Progressive Family Values

Monday, September 29, 2003



Because progressive Roman Catholics often raise questions such as women and married priests, blessing gay unions, the use of contraception by married couples, readmittance of divorced and remarried Catholics to communion, and so forth, conservatives often state that the progressive is waging a cultural war that assaults the traditional family.

It seems that the conservative is almost arguing that the progressive wants all married couples to become ordained (both husband and wife), practice contraception for awhile, then divorce each other so that each can pursue a same sex union. If the wife was pregnant at the time, the conservative fears she will abort the pregnancy and call the abortion a sacrament (afterall, she's already a priestess).

Of course, such a scenario is absurd, and progressives are not arguing for such absurdities at all.

Most conservatives know this is absurd, and try to argue against progressives by lumping all issues together, drawing a line in the sand, declaring a war and stating that anyone who gives way on any one issue is on a slippery slope to an absurd whole.

I come from a large and relatively healthy Catholic family, and I am a married man who does not practice contraception. I am pro-life and pro-family. I love my wife dearly, and have been faithful to her by God's grace, and by God's grace I hope to remain faithful to her till death do us part.

I recall my wedding day, as my stunningly beautiful wife marched up the ailse, a verse from Isaiah popped in my head:

As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. - Isaiah 62:5

I truly felt God's love at that moment. The love between a married woman and a married man is a fortaste of our union with God. Marriage and family are infused with spiritual value and grace making marriage a sacramental expression of the theology of the body.

A man living intimately with a woman is a wonderful way to learn about the other half of the human race,...,to have our rough edges smoothed out,..., and many of us are naturally inclined to marriage. grace builds on nature. By nature, some of us seem to be called to different things!

Sacramental marriage is intended to be a sign of Christ's love for the Church. The union between man and woman in marriage is a sign of the depth of union that God seeks with the individual person.

This union is not a mystical escape from reality, but an embrace between persons who accept each one another as they are, give themselves entirely to each other, and become one while maintaining individual personhood. Such a union is a fecund union whereby we participate in the creative power of God through pro-creation. The union of persons in a family in some mysterious way is a participation in the union of persons in the Trinity.

Sacramental marriage and the formation of the domestic Church is a high calling for all who have the vocation to it. And many seem to called to it. I read back in the mid 1990's that close to 90 percent of the American population will marry at least one time in life. I don't know if this statistic is still true, but it demonstrates that marriage is hugely popular!

Sacramental marriage is a union of a man and woman, and I would not argue that the blessing of a gay union should literally be called a sacramental marriage. I have argued for the restoration of a Christian rite uniting two members of the same sex called adelphopoesis. This would be a blessing, rather than a sacrament.

What's the difference between a blessing and a sacrament?

Sacraments were instituted by Christ as signs that cause grace by symbolizing what is received. There are seven sacraments. Yet, the Church has many other gestures that were not directly instituted by Christ, and yet are woven into the Catholic imagination as powerful rites indicating the movement of grace in extraordinary circumstances.

The Rite of Funerals are not sacraments unless Mass is said in the context of a funeral. Holy hours are not sacraments. Spiritual direction is not a sacrament. The Rosary is not a sacrament. Receiving a prayer of blessing from a priest is not a sacrament.

Perhaps most significantly, a nun, sister, monk, friar or even a priest taking solemn vows of celibacy is not a sacrament. There is absolutely no sacrament of celibacy, though there is a sacrament of ordination open to both married and celibate men!

Note that the calling to celibacy is a rejection of the traditional family. Why don't conservatives fear the vocation to celibacy?

By arguing for the blessing of a gay union, I am simply saying that there may be grounds to offer a blessing that will have the same kind of power to affirm a life-style choice as the Church's blessing of the celibate vocation. The reason for doing this is that it affirms love and commitment for a couple that otherwise would have a difficult time finding a way to express the values we traditionally associate with family.

Opponents will argue that because such a union does not have the male-female complementarity of sacramental marriage, it will be a threat to sacramental marriage.

I ask how this would be a threat?

Does the blessing of celibate commitment threaten marriage?

