Friday, March 29, 2013

Musings on Issues

What is the issue of the day - on this Good Friday 2013?
The news and social media seem to be dealing with same-sex marriage, gun control, and "the economy."  Also the new Pope, Francis.
I know very little about any of these subjects. Regarding gun-control, I know that the founding fathers felt it was important that the citizens be armed - not for hunting, but to protect themselves primarily from any government tyranny.  Regarding the economy, I know that we and the Western world are in trouble.  Regarding His Holiness I know nothing - but am enjoying the various insights, observations, etc.
On the question of who can marry whom I have many problems. 
Having prepared a number of couples for this holy state of life, I have often observed that most people walking down the aisle have no idea what marriage is - much less what Christian marriage is.  Why is this?  At some point during my life-time, the Church decided it needed special preparatory sessions for couples about to marry.  Prior to the 1950's it seems that people approached their pastor and, once it was ascertained that they were free to marry, a wedding could be scheduled.  At some point "Pre-cana" programs came into existence because there was an apparent need to try and explain in spiritual and practical terms, what marriage involved.  Certainly the Church authorities observed that things had changed.  Divorce - once quite rare - was becoming common-place. Spousal abuse was being addressed - at last.  The stigma of pregnancy out of wedlock was fading.  So-called birth control was becoming "respectable."  Prior to the 1940's virtually every Christian denomination condemned the practice of artificial contraception.  I believe the Anglicans were the first to cave.  Only Catholicism perdured in its refusal to accept it.  And, in the 1970's many a Catholic pastor rebelled against Pope Paul VI's teaching reaffirming the Church's stance.
In short, the culture of the West was going through a radical change regarding human sexual behavior and indeed, human sexuality.  "Freed" from the "constraints" of marriage, family and responsibility, people began to see sex as a matter of choice between consenting adults.
I believe this manifested itself in the transformation of the American wedding - egged on by the t.v. soap operas.  Rather than being a communal event, a sacramental, holy moment, shared with family and friends, the wedding itself has gradually become a "show."  It has become "her" special day.  The size of the diamond, the number of attendants, the profusion of flowers, the apparent expense of the reception, the preoccupation with photographers, videographers, etc.all became important matters.
Interestingly, many of the symbols remained intact even though they had lost all real meaning: the veil, the white gown, etc.
Among evangelical Protestants marriage has generally been seen more as a convention or contract than a sacrament.  Whether a marriage was celebrated in a church or a home or on the beach were all Protestant options.  In addition, throughout the world marriage has always had an economic dimension.  Whether by dowry or by alliance of families, money was often involved.  And when a marriage ended by death, separation or divorce, the state and the society sought to insure an equitable treatment of surviving spouses - particularly the wives.
Thus there came to be a certain relationship between the Church and the state.  The ministers became officials to some degree - recognized as able to perform the legal thing known as a "marriage."  At one point in U.S. history, a conflict arose on this level: between the government and the Mormon Church.  The government would not recognize the Mormon openness to polygamy which was, in fact, criminalized.  The Mormons for the most part modified their practices in order to conform to civil and social requirements.
These social and civil requirements and standards were based on what we have come to call the "Judeo-Christian" culture. 
This Judeo-Christian thing implies a rootedness in certain religious concepts and standards.  For most Americans this was all summed up in a rather vague standard called "The Bible."  Of course the Bible includes all kinds of polygamous relationships, not to mention concubinage.  From Abraham up until the Council of Jerusalem it required circumcision of boys.  And the multiplicity of Protestant sects provided a whole panoply of intertpretations on various minutiae of proper Judeo-Christian behavior.  Nevertheless, until recent decades, there was an unspoken consensus among America's Jews, Catholics, Methodists and agnostics regarding certain conventions.
Now our society seems to be at a point of approving marriage between persons of the same sex and in many instances, is even championing the cause.
I amaze myself that - while I am certainly against it - I am not particularly shocked or alarmed by the whole thing.  Why?  Because the culture has changed and has pretty much abandoned the whole Judeo-Christian aspect of morality and social convention.  Thus, the approach of the society at large and particularly the young, seems to me to be in concert with their culture:  Marriage is a personal choice.  Sexual activity is a personal choice.  Contraception is a given.  Abortion of the fetus is an option.  Cohabitation outside the sanctity of marriage is a very acceptable norm. For them.
In fact, when New York State voted to approve same-sex unions, several of my young relatives rejoiced victoriously.  Since the majority of them were in unmarried heterosexual cohabitation ("shacked-up," as they say), I expressed my puzzlement to a couple of them, as to why they thought that marriage was such a grand state for same-sex people, whilst they themselves had not considered it!  It was obvious to me that they were not really concerned about marriage or marriage "rights."  Rather, they were concerned with celebrating a whole new culture that is unrelated to its predecessor.
So, where do I stand?
As a Catholic, I have a good idea of what Christian marriage is.  It is a union of a faithful Christian man and a faithful Christian woman, celebrated in the heart of the Church, infused by God's grace and blessings.  It is a commitment to family life - nuclear family life.  It is concerned with fruitfulness.  The use of sex is for the mutual edification of the partners and is always open to life.  It is not entertainment.  Fidelity to spouse and family and Church is guaranteed.  The raising of children in a home which is a domestic church is essential.  God's Presence in the marriage, the family and the home is notable.  The observance of religion is important in and out of the house.
I know that today this is actually rare.  But I believe that ranting against the downfall of society is useless.  They are not listening.  My position is that it is important for us - Christians - to recognize that we are not in the mainstream, and therefore, to hold fast to our faith, our doctrine, our spiritual life.  The mainstream will not accept our standards.  They no longer believe in them.  To pretend otherwise is likely to open the door to an idea: that our way is one of many "options."  All the options have existed since time immemorial.  Our world is no longer scandalized by any of them.  In fact, the Church was born and spread abroad in the midst of just such a world. 
For me, it is not a matter of instructing the world, nor certainly accomodating it.  It is perhaps an opportunity for us, as Christians, to follow our vocation which is to reject the world, and to commit ourselves over and over again to Him who said "I have conquered the world."

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