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Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

“Life is Difficult.”

With those three opening words of profound truth, M. Scott Peck began a self-help revolution in his classic, The Road Less Traveled. It is really a provocative opening line for a book, a statement of the incredibly obvious, and yet a revelation. As one of the central institutions of civilization marriage, too, is difficult. It is life in microcosm, and yet it is the paradigm for civilization itself. Therefore, it should not come as a great surprise to note the parallel realities of a civilization in decline in proportion to the failure rate of that civilization’s marriages.

For decades now, the divorce rate in the United States has hovered at fifty percent.

Life is difficult.

Having known far too many couples who have divorced, having walked the road with them before, during, and after, Peck’s words come as an understatement. In truth life can be brutal, demoralizing, and even dehumanizing. Outside of war and famine, nowhere do these experiences come into such sharp relief as in the experience of a failed marriage. At its completion, people are left broken, often ruined financially, devastated psychologically, and often relieved that the ordeal is finally over.

Being somewhat jaded by these realities, it takes quite a bit to penetrate the shell of cynicism that comes with being a New Yorker. That happened this week when I learned of the increasing popularity of divorce parties that often come with anti-wedding cakes showing either a dead bride or groom, a bride or groom dragging the other out to the trash, or a bride or groom shoving their spouse off the cake. Google “Divorce cakes” to see the macabre celebration of love’s tragic death.

Fox News had an article on the trend. From the article:

Duff Goldman, chef and owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles, said he has been creating divorce cakes for a decade, with one or so orders a month nowadays.

“We’re thrilled to put a positive spin on what can be a difficult and stressful time for people,” said Duff, whose custom cakes were featured on the Food Network reality show “Ace of Cakes” from 2006 to 2011.

O’Malley’s first big divorce client popped up two years ago. She’s the one who hosted the $25,000 bash at a fancy venue, complete with a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner, toasts and an eight-piece band. She wore white, though not her wedding gown.

“We set up a chapel-looking area and her father walked down the aisle by himself to take her back, instead of give her away,” said O’Malley, who has handled several divorce parties since.

The bridesmaid who caught the woman’s bouquet eight years prior threw one back to her, he said. Wedding gifts were photographed, placed in silver frames and given to gifters in attendance.

“This is something you don’t have to regret, like the wedding,” O’Malley said. “It’s something without any shame.”

Shame is not the issue here, nor should it be. Divorce, and the death of love are brutal. Shame is anticlimactic in context. Rather, the party seems to take the death of something far greater than the individuals and turns its burial into a cause for celebration. So what is being celebrated? To answer that, one needs to delve into the realm of the cognitive and affective on the wedding day itself. There are the love songs that are played, songs that speak of longing, and waiting, and fulfillment. Boyce Avenue’s cover of Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years captures this about as well as any.

Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave?
How can I love when I’m afraid to fall?
But watching you stand alone,
All of my doubt suddenly goes away somehow.

One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every breath
Every hour has come to this

One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

One step closer
One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Quite beautiful, both the lyrics and melody. Moreso, quite a powerful declaration of love, of devotion, of permanence.

It’s against this affective backdrop that vows are made, that promises and expectations are declared before family, friends, and the church assembled. I can think of no more affirming moment in my life, affirmation of all that I am, than when Regina pledged her love and fidelity to me until the day one of us dies. She was (and remains) a beautiful, brilliant, and holy woman who could have had any man she wanted, and yet she chose me and put it all on the line before God and man. The emotional impact of that reality can not be understated, because it sets the table for either great good, or great harm.

Apart from sexual infidelity, which is the only kind envisioned when the word, “infidelity,” is mentioned, there are a thousand other infidelities that creep into a marriage along the way. The vows made on the wedding day are not just for sexual fidelity. Sex is never mentioned explicitly. Our vows were,

“I, ______, take you, ______, to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Of course sex is a part of that being, “true to you.” But the reality is that there is so much more in daily life that is a part of being true, of loving and honoring the other. It is primarily in the daily acts of being true that marriages prosper, or wither. Establishing common goals, respecting differences, being slow to anger and quick to forgive have much to do with being true to the other.

