(Sorry. The Internet was very slow today.) I have a very different talk to give today. And I apologize that it is a little longer than normal. I will return next week to the topic of witnessing to the faith by speaking about my call to the priesthood. But events in this last week that I have been made aware of, I am afraid, demand a response.
First, I want to say that I wish this quote – can of worms – unquote had never been opened. It did not need to be. The idea of supporting civil unions, in my opinion, is something beyond the scope of the legal competence of the church, and Pope Francis should have avoided the topic altogether. Moral competence is a different matter. So now I want to stay with what I think is the issue of the day: should the church be entering into the fray regarding the civil matter of what constitutes a legal union?
Right now, clergy are witnesses to weddings on a dual channel: church and civil. Clergy are authorized to be state witnesses that a couple has exchanged vows. But what if we separate the civil side from the SACRAMENTAL side? What if we, as a church, refuse to be witnesses to marriage for the state? What if we declare that the sanctity of marriage means living a life of holiness? And we believe that the traditional man and woman marriage is the only way to live that holiness in the world.
We could change our requirements for marriage in this way: require the current preparation for SACRAMENTAL marriage for couples as we have it; they are currently required by the state to obtain a marriage license, have it completed according to the state requirements, including an exchange of vows acceptable to the state; let that be filed by the state; then, come to the church to get the SACRAMENTALIZATION of the marriage completed by the church, with proper vows before God and His church.
If we set up the particular requirements that they do their preparation for a SACRAMENTAL marriage before they do a CIVIL marriage, they can come to the church – even the same day – to enter into the Sacramental life of marriage. This removes the church from even addressing the questions of civil unions for anyone. We will only be doing a SACRAMENTAL marriage, which the state has NO competency to address, even if what they claim to be doing is marriage.
Now, I know that does not answer the moral question of these civil unions. Nor does it answer the question of who can legitimately enter a “marriage,” as determined by the state. There has been an unspiritual connection with state marriages that the church rejects for Catholics. The church acknowledges this unspiritual connection whenever a couple chooses to marry civilly instead of SACRAMENTALLY.
Catholics who are civilly married ONLY are not able to receive the Sacraments because they are avoiding – for whatever reason – their call to a SACRAMENTAL marriage. This is not to be considered a punishment (though it may feel that way). It is a question of witness: if they are not in a SACRAMENTAL marriage, how can they witness to the other Sacraments?
I have been reflecting on this ever since the idea of quote – civil unions – unquote and the expansion of the definition of marriage became an issue in our society. I consider it unfortunate that segments of our society have appropriated the term (marriage) from its traditional and sacred role, to the detriment of families. We, as the church, need not let that hinder our approach and declaration of the importance of SACRAMENTAL marriage.
As I understand this issue as it relates to what Pope Francis said, or rather what has been reported that he said, he has not gone against the sacramental teaching of the church. Rather, he has ventured into an area that I wish he had not gone into; namely, can the church support civil unions. In my opinion, the reality is that the church has no competency to speak to what a state chooses to do regarding civil unions.
If our society wishes to run off into the darkness, chasing a dream that will only prove to be a nightmare, all we may be able to do is stand tall with the light of truth as a beacon to bring society back to moral sanity. I say: let them call civil unions what they want; they can never be SACRAMENTAL marriages.
I think this is a way to deal with the tack that Pope Francis seems to have taken, or at least what the secular media THINKS he has taken. I say: we need to get out of the “state marriage” business and concentrate on the SACRAMENTAL marriage business. That way we do not have to address what “civil unions” mean or what makes up whatever the society may allow. We know the truth of the call to holiness that a Christian SACRAMENTAL Marriage places on a man and a woman. Let’s concentrate on that and leave the world to look at our example and their failures.
There is so much redefinition of words in our society today that it becomes difficult for people trying to live a solid Catholic life to stand squarely in the tradition of the church. There are writers who try to manipulate issues by obscuring simple truths, and not just about marriage. They do this by applying a redefinition of clearly defined concepts in Catholic moral theology.
There was a good example of this, or rather a particularly horrid example of this recently in the World Herald written by two professors from Creighton University. I have read it, and I am disgusted by it. I thank God that Archbishop Lucas has addressed the issue as well. They used their redefinition of words to justify abortion, and the political support of those who support abortion, claiming that this support is necessary because of a more pressing issue, namely climate control. I found the article, as I said, disgusting.
I have been careful to avoid going into the particular issue of abortion in my preaching, because it is a very divisive issue. But I believe we are coming to a point in time when lines will be definitively drawn, and people will have to take particular stands.
I think the confusion on the part of these two professors is part of the same confusion that leads people to believe that Pope Francis opened the door to the issue of a redefinition of marriage in the church, which he did not. I am convinced it is a demonically driven confusion. Clarity of language, clarity of teaching is essential to the truth of the gospel.
We need to be aware of and care for our environment, but to claim that this is more important than the life of an unborn child is not a Catholic position, and should be rejected out of hand. These two, who claim to be Catholic professors, should be ashamed of themselves. As Archbishop Lucas put it in his message “Missing from [their] argument is the righteous intolerance for a clear injustice, and the kind of righteous upholding of human rights, for which Creighton University is often recognized.” The clear injustice is the injustice of killing an innocent child in the womb.
One final quote from the Archbishop’s letter to the World Herald: “Catholic bishops hold that the threat of abortion remains a preeminent priority in this country because our laws and our courts so often fail to protect the basic right to life of a whole class of human persons, the unborn. It is currently legal to directly and intentionally take the life of an innocent human being in the womb. This is a gross injustice that results in the loss of 2,000 innocent lives each day in the United States. The status quo is not worthy of our nation. The right to life is not a ‘Catholic value.’ It is a human right.… Catholic social teaching is multifaceted, but it is not complicated. Its central focus is the life and dignity of every human person.… When we surrender to any injustice (something not of God), even temporarily, we risk communicating wrongly that in certain circumstances, human dignity may be negotiable. It is not.”
I want to publicly thank Archbishop Lucas for his clarity after such confusion caused by two professors from Creighton who should have known better. Yes, I am angry about this, and I think you should be too.