After Obergefell v. Hodges: Now What?

This morning the Supreme Court ruled, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the state must recognize marriages between persons of the same sex.

When someone told me the news they were surprised at my rather blasé response and questioned why I wasn’t angry or bitter.

The truth is that anyone surprised by this ruling is completely out of touch with the prevailing cultural and intellectual currents in American society. The triumph of the personal will over any other competing interests has been a fait accompli for some time. It is the basis for the rampant materialism and shallow spirituality manifested in everything from the collapse of the real estate market to the popularity of Oprah Winfrey.

Indeed, I find it impossible to be mad at the justices who ruled in favor of redefining marriage in the same way I can’t be mad at a fish for refusing to leap from the sea and take flight. They did not possess the means of arriving at a correct decision and it would be unjust to expect their ruling to conform to the natural law and God’s revelation when their underlying assumptions and premises are rooted in neither.

If I’m going to be angry with anyone it is with a Church that for too long allowed the ambient culture to shoulder the burden of forming its members. We were all too happy to outsource the work of building up culture and people when the culture agreed with us. Now that the culture has turned against us we are reaping the rewards of that transaction.

What we have discovered it that, for too long, the Church allowed its evangelization muscles to go unexercised, seemingly content that, even if the culture wasn’t forming disciples of Jesus Christ, it at least passed on a cultural Christianity that kept butts in our pews.

Now, for those of us involved in catechesis and evangelization, our task is to shake off the dust and begin to exercise those muscles again — to take up the call to “make disciples of all nations” without relying on the culture surrounding us. This will be a long, arduous process — think of it as physical therapy for the Church. It may require something approaching Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. But we will need to start with baby steps and small, seemingly insignificant victories that won’t make a dent in the culture but will help us make the slow, incremental progress needed to return to true health. Our losses against the culture will grow worse before they get better. I don’t expect to see the tide turn in my lifetime.

One sign of hope, however, are the wonderful men and women helping the Church to begin exercising these muscles — people like Fr. Robert BarronSherry Weddell, Tom Quinlan, Elizabeth Scalia, and Greg Willits (to say nothing of the statements of recent popes). The work has already begun — and thank God for the prophetic call of those who saw the need to begin working our evangelization muscles before now!

But the road ahead is long and narrow. Through prayer, kerygmatic formation, and a careful reading of the signs around us we can rebuild what we have lost. The gift we make to future generations will be in our commitment to pass on to them the tools of evangelization that we ourselves did not inherit.

O God, who in the power of the Holy Spirit
have sent your Word to announce good news to the poor,
grant that, with eyes fixed upon him,
we may ever live in sincere charity,
made heralds and witnesses of his Gospel in all the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(from the Mass for the New Evangelization)

Improving Parish Marriage Prep – More Highlights from Notre Dame

Last week I shared some highlights from the general sessions of the 2015 Notre Dame Center for Liturgy summer symposium on “Liturgy and Vocation.”

The afternoon sessions I attended were led by Josh and Stacey Noem and dealt with marriage prep in a parish setting. The Noems did an outstanding job laying out the theological and pastoral contours of an effective, evangelizing marriage prep process:

I’m looking forward to helping the parishes in our diocese deepen their commitment to a welcoming, evangelizing marriage formation process. Big thanks to Stacey and Josh Noem — and the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy — for the great conversation they facilitated at the symposium!

Highlights from the Notre Dame “Liturgy and Vocations” Symposium

This week I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s annual summer symposium, focusing this year on “Liturgy and Vocation.” This was my first time attending the symposium — indeed, my first time on the campus of Notre Dame — and I was delighted by the rich conversations that matched pressing pastoral questions with deep theological insights.

(Next year’s topic will be Liturgy and the New Evangelization — I would highly recommend attending!)

The symposium began on Tuesday evening with Msgr. Michael Heintz. His address on “Liturgy and Vocation” set the stage for the remaining general sessions and afternoon seminars:

The second general session by Dr. Brant Pitre was a whirlwind tour of nuptial imagery in the Bible, based in large part on his book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

On Wednesday Dr. Chad Pecknold of CUA spoke about the social and political dimensions of marriage and the priesthood, rooting his talk in St. Augustine’s image of the two cites.

Finally, on Thursday, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman helped us to reflect on the nature of icons in order to practice seeing marriage and ordination as icons of Christ’s love.

These highlights don’t even touch the panel discussion on marriage and priestly formation or the two-day afternoon seminar on marriage prep that I attended — I’ll share more on them next week. In the meantime you can browse all the live-tweeting from the event by following the #NDSymposium2015 hashtag.

Thanks to Timothy O’Malley for inviting me to the symposium and for the gracious hospitality extended by the staff of the NDCL. I look forward to attending more Center for Liturgy events in the future!

