This weekend we celebrate St. Valentine's Day. It is a good opportunity to reflect on the meaning of human love, especially in marriage and family life since that is where most are called to live it. The beatitudes, which we just heard, indicate the challenge of love.
Josemaría Escrivá, a recently canonized saint, helped married couples live the full meaning of love. Commenting on the first beatitude - Blessed are you who are poor (Lk 6:20) - St. Josemaría had this to say:
“To my way of thinking the best examples of poverty are those mothers and fathers of large and poor families who spend their lives for their children and who with their effort and constancy – often without complaining of their needs – bring up their family, creating a cheerful home in which everyone learns to love, to serve and to work.” (Conversations 110f.)
Many of us “Baby Boomers” grew up in large families with limited resources. My sister, the youngest of six children and the only girl, did not have a bedroom until she reached junior high. She simply slept on the front room couch. Although our family was poor by today’s standard, we weren’t that different from many others.
That era is gone. The typical reason parents give for stopping at two children is, “we just can’t afford any more.” I sympathize with the dilemma of today’s parents who feel forced to hold two jobs, merely to keep afloat. And, quite often, the pressures of our consumer society cause them to gradually sink into severe debt.
Yet there are couples who have chosen to have four, five or more children – and who have made the decision that the mom would stay at home, caring full time for the children. In a remarkable way they are fulfilling Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you who are poor.”
Marriage and family life are clearly under attack in our society. Cohabitation, divorce, abortion and birth control have become commonplace. New medical procedures such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization have further devalued the marriage union. The devil seems more active than ever in creating resentment and bitterness between husband and wife, parent and child.
Marriage has become like a wounded antelope. The more ravenous sense its weakness and are moving in for the kill. In recent years there has been a coordinated campaign to change the very definition of marriage - to make it include two men or two women living together carnally. We have to address this movement, but doing so puts us in an awkward position. Let me give a comparison:
There are people in our world who have invisible cats. They provide a measure of companionship for certain souls and seem to do no great harm. However, suppose the owners of invisible cats got together and demanded recognition from the rest of us. They insist that their cats are entitled to the same rights as anyone else’s – and should not be denied licenses.
This would put the rest of us in small predicament. We have no ill will toward people who keep invisible cats and we do not wish to discriminate against them. But, dog gone it! We don’t believe there is such a thing.
Now, this comparison has limitations. While it would be silly to legally recognize the existence of invisible cats, it would do no great harm. The same cannot be said for changing the definition of marriage. For us as Christians, same sex marriage has no more reality than an invisible cat.* The people of course are real, but what they believe in simply does not exist.
I am afraid that those of us who believe in the sanctity of marriage are going to have to live the beatitudes on a deeper level. Obviously, the beatitude about poverty – both for those who choose to have large families and for those who will share their resources to support couples making that radical choice. But it will involve more than material support. Jesus' final beatitude comes into play:
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
To live this beatitude will require fortitude and prayer. People are already accusing us of being extremists, haters, narrow-mined, intolerant and oppressive. It would be so easy to simply go along. But the stakes are too high. If we fail the challenge what awaits us is not a blessing, but a curse:
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
*The problem in this debate is that no one can prove that invisible cats do not exist. You can argue that no culture before our own has put invisible cats on the same level as the more pesky variety. But proponents of invisible cats could counter by pointing out how much more we know today than people who lived before us. Besides, the owners of invisible cats, all in all, seem like good citizens and they do add color to a world which is often drab and conventional. Why not give these people a place, even an honored place, in our society? The case in their favor seems compassionate and forward thinking while the case against appears harsh and retrograde. That is the dilemma we face regarding same sex marriages. We cannot prove that there is no such thing. We do have the overwhelming consensus of ordinary human beings - present as well as past. Moreover, religious teachers such as Jesus and the Hebrew prophets went out of their way to make strong statements affirming marriage. Nevertheless, that tradition will only convince if we have the contemporary witness of couples striving to live the full meaning of marriage and family life. And we also need the testimony of unmarried people who value the sanctity of marriage. As a Courage chaplain, I have seen that testimony in the lives of a very significant group: people who experience same sex attraction and who at the same time accept the Jesus' beautiful teaching on chastity and the sanctity of marriage. Their struggles to live the beatitudes should encourage all of us.
From Archives (Homilies for Sixth Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Have you stopped beating your wife?, Passion of the Christ, Cathedral Walk)
Like a Natural Woman
New Catholic Book and Outreach on Mel Gibson’s Passion
Information and Registration form for Fr. Corapi Conference (March 5-6, Holy Family, Seattle)
Clergy Abuse in Context - Teachers Sexually Abuse Students Far More Often
Mark Shea replies to a Protestant who accuses Catholics of idolatry
Are your hands clean?
Statement by Black Ministerial Alliance:
"We acknowledge the pain and suffering of the men and women in the gay and lesbian community who are in long-term relationships. However, given the most recent opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court eliminating the possibility of civil Unions, we support the call for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman."
Europe’s Problem—and Ours by George Weigel
Samwise Goes to Olympia (2004 March for Life)