Joy and Hope
July 5, 2008
Marriage debate not just about ballot measure
In recent weeks the local press has given extensive coverage to the change of events after the state Supreme Court overturned the voter-approved proposition that defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. We have seen a rush of same-sex couples at many of the county marriage registrars.
Both the articles as well as the photos about this have conveyed the exhilaration among many about the change in the marriage laws of California. At the same time, many of the comments about those of us who are opposed to the so-called same-sex marriages have chosen to portray us uninformed, religious fanatics. Our opposition is seen as based on unfounded or exaggerated fears. Those of us who speak against so-called same-sex marriages are painted as silly, superstitious, and bigoted.
The strong unrelenting language of the past few weeks can and probably has shaken the convictions of many who are concerned about the Supreme Court’s legal imposition upon the people of California. Who wants to be seen as an intolerant bigot or categorized as a religious fanatic heartlessly imposing one’s silly beliefs?
In November there will be a ballot measure to clarify in the California constitution that marriage is only defined as the union of a man and a woman. It is apparent that the campaign to oppose the November proposition has already begun. Anyone who supports the initiative will be labeled an intolerant, bigoted, religious fanatic. In other words, California will become intolerant of any religion that is not comfortable and conforming.
Jesus, in the Gospel, took many occasions to encourage and strengthen his disciples. On one such occasion in the Gospel according to Matthew, the Lord said to his timid and fragile band of disciples, “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (Mt. 10.26-33).
The Lord Jesus and the early generations of his disciples experienced much misunderstanding and even rejection. We only have to look to the cross to see this. There was much uncertainty during the early years of Christianity because what seemed so clear and so good to the disciples of Jesus was not so clear nor did it appear so good to many of those who heard their preaching. After the death of Jesus, many of his disciples were expelled from synagogues, humiliated and even killed. With so much rejection, many began to question their own convictions.
Were they wrong to listen to the prophet from Nazareth? The Gospel seemed like an impenetrable mystery and some early Christians preferred that it stayed that way — a mystery, a secret. So Jesus says to them and us: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”
What is happening in California is not new. It has been going for at least a generation or more. It is the popular tendency to make religion private. We are very accustomed to many people speaking about their “personal faith in Jesus.”
This is not all bad. In many ways it should be encouraged, but the tendency to make faith personal can go to the extreme of making faith private. It becomes so personal it turns into only my preference, like the color of my house or the model of car I drive.
Many Christian denominations understand faith in this manner and when they do this they fall into the trap of either opting to keep their faith to themselves or impose their religious preference on others. In this they speak the same language as the popular culture. This is not the language of Catholicism.
The Holy Father in his recent visit to the United States reminded us of the public nature of Catholic faith. He said to the U.S. bishops on April 16: “Today the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, ‘that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’” (Mt 5:16).
He went on to say later on in that same discourse: “Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”
We believe in a tradition and have practiced a faith that seeks to transform the culture. We hold to this because the Gospel is good news for us and can be good news for our society as well as serve the common good. We have learned to argue our values not only based on Scripture and church teaching.
We have also learned to be persuasive using reason as well as the effective generosity of our many services to society. Catholic institutions of learning, health care, and social service reach out to the whole society with the truth and grace of the Gospel because we believe that the Gospel saves humanity, body and soul.
Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that he has spoken to our hearts. He uses the word “whisper” to say that he has drawn so close to us that he could soothe our souls. As St. John tells us in one of his letters, he is the one who loved us first (I Jn. 4.10). He took the initiative to share with us the good news of the Gospel. He has also given us the courage and confidence to share this message on the housetops and in the light of day.
This task is not an easy one, particularly today. Then again, it has never been an easy task. The history of the church teaches us this. That is why Jesus tells us, “Fear no one.” “Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” in the eyes of your heavenly Father.
As we continue to engage this debate about so-called same-sex marriages, we must remember that this is not just about a proposition. We should work to change hearts and minds not just the constitution. We should enter this public debate not from the position of what we are against. We begin by saying “yes” to what we believe.
We believe the sacred covenant between a man and woman that shares love and creates life is the true nature of marriage. No judicial fiat can change that or should change that.
We believe the beauty of this particular bond should be recognized and supported by the laws of society. The current law will make even this relationship a private matter about which the state will remain indifferent.
We believe sexuality is a beautiful and noble gift from God through which God’s love is shared and God’s creative work continues. The sexual desire also requires a sense of duty and responsibility. The court’s prerogative has robbed human sexuality of its divine dignity and caters to the popular culture’s preference for personal pleasure.
These are not an imposition. It is good news for us and for all. As our Holy Father reminded us, citing the words of Matthew’s Gospel: “Let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”