Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sexuality in the Bible

Sexuality, what it is and how it plays into God’s role of salvation are fascinating to discuss.  I presume that this is at least one reason why St. John Paull II came out with his ‘Theology of the Body’.  It is a topic that virtually everyone is interested in, especially today. 

One of the most intriguing questions to me is what the Bible has to say on sexuality.  There are many instances in which Scripture does bring up, address or imply various meanings upon human sexuality.  I do not intend to discuss all of them here, nor will I bring up every single instance in Scripture in which sexuality is mentioned.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of sex within the Bible, but I do hope that some key themes can be revealed about sexuality and how God designed it within us.

One of the most obvious passages of sexuality is in Genesis 2: 24, where after Eve was formed from the side of Adam we are told, ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’  I have talked about this verse before in a previous post concerning marriage, but just to recap:

The meaning of ‘two becoming one flesh’ identifies with both the sexual act and with the spiritual life of husband and wife.  That is why sex between husband and wife is a physical representation of the spiritual reality in which they live together; they are one, just as Christ is one with his Church.  In fact, marriage between husband and wife is a symbol of the union that Christ has with His Church, as seen in Ephesians 5 where St. Paul quotes Genesis 2: 24 and then says, ‘This is a great sacrament; but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church’ (Ephesians 5: 31-32).  Thus sex between husband and wife is meant not merely as a symbol of the spiritual reality of husband and wife, but even more so of the spiritual reality of Christ being one with His Church.  This is the fulfilled meaning of Genesis 2: 24 and of marriage and sexuality as a whole. 

Any and all other passages on sexuality build off of and hinge on this understanding.  Sex and marriage point to other Godly things, but it first and foremost points to the union of Christ and His Church, as all things that pertain to salvation must.

Another thing we see a few times in the Bible is the idea of ‘knowing’.  Genesis 4: 1 ‘And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain…’.  The famous Sodom and Gomorrah store in Genesis 19: 5 where the townspeople said to Lot, concerning his two guests, ‘bring them out hither that we may know them’.  Or how about Numbers 31: 17, ‘Therefore kill all of the male sex, even of the children: and put to death the women that have carnally known men.’

In all of the examples the word know or knew, Hebrew word yada, connotes a sexual meaning.  This is especially obvious in Genesis 4: 1 where the immediate action that occurs after Adam knew Eve was Eve’s conception of Cain.  It is interesting that yada, however, does not necessitate a sexual connotation.  In fact, it is more often then not used in the Bible as: to comprehend something, to understand something, or to learn something, as for example in Exodus 6: 7 where God says, ‘I will be to you a God: and ye shall know [yada] that I am the Lord your God…’ (emphasis mine). 

This to me seems to be intentional.  The sexual act is clearly an idiomatic meaning for yada.  Thus the normal meaning for knowing is in some way tied in to the understanding of the sexual act. 

Take Genesis 4: 1 as an example.  If Adam knew Eve then yes that means they had sexual intercourse.  But it also means much more then that when you take into consideration what yada is usually defined as.  For Adam to know Eve through the sexual act means he knows her and understands her in a way that no one else does: in a personal, intimate, and unifying way.  Marriage and the sexual act meant to accompany it is the unification of man and woman and as such you, in the ideal situation, know (understand) this woman or this man in a way that is completely unique and that no one else ever has before. 

Another definition of yada is to reveal.  This is even more tied in with the sexual connotation in Genesis 4: 1, for Adam and Eve reveal their whole selves to each other via the sexual act, as does any husband and wife who enters into the marital bond.  An act that is supposed to be in its very nature entirely self-sacrificing (because you are literally giving your body and soul to your spouse in the act) entails that each spouse reveals themselves to each other in ways they could not before.  As a result the other spouse grasps an understanding of their beloved more fully than they did and could before. 

What a beautiful way of understanding the conjugal act. 

‘But wait,’ you may say, ‘Even if a passage like Genesis 4: 1 could be interpreted in that way doesn’t a passage like Genesis 19: 5 fly right in the face of that?  Isn’t the intention of the townspeople against Lot and his guests to do something horrible and wrong?  And if so, how could that square with your interpretation of ‘to know’?’

Genesis 19: 5 does seem to be talking about a sexual act here, since only a couple of verses later Lot offered his two daughters to the crowd who ‘have never known man’.  So what can we make of this?

It seems to be that yada is being used here to describe purely the physical act of sex.  But this is not contradictory to the deeper meaning behind yada described above for two reasons.  First, even today we use the word ‘sex’ as simply the physical act of sexual intercourse, even though when I and other Catholics use the word ‘sex’ we imply something with a far deeper meaning.  So it is very possible for the same situation to be applied here. 

Second, the passage could actually prove the deeper meaning if the wording is being used in order to prove a point.  We see this for instance in 1Corinthians 6: 15-16 where St. Paul says, ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute?  Of course not!  [Or] do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her?  For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.”’  Now clearly St. Paul does not think that having intercourse with a prostitute is unifying in the same way that a husband and wife having intercourse is, even though he compares both situations to the passage from Genesis 2: 24; if that were the case then that would mean that a man and a prostitute would be comparable to Christ and his Church like husband and wife is.  But that is the point.  St. Paul is using the Genesis 2: 24 comparison to show how ridiculous it is for one to misuse their body for sexual immorality, for it becomes a false connection to that unifying aspect of marital love. 

So it is in Genesis 19: 5.  The crowd’s use of the word ‘know’ here shows how twisted and godless they really are to imply that their suggested actions are comparable to the true meaning of sexual complementarity that God designed. 

Hence no contradiction remains.  Yada can have clear sexual implications and it speaks to the very nature of the sexual act to do so.

Last but not least, we must discuss the Song of Songs.  While justice cannot be done to it here it nonetheless needs to be discussed for its obvious sexual and marital imagery. 

The Song of Songs was originally meant to describe the ideal relationship between God and Israel, as numerous biblical authors have described said relationship as a marriage.  The coming of Jesus was a fulfillment of the Song as the Song becomes a ‘type’ of sorts for Christ and his Church.  In other words, the Song that was a symbol of the marriage between God and Israel now, with the coming of Christ, represents a fuller understanding of God’s marriage with the whole Church.  Ephesians 5 is a fulfillment of the Song of Songs.

The Song is also seen as a great example of human marital love and sexuality.  This makes sense, for if the full meaning of the Song comes to light in Christ and His Church and human marital love is a symbol of Christ and His Church, then it follows that certain parallels the Song makes can be applied to husband and wife. 

The very first verse, ‘Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth’ is a kickoff to how the rest of the Song is going to be: poetical and sensual.  The Bride and Bridegroom continue this by referring to each other with loving characterizations of the other; ‘my beloved’, ‘O most beautiful among women’, ‘as a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among women’, ‘you ravish my heart my sister, my bride’, ‘my lover is radiant and ruddy; he stands out among thousands’.  Even by today’s standards these would be considered to be very romantic and loving ways to refer to one’s spouse. 

Sensual scenes are seemingly depicted throughout the Song as well.  One such example is when the Groom describes his Bride as an ‘enclosed garden, a fountain sealed,’ (Song 4: 12) and his Bride responds, ‘Let my lover come to his garden and eat his choice fruits’ (Song 4: 16). 

