Homily from the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012
As most of you know, our readings for Mass each weekend are given to us based on a three-year cycle. So the theme of marriage that we find highlighted in today’s readings is one that the Church has highlighted every three years on the 27th Sunday of ordinary time for decades.
Yet as we listen to these readings this Sunday, we hear them in the context of a profoundly contentious cultural debate about same sex marriage. As much as some have tried to argue that this cultural debate about is not over a religious question, but a civil rights question, all one has to do is read the editorial section in the paper each day to find out that everyone, on both sides of the debate, is using religious arguments.
In fact, those who are seeking to change the definition of marriage this fall have very deliberately worked to highlight clergy who agree with the proposed change, and many of those knocking at the door have been quick to tell those who answer that they are Catholics.
And so it is my duty as your priest, in the face of continuous religious arguments in favor of this change, to try to present a reasonable articulation of the Christ’s teaching on marriage as we hear it in the Gospel today, as difficult as that may be in 7 - 10 minutes, which is what they tell me is your attention span. To be clear, I’m not trying to bully anyone from the pulpit, but as you prepare to vote on this issue, it is important that you have the opportunity to hear the basic gist of the Catholic position from your priest.
I don’t think that Christ’s teaching on marriage has ever been particularly easy to hear. As we hear in the Gospel, divorce was permitted in the Mosaic law. Yet in the face of the common practice of divorce, Jesus taught his followers that the law of Moses did not reflect the fullness of God’s plan for marriage and the family. Instead, he began with Genesis. “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. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
Now, when this passage was read at Mass a few decades ago, I imagine that the challenging aspect of the teaching centered around divorce. In the face of a culture where half of marriages end in divorce, Christ’s teaching is very hard to hear: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”
But today, as we prepare for another vote on the question of same sex marriage, the challenge to our culture in his teaching is found in his claim that from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, and that in marriage these two leave mother and father and become one flesh.
From the beginning, Jesus teaches us, God created human beings in a complementarity, male and female, and remember, after that day he said “it is very good.” Our gender is not a liability, an obstacle to be overcome, but a blessing given to us by God to allow us to share in his life, his love. Genesis clearly teaches that this form of human relationship, the complementary relationship of male and female is the primordial and foundational human relationship. Reason shows us that homo sapiens sapiens reproduces heterosexually in the union of a man and woman; what Genesis teaches us that this complementarity of genders that can give birth to new life is not arbitrary, is not a liability of our species, but is intended by God and is good – is very good.
And marriage is the natural institution or social arrangement that acknowledges and protects and upholds the goodness of this complementarity and fecundity of our species. It exists to promote and shelter the relationship between husband and wife, between parents and their children.
Now some might say, well that’s your opinion, Father, and you’re entitled to it. But look, it’s not just my opinion. What our Gospel shows us so clearly today is that this is the teaching of Jesus Christ handed on to us faithfully by his Church. It is the teaching outlined in the Catechism and taught by the bishops throughout the world. This is not a question of what color vestments to wear or at what age children should receive their first communion. There are practices of the Church that are debated and change depending on historical and cultural context and circumstances. But this teaching has to do with the very core of how we understand the human person, how we understand the relationship between men and women, how we understand the relationship between parent and child, the family. And the consistent teaching of the Church, based on faith and reason, has always been that the natural family is a blessing given to us by God that should be acknowledged and promoted by society in the institution of marriage.
Now some might say, that may be the belief of your church, but what gives you Catholics the right to impose your view on everyone else? Clearly, not all citizens see things the same way, why can’t you just live and let live? Your unwillingness to allow others to act in accord with their deeply held beliefs amounts to bigotry and hatred.
That simply is not true. And that is because the government’s regulation of marriage is overwhelmingly dominated by positive law. This means that changing the definition of marriage would not only allow same sex couples to marry, but would more importantly mandate that our government through its laws and regulation promote an entirely different vision of marriage for the whole of society. Despite assurances to the contrary, this active promotion by the government of a vision of marriage and the family based solely on love and no longer tied in any way to the complementarity between men and women or to their natural children would profoundly impact our culture. We need only look at the impact of no fault divorce laws on our society, when the government abandoned its promotion of permanence and indissolubility in marriage during the last century. Now half of marriages end in divorce. Laws matter – they not only keep people from doing what is wrong, but they also express and promote values that have a formative impact on the culture. As Catholic men and women, we have the duty and obligation to advocate for and support laws and policies that will help our culture to remain vibrant and healthy, and help our families to live according to the truths of our faith.
Now this support of laws and policies that reflect Catholic teaching on marriage can never, never be motivated by a distain or bigotry or ambivalence toward the needs of others. Our Church is clear on this: there can be no tolerance in our midst for homophobia, for anti-gay slurs, for bullying, or for any kind of lack of charity directed against another because of their sexual orientation. Despite what we might hear sometimes in the news, I think that our Church is actually remarkably accepting to all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Who can begin to count the number of Catholics who are attracted to the same sex or have experienced some uncertainty in their sexual orientation and yet remain active and dedicated to the practice of their faith? Most of us have family members and friends who are of a different sexual orientation. We’re all working to try to get to heaven, we’ve all got issues that we’re working on and gifts we’re trying to develop. No one is checking sexual orientation at the door, and no one will be checking sexual orientation at the gates of heaven.
To be Catholic is to be about the work of following Christ – because we know that he is the Way and the Truth, and the Life: he reveals to us who we are and the fullness of God’s plan for us. And an essential and beautiful part of that plan, Jesus tells us very clearly today in the Gospel, is found in a man and woman bound together in a complementary love - a married love - that makes them one flesh and offers them the grace to cooperate with their creator in bringing new life into our world.