Affirmative Orthodoxy and Divorce

This is the first in a series of posts looking at difficult Church teachings through the lens of Affirmative Orthodoxy.

Divorce has become epidemic in our society and the Church rightly decries it as a scourge on families and society. But how can we take about marriage from the standpoint of Affirmative Orthodoxy? What would a “positive” approach to a discussion on divorce look like?

What Does the Church Say?

“The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath  which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant.” (CCC no. 1617)

œ’From a valid marriage arises  a bond  between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state  by a special sacrament.’  (CCC no. 1638)

“The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so they are no longer two, but one flesh.’ They ‘are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.’ This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.” (CCC no. 1644)

“It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love. Spouses who with God’s grace give this witness, often in very difficult conditions, deserve the gratitude and support of the ecclesial community.” (CCC no. 1648)

Divorce  is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign.” (CCC no. 2384)

Teaching through Affirmative Orthodoxy

When  approaching  the topic of divorce and the Church, the key is focusing on what the Church affirms: namely that, as a sign of Christ’s abiding and eternal love for his bride, the Church, the union of man and wife is indissoluble and permanent. If the marriage bond were not indissoluble, one might rightly ask what good the marriage between Christ and the Church is. If the possibility were open that Christ might set aside his bride then the assurance of salvation has no foundation. But we cling to Christ’s promise of fidelity and it is in the image of this promise that the bonds of matrimony are formed. That is why divorce is described as an offence against the “covenant of salvation” — it denies the eternal fidelity of the Bridegroom, Christ, to his chosen ones.

On a more practical note, it is the  indissolubility  of marriage that allows for the total self-giving of husband to wife and wife to husband, most perfectly visioned in the openness to new life that is the mark of a Christian marriage. As we have seen time and again, children best thrive when both parents are present; when one or the other is missing it is almost always more difficult on the child. This formation of the family — mother, father, child — can only be maintained when relationships are stable and permanent.

This is why the Church takes marriage preparation so seriously. By helping couples to discern their intentions and  capacity  to commit to a life-long relationship the hope is that future complications can be minimized. (As anyone who is married can tell you you can never  eliminated  difficulties!) Unfortunately the modern culture’s commitment to radical individual autonomy and self-gratification makes this task even more difficult. It behooves anyone involved in marriage preparation to take this task most seriously and impress upon  engaged  couples the seriousness of the  commitment  they are making.

Finally, it is also important to clear up any misconceptions about what the Church teaches regarding the status of divorced individuals. Many people are under the mistaken impression that any divorced person is barred from  receiving  Holy Communion; in fact there is no such prohibition since, in the eyes of the Church, the couple is merely separated and the marriage still intact. (That does not, however, diminish the grave offense divorce commits against the natural order.) On the other hand, those who have divorced and “re-marry” without an  annulment  compound the offence and engage in “public and permanent  adultery” (Cf  CCC no. 2384) and thus should not present themselves for the reception of Communion (per canon 915). Failure to make this distinction has led to much confusion and kept some people away from the sacrament who might otherwise have benefited from its grace.

Photo by jcoterhals/flickrCC

Tis the great fault of our age to underrate parental dignity

‘Tis the great fault of our age to underrate parental dignity. In the easy-going world, preference is given to profligate celibacy over honorable wedlock; marriage itself is degraded to the level of a purely natural contract, its bond has lost its character of indissolubility and its obligations are shirked to meet the demands of fashion and convenience. When parents, unworthy ones, do not appreciate their own dignity, how will others, their children, appreciate it? And parenthood will never be esteemed while its true nature and sanctity are ignored and contemned; there is no dignity where the idea of God is excluded.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

Thoughts for a New Father

My best friend and his wife recently found out that they will be welcoming their first child into the world this spring. At his invitation I sent him the following thoughts about fatherhood, having endured loved it through nine years and four kids. The remarks have been edited to remove personal information.

#1 – Congratulations! You are no longer in control of your own destiny.

Here’s the thing: you are now 100% responsible for another human being in this world. You have established a relationship that, short of death, cannot be severed or broken. (And I’m not even sure death breaks it.) You have to make sure that this little person is fed, cleaned, clothed, educated and loved. Every decision you make from here on out will have to include this as part of the equation — everything from “Should I take this new job” to “What type of milk do I buy for the family?”

So forget about the myth of the autonomous individual making his way in the world. It’s not true to begin with, and now that you have a child it’s even less true.

(By the way: Your wife is 100% responsible, too. It takes 200% to raise a child.)

#2 – You will be amazed at what you will endure for your child.