Later the Bride describes an instance in which the two meet: “I was sleeping but my heart kept vigil; I heard my lover knocking: ‘Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one!  For my head is wet with dew, my locks with the moisture of the night.’  I have taken off my robe, am I then to put it on?  I have bathed my feet, am I then to soil them?  My lover put his hand through the opening; my heart trembled within me, and I grew faint when he spoke.  I rose to open to my lover, with my hands dripping myrrh: with my fingers dripping choice myrrh upon the fittings of the lock.’ (Song 5: 2-5). 

And another: “[Bridegroom] How beautiful you are, how pleasing, my love, my delight!  Your very figure is like a palm tree, your breasts are like clusters.  I said: I will climb the palm tree, I will take hold of its branches.  Now let your breasts be like clusters of the vine and the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like an excellent wine –[Bride] that flows smoothly for my lover, spreading over the lips and the teeth.  I belong to my lover and for me he yearns.  Come, my lover, let us go forth to the fields and spend the night among the villages.  Let us go early to the vineyards, and see if the vines are in bloom, if the buds have opened, if the pomegranates have blossomed; there will I give you my love” (Song 7: 7-13). 

Very sexually implicit themes here, yet nonetheless beautiful because of how beautiful the sexual act and marital love truly is.  The last quoted verse in particular is breathtaking, for it shows their explicit yearning for and their unity to one another by having the Bride complete the Bridegroom’s words of passion and desire.  This speaks to the very heart of intimate and binding love.

That is the case with the entire Bible, though.  All of Scripture points towards the beauty of God-given sexuality and love whether it plainly discusses it or not.  That is because all of Scripture is focused on the author of that sexuality and love, the Eternal Love.  From that Love alone flows forth the grace present in the marital covenant and the marital act. 

May God give us the grace to always remember the gift of our sexuality and may we use it in accordance with His will.  Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Artistry of Anime

(warning: this post contains spoilers and detailed information of various shows.  I do not own any of the shows presented or the artwork provided)

I am a pretty big fan of anime.  I first got into it when I was a young teenager watching DragonBall Z.  I then grew into a wider diversity of shows as I went into high school and college, and have stayed in love with it ever since. 

While watching and completing two more anime shows recently, I started pondering why I enjoy anime so much.  What makes them stick out to me at all, much less more than other shows?  What do these television programs have that others do not?

Before answering that, though, it is important to define what anime is and what it is not.  This video on youtube is helpful in going into the details of such a definition, but here I will give a basic definition as well as my own specific take on it.

In short, an anime is a Japanese animation show.  That is all.  So obviously such a broad definition has many different sub-genres in itself.  Think of cartoons, for example; cartoons are nothing more then American or Western animation shows.  Yet no one would argue that all cartoon shows are meant for the same group of people.  For example, Dora the Explorer, a show directed at toddlers and very young children, is vastly different from Avatar, a show geared towards older children and teenagers.

The same applies to anime.  There is a whole range of different anime shows that are meant and designed for a wide demographic of viewers.  For the sake of this article, then, I will be referring to anime as those Japanese animation shows geared towards teenagers and adults, since those are the ones that peek my interest and the interest of my peers.

So what is it about anime that makes it so appealing?  I can only speak for myself (though from what I can observe anime has become more and more popular within Western society) when I say that I enjoy almost everything that anime has to offer, from character development to action-packed scenes to plot twists.

Of course such things exist in any good show or movie, so what is it about anime that sets it apart from other forms of television entertainment?  To me, it ultimately comes down to this: it focuses on real-world problems, addresses real-world concerns, shines light upon real-world debates and reflects upon real-world living that other shows either ignore or discuss on a superficial level. 

This seems paradoxical.  For one, anime is, by definition, a cartoon and is thus not real.  Also the majority of the storylines in such cartoons are usually ridiculously, if awesomely, unreal. 

Take one of the more famous anime shows as an example.  Naruto is about a bunch of barely adolescent kids who are taught to become ninjas. They learn how to use various weapons as well as how to use a myriad of techniques known as jutsu, which is essentially magical abilities, in order to become stronger ninja and to carry out missions in a ninja-based world.  There are demon animals, energy within oneself called chakra, landscape-changing fight scenes, talking animals, and more.

Based on this description it seems like it is the exact opposite of reality, and one would be right to say that, in a sense.  Of course the plot, setting, and background of the story is completely fictional and invented.  That does not mean, however, that within this created and fictional universe of ninjas and fighting abilities there does not lie a discussion of sorts of the very things we see and experience in our world.

One of the  things I love about Naruto, for instance, is that it does a better job then any other show I have seen so far in humanizing the villains.  It is very common in any show, whether it be a cartoon or live action, to display the villain as the embodiment of evil, as having no goodness or heart within him.  But of course that is virtually never the case in the real world.  Indeed, we are all to a certain extent evil in the sense that we all do things that we know are wrong to do, or don't do things that we know we should do.  Even the worst of those that humanity has ever produced have shown love or care in some fashion; it is impossible for a human to be a human and not do so.

Naruto captures this aspect of humanity exquisitely.  The very first real villain that the show produces, a rogue ninja named Zabuza, starts off as being portrayed in an 'embodiment of evil' type of fashion, by being willing and able, without hesitation, to kill children and slaughter innocent people. 

Oh c'mon, that's...that's not TOTALLY evil...

But he shows what goodness still resides in him towards the end of this particular series when his rogue partner, Haku, is killed while defending him from the protagonists.  Zabuza seems unfazed by Haku's death at first, but the main character, obviously named Naruto, reminds him of how much Haku cared for Zabuza, protected him and wanted to be by his side, despite how terrible Zabuza has treated him and how much he used him over the years.

That is when, to the surprise of many viewers, Zabuza began to cry.

A man who committed so many grave sins and even took pleasure in doing so nonetheless built up some semblance of a deep friendship with Haku, and the loss of such a friend broke him down.   It was a truly beautiful and heart-wrenching moment.

That sort of realism in character is what we can see in this show, and that is but one example.  Deathnote, a story about a teenager who gains the ability to kill anyone by writing their name down in a book, dives far beyond the classic trope of good vs. evil and challenges the character and the viewer to question what is in fact good and evil.  Does the end justify the means?  If you had the ability to stop someone from committing a grave moral action, would you ?  And what are the consequences of doing so?

Sword Art Online, which focuses on a group of people trapped by a videogame designer in a virtual reality game he created, addresses the relationship between humans and technology on a level rarely seen in our computer-obsessed world.  What is the difference between the real world and a world created by a computer?  If a person lives in the latter, does that ultimately become their real world, or is it always a false world regardless of their perception of it? 

These are the types of questions that many anime shows address and attempt to answer.  And they are not simply brought up in a particular episode or season; such themes are the very foundation of the show and are infused into the entirety of the basic plot.  Thus it is impossible in many cases to avoid the philosophical and logical discussion that the show creates.

'That is all awesome,' you might be thinking, 'but why is such a thing that important?  What is the big deal about such discussions?' 

I would respond by asking: is there anything that is a bigger deal than this?  The importance of such discussions and questions is too great to be ignored, for they are paramount to our growth as individuals, as a society and as a human race. 

