Spirituality for Today – June 2014 – Volume 18, Issue 11

Worst That Could Happen

Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

A photo of Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn BridgeJohnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge

A few decades ago there was a hit rock song by the late Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge titled Worst That Could Happen! The lyrics narrated a lover's lament that the object of his affection has had it with playing games and desired marriage. On the other hand, he, frankly, stated that marriage was out of the question for him, but he recognized that she could not go on in an in-between state. Today, a great many couples are in that "in-between" state regarding their relationship with each other. Marriage itself has been placed into a legal and emotional Slice and Dice chopper. Just what is marriage today anyway?

The questions raised over defining marriage are of great civil and moral consequence. The married couple has been called the primary building block of society. Thus, the well-being of a nation may be ascertained by the quality of marriage and family existing within it. Current times have introduced a new complexity to reaching an answer to questions surrounding the nature of marriage. Assuming that all other requisites are met, the Catholic Church welcomes a man and a woman as the sole individuals competent to enter into the union that is a sacramental marriage. Same-sex couples do not meet that criterion for marriage in the Church, but that prohibition would not exclude the dignity of the individual nor would compassionate pastoral care be denied. This very sensitive issue highlights the need for a clear definition of marriage. It sounds cynical and utterly preposterous, but marriage undefined opens the door to such bizarre situations as a father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, an adult and a minor, and even a person and an animal demanding the right to be married. The last instance seems both incredible and ridiculous, but one can imagine someone challenging the legal system to recognize "inter-special" marriage.

Alton Pelowski, editor of Columbia magazine, some time ago conducted an interview with Ryan T. Anderson concerning the question of our government and the definition of marriage. Mr. Anderson is an author, founder of the online journal, Public Discourse, of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He sets the debate as being one contrasting the conjugal based union between a man and a woman and a consent based union between consenting adults. As you may expect, Mr. Anderson and I favor the former position. From a general perspective, Anderson said, "Marriage needs to be sexually exclusive because this type of relationship can produce new life. It needs to be permanent because it's a comprehensive union and because children need a stable environment with a mother and a father. With the revisionist view, on the other hand, there is no real justification as to why it should be only two people, exclusive or permanent." The interest in marriage as a legal entity by the government concerns the welfare and care of children. He made a reference to Plato's, The Republic where the philosopher opined about state-raised children, but Anderson rightfully states, "…with the breakdown of marriage in recent decades, we've seen how the welfare state has grown with disastrous results for children. We have seen an increase in crime, prison population and child poverty, and a decrease in social mobility." In response to the criticism that conjugal marriage is an arbitrary and irrational view based on religion, Anderson said, "Consider all the great thinkers who have considered the question of marriage: ancient Greeks and Romans; leaders of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Enlightenment thinkers like Emmanuel Kant and John Locke; Eastern thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi. These thinkers disagree about so much in their philosophies, theologies, and political theories, but they all agree that marriage is a male-female institution." All in all, Ryan concludes that government policy needs to be the right policy for the nation and that the Church and all who stand for the conjugal model need to live their beliefs about marriage and sexual morality, defend religious liberty, and do everything to promote the belief in conjugal marriage.

Reflecting on these last thoughts of Ryan Anderson, no overstatement can be made about the need for marriage and married couples to truly represent the spirituality, values, and authentic worth of love in marriage. The work is profound and continuous – any married couple will attest to that reality – and always essential to individual and societal success. Whenever we hear a news story about human beings injuring or killing other human beings with no apparent reason, whenever indifference and hatred among people seem to be the norm, and whenever people ask why there is no peace in the world, we are reminded that the sense of belonging that characterizes children of God and people of faith is lacking woefully. A husband and a wife are the living symbol of human hope, love, and faith as well as the serious and consistent effort required to sustain those treasures. The world depends on their success. Marriage must become and always must be the "best" that can happen.