Let’s just get this one out of the way: within the first year of your child’s life you will be graced with the following bodily fluids flowing from your child onto your person: urine, poop, vomit, regurgitated milk, mucus, and a couple I still haven’t identified. If you have a boy, you’ll get it within six months. (Our oldest was so consistent about trying to pee on us that we had our own little maneuver when changing him: we’d take his diaper off, then immediately use it to cover him back up because you could be sure that as soon as fresh air hit him there would be a stream shooting up.)

The thing is, you won’t care one bit. I know I was worried about how I would handle these things, but the first time our oldest looked into my eyes, smiled, and vomited all over my shirt, I didn’t give it a second thought because I was so much more concerned about him and how he felt. The “oh-my-God-my-child-just-unhinged-his-jaw-and-spewed-on-my-leather-upholstery” reaction gets pushed out of your mind because you’re so focused on making sure that your child’s OK.

#3 – The most important thing you can do for your child is put your wife first.

This may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that your relationship with your wife is more important than your relationship with your child. It only takes a few minutes on Google to find statistics on how divorce and broken families screw over kids in major ways. You and I are both fortunate enough to come from families that, despite lots of trials and tribulations, have remained intact. I don’t know about you, but seeing my friends who have parents who are divorced, I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. Not that they aren’t decent, well-adjusted people, but I also know that they’ve had to endure a lot more crap in their lives than I’ve had to, even given my family issues. Having an intact family has been a great blessing in my life.

One of the promises I made to myself when my first child was born was that I would do everything in my power to ensure that he had that same advantage. Which, ironically, means that I invest more in my relationship with my wife than with the kids. Which, again, isn’t to say that I come home, throw some food into their room and say goodnight. But I want my kids to know that I love their mother and that they are a result of that love — and are loved as a result.

#4 – Decide now what your values are.

This is important for two reasons: a) so that you can pass on your values to your children, and b) so you know where you priorities are. The first is pretty straight forward: start thinking now about the lessons you want to impart to your child so that you won’t be reacting later on to lessons he’s learning somewhere else. (Children are sponges that soak up everything in their environment, whether you mean them to or not. This was hit home to me the first time my oldest started talking about Star Wars, even though I had never tried to intentionally pass it on to him.) And start thinking about what values you will and won’t allow into your house (via tv, the internet, etc.).

The second is a little more subtle. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the things that I have to give up in order to be a halfway decent father. There are so many conferences, classes, and other opportunities out there that I would love to participate in that, if given the chance, I could be gone every other weekend. But I know (and my wife reminds me) that doing so would be a very bad thing for the family. So we compromise and work out what things I do and what I don’t.

The point here isn’t that I’m “paying the price” for putting my family first, but that my wife and I make those decisions together. If she thought we could maintain a happy home life together even if I was gone more often, then I’d be packing a lot more suitcases. But that’s not a decision I can make on my own. By talking through our values and how we’re going to put them into practice, she gives me a level of accountability that keeps me from doing anything to the family that would compromise my stated values. That’s a good thing.

On Settling

Every time I read an interview with Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, I like her a little more:

Men and women were asked, if they [had] any deal-breakers for going on a second date, what would those be? And men named three. If she’s cute enough… warm and kind… and interesting enough to talk to, she gets a second date. Men are not going, “Am I going to marry her?” Men are like, “Do I want to spend another two hours with her?”

Women named 300 things that would be deal-breakers for a second date. We’re talking a second date, another two hours with the person. And they were things like, “You know, we were having a really good time, but then he did this Austin Powers impression, and it just so turned me off. I can’t get that out of my head.” Well, if she goes on a second date with him, and he starts doing Austin Powers impressions, then dump Mr. Austin Powers guy. Don’t go on that third date. Absolutely not. Who wants that? That’s annoying. But the thing is, there’s no correlation between the guy who’s the nervous first dater… and the guy who’s going to be the great life partner that you’re going to fall in love with.

Men and women were asked, if they [had] any deal-breakers for going on a second date, what would those be? And men named three. If she’s cute enough … warm and kind … and interesting enough to talk to, she gets a second date. Men are not going, “Am I going to marry her?” Men are like, “Do I want to spend another two hours with her?”CNN: How did women respond?

Gottlieb: Women named 300 things that would be deal-breakers for a second date. We’re talking a second date, another two hours with the person. And they were things like, “You know, we were having a really good time, but then he did this Austin Powers impression, and it just so turned me off. I can’t get that out of my head.” Well, if she goes on a second date with him, and he starts doing Austin Powers impressions, then dump Mr. Austin Powers guy. Don’t go on that third date. Absolutely not. Who wants that? That’s annoying. But the thing is, there’s no correlation between the guy who’s the nervous first dater … and the guy who’s going to be the great life partner that you’re going to fall in love with. The smooth, charming guy who sweeps you off your feet on that first date, there’s not saying he’s going to be a better life partner than the other guy.