Perhaps we are not used to this in this day in age, such frank and open debate and discourse concerning morality, proper living, and the essence of things.  Perhaps we need more of that. 

That is why I am not a fan of most television shows, whether they be cartoons or live action.  The majority of them, especially cartoons, do not have any educational or fruitful dialogue in this regard; they are mindless entertainment.  Such things do have their place and can be enjoyable, but they should not make up the bulk of our television viewership.  And it seems like they currently do.

This is not to say that this is universally true nor is it to say that all anime shows search for these deep discussions of life.  It is to say, however, that anime shows on average interact more with real life issues and situations then most other shows. 

If you do not believe me then I sincerely ask you: when was the last time you felt challenged about your beliefs when you watched a television show?  When was the last time you thought of something you did not think of before, or reflected on something that has slipped your mind for a while?  If you have been watching the majority of the television shows that are out there, then most likely the answer will be apparent.

The senseless fanfare that is rampant among all areas of the entertainment industry, but especially in television, is staggering to me.  Such oversimplified tropes are both tiring and boring.

That is why I love anime; it is more often then not a fresh break from the monotony of thoughtlessness in today's current programs.  I enjoy the opportunity to think about something I never thought of before in a way I never thought of it before.  I enjoy even having my own worldview and beliefs challenged in such a way.  There are some anime shows I have watched that have directly contradicted my own Christian beliefs; but they either help me grow in my beliefs, help me abandon those aspects of my beliefs that are false, or challenge me to think about my beliefs in a way I have never have.  And to do so with interesting characters and a gripping plot is the icing on the cake.

If you do not believe me, or if you want to give it a try yourself, then I would suggest watching one of the three anime shows I mentioned above as a starting point.  But even if you do not want to give it a shot, or you do and you find you do not like it, at the very least question whether or not what you are watching now really benefits you in a way that is meaningful.  If it does then stick with it.  But if it doesn't then ask yourself: is there something I can replace this with that will both entertain me and help me cultivate my self

Anime is a tool of development for me.  What is yours?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Gay Marriage from Justice Kennedy

As of the writing of this blog, it was several weeks ago that gay marriage was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In a 5-4 decision, it was found that gay marriage is constitutional and that there is no legal basis for not allowing same sex couples to be legally married to each other.

Much discussion has gone back and forth between those who are for and those who are against same sex marriage after this ruling fell into place, some of it very worth-while and some of it very harmful and hurtful.

What I would like to focus on in this particular post is the actual opinion piece itself written by the Supreme Court, and in particular the arguments that Justice Kennedy and the four other Supreme Court Justices who favored legalizing same sex marriage provide to defend their claim. 

If you have not done so yet I recommend reading the entire opinion here.  I'm sure many people have not done so, but it is important and necessary to understand the reasoning behind the 5 justices' decision to vote in favor of legalization and the remaining 4 justices decision to dissent from it.

So what are the arguments that Justice Kennedy gives us to explain why same sex marriage should be legalized?  In brief, he argues that there are 'four principles and traditions' that show that 'the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same sex couples' (Obergefell v. Hodges, Opinion of the Court, p. 12).  Thus, these four principles and traditions are crucial to Kennedy's arguments; if they truly do apply, under the Constitution, to marriage of opposite sex couples and same sex couples have these same four principles in their relationship then, so the argument goes, there is no legal reason to deny the right to marry to same sex couples.  Let's break these principles down and see if they make sense.


'A first premise of the Court's relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy' (p. 12).  Kennedy brings up a case that legalized interracial marriage in part on this very basis of autonomy (p. 12).  Quoting a state Supreme Court, Kennedy continues that the '"decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition"' (p. 13).  'There is dignity' he says later, 'in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices' (p. 13)

There is at least one major problem with the implementation of this principle, which is that it assumes too much.  For instance, the legal right for people of different races to be autonomous in their marriage choice is brought up numerous times in this particular section.  The parallel is implicit, but obvious.  However, such a parallel needs more of an argument than this based on the very words quoted above.  Kennedy gives us no distinctive reason why the same logic cannot be applied to only two men or two women.  Why isn't there dignity in the bond between 1 man and 2 women or 1 woman who wanted to marry herself?  Why wouldn't the decision of 5 men to marry each other be, for them, among life's 'momentous acts of self-definition'?  There is nothing in the statements made by Justice Kennedy concerning autonomy that are applied to same sex couples that cannot also be applied to polygamous couples or any other combination of people who seek to become married. 

Keep in mind what I am arguing here.  I am not saying that the legalization of same sex marriage will lead down a slippery slope.  I am saying that Kennedy's argument is a logical fallacy that, when applied consistently, proves much more then what he, and virtually everyone else for that matter, would like it to prove or thinks it should prove.  This principle of autonomy that Justice Kennedy uses here to support same sex marriage can be applied to literally any form of relationship, including those relationships that virtually everybody understands to have no right to marriage.


'A second principle in the this Court's jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individual' (p. 13).  Kennedy explains this more in depth, articulating that marriage 'offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other' (p. 14).  He then goes on to argue, 'As this court held in Laurence, same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association.  Lawrence invalidated laws that made same-sex intimacy a criminal act...But while Lawrence confirmed a dimension of freedom that allows individuals to engage in intimate association without criminal liability, it does not follow that freedom stops there.  Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty' (p. 14).

The main problem with this argument is that it commits the same mistake as the previous argument concerning 'autonomy' does.  Kennedy talks in this section about marriage being between two people, but based on statements made in this very opinion about how the institution of marriage is subject to change, no reason is given as to why it must be between two people.  Why not three?  Everything mentioned in this section about 'hope of companionship' and 'intimate association' exists in relationships consisting of more than or less than two people. 


'A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education' (p. 14).  'By giving recognition and legal structure to their parents' relationship, marriage allows children "to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives"' (p. 15).  Taking this and adding that same-sex couples raise children in nurturing and love homes, Kennedy concludes that 'excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry.  Without the recognition stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser....The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples' (p. 15). 

There are two issues with this argument.  One of them is (you guessed it) the same as with the other two principles.  If children have three parents, don't they 'suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser' because their parents are unable to legally marry?  Based on the way Kennedy words his argument, there is no justifiable reason why his logic cannot and should not apply to such a scenario.

The second issue with this argument is that it commits another logical fallacy known as an appeal to consequences.  It is a type of red herring fallacy in which a person seeks to reveal positive or negative consequences of a particular action to support their conclusion, even though such consequences do not necessarily prove such a conclusion.  There are many laws, after all, that end up creating negative consequences to various groups of people.  Some of these laws change because of that, but it is always combined with an implicit argument that the law has an obligation, for one reason or another, to protect such people in a particular way.  The Court has no obligation, for instance, to make marriage between three people legal simply because children might feel a certain harm as a result of their three parents not being allowed to legally marry; other argumentation would have to be provided in such a case to warrant the legalization of marriage between three people.  The same applies to same-sex marriage.  Just because a negative consequence may come about as a result of same-sex couples not being able to be legally married, that does not necessarily mean that same-sex marriage should be made legal.  Kennedy needs to, at the very least, add more to this in order to make it a valid argument.


