Saturday, February 16, 2013


The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has declared February 7 to 14, “Marriage Week”. There is no question that marriage today faces challenges like no other. Not long ago the words “marriage” and “challenge”, appearing in the same sentence, meant that a married couple was having difficulties. Today it means that marriage itself is having difficulties.

The challenge to marriage which gets the most attention is the current attempt to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. However, long before same-sex advocates began to deconstruct traditional marriage, the norm of marriage as a life-long, life-giving, life-supporting union of two members of the opposite sex was already suffering from decades of no-fault divorce, cohabitation, contraception, and even the casual application of periodic abstinence (NFP).

The real issue is that marriage is not just another institution. It is not like the Boy Scouts, the Rotary Club, the United States of America, or even the Catholic Church. Marriage is unique in that it is an organic institution - the first of all institutions, and as such, the foundational societal unit upon which all other human unions and social constructs are built. Thus, to redefine marriage is to unmake the world.

In 1968, Paul VI prophesied the “unmaking of the world” which would follow the redefinition of marriage wrought by the separation of the unitive and procreative realities of the conjugal act. His warnings were rejected, not just by the world, but by many Catholic leaders. Forty years later, Catholic schools and churches (for lack of population) are closing by the hundreds every year, Catholic families are splitting and collapsing at the same rate as the rest of society, and same-sex marriage is knocking loudly at our door.

Attempting to stem the crisis, the USCCB has issued a series of initiatives and statements including the above-mentioned Marriage Week and a pastoral letter entitled “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.” Unfortunately, the letter proposes a definition of marriage that is symptomatic of how we often hack ourselves off at our knees:

“ a unique communion of persons. In their intimate union as male and female, the spouses are called to exist for each other...This communion of persons has the potential to bring forth human life and thus to produce the family, which is itself another kind of communion of persons.”

Finer theological minds than my own may not see the problem, but I disagree that bringing forth human life in a marriage produces “another kind of communion of persons”. Such language, at least for us regular lay folk, gives the impression that the marital union is fundamentally altered by bearing a child.

While begetting a child may alter the daily life of a married couple, the marriage covenant is not only NOT altered, it is rendered whole. The marital union was made to image the Trinity and is completed in the child who issues forth from the husband and wife - or, in cases of natural infertility, at least in the intention to bear one.

The “first this and then this” view of marriage employs a language which not only appears to separate the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act, but also seems to makes the unitive and procreative properties of marriage serve two separate (“another”) kinds of communities.

Thus we see this view of marriage - a view in which the couple is made first to “exist for each other” with only the “potential to bring forth human life” - made manifest in the otherwise often capricious off-putting of children so that couples might finish their education, buy a home, establish careers, see the world, or whatever.

True, most lay people do not read episcopal statements and thereupon design a course of life. However, episcopal statements do shape catechetical formulas and influence pastoral application, which then forms how we laity think and act.

Ultimately one must wonder why the USCCB felt it could improve upon the definition of marriage carefully constructed at Vatican II and subsequently found in Gaudium et Spes (48), the 1983 Code of Canon Law (1055), and ultimately, the Catechism (1601):

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.”

Here we do not see the couple first existing “for each other” with the “potential to produce...another kind of communion”. Instead, we see the fundamental establishment of a new life order: a single generative communion of persons and the very image of God on earth. I think I like this definition better.


ST. DOROTHY was a young virgin, celebrated at Caesarea, where she lived, for her angelic virtue.

Her parents seem to have been martyred before her in the Diocletian persecution, and when the Governor Sapricius came to Caesarea he called her before him, and sent this child of martyrs to the home where they were waiting for her.

She was stretched upon the rack, and offered marriage if she would consent to sacrifice, or death if she refused. But she replied that "Christ was her only Spouse, and death her desire."

She was then placed in the charge of two women who had fallen away from the faith, in the hope that they might pervert her: but the fir of her own heart rekindled the flame in theirs, and led them back to Christ.

When she was set once more on the rack, Sapricius himself was amazed at the heavenly look she wore, and asked her the cause of her joy. "Because," she said, "I have brought back two souls to Christ, and because I shall soon be in heaven rejoicing with the angels."

Her joy grew as she was buffeted in the face and her sides burned with plates of red-hot iron. "Blessed be Thou," she cried, when she was sentenced to be beheaded, - "blessed be Thou, O Thou Lover of souls! Who dost call me to Paradise, and invitest me to Thy nuptial chamber."

St. Dorothy suffered in the dead of winter, and it said that on the road to her passion, a lawyer, called Theophilus, who had been used to calumniate and persecute the Christians, asked her, in mockery, to send him "apples or roses from the garden of her Spouse."

The Saint promised to grant his request, and, just before she died, a little child stood by her side bearing three apples and three roses. She bade him take them to Theolphilus and tell him this was the present which he sought from the garden of her Spouse.

St. Dorothy had gone to heaven, and Theophilus was still making merry over his challenge to the Saint when the child entered his room. He saw that the child was an angel in disguise, and the fruit and flowers of no earthly growth. He was converted to the faith, and then sared in the martyrdom of St. Dorothy.

REFLECTION - Do you wish to be safe in the pleasures and happy in the troubles of the world? Fray for heavenly desires, and say, with St. Phillip, "Paradise, Paradise!"

From Butler's Lives of the Saints. Read more.
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