Do conservatives believe that somehow blessing an alternate life-style to heterosexual marriage makes sacramental marriage less attractive to heterosexual people?

Do we fear that somehow our sons and daughters will choose a homosexual union over a heterosexual union simply because it is available?

Such a belief is absurd. I challenge all heterosexual people reading this essay to try a simple exercise. Try to decide to have exclusive homosexual feelings for the next 24 hours. I don't think the average heterosexual can do this for 15 minutes, much less long enough to opt for a permanent homosexual union.

The only people who would ever choose to enter into a permanent homosexual union blessed by the Church are those people who would not have chosen heterosexual marriage anyway (except as a cover up for their true feelings - and such a cover up is grounds for an annulment, meaning that living such a lie is a sham that invalidates sacramental marriage!).

So blessing gay unions is not truly a threat to heterosexual marriage per se,...,but what about readmitting divorced Catholics to communion? Wouldn't such a practice encourage divorce?

Who does not look in admiration when we see a happily married couple celbrating their 50th wedding anniversary (and you're most likely to see such a thing in a church). The permanancy of such a union and the bond of friendship formed is beautiful to behold. If such a couple has a wide circle of children, grandchildren, and extended family, the scene is even more lovely.

Divorce always involves some degree of sin because the very meaning of this sacramental sign is violated. Even in arguing for a more merciful and compassionate stance to those who are divorced and remarried, nobody wants to promote divorce.

Denying people communion has almost never discouraged divorce. Nor has the denial of communion forced many people to "amend their lives". Nor have those priests who give divorced and remarried Catholics communion seen a higher divorce rate in their parishes than other priests.

Civil laws have been far more effective at discouraging divorce. The only thing that seems to be accomplished by denying divorced and remarried Catholics communion is the alienation of thousands of people from the Church...,and they take their children with them! How is this good for the Body of Christ?

In the Eastern Orthodox churches, which are Apostolic and value Sacred Tradition, there is a means for divorced and remarried people to reconcile with the church without calling one of their marriages invalid. This means of reconciliation was endorsed by many saints we share in common with the East, and is a recognition of our fallen condition. Divorce rates are actually lower in the East than the West, as well.

Communion is a sign of God's self offer to us in the real presence of the Eucharist. In communion, we offer our very selves back to God. Yet, as in the marriage between man and woman, God takes us as we are, warts and all. God offers himself wholly to us despite our sins.

People should not get divorced. However, people are sinners, and God takes us as we are.

Communion is a sign of reconciliation given to us by the One who ate and drank with public sinners!

Christ always seemed to associate with the poor, the downcast, the sinner, those who were ostracized (even prostitutes), and all who mariginalized. I believe that if Jesus were walking around today, he would be spending some of his time in meetings of divorced people.

I would even venture to say that he would offer them communion!

In the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine, we are reminded of the broken body of Christ and his shed blood for the remission of our sins.

We do not come to communion because we have earned the right to Eucharist. We come to communion because God has given himself freely to those who are not worthy of him. Even after a perfect confession, no human being can say that she or he is worthy of communion. Rather, we are offerred communion as a sign that we are forgiven and that God seeks to unite with us despite our faults.

Saint Paul tells us to examine ourselves before receiving communion. The Church tells us to confess our mortal sins before receiving communion. If we examine ourselves honestly, even while we are at Mass we are likely committing venial sins (people gossip at Mass, or look at each other with lust, or grumble about pleas for donations, or feel irritation at another, or suffer distractions during Mass, etc...).

The practice of examination and confession of sins before communion does not make one worthy. Rather, the acknowledgement of our unworthiness and need for a savior makes us reach out in faith to Jesus, who covers us with his righteousness and nourishes his own within us to become righteouss as he is righteous.

Those who are divorced and remarried are just like the rest of us. Rather, we are like them. We are all sinners in need of Christ's grace to be saved. It does nobody any good to deny the very source of grace!