'Fourth and finally, this Court's cases and the Nation's traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order' (p. 16).  'Just as a couple vows to support each other' Kennedy says, 'so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union' (p. 16).  Kennedy then states that 'there is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle.  Yet by virtue of there exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.  This harm results in more then just material burdens' (p.17). 

There are three problems with the use of this final principle.  One is that Kennedy, for the fourth time, does not apply his argument where it must logically go.  Everything argued here can apply to three people who all want to marry each other, or one person who wants to marry herself, and nothing that Kennedy says disputes that.

Two, he repeats another fallacy that he committed in his previous argument by arguing about the 'harm' that befalls same-sex couples as a result of not having various social benefits that opposite-sex married couples have.  Do such bad consequences necessarily mean that same-sex couples should have the right to marry?  Three people who want to become married to each other suffer from the same bad consequences; does that mean that they should be given the right to marry?

Lastly, it begs the question, a logical fallacy where an argument assumes the very point that it is trying to prove.  Kennedy does this by stating that 'there is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle', but he does not prove that.  In fact, this is the very thing that the Court is trying to figure out, if same-sex couples should be treated equally in the social order with opposite-sex couples in marriage by having the legal right to marry.  Thus he simply asserts the very thing that the Court is trying to prove in order to...prove his point. 

These are the four principles that Kennedy argues to show that the right to marry is a right that should apply to same-sex couples.  And as you can see above, these four principles do nothing to support such a conclusion.  Thus, Kennedy's ideological and philosophical arguments do not hold up at all under basic scrutiny. 

Now Kennedy does go on to discuss the 14th Amendment, as well as the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Cause that are used throughout the case to establish a right to marry for same-sex couples; he even goes into previous court cases that successfully argued in changing marriage laws as a result of these two clauses.  However, there is not enough information presented in the opinion statement to flesh out the argument in its entirety (though aspects of it are present in the summary that Kennedy makes when comparing discussing the previous court cases); one must refer back to what was argued in the courtroom in order to get a better understanding of this.  To me this is a shame because Kennedy could have made his argument much stronger in his opinion statement if he focused more on this argument rather than on the weak Principle argument. 

It was my contention that Kennedy and the other four judges that sided with him on this issue did not provide any good or valid arguments in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and I feel like I defended it well.  But I would simply like to add that while I, as a Catholic, do not support the legalization of same-sex marriage one does not have to hold to that position in order to agree with my argument in this post.  In fact, there are many people on the internet and the blogosphere who are in support of same-sex marriage that agree with me in saying that Kennedy argued poorly in his opinion statement. 

Let that be a testament to the importance of arguing well for all of the beliefs that we hold near and dear to our hearts.  For if we cannot, then maybe that is a sign that we need to change our position on the matter. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

5 Takeaways from Pope Francis' Encyclical 'Laudato Si'

As of the writing of this post, Pope Francis' encyclical 'Laudato Si' had just recently come out.  It is the Pope's first encyclical that he fully prepared himself (his first official encyclical was Lumen Fidei, but this was prepared mostly by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before he retired).  An encyclical, as Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin described it, is 'a teaching document issued by the pope.  Encyclicals are among the more solemn and thus more authoritative papal documents.'  In other words, an encyclical is important and should be taken seriously. 

This particular encyclical focuses 'on care for our common home', the Earth.  What are we doing that is damaging our planetary ecosystem?  What needs to happen in order to change this and start caring more for nature?  It is these types of questions that Pope Francis seeks to answer.

If you have not read it yet then please do so.  It focuses on an issue that is seldom addressed at all in the public square, much less in the Church. 

There is a lot that could be discussed from this encyclical, but I am only going to address 5 points that I picked up on when I read 'Laudato Si''.  These are not the only important takeaways, and they are not even the most important takeaways, but they are important enough to be discussed.


When an encyclical is written it is addressed to a particular body of people.  Sometimes that body of people consists of the bishops, other times it is the clergy, sometimes to the laity, etc.  That is not to say that those outside that group cannot read it or learn something from it.  It simply means that the Pope wrote that encyclical with the intention of focusing on and reaching out to that them for one reason or another.  For example, the previous encyclical put out by Pope Francis, 'Lumen Fidei', was addressed to 'the bishops, priests, and deacons, consecrated persons, and the lay faithful' (Lumen Fidei). 

'Laudato Si'' is the first encyclical in history to address every single person on the planet.  This is made obvious by the lack of an address made at the very beginning of the encyclical as well as by the language used throughout. 

This might not seem like a big deal, but it is actually the first clue that we are given of Pope Francis' goal of the encyclical.  He is telling us not that this is something that merely the Bishops and priests focus on or even that Catholics in general should focus on; he is saying that this is something that the entire human population needs to be concerned about.  Whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, that is irrelevant for Pope Francis' point.  This makes perfect sense because what he argues we need most of all right now in order to protect the environment is "a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.  We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all" (Laudato Si, 14).  All the technological innovations in the world, he says, are not enough when there is a " lack of interest", or a "nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions" (14). 

An interest must be developed, which can only come about through constant dialogue and discussion over the issue of care for our planet.  And such a discussion can only be effective in curing the damages we have committed to the environment if everybody participates in it, since "all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents" (14). 


The very first sentence in this encyclical that took me aback simply because of the way it was phrased was when Pope Francis, in talking about pollution and waste, said, "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth" (21).

That is how you make it personal and then display the truth of a horrible situation all in one sentence.

The language used throughout the encyclical reveals what Pope Francis has become known for: being blunt and not holding back the truth.  Of course he always couples it with love for his neighbor and for God, but he clearly knows that all true love requires both care and truth, not one or the other.  And especially when it comes to the damage that we human beings have done to the earth, it is apparent that Pope Francis finds it more helpful to call it as it is then to attempt to dress it up in political correctness and niceties.  And he is right.  Bluntness in this situation can help open peoples eyes to problems within society and themselves that they may otherwise not come to see. 

That is why Pope Francis calls out those "who possess more resources and economic or political power [who] seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing the symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change" (26).  It is also why he laments that it is "because of us [that] thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us" due to their extinction (33). 

Pope Francis recognizes the seriousness of our relationship, or lack thereof, with nature and seeks to make others aware of it.  A problem cannot be fixed if the people who are supposed to be fixing it are not aware that a problem exists in the first place.

Speaking of relationships...


Pope Francis has pointed out on numerous occasions that a relationship is necessary for a respect for nature to develop.  Obviously a relationship between man and nature is necessary for man to care for nature at all, but we must not have merely a relationship with nature in order to protect it.  "...human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the Earth itself" (66).  (sidenote: Pope Francis is well aware that not everybody believes in the existence of God.  But he discusses God and Scripture at great length in chapter 2 so as to bridge the supposed divide that some people think exists between science and religion, as well as to remind Christians of what should be important to us)

If, as Pope Francis says, our relationship with God is broken, as it was from the Fall, then that naturally (pun unintended) affects our relationship with other people and with nature, for God created both humanity and nature; humans are a part of nature as every other living thing is. 

That is why even in a discussion about caring for the earth Pope Francis continuously brings up the necessity to care for the poor and others who are downtrodden (52).  Having dominion over the earth means respecting all things that have life, including all plants and animals, and attributing to them the worth that any God-given thing must by definition have (67).  But that also entails caring for those in our own race that live in conditions that they should not be living in, for "the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.  For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone.  Hence every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged" (93).


