Friday, July 05, 2013

Natural Law, Marriage, and the Normality of Ignorance

I almost interjected myself into a homily yesterday.

It wasn't actually in response to the homily itself, but in response to the reaction of the congregation.

Let me start the story at the beginning.

It was the 4th of July, and I was attending Mass at Once-In-a-Blue-Moon parish. The deacon there preached along the lines of the closing of the Fortnight for Freedom. His basic theme was on understanding and addressing well the cultural times in which we live.

He told a story of speaking with a 30-something woman about sexual morality. She dismissed his rejection of sex outside of marriage as being merely a product of his toeing the Catholic line. He explained that one could passionately hold this position based purely on reason, with no reference to faith or religion. And then he detailed how:

When a man and woman engage in sex, he explained, it often happens that a child is conceived. It is justice for this child to be born and raised into a stable, peaceful environment. The biggest part of that stability comes through a relationship with its parents which remains constant and reliable throughout the childhood and further, throughout life. The best way to accomplish that is for these parents to be already committed to each other for life before the child comes on the scene.

Then the deacon went on to say that this woman with whom he was talking responded with: "That's a compelling argument. I've never heard anyone explain it like that to me before."

And at that point, I heard audible gasps from people seated behind me.

In the next breath, the deacon made reference to how this woman's rejection of Catholic teaching had come from her ignorance. Then I heard, on the other side of me, audible chuckling, as if to say "Boy howdy, that's right. Ignorant."

That was when I fought the urge to stand up and turn this into a round table discussion. (As you can see, I opted for a blog post.)

Much of what I'm going to say has to do with a generational divide, as the people I was surrounded with were a few decades my senior.

First, to respond to the gaspers. Normally I feel like the most naive person in any group, but I just cannot wrap my head around someone being shocked that the natural law view on marriage is entirely absent from the landscape of the mind. I am on the older end of Gen-X, but it seems that anyone of my generation or younger has had this common sense view of marriage either blotted out or made murky by either personal or sympathetic experience, and by consistent cultural messaging.

Sex equals babies? Says who. Since when. Certainly not since the 60s! In April, 1967, seven months before I was born, the first law was passed in the US to legalize abortion in some cases. And three decades before that contraception went from illegal to holding a prominent place in medical training.

And what about a two-parent family being an aspect of justice to children? Divorce rates shot through the roof in the late 60s as well. How many 30-somethings can you even find who were born and have lived their whole lives with their parents married to each other? When you have entire generations riddled through with divorced or separated parents, with many of these offspring able to reason that their lives were better off that way, how do you expect the same people to have any concept of the justice that was actually due them? Are not people more likely to assure themselves that they turned out OK, despite their parents' problems?

You can only possess what you experience. When you grow up in an environment where parents did not self-sacrificially lay down their lives for one another and give themselves to provide stability for their own vulnerable offspring, how the hell do kids learn that this is even how life should work?

They don't.

The only hope is if they see it happening that way for other people. That's called the witness of Christian family. (In reality, it takes more than tacit witness. The witness needs to be wedded to words of testimony of encountering Christ and an explicit call to likewise follow Him in conversion.)

I can remember as a late teen meeting the family of a Lutheran pastor I knew. My friend and I knew his son, and one day we had lunch with them after church on Sunday. I wanted to stay there all day and suck in their life. It was so wonderful. Two parents, kids, a dining room table, a meal together, everyone talked and joked. The poor pastor had to actually hand me a map with driving directions back home as a hint to get me to leave. I didn't even know, really, what I was hungry for, but I saw that these folks had it.

From my childhood into my adult years, I misunderstood marriage as not a means for partnering with a man to give life to the vulnerable among us, but as finally finding someone who loved me. As a kid I met a friend of my grandmother's who told me she had been married at age 15. I thought that was perfect. I also wanted to have 12 kids. Then, surely, I would finally be loved. Oh, I didn't think about it explicitly that way, but I realize now that's what it meant to me. The older I got (more and more frantic that I was "old" and single), the Lord had to reveal to me that my desire for "marriage" was actually at cross purposes with my following Him. I was a very hard sell when it came to believing that His love was the love I needed. Somehow I thought that meant no human being would ever love me. I had no idea that I couldn't give love to anyone unless I let His love flood me first. You can only possess what you experience, and you can only give what you possess.

All human beings are essentially walking, gaping needs-for-love. But perhaps my generation (and younger) experiences this more starkly than the folks who were raised in a time and place when natural law values and basic decency and love were more common.

Now to address that chuckler: Yes, the woman the deacon spoke of is ignorant. But this sort of ignorance of heart should make us double over in pain and weep. On a broad scale, we no longer understand what it means to be human, in the image and likeness of God. Marriage is thought of now as a source of pleasure for people, in whatever way and for whatever duration they agree to. This ignorance is deeply rooted in the family experience of most young people. This was my ignorance, too, but I was able to abide in a moral straitjacket that kept me from debauchery, even though I didn't understand God's loving purpose in natural law restrictions. God was gracious and merciful to me, but I can tell you that straitjackets are not comfortable. As the ignorance of the culture becomes deeper, I doubt that many would endure them for long.

We who call ourselves Christians have a dire responsibility to live dripping with God's love. That means we need to seriously turn our hearts to God on a daily basis and expand our relationship with Him to the extent that His love and His way, His disciplines, fill our hearts and lives. Forget brownie points. God wants YOU. Then, we have a responsibility to live the nitty gritty of our relationships with the determined action to do good. That's what love is. Open your heart and put it into the way you serve your family, your friends, the people in your life. We also need to repent of how we have been selfish, self-centered, unwilling to work, unwilling to give ourselves to others, unwilling to follow disciplines of prayer and spiritual growth.

We are the signs of God's reality to our culture. Let us be wise, courageous, and clear about who we are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nail head awesome! God bless you & keep you.