The vows point to learning sacrificial love, which grows out of the seed of romantic love, and takes a lifetime to perfect as it is learned in layers. As Dostoyevsky reminds us in The Brothers Karamazov:

“Brothers, love is a teacher, but a hard one to obtain: learning to love is hard and we pay dearly for it. It takes hard work and a long apprenticeship, for it is not just for a moment that we must learn to love, but forever.”

There is a raw and powerful beauty in that kind of love, and a correspondingly raw and powerful bitterness when it doesn’t take root.

Before we began homeschooling the children, Regina would find herself talking with the other mothers in the school yard at morning drop-off. The women would take turns bashing and belittling their husbands, and when they came to Regina in the circle, she would have nothing to contribute, not because I don’t give her heartburn with regularity, but because she loves and respects me in spite of the heartburn. The thought of trashing me was abhorrent to her, and she quickly found herself on the outs with that crowd, many of whom are now divorced.

Knowing many of them, one could see the creeping progression of the illness in their marriages. The tipping point comes when disappointments lead to unforgiveness and loss of respect. It’s seldom sudden, almost always imperceptible, and spiritually toxic. When the ink is finally dry on the divorce, both parties are often psychologically and spiritually exhausted.

After such a journey, no party can bring closure. The wound is too deep. The promise of love has given way to the other feeling better off without their spouse.

It is anti-love, which may be necessary in many cases. But anti-love should never beget celebrations. It should remind us of what Peck did almost forty years ago, and prompt us to address that reality constructively:

Life is difficult.

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srvr

“Enemies of the human race.”

Justice Scalia points out this characterization of faithful Christians, Jews, and Muslims by the majority of the Supreme Court in today’s gay marriage ruling. Not having read the entire decision, if these are indeed the words of Justice Kennedy, then impeachment proceedings are in order, for such demagoguery gives the government ample ammunition to attack churches, synagogues, and mosques. This was precisely the language used by Hitler, and has been a staple of gay activism going back to the 1980’s and the attacks on Cardinal O’Connor .

“Enemies of the human race.”

These are the kinds of words spoken by tyrants who know that they have no moral or legal authority and seek to eliminate the opposition by incarceration, intimidation, and slaughter.

“Enemies of the human race.”

Remember “tolerance” and “diversity” ??

Me neither.

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If today’s Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage were tough to swallow, this post will be even more of a challenge to accept. On the merits of the cases, dissenting Justice Scalia got it exactly right. No argument there. It’s where the blame ultimately lies that separates me from many fellow conservative and orthodox Catholics.

It’s many, if not a majority, of us.

It’s hard for me to blame the gays and lesbians here. They are a tiny minority of the population who have managed to swing some 55% of the nation their way. Today was a hard-won victory for them, in a 5-4 ruling whose split on the Court mirrors the split in the nation. They have fought for years (along with cohabiting heterosexuals) to share in all of the goods and privileges of marriage, and they won them, one at a time while many of us were too busy with work and recreational activities to get politically fired up. By the time the Churches got serious, the game was already over.

Enjoying all of the goods and privileges of marriage: sex, adoption, child-bearing and rearing, shared benefits, etc…, the only thing missing was the piece of paper that labeled the lived reality.

Marriage.

Having permitted non-married persons of same-sex, or heterosexual pairings to cohabit with all of the privileges of married people, we have been reduced to a semantic argument. What to call it?? For a time, “Domestic Partnership” sufficed. But thinking people knew that was just a stop-gap measure. Incrementalism always works that way. So, really, where did the train leave the tracks?

Perhaps married people haven’t appreciated the goods of marriage as such. Perhaps we forgot somewhere along the way that society valued marriage so much because society recognized the complementarity of the sexes and the need of children for both their mother and father living under the same roof. It was always understood that the strength of society required stable children growing into stable adulthood, and the social scientific data have repeatedly borne out this pairing of stability with being raised by one’s mother and father under one roof.