Pope Francis brings up an aspect of the role of business with the environment that I, a store manager, related to strongly.  And that is the importance of labor. 

"We were created with a vocation to work," he says.  "Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment.  Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs" (128). 

Pope Francis then goes on to say that "business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world.  It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good" (129).  Making sure that those in our society have a job is a must for everybody who has a calling to work in business management.  It is one of the major ways that we can contribute both to the environment and to other people simultaneously.  Remember that helping people, who are by definition part of the environment (128), is helping to cultivate the environment, and that is especially the case, but not limited to, when the work is geared towards helping others or lessening the harm done to the planet.


Many encyclicals that focus on an issue or bring up a pervasive problem in our world today oftentimes come up with practical solutions that can and should be done in order to eliminate said problem.  This is necessary and needed.  However, Pope Francis, while scattering various practical methods here and there to address environmental concerns, offers a significantly more difficult and drastic solution: the need for radical and deeply-rooted change within the individual, the town, the city, the nation, and the world on how it thinks, teaches, interacts with, and discusses our environmental home.

"Many things have to change course," he starts, "but it is we human beings above all who need to change.  We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.  This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life.  A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal" (202).

Pope Francis acknowledges that the environmental problems we currently have cannot be solved with some fundraising and a few social actions; the source of the problem is deeply rooted in the sinful nature of man.  Because man betrayed God we weakened our relationship with Him and by virtue of that we weakened our relationship with each other and with nature (66).  Thus the problem is so deeply ingrained into us that any process that would seek to remedy it will be, at best, a long and arduous journey.

But this does not weigh down Pope Francis' hopes, and it should not weigh ours down, either.  "All is not lost" after all (205).  "Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.  We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom.  No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts" (205). 

A 'universal awareness' (207) that does not yet exist needs to develop in the hearts and minds of every person and every society.  Without that, protection of the environment will be impossible.  But such an awareness can be attained, for all things are possible with the grace of God.  and God will give His grace through education (210), a change in habits (209), an 'ecological conversion' (217) and a 'deep enjoyment free of the obsession of consumption' (222), to name a few. 

I end this by reiterating that it does not matter what your faith is in regards to this responsibility.  We all live here, along with other creatures and plants that inhabit this earth.  It does not make sense to destroy the home that provides us with what we need to live and thrive.  Whether you believe in God or not, we all have a stake in protecting and caring for our home; this is made evident through common sense reasoning as well as through deep and thoughtful reflection.

And it is all the more important for those who know of the God that created us and this planet that we care for it and take responsibility for it.  God has given this place over to us.  Instead of doing what we have been doing we must change our very hearts and minds completely toward God's will.  By doing so each and every day we will slowly but surely be changed and renewed in our very being by His grace.  And when we, the source of most of nature's woes, sustain such a change then the same change will occur throughout the whole world.

"A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace" (246).

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Know Too Much

Elizabeth Scalia, a Catholic blogger over at, recently called all Catholic writers and bloggers to explain why they are and plan to remain Catholic.  I am answering that call in this post. 

I initially found it very difficult, however, to figure out how to write my response, not because I do not know the reasons for my faith, but because I never put it down into words for others before; I have kept those reasons to myself without even thinking of how they might benefit somebody else who wishes to understand the Catholic faith more, or even just to get to know me more.  Thus I feel that, in order to explain why I remain a Catholic today, I must explain a bit about my growth through my faith, making this both an answer to Elizabeth's call and a personal testimony as well.

I am a cradle Catholic, which to me is interesting in and of itself given my parents faith.  My father grew up a cradle Catholic as well, but did not practice the faith that much.  My mother grew up a Presbyterian.  Yet it was my mother, who was a Methodist even after I was born, that deeply desired to raise me and any other children my parents had in the Catholic faith.  Thus my mother took the reigns in my Catholic upbringing despite not being Catholic first.

I was given Baptism shortly after birth, and attended CCD once a week (my younger sister did the same when she became older).  I found out later in life (because I do not have a memory of this) that the my mom was received into the Catholic Church long after I was baptized.  It turns out that her love for the Catholic faith eventually led her to desire for herself what she wanted her children to experience as well.  And all the while my dad, while not personally seeking to deepen his faith, supported his wife and children in our faith journey.  My mom's love for the faith and my dad's encouragement for us to follow it was, in hindsight, a big part of how I got to where I am now.

With this I received all of my Sacraments growing up and went to all of my CCD classes.  More often then not I did not particularly enjoy going because I did not like any sort of school in general, but I never questioned it; I knew it was important and I knew I needed to go. 

As I got older and got into high school I attended a youth group at my parish.  This was a big step in my journey towards God because it was here that I first developed really close relationships with deeply Catholic people outside of my immediate family.  From that stemmed a growth in my desire to know God more, especially when we did our annual retreats.  If my parents began my journey in my Catholic identity, I would say that it was this that cemented me in my desire to persist in that journey.

That being said, I was still far from having what I would consider to be a devout commitment to God and his Church; I would say that I became more  conscious of my relationship with God, but not completely.  I was still very much going through the motions a lot with my faith and involved in worldly and material things in a way that was very much neutral or detrimental to my relationship with God.

This changed when I went to college.

Ultimately it was my time spent at Ramapo College of New Jersey that led me to that level of spirituality where I try to seek God in everything that I do; it was also during this time that I sought more from my Catholic identity by seeking to know how to defend my faith, know why we believe what we believe, and know how I am to live as a Catholic man devoted to Christ.  I grew a lot in my knowledge of the faith, which God was clearly using to help me draw closer to Him.

There were 3 groups of people in particular, though, that sealed what few cracks may have remained in my devotion to my faith.  One was the Catholic group on Ramapo campus.  Friendships within that group helped strengthen my faith in an intellectual, prayerful, and practical way.

The second was the FOCUS missionaries that we had on campus through most of my college experience.  Having a mentorship with a couple of them in particular has led to a level of spiritual development that I would have otherwise not attained.  The personal accountability that we had with each other and all that I have learned from these warriors for Christ has been astronomical. 

The third was, ironically, in a Protestant non-denominational group called Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  While they may not have set out to teach me about my Catholic faith, the people I met and befriended in IVCF have guided me in seeking a personal and heartfelt love for God above all others and all else, which up until this point of my life was not nearly as important to me. 

All of these, as well as more, have helped lead me to becoming the person and the Catholic follower of Christ that I am today.

So now we come back to the original question: Why do I remain a Catholic?  Everything that I mentioned above, my parents, CCD, the youth group, college, all of it and more is part of the reason, as anybody's life experiences help shape that person into who they currently are and who they will be.  But what is also always a part of that life experience are the daily choices that we make in responding to those experiences; events in one's life impact who we are to a degree, but we are always able to make a choice in how we handle them.  I could have chosen any number of responses in reaction to everything that came across my plate of life, but by the grace of God I chose the path that brings me closer to Him and His Church. 

So why, then?  Why did I, and on a daily basis continue to, make the choice to be and remain Catholic rather than one of a number of any other choices?

The answer boils down to one simple statement: it is the choice that makes the most sense; it is the only object of belief and faith that is and contains the full and complete truth.

