Three women and two men struck down DOMA today. On the bleakly positive side, it leaves the individual states free to determine the terms of marriages contracted within their borders. On the seriously down side, the court also in effect struck down a California law that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, albeit on technical grounds.
It was disappointing. We live in a disappointing culture.
There is a part of me that cannot even begin to fathom how much social mores have changed. In the course of my lifetime we’ve come from a society so discreet about sex that married couples on TV had double beds to one where Two and a Half Men survives—and thrives (and one in which parents would commit a child to acting in the show to begin with); from a society where abortion was illegal to one in which Kermit Gosnell is not even worthy of news coverage. Not even a generation ago, marriage as a union of man and woman was simply unquestioned. I am ashamed that it seems to be one of the legacies of my generation that we laid the groundwork for that to be destroyed.
But here we are. The gauntlet has been well and truly thrown and this will be a crucible for Christ’s Church in the Unites States. In a way, I am relieved to have the lines so clearly drawn. The days and years ahead will be difficult but there is blessing in clarity and vigor in challenge. I would prefer not to be in utter conflict with the society around me but if that’s the way it is to be, I’m ready, I think. I’ve already picked out the refrigerator box I’ll be living in under the bridge in a few years…..
A few semi-random observations/suggestions/predictions
First, watch For Greater Glory and read the Power and the Glory. Then do it again. Then consider the recent riots in Brazil and the riots in France and the violence against Christians in the Middle East. Think it cannot happen here? Think again. We are not as civilized as we like to think.
Catholic Churches will, in very short order, lose their tax-exempt status. That means that contributions made will no longer be tax deductible; will the lay faithful keep supporting the Church when it means giving after-tax dollars? It’s time for the best legal minds in the country to start brainstorming about this and time for local diocese and parishes to start restructuring so that we can survive the blow in the best way possible. At some point that will inevitably mean closing parishes and selling off treasures—unfortunate, but all things pass. And in a way, that loss of tax exemption will be a welcome release—too many pastors and too many bishops have hedged their comments and their activity for fear of losing tax-exempt status. Lose the status, loose the tongues, I hope.
Don’t look for too much support from most Protestant churches as time passes and social pressure increases. Just as they all fell in line with the Episcopal Church after Lambeth in 1930, finding contraception perfectly acceptable when it has previously universally been considered sinful, expect a good many Protestant ecclesial bodies to do the same on the issue of same sex unions as social, political and tax pressures increase. And the Church in America must prepare for another American schism. Just as there were Catholics who broke from the Church over Vatican II, there will be those who break from the Church over this. This time, however, the schismatics will have the full force of government and society with them and they will have a great deal of power and presence. They will use it. In this prevailing culture it is they who will be viewed as legitimate, not those faithful to Rome.
It’s time for parishioners to recognize that it is now going to be socially very dangerous to be Catholic. Fish, fellow Catholics, or cut bait. Martyrdom—probably not physical, but very likely both social and economic, awaits a good many of us. That means that this is a time for great spiritual preparation, and the Church gives us the means to prepare. It is time for clear public witness from the faithful in the pew in their everyday lives. No need to pick fights but polite silence to go along and get along is no longer a viable option. It never really was.
It’s time for priests and deacons to stop signing marriage certificates for the state. If Catholic clergy do not participate at all in marriage from the state’s perspective, they cannot discriminate in that regard. That closes one avenue of legal oppression. For generations, Europe had civil marriage and religious marriage and the two had little to do with each other. It is time for the Church in America to eschew any participation in marriage as defined by the state, and concentrate on the sacrament of matrimony, something separate and unique and sacred. Something beyond the reach of the state, at least for now.
Maybe it’s time for the Church to consider the possibility of simply ignoring any “marriage”, whether secular or in a Protestant ecclesial body, as irrelevant to whether two adults can receive the sacrament of matrimony. The presumption of validity of a marriage of two Christians outside the Church can reasonably be replaced at this point in history by a presumption of invalidity if there has not been prior recognition of the marriage as valid by the Church. Neither the state nor any Protestant church views marriage as the Catholic Church does, and neither has for a long time. It is reasonable to believe that even baptized Christians who enter into marriage outside the Church don’t do so intending what the Church intends in matrimony.
It’s long past time for pastors to be clearly and vigorously preaching about the faith (all of it—even the hard teachings), regularly and with love, not minding the potential to offend those in the pews and not concerned with the loss of revenue. God does not expect us to be well funded or popular. He expects us to be faithful. Catholics cannot practice what they do not understand and after 50 years of poor catechesis, many don’t really know what is expected of them. They really don’t know that to live a Catholic life is to life differently than the world—and differently than their Protestant brothers and sisters. How can one be on fire for a faith one really doesn’t know? How can one defend it?
It’s really time for the Bishops to take visible action against those in the public arena who dissent from Church teaching on marriage and life. It will make no difference to those dissident Catholics who flaunt Church teaching in their public lives, but standing firm against them, in public, would edify the faithful who have been long demoralized and scandalized.
It’s time for the lay faithful to support pastors in appropriately clear and rigorous pre-Cana preparation (that includes you, Moms and Dads). No winks and nods to cohabiting couples or those who enter matrimony intending to contracept or considering matrimony a trial to be ended if it doesn’t suit their fancy after a few years. Yes, this will make a lot of people (mostly mothers and brides intent on a big church wedding) angry. Yes, there will be fewer who receive the sacrament of matrimony in the Church. But there will be far more sacramental unions.
While we are at it, we might consider in very concrete, personal, communal, and lasting terms how to assist young families in living a solidly Catholic life after they are married. If we as Catholics really believe in the sanctity of matrimony, we must start living it vibrantly, expecting that others do so as well, and we must, as a community, assist each other in very tangible ways. At all stages of the sacramental life.
There will be an increasing number of jobs that Catholics will not be able to take if they wish to remain faithful to the Church. Medicine is already rapidly becoming a no-man’s land for Catholics. Ob-Gyn and Family Practice residents are pressured to prescribe contraceptives and there have been (so far unsuccessful) movements to force residents and nurses involved in women's health care to perform, assist at, and/or view abortions regardless of their moral convictions. The American Academy of Pediatrics has now announced that pediatricians should help eradicate “homophobia,” that is, teach acceptance of the gay lifestyle. Law schools can be expected to become (increasingly) intolerant of discussion that in any way impugns the homosexual agenda that has been codified in law. Catholics who are faithful to Church teaching can expect to be marginalized economically as the society becomes increasingly intolerant of their kind of diversity. Being Catholic might just mean being poor one of these days. Parents--this means rethinking the conventional wisdom about what success means and talking about it with your children. You can be sure that society is not going to tell them about the conflicts they will face.
Remember: this isn’t the first time the Church has faced challenges like this. It won’t be the last. But this is our time, and either we rise to face the challenge or we don’t: our choice, our will. At one time the Church in Ephesus was a thriving community; now there is no Christian community there at all. Christ promised the Gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church. He didn’t say how big, how powerful, or how comfortable it would be, or even where it would be when He returned. In fact, I recall His musing about whether He would find faith at all when he came again.
I am disappointed. I am angry that this has happened. I am not looking forward to the coming years, and I hope against hope that my dismal predictions do not come true. But even when I consider that they might, I find, curiously, that I am not afraid. That is, perhaps, the only surprising thing about this whole turn of events.
I am a bit worried about the details, maybe—no one likes forced change, especially uncomfortable change. I’d prefer an easier way, but I remember something about a cross. For many years now, my life has been remarkably cross-free. Looks like a big one just got delivered. Best pick it up and start walking towards Jerusalem.if I do, I will be in good company.