Bishop Joseph Strickland: Morally Coherent Catholic Citizenship (Part 4)

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By Bishop Joseph Strickland, June 05, 2020

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland was named the fourth bishop of Tyler in September of 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to being named bishop, he served a number of roles in the diocese, including vicar general, judicial vicar, and pastor of the Cathedral parish. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1985.

Vote for Candidates who Respect and Protect Marriage and the Family

In our consideration of morally coherent Catholic citizenship we have considered the fundamental Right to Life and the Right to Religious Freedom. Now, we turn to the urgent challenge of defending the first and most vital cell of society, marriage, and the family and social order founded upon it.

In a 2016 interview, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra disclosed a letter he had received years earlier from Sr. Lucia, then the last surviving visionary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima. Sr Lucia wrote: “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family.’ Do not be afraid, she added, because whoever works for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family will always be fought against and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. Then she concluded: ‘nevertheless, Our Lady has already crushed his head’.”

Pope St John Paul II, the Pope of the Family, wrote and spoke repeatedly about the attacks on Marriage and the Family. He also affirmed their essential and unchangeable nature. Those attacks on marriage and the family have now reached a fever pitch. This is evident particularly in the West, where marriage has been redefined to a point where it is no longer even discernible. And, those who stand in defense of marriage and the family are increasingly being disparaged and confronted with soft persecution.

The Attack on Marriage and the Family

The attack on Marriage and the Family rages all around us. And, it is intensifying. It is a part of a broader cultural struggle, a clash of worldviews, personal and corporate, and competing definitions of human freedom, human dignity, and the path to true happiness and human flourishing. We are involved in a contest over the foundations of what constitutes a truly human and just social order.

As Catholic Christians, we must insist that marriage between one man and one woman, intended for life, and the family founded upon it, has been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. That is because they have. Truth does not change; people and cultures do; sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.

As for the position of the Catholic Church on marriage, it is crystal clear. Marriage between one man and one woman, indissoluble, unitive, and always open to procreation forms the foundation for the family, and the family forms the foundation of both the Church and the civil society. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church explained it well in 2003.

The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose.”

“No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.”

Marriage and Family as God’s Loving Plan

Faithful Catholics and other Christians should only support men and women for public office who will respect and protect marriage and the family. For the Jewish and Christian believer, from the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis (which means beginning) we discover the loving plan of God for marriage revealed in the context of the creation account. God fashioned man in His own image saying, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)

The early Fathers of the Christian Church noted that the plural language in the creation account points to the Trinitarian nature of God. Though God is One, the Christian faith proclaims that God is a loving Trinity of persons in the perfect unity of perfect love. The Father, Son and Spirit are a gift to one another. The Oneness of God is not solitary, but rather the perfection of Divine Love, being given away to the other, in the reciprocity of the Trinitarian communion.

In the second chapter of Genesis we read, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The two, male and female, coming together in marriage to become one, reflects this unity in communion. We are, by both nature and grace, social. The mutual expression of love, as gift to the other, lived within marriage, opens the married couple to participation in God’s loving plan. If marriage is embraced as a Christian vocation, it also leads them to holiness, includes them in the gift of creation through procreation, and draws them into a partnership of love which births a family.

Marriage is intended to be a lifelong, indissoluble union of the spouses, male and female, always open to life and formative of family. Family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is not only the first and most vital cell of society, it is the first school, first church, first hospital, first economy, first government and first mediating institution.

Marriage is the Future

Our convictions and claims concerning the nature and ends of marriage are not outdated notions of a past era but provide the path to building a strong future for society. Nor is our position defending marriage as solely possible between one man and one woman simply a religious position. There is a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason.

Marriage is not unique to Christianity; it is revealed by that Natural Moral Law as a good for all of humanity. It has been so recognized across cultures for millennia. That Natural Moral Law is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built. It is the source for every great and authentic human and civil rights movement. The Natural Law gives us the moral norms we need to build truly human and just societies and govern ourselves. It should inform our positive or civil law, or we will become lawless and devolve into anarchy.

Civil institutions do not create marriage. Neither can they create some new “right to marry” for those whose relationships are incapable of achieving the ends of marriage. Government has long regulated marriage for the common good. For example, the ban on polygamy. And, age requirements were enforced to ensure that there was a mature decision as the basis of the Marriage contract.

Marriage is the first society into which children are to be born, learn to be fully human, grow in virtue, flourish, and take their proper role in families and communities. We must not be afraid to make the claim that children have a right to a mother and a father. They do. Of course, we should also care about the single parent family and the many broken homes which characterize this age.

However, their existence does not change the norm necessary for building a stable and healthy society – two parent, marriage bound families. Intact marriages and families are the glue of a healthy and happy social order. Faithful Catholics and other Christians must become a visible, palpable reflection of this truth about marriage and family in our own lives. To live a faithful marriage is now countercultural.

Male and Female

In the creation account found in the First Chapter of the Book of Genesis we also read these vitally important words, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Our sexual difference as male and female is a gift – and a given. To reject the gift is to reject the Giver.

We do not choose to be male or female. We receive it as a gift, or we reject it. The notion that we can choose our sexual identification as male or female is but one more manifestation of the rebellion that started in the garden with Adam and Eve when they turned away from God’s loving plan.

When our first parents succumbed to the lie that they could determine for themselves what is good and what is evil, the separation from God began. In theological terms, we call that sin. It is both an offense against God’s loving plan and a wrong exercise of human freedom. Only a Savior could bridge that separation. Thank God that He sent One. His name is Jesus the Christ.

In His defense of marriage, Jesus referred to this Genesis account in insisting on the indissolubility of marriage: “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and … the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18).

To reject sexual difference is to reject God’s gift. Difference is not inequality of worth. Rather, it enables the gift of self to the other and a reciprocity, an exchange, which elevates us all. To strike against true marriage is to strike against God’s loving plan and design, built into creation from the very beginning, revealed by the Natural Law, and elevated by Jesus Christ to a Sacrament.

A New Missionary Age

The early Christians, with joy and integrity, spoke and lived a different way in a culture which did not accept their message. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called “white martyrdom”, by living lives of sacrificial witness and service in their culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of a long life spent in missionary toil.

Slowly, not only were people converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The cultural climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith, the lifestyle and the practices of these Christians which began to win the hearts of men and women. As a result, cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, homosexuality, infant exposure, and abortion began to change dramatically, and this dynamic continued for centuries.

It was Christianity that taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family. Christianity introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for, living responsibly and with integrity.

Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor, or the shifting sands of public opinion. Christians understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and concern for the other.

The Christian faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients – such as why we existed and how we got here? What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world? And why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil? And how we could be set free from its power?

Christian philosophy began to flourish, and the arts also flourished under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by the principles derived from a Christian worldview. This can happen again. We are called to transform our own American and Western culture from within.

We are living in a new missionary age. We must remain faithful as Catholics to the unchangeable truths. The truth about marriage and the family is one of those truths. And, we live our obligations as Catholic citizens in a morally coherent manner. We should Vote for Candidates who Respect and Protect Marriage and the Family.