Studying my own faith in detail as well as numerous other faiths and beliefs has led me to conclude that there is no other system of belief that is as unimpaired in its rightness and veracity then that of the Catholic Church.  Philosophy shows that God exists.  History shows that Jesus sacrificed himself for us and rose from the dead.  Scripture and Tradition show that Jesus established Peter and his successors as head of Jesus' Church here on earth, that he presents his body, blood, soul, and divinity to us in the Real Presence, that the Magisterium must be the interpretive authority in all matters of faith and morals, and so so much more. 

What all of this essentially boils down to is this: I know too much to not be Catholic.  There is an incredible amount of evidence that reveals that the Catholic Church is the spiritual home that Christ intended for all of humanity.  Christ's presence in all that is Catholic is just too obvious for me to ignore. 

This might appear to be too 'scientific' of an approach in determining what faith or belief to uphold, but to me there is nothing more beautiful then a faith that is complete in its truth and how that truth is discovered.  It is a necessary condition for the Church that Christ created: if the Christian worldview is correct then any faith that falls under the umbrella of that worldview that contains any amount of falsehood in its teachings cannot be fully united with God because God IS Truth in His very being. 

Catholicism does not fall prey to such a conundrum.  It is nothing less than the fulfillment of God's promise to lead us closer to Him.  I know that, both through what I have experienced and what I have learned. 

And that is why I remain, that is why I make my daily conversion to Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Marriage As It Was, Is, and Will Be

In my last post I discussed the reasons for the Church's stance against divorce and remarriage, particularly from a biblical perspective as to how Jesus and St. Paul were against such an idea themselves.  However, I only briefly touched upon an even stronger reason against divorce and remarriage, which is the strength of Matrimony as a Sacrament instituted by Christ himself and how it connects to God's eternal plan for each and every one of us since the beginning of time and space. 

In particular I stated: 'All of this points back to the original intent of the indissoluble unity.  This is not done to be cruel, or to make it hard for those who have had difficult relationships with their spouses.  It is meant to be a calling to the original intent of Matrimony, going back all the way to the beginning when God bound the first people into the first marriage as husband and wife in eternal Love-filled sacrifice and servitude to each other (Genesis 2); it is meant to be a symbol of Christ's union with his Church (Ephesians 5: 21-30), for He is the head and the Church is the body (1 Colossians 1: 18), one flesh (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26).  It is hard to imagine that Marriage can be a proper symbol of such things when it is acceptable for the ties of marriage to be split.  Can a head be removed from its body and still live?  Can Jesus truly be separated from His Church?'

There is so much beauty and richness in these truths that I feel compelled to expound on it even more.  In particular, it is in my being drawn closer each and every day to marriage with my fiancĂ© Maria that I continue to see the depth of the Sacrament of Matrimony in its holiness and sacredness.  Maria and marriage with her embodies for me everything that the Sacrament is all about: love as complete and indissoluble self sacrifice for the other, unity to the point of being one flesh, and a symbol of God's original and intended plan for all of humanity and their salvation. 

What sticks out to me most of all  is the everlasting presence of Marriage in theology, both in its past, its present, and its future.  Its visibility throughout all of Christian thought, especially as represented in Scripture, points to Marriage's true intention in our faith as it was always meant to be.

As it Was

As stated in the previous post Jesus refers back to 'the beginning' when talking to the Pharisees about divorce and marriage: "Because of the hardness of your hearts [Moses] wrote you this commandment [to write a bill of divorce and dismiss the wife].  But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.'  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together no human being must separate" (Mark 10: 5-9).

This phrase that is stated in numerous Gospels, 'from the beginning', obviously points to Genesis 2, when Eve was created from the side of Adam and is referred by Adam to be 'bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' (Genesis 2: 23); Scripture then states that this is the reason why a man 'leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh' (Genesis 2: 24).  It is a very interesting phrase in part because it hearkens back to the first marriage in existence.  But even more importantly, it reflects upon the original intent and nature of marriage in the first place.  It is no accident that Jesus quotes Genesis 2: 24 in particular; it is the very foundation of his argument against the concept of divorce that the Pharisees were accustomed to.  Man and wife become one flesh upon marriage, and one flesh, one body, cannot divide itself. 

As God is the one that formed the flesh unity between Adam and Eve, so He forms each and every unity between man and wife into one flesh.  The language used in Genesis 2 cannot be more intimate than that; and the very intimacy of the language itself also points to the very nature of marriage as well: two people cannot be closer to each other than by being united in one flesh with each other.

Jesus' reflection of 'the beginning' points not just to what God originally wanted for us and marriage but to our very nature and the very nature of marriage itself. If God has an original intent for something then it does not simply mean that it is something that God would have liked to have happened with that thing, it means that that thing is designed by God for a specific purpose, it is in their nature to be that way.  Thus, that thing should exist in accordance with that nature; to act contrary to it would be detrimental to itself.

For example, God designed the human body to require oxygen in order to continue to live.  If we were to stop breathing oxygen and start breathing purely nitrogen for instance than we would die; it is in our very nature as human beings to breathe oxygen and to act contrary to that nature would kill us.

So it is with all things made by God, whether physical or spiritual.  The very nature of Marriage is one of the most intimate of unions and was designed by God to persist that way.  That is Jesus' point in continuously referring back to 'the beginning' when Adam and Eve were of one flesh. 

As It Is

It is a fair question to ask, after recognizing the above, why God originally intended Marriage to be a unifying intimate union between a man and a woman.  Ultimately, as with all of God's plans, we cannot fathom entirely why He does anything.  That being said, we are made in His image and as a result we are capable of grasping truths about God and His plans to a certain degree, especially from sources such as Sacred Scripture.  And we can see from Sacred Scripture that at least part of the original intention of Marriage is geared towards a fulfillment of Jesus' mission in being united to the Church.

We can see this most clearly in Ephesians 5.  Here is the passage in its entirety:

"Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is the head of the church, he himself the savior of his body.  As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'  This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.  In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband."

There is not enough space to unpack here the depth of meaning that this passage contains, so I will simply mention a few things that are important to mention. 

First, it is important to note that St. Paul does the same thing Jesus does in referencing back to the beginning of marriage in Genesis 2: 24.  This just further establishes the fact that marriage in its very nature is unifying and intimate. 

Second, St. Paul uses this along with a bit of logic to establish another point, which is what the very nature of the man and the woman, when married to one another, is.  He assumes from Genesis 2: 24 that husbands and wives are of one flesh and argues that as a result of this the husband and wife should take care of the other; after all, who does not want to take care of their own body?  Who hates their own body? 

St. Paul clearly takes the words of Genesis 2: 24 to heart, otherwise his argument would be nonsensical.  With husband and wife being of one flesh the husband must take care of his body and the wife must take care of her head, just as any other body naturally does of its own accord.

Third and most importantly, St. Paul not only shows a connection between husband and wife with Christ and the church, he reveals that Christ loving and sacrificing for the church is the fulfillment of Genesis 2: 24 and, thus, the very fulfillment of all marriages. 