So, in arguing that the divorced and remarried should be readmitted to Communion, I am not saying that divorce or remarriage to another person after a divorce is not a sin. Indeed, it may very well have been a mortal sin. However, the damage is already done, and now a fellow sinner wants to come to the Lord. On what grounds can we withhold Christ from such a person?

There are those who argue that a person living in a second marriage is committing adultery. In John's Gospel, 8:11 Christ said to the adulterous woman to go forth and sin no more. Yet, in John 4:5-26, Christ says nothing to disuade the woman at the well who is living with a man who is not her husband from continuing to live with this man.

Personally, I believe the key distinction Christ is making is whether the original marriage can still be salvaged or not. Marriage is a good. It is so good that it is a sacrament. It is holy and sacred!

Divorce should never be taken lightly, and if there is any hope whatsover of reconciling a married relationship, that hope should be kept alive, nourished and strengthened. Those who refuse to enter the dating scene after a divorce, hoping to somehow reconcile with their spouse, are doing a very good and holy thing. Such a person acts rightly!

However, there are cases where a marriage is destroyed beyond hope. Such might be the case where there was abuse and lewd conduct in the marriage leading to a divorce, and one party married another, despite Church teaching. In such a case, the one who remains single may now marry another because the first marriage was not only very bad, but the door of reconciliation has been closed. Even Christ allowed the exception of lewd conduct (see Matt 5:32).

Perhaps, rather than focusing on means to punish and exclude those who already divorced and remarried, where we ought to focus our energies is on preventing divorce. To the sinner, we should act as Jesus acted, reaching out to include those who feel excluded.

Instead of denying communion to those already divorced and remarried, we should enhance and improve the Pre-cana process, train long married couples to act as mentors for newly married couples, gather hints on what to avoid from those who are divorced, hire marriage counselors on parish staffs, and generally develop more support for marriage both in the Church and in secular society (i.e. - elimination of marriage tax penalties, review of "no fault divorce" laws, etc...).

Will women or married priests threaten the family? I can't see how they would do anything but help the family.

What about contraception? Children are a blessing and a gift form the Lord, and we should trust the Creator to determine if and when we are overpopulated or overextending our resources. There may be good resons not to contracept. Yet, does anyone really believe that contraception causes divorce?

What I am driving at here is that progressives are not against the family. I love family and find it very valuable (and even fun much of the time). The family is the nucleus of society and we can and should do more to protect the family. Yet, family sells itself without trying to scare people into it with threats of hell and punishment!

Even as I write that family is so great, I need to remind all Christians that Christ never put the family at the top of his priority list. Indeed, he hints that there are times to reject the family in order to do God's will:

If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

If our family blocks us from loving others and reaching out to the poor, oppressed, sinful and marginalized, we are to renounce our families and do what God demands of us in our heart!

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son
against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. - (Luke 12:49-53)

The Gospel will cause division - even among families! As important as family may be, doing the will of God and reaching out to those who feel excluded is more important.

In the Book of Genesis, a man leaves his parents to cling to a woman and become one flesh.

The Bible is full of good advice for married couples and Christianity has always maintained family as a high value. Yet, we must never lose sight of three important facts:

1) The vocation, calling or life-style of another individual person does not threaten the entire institution of family simply because that individual has another calling! We already acknowledge this in prizing the celibate vocation within Catholicism.

2) Even for those of us called to family life in the traditional sense, our family is not the absolute highest value in life. God is the highest value underlying the goodness of family life. The practice of loving charity starts in the domestic church, but never ends there. We must always extend the Gosepl beyond the family.

3) For all people, finding a loving and supportive community ensures many of the common goods we associate with family. In this sense, family can take on many expressions. These other expressions do not threaten traditional marriage, and we should not punish people for finding needed support outside of the traditional family. Rather, we should work to ensure that traditional families provide the love and supoort God originally intends, while reamining open to other structures of support.

Peace and blessings!

See Related Articles at the following Links:

Thoughts on Homosexuality (This one treats the Scriptures)
Divorce and Remarriage
The Morality of Natural Family Planning
Why We Need Married Priests
A Petition to the Holy Father for Women Priests

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 2:29 PM

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