In a recent letter to his flock, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis wrote of the duty incumbent upon Christians to defend the proper definition of marriage. The Archbishop also included a prayer in his letter, asking for God's help in promoting the passage of a "marriage amendment" to Minnesota's constitution, which would safeguard the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
He asked that the prayer be recited during Masses in his diocese as well as by those adoring the Lord truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Archbishop Nienstedt's message to the people of St Paul and Minneapolis also mentioned that the current struggle to defend and define marriage within the civil sphere demanded a "three-fold approach."
Firstly, the Archbishop said that there was a need for Catholics to educate society concerning the meaning of marriage, and why we believe it is something that is fundamental and intrinsic to humanity. Secondly, he added that committed members of the Church should encourage other Catholics to support marriage and the family - it seems that many so-called Christians in the west are more than willing to ignore their duty to proclaim the gospel in its entirety, whilst they happily get swept along by the secularist tide. Thirdly, the Archbishop asked all Christians and people of good will to "pray and offer sacrifice for the success of all endeavors [sic] that seek to protect and promote marriage."
What follows is a brief discussion on the need to educate our fellow citizens on why marriage is so important - the first of the Archbishop's three suggestions on how we can all help to defend the family. Marriage really is so fundamental to the human race - and the world - that it cannot be messed about with. As Pope Benedict XVI has already shown us, it is entirely possible to defend the the true definition of marriage by using rational arguments from natural law - ones that all human beings can accept, even those opposed to religion or to God. All too often, the supporters of "gay marriage" believe that Christians only oppose their goals because of some verse or other in the Scriptures - a set of books that most gay rights lobbyists either reject or distort.
Without detracting from the direct and absolute revelation that is the Bible, and because of the pressing need to teach all sections of society about marriage, many agree that it is often best to approach issues surrounding its definition (as well as other matters, such as abortion) not so much from the truths contained in Scripture (the word of God), but through reference to the world around us (created through the Word of God). As the American Declaration of Independence puts it, there are certain "truths self-evident" to all those are willing to study the universe with an objective mind.
It is a fact that marriage is neither owned by the state nor by any specific religion. Rather, it is grounded in a fundamental and intrinsic truth about humanity, namely that men and women compliment and need each other. Both sexes have a natural and properly ordered need to find an opposite sex partner (a husband or wife) so as to form a special, loving and life-giving bond. The name we give these special and exclusive bonds between men and women is marriage. There was a time, not so long ago, when everyone knew this. Sadly, we are now living in a world where people claim to know everything, although in reality lack basic knowledge about the simplest of things. We've forgotten the basics, whilst convincing ourselves that we are the wisest of all beings.
Although it is true to say that there have been various different sexual unions between humans throughout our history - same-sex partners, multiple partnered unions and even so-called marriages between humans and animals - these partnerships either weren't recognised as marriages within the societies in which they happened, or were aberrations from what has commonly and predominantly been defined as marriage throughout the centuries. Some societies even today recognise some form of same-sex unions or weird bonds between humans and animals (if you don't believe me, read this article), but yet manage to understand why there remains a fundamental difference between these disordered or highly disordered relationships and what we all commonly understand to be marriage - the coming together of one man and one woman to form a stable, loving, life-giving and profound union of the two sexes.
Even atheists, if they really are as rational as some of them claim to be, have to agree that marriage is and always has been defined as a bond between a man and a woman, who freely commit to each other whilst also seeking to create a family. In that sense, marriage isn't a just a wedding day, a party, a serious relationship or a fling - it is the bedrock of society, it is the most important of all human institutions. It is for that reason that all the world's major religions have sought to solemnise it, and why Jesus Christ gave it to the Church as a sacrament of his love for her.
The Church believes that she has a God-given duty to promote, defend and teach the truth - in and out of season. She teaches that murder is a grave sin, which is and always will be wrong; just as she also proclaims that those who oppress the poor will have to answer to God for their crimes, or that the lives of all men and women are sacred. In the same way, then, the Church also has to uphold the fact that marriage is a special state willed by God for the good of humanity. Even those who don't believe in God can still appreciate with some rational understanding that marriage is more than a mere partnership - it is different to civil unions or other forms of sexual partnerships. It brings together the two elements of humanity: male and female. It forms new life, fosters love and secures society.
Belittling marriage by attempting to broaden its definition to such an extent that it basically becomes meaningless is an extremely dangerous thing to do. It runs the risk of exposing our most cherished and important human institution to a deadly assault - one from which it might never recover. It might also lead, one day, to complete relativism in human relationships - to the extent that solemn vows become worthless, differences in the genders are destroyed, and marriage is open to all sorts of horrific misinterpretations. In less that two decades from now, some children might actually believe that a same-sex union is the same as a marriage between a man and a woman - even if their inner moral code will surely inform them, and anyone with any sense, that this is not really the case.
Surely, St Paul's letter to the Romans is amongst the most prescient in Scripture. Its first chapter should be compulsory reading in Christian households - for it describes our western, decadent and post-modernist world better than any philosophical tract or economist's theory. In this letter, the Paul teaches that the truth - or God - is entirely knowable through studying the world around us. Anyone with the slightest wisdom or intelligence can see how simple, accessible and beautiful truth is - open to all, especially those with humility and a willingness to be objective and properly rational (as opposed to the truncated "reason" spouted by some of out more egotistical leaders of atheism and nihilism).
According to Paul, those who reject that truth which is clearly observed in the laws of nature and the natural law must be blinded by some disorder - an egotism, a narcissism, a form of pride that is ultimately tragic and delusional. His letter to the Romans also teaches that one of the signals indicating a lost ability to be clear-thinking and rational - a collective exchanging the truth for a lie - is a general acceptance of disordered sexual behaviours and the ultimate abandonment of the one thing that keeps us all going: marriage. I really suggest that those who are genuine seekers after the truth should meditate with some effort upon the first chapter of St Paul's letter to the Romans. It really is the epistle of our times.
Two days ago, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, asked Church leaders to be more vocal in defending Christian morality and to be brave in the face of the dictatorship of relativism (although he might not have put it exactly like that). It is strange to note, then, that the same man has often shown himself to be fundamentally opposed to absolute truth and Christian teaching when it comes to ethical matters - even making "gay marriage" (surely one of the supreme goals of relativism's tyranny) one of his main political priorities. It seems that the Prime Minister sometimes appears to be like a prophet unable to heed his own warnings! To call for stronger moral guidance from the Church on the one hand, whilst destroying the moral fabric of the nation on the other, must surely rank as the summit of hypocrisy? This is why our political leaders need prayer - for they need the wisdom to defend what is right and the courage to reject what is wrong.
Therefore, I end this post with an adapted form of Archbishop John Nienstedt's Prayer for Marriage - which I have changed so that those of us living outside his diocese might be able to pray it, too. It seems that the bedrock of humanity, known as marriage - that beautiful union of male and female - is under attack in many parts of today's world. Those of us who seek to defend the human family need all the graces we can muster! For that reason, I urge you all to join with Archbishop Nienstedt's in his prayer and to actively work for the preservation of marriage.
Heavenly Father, Through the powerful intercession of the Holy Family, grant to all your children* the many graces we need to foster, strengthen, and support faith-filled, holy marriages and holy families. May the vocation of married life, a true calling to share in your own divine and creative life, be recognized by all believers as a source of blessing and joy, and a revelation of your own divine goodness.
Grant to us all the gift of courage to proclaim and defend your plan for marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong, exclusive relationship of loving trust, compassion, and generosity, open to the conception of children. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.
* The original wording is "grant to this local Church"
Spero columnist Dylan Parry is a freelance writer and blogger based in Britain.