Indeed, the husband is clearly connected to being the head as Christ is the head of the church, and the wife is clearly connected to being the body as the church is the heavenly body of Christ.  But if you also notice, immediately after he quotes Genesis 2: 24 St. Paul states that he speaks 'in reference to Christ and the church.'  This is an admission that Paul feels that Christ is a fulfillment of Genesis 2: 24, for he is the Messiah and did exactly what He came to do: to unite himself entirely to his church by sacrificing himself for it.

St. Paul also referring to Christ as the head and the Church as the body serves to further illustrate the notion that Christ has become one body with his church and thus is in a sense married to her.  I say 'in a sense' because it is marriage here that is clearly a symbol of the union Christ and the church have, not the other way around. 

This is further corroborated in 1 Corinthians 12: 12, where St. Paul says, "As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ."  He then goes on a lengthy diatribe describing how a body's parts cannot ever act against one another because they by their very nature act in accord with one another, for no part is the body itself but only together can they be the body.  He establishes his point by recognizing that it is the same with the body of Christ. 

So if the body of Christ, of which Christ is the head, cannot act contrary to itself and a man and a woman in marriage represents the body of Christ, then it must be the case that man and woman in marriage cannot act contrary to one another; they cannot separate from one another and are called to act as one because they are one.  This is the point I touched upon before in my other post about divorce: with marriage of husband and wife being representative of Christ and his Church and with Christ and his Church being of one body and mind, it shows that Christ cannot and will not be separated from his church and, as such, husband and wife cannot be truly separated from each other.

Thus, to go back, If Jesus' being unified to his church is the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 2: 24 and Genesis 2: 24 has historically and traditionally been connected to the very nature of marriage between man and woman, then logically the marriage between husband and wife is reflective of the very real, unifying, and unceasing love that Christ has for the church and the church has for Christ.

As It Will Be

As stated earlier, the above is certainly part of the original intention of marriage.  There is another part, however, of that original intention that is not often discussed, and that is the connection between marriage on earth and the final Marriage that all of the faithful will participate in at the end of days.

If we go to Revelation 19, we will see that this particular section of the book focuses on celebration and joy.  All of the battles and bloodshed mentioned earlier in Revelations has already come to pass at this point, and now we see the fruit of it all, for we read, "Alleluia!  The Lord has established his reign, [our] God, the almighty.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory.  For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready" (v. 7,emphasis mine).  A little later on the angel says to John, "Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb" (v. 9, emphasis mine).  After that John says, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (21: 1-2, emphasis mine).  And then, shortly after, "One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came and said to me, 'Com here.  I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb'" (v. 9, emphasis mine).

Why do we have all of these references to marriage mentioned during a time that is supposed to be describing the glorious reign of Christ at the end of days?  Didn't Jesus say in Matthew 22: 30, Mark 12: 25, and Luke 20: 35 that when we die and go to heaven we will not be 'married nor given in marriage'? 

What Jesus was referring to in those passages was earthly marriage between a man and a woman; such a marriage with sexual acts will not exist nor need to exist in eternal life. 

What Revelations seems to imply, however, is that earthly marriage is meant to represent this 'marriage feast' mentioned in chapter 19, between the Lamb and his 'bride'; if it did not imply this then it would not use terms like 'wedding', 'bride', and 'husband' to describe what will be occurring. 

As we have already established above, the bride of Christ is the Church, for it is the Church that Christ sacrificed himself for and who Christ is the head of and one body with.  So when Revelations mentions the 'bride' and the 'wife of the Lamb' ('Lamb' being a symbol of Christ) it is most certainly referring to the Church.  However, these passages are focused on a different period of time, namely, the end of days when all are resurrected,  Satan and those who follow him are cast aside, and those who have followed and do follow Christ enter into in a 'new heaven and a new earth'. 

Thus, this language of being part of the 'wedding feast' refers to an event in the future in which sin and depravity are vanquished and Christ's body is made new, with 'radiance like that of a precious stone' (21: 11). 

This shows us that husband and wife, as one unified body, are a symbol of the marriage feast that will take place at the end of time, the final completion of the Divine Plan for all of humanity.  Jesus the Lamb is the head and his body, the Church, are united but also completely cleansed, for the Lamb makes 'all things new' (21: 5).  This making of all things new in our resurrected bodies, in eternal bliss and holiness, united to God, is the absolute fulfillment of Christ's sacrifice for his people, for his very body.  As such, it is intimately united to those called to married life.

This is why marriage is one of the most glorious callings that we can receive from God.  We, as Christians, are first and foremost called to live a holy and saintly life in praise and glory to God our Father, our Lord Jesus Christ and the most Holy Spirit.  Matrimony, as with all vocations, is given to us by God entirely to give us the grace to fulfill that first and primary of vocations.  What makes Matrimony stand out, though, is its existence throughout all of human history and its being implemented by God from the very origin of Man as the path towards a union with God himself.

This is what makes me excited for Marriage.  Maria and I work together in love and charity to bring each other closer to God and His will for us.  We both  truly believe that God brought us together in order to bring each of us closer to Him. 

For this is what makes Matrimony truly special: it symbolizes and points to something that is infinitely more amazing.  Marriage cannot be an end in itself because it is not designed to be; it is designed to represent Christ's love for us and the love that we should have for Him.  That is what marriage always was, is, and will be.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

On Divorce, Remarriage, and Friendship

It was shocking to me when a good friend of mine, who we will call Brittany, told me that she 'met somebody', not because such a notion in and of itself was surprising, but because we came to learn that this person our friend met is divorced.

As soon as she told me and our other friend, who we will call Dave, I already knew my feelings and position on the situation; it was just a matter of muscling up enough to verbalize it.  With both of them being Protestant, I knew that we would differ on the idea of divorce and remarriage.  But it never occurred to me that it would get more personal than a general theological discussion between us.

Brittany told us a bit more information, giving us a well-rounded view of the entire situation before Dave and I weighed in with our thoughts.  I could sense that Dave had some reservations about this, and I'm sure Brittany could sense it from him, as well as myself.

After Brittany gave us the whole scoop Dave talked first.  He was happy for Brittany but showed some concern in relation to the children that this man has, and how difficult it will be to raise those children right from the start.

Dave also brought up other issues for Brittany to reflect upon, but I cannot for the life of me remember them: I was too nervous of how I would say what I knew I had to say to Brittany. 

Approaching someone in this way is something that I was not used to up until this point.  I am perfectly fine getting into theological disagreements (as me, Dave, and Brittany sometimes do), but rarely for me has such a disagreement gone past a simple discussion and into the personal.  Of course it is all personal to a certain degree, for such conversations directly affect and are caused by what we believe and why we believe it.  But settings such as this bring the discussion away from the notion of an interesting squabble over concepts and into the realm of living out those concepts with which one may vehemently disapprove of.  And now that such a setting presented itself I needed to be a true friend and confront it.

I felt a number of temptations during that couple of minutes, thinking that I did not really need to voice how I felt, or that I could at least downplay the importance of it.

But I knew that they were just that: temptations.  I knew that if I was a true friend to Brittany then I have a duty to speak the truth to her, regardless of how hard it may be.  I also knew that the only reason it was difficult for me to do so was because I did not want to hurt Brittany; nobody desires to hurt those that are close to them, after all.  But I knew that God does not call us to be without pain, He calls us to be holy and saintly.  Thus, if I truly want Brittany to grow in her holiness than I must be honest with her as well as loving, regardless of what pain it may bring. 

