Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
At any given time in American history there is a challenge that requires the resolve of all people of good will to ensure a stable foundation and future. No matter what the challenge might be, it is vital that the institution of marriage be preserved and encouraged as a key building block of any society that offers vitality and strength.
For centuries, societies and cultures have recognized marriage of one man and one woman as an essential institution for preserving social stability and the best environment for raising children. For this reason marriage has been and continues to be the basic foundation for society with the family as the basic unit of society.
As it is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the home rooted in marital love is the school of â€śChristian lifeâ€ť and â€śhuman enrichment.â€ť In the home one learns how to work, love, be generous, forgive, and, most importantly, pray and offer oneâ€™s life over to God.
Simply put, marriage is a beautiful vocation; in part, because it lays a foundation for the family. In conferring this Sacrament on one anotherâ€”in the presence of a priest or deaconâ€”a husband and wife promise to join body and mind together to become one and live their lives centered on Jesus Christ and His Church.
It is important to understand that marriage is a natural and pre-political institution. When the Church speaks about Godâ€™s law, the natural moral order, right and wrong, it does so not from a political platform or following a political convention. Rather it presents the received teaching of Jesus that comes to us from the Apostles. As Saint Peter replied to Jesus, â€śYou have the words of eternal lifeâ€ť (Jn 6:68).
The believer grasps that natural law is a participation in Godâ€™s wisdom and goodness by a person formed in the image of the Creator. It expresses the dignity of the human person and forms the basis of the personâ€™s fundamental rights and duties.
The defining features and structuring norms of marriage are written in the design of creation and revealed to us by a loving God who has made marriage a powerful symbol of the mystery of his love for us. Because it is part of the plan of creation, much of the truth about marriage can be known by reason unaided by revelation.
Considered as a natural human good, marriage is, in a profound sense, prior not only to the state, but even to the Church and the Abrahamic covenant that Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike recognize as foundational salvific faith.
In the United States, it is clear that marriage and the family are in great turmoil. There are many attacks upon the institution of marriageâ€”an institution which serves as the foundation for the family and for all of society. In an election season in which many issues are debated, the issue of marriage should be given a serious look by all voters. We must understand not only the spiritual and natural foundations of marriage, but also what threatens its stability.
Marriage as a Sacramental Union
Sacred Scripture reveals a rich history of marriage as being more than just a coming together of two individuals. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we read, “Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for Her.” According to St. Paul, Christ has “won” His bride, the Church, by giving His life for Her, â€śthe greatest possible demonstration of love.â€ť Christ is the Bridegroom who has come to meet the Church, His Bride.
These words echo the prophets, who used this analogy in the old covenant to speak of the spousal love God had for His chosen people, Israel. The reality of Christâ€™s relationship with Holy Mother Church provides a light in which to consider the union of man and woman. The love of spouses for one another is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church, His Bride. The love of man and woman is raised by grace to become a sharing in, and an expression of, the love of Christ and the Church.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul describes the relationship and the love for one another needed in marriage in a manner similar to that of Christâ€™s devotion and love for the Church. After describing how husbands and wives should love one another, St. Paul writes, â€śThis [marital love] is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.â€ť This covenant that Christ has with the Church is a grace that should inspire married couples to grow closer to one another and live sacrificially, just as Jesus wants to draw closer to us and was even willing to give up His life so that all might receive salvation.
Revitalizing a Sacred Institution
Despite the incredible goods of marriage between one man and one woman, and its deep history, it is under attack in many ways. Adultery, civil divorce, and so-called same-sex â€śmarriageâ€ť are but a few examples.
Adultery is not only a failure in commitment in fidelity to oneâ€™s spouse, but it also attacks the covenant of the marriage bond, infringes on the rights of the other spouse, and undercuts the institution of marriage as a whole.
Civil divorce is perhaps the most challenging offense to the institution of marriage, not just because of its great frequency, but also because at the root of every valid marriage is a freely consensual union in which two individuals promise to live with one another till death. The goal of marriage is to draw one another closer to Christ through this marital union, and when spouses divorce civilly, that ability is lost. As an aside, please know that I pray for all of the faithful in the Diocese of Venice who have suffered through a civil divorce. The emotional and spiritual damage from divorce not only impacts the spouses, but also their children, and for that I offer my prayer and pastoral care through that difficult time in these individualsâ€™ lives. The Church teaches that God, the author of marriage, established it as a permanent union. Therefore, the Church does not recognize a civil divorce because the State cannot dissolve what is indissoluble.
The attempt by some to advance so-called same-sex â€śmarriageâ€ť is without a doubt the most publically debated of any marriage-related issue. Elected officials, both at the state and federal level, have attempted to redefine â€śmarriageâ€ť and â€śfamily.â€ť Aside from the obvious fact that one key element of marriage is procreation, it is pretentious of some to think they can redefine a sacred institution that has existed since the dawn of humankind. This issue has gone to the voters, the public has often handily voted to define marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. Even with these victories, some continue to advance a subversive agenda.
Some will falsely claim that the Churchâ€™s position on so-called same-sex marriage is based in bigotry or hated. These statements could not be more wrong or misguided. While Catholics are called to love and respect all people, we are not called to agree with all acts or lifestyles. Despite adamant disagreement with some people on what constitutes the â€śfamilyâ€ť or â€śmarriage,â€ť we are reminded that â€śno one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyoneâ€¦â€ť Changing what society claims marriage and the family to be, however, will not resolve disagreements or stabilize a society that is fracturing in so many ways. Regaining the truth of marriage will bring strength and hope to this struggling nation.
Crucial Moment in History
It is crucial at this point in our nationâ€™s history, with so many threats to the institution of marriage upon us, that every Catholic takes this issue seriously when going to the ballot box. Study carefully what the candidates have said regarding marriage and how it should be defined, and discern how that position stands up to the teachings of the Church. It is vital that the institution of marriage be preserved. Remember, the responsibility of voting not only has political consequence, but moral consequence as well.
I take this opportunity to assure you of my continued prayers and consideration.
Â Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Â + Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of the Diocese
of Venice in Florida