Returning to the diabolical trinity from your humble writer’s post from last week, we look deeper at the importance of procreation in defining the marital bond. Many people take issue with the Catholic teaching that in order for the sacrament of matrimony to be valid, both the man and the woman must be open to life. People are free to disagree with the Catholic Church, but for the reasons discussed previously the teaching cannot be changed, nor should it be. However, these critics have nevertheless struck upon an important truth. Namely, that we must also consider the consequences of changing the definition of marriage in civil law.Anubis weighing the heart of Hunefer from the Egytptian Book of the Dead, c. 1285 B.C.
Until very recently in human history, the law has always recognized marriage as a procreative union. Even in pre-Christian cultures like ancient Greece which had permissive attitudes about homosexuality, there was no legal recognition of same-sex unions. Throughout that time, nobody ever proposed the novel idea that marriage was purely a question of love between two (or more) consenting adults. This is for good reason. Love takes many forms and it is not the place of the state to decide which forms of love are better than others. Indeed, this is impossible to do. Philosophers have struggled for millennia to define the essence and meaning of love and are no closer to answering that question today than at the dawn of civilization.
In our relativistic culture, many people have arrived at their own definitions of love. In the spectrum of, say, owning a border collie to emptying oneself for the benefit of the poor as Mother Theresa did, who are we to judge which love is valid or whom people love? A pet can provide comfort and companionship in a lonely and uncaring world. This is not a bad thing, but it is also not the same as a father holding the hand of his wife as she struggles for her life in the hospital after complications from childbirth or a mother sitting in the place of honor at the graveside of her son who died in battle. Love is not all sunshine and buttercups. Sometimes–often–usually, love hurts. Love hurts because it changes us into better people.Detail from La Pietà by Michelangelo, 1499
It is troubling and sad that in our culture today, many people look forward to their wedding day as the happiest day of their lives. If this is true, they can only look forward to a lifetime of misery. However, when we are open to life, the love that brings a man and woman together on their wedding day is only the beginning of something much greater. As Shakespeare so eloquently put it:
Love is a babe, then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?
Now, I hear you grumbling in the back there: not every couple is able to bear children and not every couple makes good parents, but for obvious reasons, the state is not in a position to make this determination ex ante. The best the state can do is conform to human nature and the biological imperative that instills a desire for children, even in the hearts of those with same-sex attractions. It is precisely because this desire to beget the next generation is so strong–even for couples where this is biologically impossible–that it supersedes the mutual romantic and sexual attraction between adults as one of the defining attributes of the institution of marriage.
As we approach the Synod on the Family, it is altogether fitting that October is Respect Life Month, which reminds us that each of us is call ed to sacrificial love towards our fellow man. Whether in defending the unborn, the weak, the sick, the destitute, or the persecuted, we are truly our brother’s keeper in a great human family. Indeed, this love includes defending the rights of those who engage in homosexual behaviors to be free from violence and treated with compassion and dignity in our society, as we do for all our fellow man. Every one of us is someone’s son or daughter.
Being open to life means falling completely in love with a perfect stranger sight unseen, not knowing anything at all about who your child will be. This is the love that Jesus wants us to have for everyone, but if we cannot even love our own children selflessly and completely in this way, can we ever truly love anyone? In our collective experience of human existence, love for our children is the greatest love which surpasses all others. Therefore, marriage is not defined by love, but by its noblest fruits. Marriage is not merely the culmination of a love which exists between two adults, but rather, the marriage vow is a promise to the next generation that every child should know the love of a mother and a father. In abortion, divorce, and same-sex marriage, this promise is broken. If we as a society have too often failed to keep this promise, it is not because the institution of marriage has failed us and is in need of some remedy, but because we have failed to love.