So this is what I started off with when I spoke to Brittany:

"What I say I say only because I love you as a sister and because you are such a close friend.  It is because you are such a close friend and I want what is best for you that I cannot in good conscience support a relationship between you and this other person."

I explained that marriage, as a union that is instituted by God, cannot be separated under any circumstances other than death for that is how God designed it, quoting Mark 10:9 "Therefore what God has joined together let no man separate". 

I then stated my disagreement with Dave, who earlier said that divorce can be acceptable if sexual immorality was at play, quoting from Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5: 31-32 ("whoever divorces his wife and marries another except for unchastity causes her to commit adultery..."),  I mentioned in response that the greek word used for the word unchastity is porneia, which does not necessarily translate into unchastity in the sense of an adulterous affair, as is commonly portrayed in various Bible translations.

We continued this subject for an hour, some of it very informative and some of it a bit heated.  But in the end we all know that it was a conversation that needed to be had.

I knew this as I headed home that night, but the experience was still bittersweet to me, despite knowing that such bittersweet feelings were due to nothing else but my own weakness.  I pondered what Brittany must be going through, and prayed for her and the man she is attracted to, that they may come to see the truth in this matter and seek God above all other things, no matter what doing so might lead to. 

I felt immediately compelled to research this topic of divorce and remarriage a bit more (I haven't studied this topic in some time, so my memory of it was a bit hazy), and digging deeper into it has only strengthened my belief in the indissolubility of marriage. 

Briefly, the Catholic Church's actual stance on divorce and remarriage is as follows:

Only death is able to end a marriage, nothing that man can do can accomplish that, for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony must be in its very nature binding in order to reverberate the very nature of Creation and humanity as God originally intended it.  Thus divorce, as it is defined as a spiritual separation between two people who were truly united by God in 'one flesh', is something that should be avoided at all costs, since the act of divorce itself is an attempt to separate what cannot be separated by human hands and is thus an affront to God and His designs for Matrimony.

That being said, sometimes it is necessary to get a civil divorce for serious reasons, such as adultery, abuse in the relationship, etc.  In such circumstances, a civil divorce is perfectly acceptable provided that they understand that a government-issued divorce does not change the fact that they are still united spiritually by God and, thus, are not free to remarry.  Even in the case of a person who is under constant abuse by her spouse, a civil divorce is acceptable in order to protect herself from her abuser, but such actions do not change the fact that a truly valid marriage has occurred and thus continues to exist between the two spouses.  This makes remarriage for either of them to be impossible because even in this situation, by the very words of Jesus himself, it would be considered adultery. 

This is the Church's stance on divorce and remarriage in a nutshell (a very watered-down nutshell, to be precise)  But all of it is clearly articulated in Sacred Scripture.

Jesus, for instance, was quite clear on numerous occasions that a true marriage is a binding of two people by God himself and, as such, nobody is able to truly break such a bind.  When the Pharisees tested Jesus on the issue of divorce Jesus said to them, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." (Matt. 19: 4-6) (emphasis mine)  This is stated again in Mark 10: 2-12, with Jesus also saying that "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.'" (Mark 10: 11-12) (emphasis mine)  This is similarly reiterated in Luke 16: 18. 

St. Paul completely agrees with Jesus' upholding of the permanence of marriage when he says, "To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): A wife should not separate from her husband--and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband--and a husband should not divorce his wife." (1 Cor. 7: 10-11) (emphasis mine)

All of these passages and others point to the Church's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and, thus, on the nature of divorce and remarriage.  For as Jesus said, from the beginning the two were made one flesh, there are no two people anymore once God has joined them together in Matrimony.  Therefore, no person can break apart the two people, who are now one, for it was God who made them one flesh to begin with. 

As the Gospel of Matthew states, Moses merely allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, but Jesus reestablishes the original intention of all marriage.  And he continues to affirm this by saying that if somebody divorces their spouse and marries another then they are in fact committing adultery.  Why would they be committing adultery if they married someone else?  Because their marriage with their original spouse had never truly ended; they are still married to that person, bound together as one flesh, thus making their remarriage to be not a true marriage at all but an adulterous affair. 

St. Paul also stresses the importance of not divorcing one's spouse, but also recognizes that divorce sometimes does happen.  To this, he says not that it is okay to marry another if a divorce happens due to abuse, adultery, etc.  In fact, St. Paul says that if a wife is to separate from her husband then she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband?  Why would those be her only two options?  The only logical answer here is because she is still bound to her husband as a result of the unification they underwent when they became married and bound together by God. 

All of this points back to the original intent of the indissoluble unity,  This is not done to be cruel, or to make it hard for those who have had difficult relationships with their spouses.  It is meant to be a calling to the original intent of Matrimony, going back all the way to the beginning when God bound the first people into the first marriage as husband and wife in eternal Love-filled sacrifice and servitude to each other (Genesis 2); it is meant to be a symbol of Christ's union with his Church (Ephesians 5: 21-30), for He is the head and the Church is the body (1 Colossians 1: 18), one flesh (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26).  It is hard to imagine that Marriage can be a proper symbol of such things when it is acceptable for the ties of marriage to be split.  Can a head be removed from its body and still live?  Can Jesus truly be separated from His Church?

From all of this we can see that Sacred Scripture views Matrimony as a life-long covenant that cannot be broken by man.  The only possibly confusing aspect, then, are the two passages from the Gospel of Matthew addressed above. 

As stated, the Greek word used in both of these passages does not necessarily translate to an extra marital affair.  It is more likely referring to illicit sexual immorality that would make any marriage attempt to fail from actualizing; situations of incest would be one such example of that, for it was known, by Jews at the time, to prevent an actual marriage from occurring in the first place.  This means that even if they attempted to get married the fact that they are close blood relatives would prevent them from ever being truly married to each other at all, making any and all marriage attempts between them to not actually be a marriage.  (It should be noted that this, also, fits the Church's teaching on Marriage, for if two people who thought they were married ended up not actually having a valid marriage then they would be free to remarry because no spiritual union between the two ever truly existed.)

It is also important to add that the normal word for adultery, moicheia, would have been a more proper word to use if the writer originally intended to say that adultery was an acceptable reason for divorce; but porneia was used instead.  And we know that both are differentiated because in other passages, such as 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 we see both words being used ("fornicators...adulterers...will not inherit the Kingdom of God"), suggesting that the two have different meanings.

All of this: the true meaning of porneia, the statements of Jesus and St. Paul, the connection of marriage to the beginning of humanity as well as to the relationship between Christ and His Church, all of it points us in the direction of the Sacrament of Matrimony being unbreakable by human hands.  All of it moves us to a union between Man and Wife that can be formed only by God and can be broken apart only by God. 

I wish I had all of this information that night for Brittany and Dave.  I could have done a much better service for them both, especially Brittany, if I had remembered and recognized that these situations are not hypothetical discussion topics but involve and affect real people, whether they be strangers or people you know and care for. 

After all, for some people to accept ideas like the indissolubility of Marriage may mean for them to alter their beliefs and behaviors.  That is why it is so important to always be prepared and always be willing to tell the Truth, for when you tell them the Truth, you tell them about God.