and Christmas. And indeed she is, on almost every Christmas card and still (Deo Gratias) on US Postal stamps. Even as we shop and have parties and write cards, let us bring Jesus and Mary to every Advent activity—a decade of the rosary or the Angelus and some real Christmas carols at every Christmas party—so that we will be prepared to meet Christ when he returns to earth.
I woke up this Thanksgiving morning listening to the only surviving classical music station here in Los Angeles. The radio announcer played a good selection of “Thanksgiving” music and he wished all his listeners a day of thankfulness. Now, the question arises: to whom are we giving thanks? The poor radio announcer, no doubt hamstrung by secular station policies, could not say exactly to whom we are giving thanks on this day, but the music said it for him. He played Handel’s Thanks Be To Thee
, which in the composer’s original language is “Dank Sei Dir, Herr
” (“Herr” in German is, as you all know, “the Lord”). We used to sing this in seminary choir: “Thanks be to Thee! Thanks be to Thee! Thou hast led forth, with mighty hand, Thy people Israel, safe through the sea.”
America was founded by pilgrims, that is, deeply religious people seeking God, who undertook a perilous sea voyage to reach, at last, Plymouth harbor. Well could they sing Handel’s words, thanking God that he “hast led thy people, safe through the sea.”
Whom do we thank on Thanksgiving? Whom could
we thank? We could thank our parents, our neighbors, our employers, our government, and our churches. These people deserve and to some degree need our thanks, but there must be a greater benefactor than just ourselves behind all human benevolence. Abraham Lincoln, in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation
, had no doubt whom to thank. “The year that is drawing to its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come,
others have been added….” Even in Lincoln’s day, people were forgetting God, “from whom all blessings flow.” It was good of the president, nay, it was necessary
for our president, and exactly proper
to his office, to remind the American people that it is God, not man, who blesses us. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked these great things,” he continues. “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
If we have no one to thank other than ourselves on this day, then Thanksgiving becomes meaningless. Let us hope that our president, our priests, our parents, and our co-workers wish us a Happy Thanksgiving, directing our gratitude to the Most High God above all. Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
The Getty Center in Los Angeles
A funny thing happened to me at the museum the other day. I was taking the fascinating “architectural tour” at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. At one point I had to leave the tour to meet some friends in another part of the museum. After I had rejoined my friends, I realized that four people from the tour were still with me. I had to explain how I had left the tour early to rejoin my companions; we figured out where the rest of the tour had gone and they hurried off to rejoin it.
Naturally, I was dressed all in black with a Roman collar, and naturally they followed the priest rather than the docent when we went in different directions. Secularists attempt to debunk the priesthood, but folks still recognize and follow priests as one follows a father. We want priests, unless we convince ourselves that we don’t want them. I trust I’m not saying this from self-conceit, because I myself yearn to know and to follow good priests. The media’s obsession with clergy scandals is not just an attempt to debunk the priesthood; it is an expression of angry disappointment on their part. If they didn’t believe in the priesthood to some degree, they wouldn’t make such a fuss about it. Even a hardened atheist yearns to call someone “father” and believe that someone can show him order in an apparent meaningless universe.
We were at the Getty to see two exhibits of medieval religious art. Both depicted the Christian and Catholic faith of the middle ages in vivid and balanced splendor. And while the audio commentary assumed that medieval piety was no more than the charming simplicity of uneducated people, even so the museum curators recognized its nobility and beauty. Secularists would like to believe in this “beautiful myth” if they could, and maybe—who knows, they think—it might have some bit of truth to it. I certainly didn’t detect antipathy towards Christianity at the museum, nor even an overt dismissal of faith.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo gave our College a beautiful commencement address last May. “You graduating students,” he concluded, “have been studying the philosophical transcendentals of unity, goodness, truth, and beauty over these four years. You are prepared now to bring them to a faithless world. I think you’d better focus on beauty, because they’re not buying truth and goodness anymore.”
