27th Jun 2013

Let Freedom Ring! – A Catholic Response to the Marriage Decisions

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Feeling liberated? I am — albeit not in exactly the same spirit people were popping champagne outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

There’s a liberation that comes from transparency. The sun over our nation’s capitol Wednesday may have been blinding, but we can no longer be blind to where we are in American history, as a largely Catholic Supreme Court did its best to change the face of marriage in the United States this week.

Unless — like the coalition working to defeat attempts to protect the lives of 20-week-olds-and-older unborn children (and even ones born alive) — we choose denial.

It’s all quite miserable, of course. Marriage is on the rapid slide toward redefinition. Debates really aren’t debates but deluges of shame, doubling down on confusion about fundamentals, amplifying our lack of a common vocabulary by rendering words all but utterly meaningless in a daze of rhetorical abuse that does no one justice and shows very little mercy. And yet, we’re to feel good about it while banishing questions and objections.

But let’s consider all of this — our current political and cultural scene — in light of this month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as we meditate on the sorrows of His mother, whose heart takes us straight to Him. I couldn’t think of a better month for the Supreme Court to have struck down most of the Defense of Marriage Act. I can’t think of a better month in which to watch the cartoonish spectacle over an attempt to protect the lives of 20-week-olds in Texas, all but lost in a sea of hysteria remembered best for a presidential tweet and pink sneakers.

In some real ways, looking like — or actually leading with — “no,” which is so often the defensive posture we find ourselves in, is no longer an option. This legal mess the Supreme Court has furthered leaves us with a whole new and urgent opportunity to lead with “yes,” with love. Policy and politics are important and must not be given up on, but they’ll never be better until we are. The sexual revolution has taken root; it is the overwhelming experience of a majority, the soundtrack to our lives and our influence. It is, as they say, a “new normal.” Instead of feebly trying to hold a line and push back, we need to simply and boldly be witnessed to the good and the beautiful that Catholicism offers civilization and each of our individual lives. It’s the true and the beautiful that people are desperately trying for in their lives, hoping politics will lead the way, be a salvation. It won’t be. And until people see and want to celebrate the good and the beautiful about the purpose of our lives, human dignity, and, yes, human sexuality, expect much more disappointment in culture and politics and in our lives.

Of course, again, there are necessary “no’s” in our future. One big one comes August when the Department of Health and Human Services’ abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate is set to go into effect for religious institutions. They will come when a priest has to say “no” to blessing a same-sex marriage in his parish church and might well find himself in civil court for it. There will be the priest on a college campus who counsels that a particularly activity is sinful and gets protests on account of speaking the truth in fatherly love (it has happened).

But in all of these challenges there still is something so glorious. It is a yes that is so increasingly foreign to both our conventional, popular culture — with its revolutionary ideology, now institutionalized — and to the experiences of so many of our lives that it is exotically attractive whenever it is actually observed or really proposed. Why would a dynamic man give up the pleasures and successes of the world to live a celibate life of sacrifice and service as a priest? Why do any healthy single men and women strive for chastity when they could very easily have all their sexual desires met and readily justify such indulgence as “love” or something like it, or even as a seemingly necessary and normal human experience prior to the permanent commitment of marriage? These are particular questions at a time when there are so many devices, drugs, and interventions designed to help people avoid any physical short-term consequences to casual and non-committed sex, even if such physical intimacy is not all that satisfying in terms of actual happiness.

Free, joyful Catholics living in the world and loving one another — loving everyone — can be beacons of clarity in the confusion, a bold alternative to anyone looking for something better.

Looking at the scene outside the Court this week, it was clear that there were so many men and women there who were looking for just that — something better than what they’re presently living and seeing. It might actually be a bit of a miracle that they even see marriage as desirable, given what a mess we’ve made of the institution over the past decades. Even as actual marriage is not what they have now even by Supreme decision, as the law is no longer a teacher, but resembles a weathervane.

Marriage is not ours to redefine. But it’s a gift we’ve abused in our law, in our culture, and often in our own lives. Do we live as though marriage is the sacred gift it is? Do we support others? Do we inspire and guide others? Do we want this joy for others in personal and generous ways? And is it any surprise that marriage would become such a mess when abortion has been legal and largely unrestricted for going on 41 years now? These are important reflects in rebuilding a Catholic culture – as a Church, in communities, families, among friends, and in our own daily examinations of conscience.

