Over the last several years, it has been my honor to participate in a number of “Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage” events that have been held throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at various Catholic parishes.
These evenings of fraternity, formation and prayer bring together a Catholic priest, a lawyer and a sizable group of the lay faithful in order to reflect on the great gift of marital love and the very real cultural threats being posed to it, including the alarming precedents of recent lawsuits and state legislation.
These events are evenings of renewal and re-focus for presenters and audiences alike, especially as we approach a critical November vote. These events have allowed me to take an active part in a mission to which our archbishop has called me. On the day of my ordination, with full freedom and with no reservations, I took a solemn promise to respect and obey the bishop of this local church. I take that promise very seriously, as flawed and frail as I am.
The archbishop, as our shepherd, has made it clear that the preservation of marriage is of pivotal importance through a reasoned defense, using not only sound theology but abundant social research. I willingly and joyfully join my voice to his in expressing serious concern about the disintegration of those moral norms that have been the bedrock of society for so long.
Recognizing natural law
Participating in these events has allowed me to offer an explanation, as limited as my abilities truly are, of what tradition calls “the natural law.”
Natural law is essentially connected to human reason, that awesome gift human beings have been given that allows them to recognize the nature, or meaning and purpose of things. Marriage does in fact have a nature, a nature not bestowed upon it by the dictates of the state, but rather found in the complementarity of the sexes and the simple fact that sex results in babies. Erotic love leads to new life and the state has an interest in the proper formation and protection of this new life.
Civil law must be based upon natural law, lest it become the simple will of the majority or the tyranny of the vocal minority.
Contrary to the pithy anecdotes of social libertarians, civil law does in fact have a role to play in the cultivation of the morality of its citizens, a morality that must be rooted in right reason and the acknowledgment of the natural law, that is, the “way things are.”
To promote through law a definition of marriage that is quite deliberately separate from the procreation and education of children is to radically alter the meaning of marriage and of that activity that is particular to it — sex, or what was once called without irony, the “marital act.”
The ‘yes’ in God’s plan
But my participation in these events has also been a true privilege because it has given me the chance to proclaim to all who will listen the tremendously rich and life-giving teaching of the church on the sacramental nature of the human body, on the call to holiness that is chastity, and on the connection between the vocation of marriage and the salvific plan of God.
For far too long, the church’s position on so many issues, including the issue of sexual morality, has been presented as a fundamental “no” — a no to human happiness, a no to passion, a no to vibrancy of life.
But such a way of teaching the things of faith is a radical distortion of the words of Christ: “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.” And again, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, that your joy may be complete.”
Speaking at “Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage” events gives me an opportunity to affirm and to communicate the fundamental “yes” that is God’s plan for marriage.
Like all vocations, which it surely is, marriage is demanding and requires self-mastery if it is to blossom into the full image of God’s love for his church. It also requires an acknowledgment that marriage is not ours to define, but rather a gift to receive and to cherish as it has been given by God.
I hope to have many more opportunities to participate in these events, even after Nov. 6 comes and goes. The need to preach the “yes” of the Gospel will always remain until the return of the King.
Father John Paul Erickson is the director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship and a presenter for the Minnesota Catholic Conference “Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage” series.