Certainly, the Getty museum and the definers of culture still appreciate beauty, even if they have long since given up on truth and goodness. The beauty of the priesthood, the beauty of the Gospel and the Sacraments, still draws hearts and minds, even in the wasteland of our declining culture. “Beauty will save the world,” wrote Dostoevsky. The priesthood, a sacrament of Christ, is beautiful, despite the ugly distortions some priests make of it. I think most people still recognize this, or at least yearn for it.
Jesus teaching in the temple
Seven Brothers and One Mother: The Resurrection of the Body
As we come to the end of the Liturgical Year, Holy Mother Church gently directs our attention to our own end. Our first reading takes us to the famous Seven Maccabees of the Jewish persecutions from 167-160 BC. The Syrian Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to force the children of Israel to deny the living God. Seven brothers refused to blaspheme. They were tortured and executed in front of their mother. The third does not wait for them to cut off his hands: he holds them out and declares: “I received these from God, and I hope He will restore them in the next life.” A good meditation on death is to look at your hand and reflect that someday that warm and rosy hand will be nothing but a dried-up bone. And yet, God will restore that shriveled bone someday. Many mock our belief that these bodies of ours, after decomposition in the grave, will be raised up faster, stronger, more beautiful than before. The Greeks taught that men become ghosts after death, mere shadows, joyless because they are bodiless. The Jews, however, believed in a bodily existence after death, either a shining glorified body in heaven, or a putrid horrifying body in hell. But not all Jews believed in the resurrection of the body.
Seven Brothers and One Bride: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb
The Sadducees, who deny the resurrection, mock Jesus in today’s gospel. They were upper class, wealthy and well educated, a kind of “liberal” Jewish denomination compared to the “conservative” Pharisees. Like today’s cultural elites, they sought bodily health, social position, and political power as ends in themselves. In their wealth, they belittled the spiritual aspirations of the poor and ridiculed life after death. Jesus describes them as short-sighted, because this life, as good as it is, cannot satisfy us for long. To be happy on earth, we must set our sights on a further horizon, on the life of the world to come.
A few years ago I bought an “LG” flat screen TV for the rectory. Do you know what LG stands for? It stands for “Life is Good.” And life is good, but life is more than a flat screen TV. I looked up the biggest baddest TV I could find on the internet—it was a 100” Laser HD TV with octaphonic sound (retails at $9000). Guess who makes it? You guessed it—Life is Good (LG). The Sadducees, like most wealthy elites, were relatively satisfied with their giant screen TVs, so to speak, and could not see beyond them. Jesus tells them to expect more than the flatness of this life, to expect the glorification of this beautiful but imperfect body in another life.
The Sadducees tell another story of seven brothers who died one by one, but these brothers had all married the same woman one after the other before dying. The Sadducees smile condescendingly at Jesus: “So, in heaven, if there is a resurrection, whose wife will she be—remember, all seven married her!” Jesus sighs. You are quite mistaken, he tells them. You can’t see any further than your flat screen TVs. There’s another world coming, compared to which this world is hell. Look to that world. Because if you don’t, you will end up in real hell.
Interestingly, the Sadducees speak of marriage. For the Sadducees, as for the social elites of today, marriage is about two things: sex and social position. These are good things, but even the greatest goods of marriage (spousal love and procreating children) will not be needed in heaven. Espousal to the eternal God—and the perfect harmony among the saints—will infinitely surpass any joy on earth. Just beholding the face of God (the “beatific vision”) satisfies every human longing. Do you think we will need flat screen TVs in heaven?
The Month of the Dead; the Month of the Living
November is the month of the dead: All Saints Day and All Souls Day urge us to cast off our fear of death and vigorously expect a life of glory beyond the grave. A few years ago my bishop ordered all us priests to write our last will and testaments, to draw up end-of-life healthcare directives, and to plan our own funerals. We all put it off—who wants to plan your own funeral at age 35? But I finally got it done just before the deadline. What a joy I felt as I dropped that envelope in the mail—I was packed and ready to go. Just say the word, Lord, and I’m on my way!
