Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Intrinsic Connection Between Marriage and Children

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 7, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 20: 27-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2010]

Just outside the gates of heaven there stood two lines of men. Over the first line there was a sign that read, “Men Who Were Bossed by Their Wives.” It was a very long line. Over the second was another sign that read, “Men Who Weren’t Bossed by Their Wives.” There was only one man in that line. The angel in charge of letting people into the kingdom was curious about this, so he went over to the lone man and said to him, “Sir, I was just wondering—why are you standing in this line?” The man said, “Because my wife told me to.”

Just to be fair, ladies, I have another story—which I think will even the score.

A husband and wife had a big argument one day as they were driving along on the local interstate highway. Neither would give in to the other, so when the argument was over they drove for a long time in absolute silence. Finally, the husband spotted a mule off in a field on the side of the road. He pointed to the mule and said to his wife, “Hey, isn’t that a relative of yours?” The wife said, “Yes—by marriage!”

When certain people in our secular culture make jokes about married life—some of the comedians you see on TV, for example—they seem to do so with an attitude of ridicule and disdain. As Catholics, hopefully, we tell our jokes with an underlying attitude of respect and reverence (I certainly do that today)—because marriage is, first and foremost, a sacred institution whose author is none other than God himself.

I think it’s safe to say that here in Westerly, generally speaking, traditional marriage is still held in very high regard. I base that assertion on the large number of special anniversaries that people here in our parish celebrate every year. It seems that at least once a month or so, a couple here in our community is celebrating a 25th, a 40th, a 50th, or even a 60th.

That’s fantastic—and it’s a real witness to our young people that lifetime commitments within marriage are possible! They’re not easy (very few good things in this life are easy), but they are possible—even in today’s crazy, mixed-up world.

And speaking of things that are crazy and mixed up, how about the contemporary definition of marriage itself? It used to be clear to everyone that a true marriage involved one man and one woman, united to one another in a bond that was permanent and exclusive.

Well, that’s not the case anymore! As we all know, this traditional definition of marriage is now being disputed by a very vocal group of men and women, who basically want us to accept the idea that the union of Adam and Steve is morally equivalent to the union of Adam and Eve.

There are several reasons for this push for so-called gay marriage—some of them are philosophical, others are practical and legal. You’ll be happy to know that I won’t focus on ALL of them today in this homily! But I will mention one—a very important one—because it relates to something in the gospel reading we just heard. It’s the separation of the institution of marriage from childbearing. Because many people today have accepted the erroneous idea that having children outside of marriage is morally equal to having children within a valid marriage, one of the key objections to gay marriage has gone out the window.

Because if marriage has little or nothing to do with having children, then why can’t two women marry? Or two men? For that matter, why can’t a man marry his dog or a woman her cat?

In paragraph 1652 of the Catechism we read this line: “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.”

That’s the teaching of the Catholic Church, but it’s also been the understanding of secular society for thousands of years! In fact, if I had read that line to somebody 40 years ago, they would not have been able to tell me whether it was from a religious or a secular writing—because almost everyone believed the same thing: that marriage and children belong together.

The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly understood this truth, which was in the background of the exchange our Lord had with the Sadducees in today’s gospel reading. The Jews of the first century considered having children to be such an integral part of marriage, that when a man died without children, his brother was obligated to marry the widow to produce offspring in his brother’s name.

The Sadducees, of course, tried to use this fact to undermine Jesus’ authority and teaching—specifically his teaching on the resurrection of the dead.

But they failed in their attempt, because, as Jesus reminded them here, life in heaven is qualitatively different from life on earth.

Now some might object to what the Church teaches by saying, “The potential to have children is not an obstacle to gay marriage, because gay couples can always adopt—or in the case of two women, they can utilize in-vitro fertilization; or in the case of two men, they can hire a surrogate mother. So gay couples can be parents, just like heterosexual couples can be parents.”

Leaving aside the fact that IVF and surrogate parenthood are both immoral, this objection is answered by reminding the person that when we’re talking about marriage we’re talking about two people who have the natural potential to procreate. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman have the natural potential to bear children. Two men left to themselves do not have that potential; neither do two women.

Even a man and a woman who get married in their late 70s or early 80s have this potency; even they have the natural potential to procreate. Now that potential won’t be actualized unless a miracle occurs—like the kind that occurred with Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis!

But the potential, at least, is there according to nature.

I mention all this today because as Catholic Christians who care about children and the future of our society, we need to have good, solid arguments at our disposal: arguments that we can use to defend traditional marriage—which is marriage as God designed it! Study after study has made clear that the healthiest environment for children to grow up in is a home with a loving mother and father who are united to one another in that loving, permanent, exclusive bond we call marriage.

So it’s fine to make jokes about married life, if we do so with an underlying attitude of respect and reverence, but at the same time we must always defend marriage—traditional marriage—as well as the intrinsic connection between marriage and children.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is no joke.