Like Jesus, we must defend true marriage

This is a translation of the Spanish homily that I preached on this Sunday.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Oct. 7, 2012
Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128; Heb 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

In Jesus’ time, marriage was a mess. The legal rights of husbands and of wives were thoroughly unequal. As we heard in the Gospel reading, a man was able to divorce his wife simply by writing her a bill of divorce and dismissing her. It was that easy for a man to end the marriage he had vowed. And scholars of the time debated about what qualified as a just reason for a man to divorce his wife. The stricter school said, only something like adultery; the looser school allowed almost any reason, including—and I’m not making this up—”even if she spoiled a dish for him” (School of Hillel, in the Mishnah). For such trivial reasons a man could send his wife away.

And the woman? She was simply subject to his whims. What the Law of Moses gave her was at least the minimal protection of being given written, legal proof that she was allowed to remarry—so that her first husband could not jerk her around even more.

What a mess! No wonder Jesus didn’t enter into this debate but rather pointed them back to the beginning!

“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

And then he explains. And in the account in the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples then respond, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matt 19:10) It is not one of their better moments! These men, being told that they cannot mistreat their wives in this way, feel that their rights are being taken away from them! But it is not so. It was through their hardness of heart that marriage had gotten so messed up in their time; and our Lord Jesus had come to replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. He had come to heal what sin had wounded within them and between them; he had come to free them and return them to the beauty of marriage as God intended it from the beginning.

In Jesus’ time, marriage was a mess. And in our time, marriage is also a mess—though in a different way. We too have divorce, which God hates, as the prophet Malachi tells us (2:16). I don’t think we have that same blatant inequality between men and women that their divorce laws had. But we do have a terrible inequality, in our no-fault divorce laws, between a spouse who wants to preserve the marriage and a spouse who wants to end it. This led the courts to even allow couples to plan their divorces, through pre-nuptial agreements, even before they have exchanged the vows of marriage! What hardness of heart we have, to make it so very easy to separate what God has joined together.

Divorce has truly done great harm to marriage in our time, as has contraception. But we have advanced the error still further through the movement to redefine marriage as being possible between two persons of the same sex: to claim that there can be a marriage of two men, or a marriage of two women. This is an error that Jesus’ society never dreamed of. And it is one that clearly contradicts our faith. For, as we heard in our first reading, God created human beings male and female, equal yet complementary in a way that a man can leave his mother and father and cling to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh: so that they enter into the unique union of marriage. This simply is not possible between two persons of the same sex; and so the Catholic faith has always taught, and still teaches today.

But what does this mean for us when we speak to others in society, about the laws of our countries? Not all of them accept the Catholic faith; not all of them believe the Scriptures, the New Testament or the Old Testament. Many assert that it is a human right to be able to legally marry another person of the same sex. If we disagree, are we simply trying to impose our faith on them? Are we obliged to be silent and to accept this move toward legally redefining marriage? Is there any way for the beautiful truth about marriage that we know through faith to touch others outside our faith and benefit them as well?

Indeed there is. As the Church has long taught, we can speak in the public square in a way that can be understood even by those who do not believe as we do. For we can speak out of natural law: we can speak truths that can be perceived by anyone who desires to know the truth and who uses their observation and reason.

Any observer can see that, biologically, only the union of one man and one woman can naturally conceive a child. No other physical combination of human beings can do this: not two men, not two women, not a larger group. It is undeniable that the union of one man and one woman is something inherently special and different, rooted in the fact that a man and a woman are physically different in a complementary way. And this physical, procreative complementarity is matched by a psychological, emotional, personal complementarity. The husband and wife who uniquely can conceive a child are also the unique combination of father and mother that every child needs, and has a right to.

So we have the natural, human reality that cannot be denied, and cannot be altered, not even through changing the law; though our society is very good at covering its eyes and refusing to see the obvious. And we have the rights of every child to be raised by his or her own mother and father. We heard that Jesus welcomed the children to come to him, and said they were not to be prevented; and we also must look out for what children need. While there are often sad circumstances in which some children didn’t know their mother or father, it is not just for a society to set up legal structures that would intentionally deprive children of their right to a mother or father.

Our Catholic social teaching tells us that the political community exists for the sake of the common good (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 168, 384). Supporting true marriage, of one man and one woman, and of the family of parents and children that results, is clearly part of this purpose. But attempting to redefine marriage cannot serve the common good. It places the state in the position of promoting a lie—spending its resources; marshalling its coercive force; oppressing the natural rights of children and of persons of faith—all to promote and enforce a lie.

We know that there are those who claim today that protecting traditional marriage violates the rights of homosexual persons. But we remember that the men of Jesus’ time felt that his support for marriage as it was created violated their rights to so easily divorce their wives. And we know with Jesus that it is no favor to either the oppressed or the oppressor to leave them trapped in their sinful system; rather, we seek to rescue everyone from deception into the truth; from slavery, into true freedom; from terrible wounds, into healing and wholeness. Truly, the Son of Man came to rescue us from the darkness of sin and to make us truly free.

So, as faithful Catholics, acting as leaven in society to proclaim the saving love and freeing truth of our Lord Jesus, we must act to proclaim the truth about marriage and to protect and uphold it. We must lovingly oppose efforts to redefine marriage erroneously—in every country and every state. Here in Maryland, next month, we must vote against Question 6, which would redefine marriage—as we continue to believe and proclaim the words of our Lord Jesus:

“from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. … what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

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