Life is good down here, but it’s only a shadow of what awaits us up there. Those who lie in Santa Paula cemetery with crosses over their graves—they are the living, and we are the ghosts, stumbling blindly through this Vale of Tears and disappointments.
Holy Mary, Pray for us at the Hour of our Death
We do well to turn to Our Lady, Our Mother, at the end of our lives: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” There’s a beautiful third verse to the Hail Holy Queen:
And when our life’s breath leaves us, O Maria!
Show us thy son Christ Jesus, O Maria!
Our Lady stands ready to receive us at our last breath. Accompanied by angels and saints, she will bring us to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to the eternal and perfect community that awaits each one who lives his life on earth in preparation for the life of the world to come.
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.
Recent funeral Mass for the Founding President of
Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. Ronald McArthur
Frailty & Death
November is the month of the dead. We begin this month with All Saints Day, rejoicing in their holy death, which is their birth into eternal life. Indeed, Mother Church celebrates a saint’s feast day on the day of their death to this world, that is, the day of their birth into heaven. On November 2, we “celebrated” All Souls Day, the so-called Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Mother Church celebrates the decease even of those who were not saints at their death, but who entrusted themselves to God with their last breath. Their earthly death also saw them into eternal life, albeit by way of an arduous journey through Purgatory, but they are with God. November is the month of the dead, as days grow shorter and winds grow colder, as leaves fall dead from the trees and nights grow longer and blacker. Nature herself reminds us that we will die one day, but Mother Church instructs us not to fear the enfeeblement and death of the body. Fear only sin, the sins of our frail and wounded humanity.
The Collect for today’s Mass, and the readings, amply articulate this. “Deus, qui nos in tantis perículis constitútos, pro humána scis fragilitáte non posse subsístere: da nobis salutem mentis et córporis…” O God, you know that we live in such peril from our human frailty that we cannot sustain it: grant us health of mind and body that we may someday gain the victory….
And again, in the “secret prayer”: “Concede, quǽsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut hujus sacrifícii munus oblátum, fragilitatem nostram ab omni malo purget semper, et múniat.” Grant us almighty God, we beg you, that this sacrifice might forever purge and protect our human frailty from all evil. We cannot save ourselves, but we can call upon Almighty God to save us from sin and death.
The Boat Incident
The disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat, and a violent storm comes up. Jesus is asleep in the stern, and they cry out to him: we are perishing! He arises, rebukes the wind, and says to his disciples: “why are you terrified?” We think of another time when Jesus said to the parents of the little girl: “why are you weeping? The girl is not dead, but asleep,” and he lifts her up by the hand saying Talitha, cum, “little girl, arise.” The disciples were terrified of the screaming wind, and the girl’s parents wept in the face of death, but Jesus commands us to fix our hope on his providential strength. We are weak, but he is strong; we will die, but he will raise us up. In the words of Blessed John Paul II: “Non abbiate paura”—do not be afraid to fling wide the doors of your hearts to Christ, our only hope.
The Holy Souls
November is the month of the dead, and our acts of charity this month must be to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Yesterday we offered Mass at Santa Paula cemetery, with the graves of those we love around us. To the left was Ron McArthur and Marcus Berquist, just in front of us was Rosie Grimm and John Blewett, to the right was the beautiful stone cross marking Tom Dillon’s grave. God gave us the joy of loving these people on earth; now God gives us the joy of praying for their souls in eternity. In the back of the chapel is a book on a table: the Book of the Dead. It is, we hope, the book of the living: dead to this world, but alive in Christ Jesus. Someday, perhaps soon, we hope someone will write our name in that book, and offer Masses and prayers for our soul. Inscribe the names of your faithful departed in that book, if you wish, but be certain that you pray for those who have died. Eternal Rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. May their souls, and the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.