Come on already: We clearly don’t sufficiently value our own lives, our human dignity, and the lives of the most vulnerable — the unborn children, who have the most intimate connection possible to the woman, their mother — when the expectant woman is told she has a “choice” to make (and often pressured to make the one) and not a blessed life to protect. There is a bit of a collective yawn, a disbelief that Catholic employers really have a problem with being mandated to provide contraceptive insurance, given the general impression – and, evidence before our eyes all too often – that Catholics live fairly secular lives anyway. Practical atheism among Catholics doesn’t exactly inspire conversions. Have we said yes? Is our lifeblood the Sacraments? Do we engage the world with the beauty of what our fiat is about?

Is it really much of a surprise that the Supreme Court would take steps toward redefining marriage in this environment so many Catholics have prominently contributed to the poisoning of?

This isn’t true of everyone, of course, we have heroes among us — some pastors and religious and laypeople. But judging from what makes headlines and the honest reality of widespread experience, we can agree: We’ve been such lousy stewards of life when a Catholic governor insists abortion ought to be expanded as a matter of women’s “equality.” The public record is one of inconsistent witnesses at best. It could even be said that the Supreme Court was trying to make some sense out of a society that is largely incoherent, and doesn’t have a common vocabulary with which to rebuild. And so the comfort zone in politics, culture, and law is that marriage and love are subjective. What’s “good” for you…

Don’t get me wrong. It’s tragic, as has been said. It’s an injustice, as has been noted. And we must be truthful. At the same time, we must make clear that we live in the world; we must look around at the confusion, at the sadness. What is love? Love is not a pop song. And yet we have pop-song answers.

Marriage is marriage. It predates our controversies. It predates “Ozzie and Harriet” and Stonewall. Like religious freedom, it’s not ours to redefine. And yet we are in the midst of it. Thirteen states and now a Supreme Court say it’s cool to ignore a law, even when bipartisanly embraced and democratically decided.

Prepare for suffering. You may know it all too well. Let’s pray, unceasingly, for those who suffer. Pray for courage. Pray for priests. Pray that we are faithful and the world may be drawn to the peace of the Eucharist. Instead of turning toward anything close to despair on account of a court ruling, a law passed, or another miserable campaign, we’re called at this moment in an unmistakable way to look around with the eyes of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The men and women of the world need to know they have a Heavenly Father who loves every single one of us with an endless mercy. Christ walks with us, if only we let Him. The Holy Spirit will guide our every action, if we will only be open and devote ourselves to listening. The men and women of the world need to encounter the Trinity, this union of love which is actual love. The union of marriage is meant to be in union with this Trinity. Trinitarian love is real love. And it’s as if so many of us are sitting at the next table, not seeing the joy that awaits us right within our reach. It’s like the scene at many an American restaurant today, where the people are physically present but not truly present to one another, as they are busily talking elsewhere, on their iPads and smartphones, never to look up, never to see what or who is in front of them. We’ve got to let the Divine light of mercy shine so bright in our lives to make this proposal unmistakable and magnetic.

Wednesday was a historic day. Wednesday was a wakeup call. Same-sex marriage had a big legal win. But let’s not miss the bigger story. Despite some victories for proponents of traditional marriage now and again in political fights — most recently, amazingly, in Illinois — the road to almost-gay marriage throughout the United States is one we’ve been on for a while now. Yes, we have political responsibilities, still, to hold the line, but they will be futile without our whole hearts giving witness in service and love. 

The Sacred Heart will guide us. The last spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was given the devotion, explained:

The particular object of this devotion is the immense love of the Son of God, which induced Him to deliver Himself up to death for us and to give Himself entirely to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. . . . The end which is proposed is, firstly, to recognize and honor as much as lies in our power, by our frequent adoration, by a return of love, by our acts of thanksgiving and by every kind of homage, all the sentiments of tender love which Jesus Christ has for us in the adorable Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist, where, however, He is so little known by men, or at least so little loved even by those people who know Him; . . .

Not only does St. Margaret Mary give us a model there for a culture that routinely appears allergic to sacrifice, she indeed describes the way forward, in resting in His very Heart, in letting Him love the world with us.

When Baltimore’s Archbishop William E. Lori talks about the current, ongoing Fortnight for Freedom — reintroducing, in many ways, the concept of religious liberty and conscience — being a long-term endeavor, this is what he is talking about. When you hear talk of a New Evangelization and the Year of Faith we’re in, this is it. We’ve got to be for real. When we’re not, the world sees. And we don’t help anyone.

This week isn’t an end. It’s a beginning of a renewal, if we’ll give our lives to our call.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large. She is a member of the Archdiocese of New York’s Pro-Life Commission.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)