With divorce hovering around 50% for two generations, with sex being dissected and reduced to mere pleasure-seeking through the help of artificial contraception, with children completely commodified, this was bound to happen.

Specifically, on the commodification of children, everyone makes money on them. Need to adopt because you became sterile from abortion, or STD’s, or because you are a homosexual couple? It will cost upward of $40K, often higher than $60K. Want a baby that’s genetically your own, but fall into one of the aforementioned categories, or are infertile for other reasons? There’s in vitro fertilization costing into the tens of thousands of dollars. Too old to use your own eggs? Pay some young woman $10K to juice her body full of hormones to facilitate egg donation. Then pay tens of thousands for IVF; or pay tens of thousands to hire a surrogate mother. Don’t want that baby? Abortions range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

The wheeling and dealing over children as a commodity is ghastly, to the tune of billions of dollars each year. That’s because marriage isn’t about them anymore. It’s all about the adults. Were it all about the stability of children, today’s rulings never would have happened. The sad truth is that untold married couples fit into every one of those abusive categories just mentioned. We have made a real hash of marriage.

Instead, today motherhood was declared as entirely unnecessary in the lives of children adopted by homosexual couples.

Instead, today fatherhood was declared as entirely unnecessary in the lives of children born to/adopted by lesbian couples.

But that was just the codification of a lived reality ceded many years ago. So, no, today came as no surprise; no moreso than the diagnosis of lung cancer to the person who has smoked for decades. I was one of those smokers, too busy with work, school, family to get involved. So where do we go from here?

First, we should use great restraint in directing our anger at a tiny fraction of the population, the gays and lesbians. They have sought out recognition of their love as they understand marital love. And they do love each other, many with a greater devotion than many of our failed heterosexual marriages.

Next, we must put our own house in order; strengthening our marriages and churches, subordinating our marriages to God’s wise design. Only when that is done can we, or will we be in a position to evangelize others and change this course we have been on for decades. That won’t happen anytime soon. And what of prayer? Many have said we need to pray for a miracle.

I don’t see that happening. It hasn’t happened with forty years of abortion.

As my grandmother used to admonish: God helps those who help themselves. We, in the aggregate, have been asleep at the switch for decades. A miracle Supreme Court decision only compounds that laziness. In working to redeem marriage we grow as individuals, as churches, and as a society. Just as Adam and Eve would have to earn their living by the sweat of their brow, so it will be with abortion and marriage.

The redemption of lives and marriage itself will have to be the result of an awakening in society, or else it is cheap grace that will not endure.

Time to get to work.

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Canon Lawyer Eward Peters on Governor Cuomo in the wake of the Gay Marriage Bill signing:

“Among the many persons laboring in New York to accord same-sex unions the civil legal status of marriage, no one played a more important, and indeed a constitutionally essential, role than did the governor of the Empire State, Andrew Cuomo, a Roman Catholic. Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign touted his strong support for “gay marriage”, he used his enormous influence to push key legislators into voting for New York’s “gay marriage” bill, and he signed that bill into law hardly an hour after it was passed…

“First, Cuomo’s long pattern of conduct in regard to “gay marriage” warrants, in my opinion, a canonical investigation under Canon 1717 into whether he has “in a public show or speech, published writings, or in other uses of the instruments of social communications … gravely injure[d] good morals…” and on that account is to be punished (puniatur) with a just penalty per Canon 1369

“Cuomo’s concubinage gives prominent bad example against marriage, but his official actions in regard to “gay marriage” have changed the very definition of marriage in the populous state under his care; Cuomo’s living arrangements are of immediate canonical concern to only two of New York’s eight arch/bishops, but his political actions in regard to “gay marriage” negatively impact the pastoral mission of every Catholic bishop, parish priest, deacon, and lay minister throughout the Province of New York; finally, while most of the bishops of New York said little or nothing about Cuomo’s living with a woman not his wife, his long-standing actions in regard to “gay marriage” were challenged repeatedly, directly, and forcefully by the Archbishop of New York and by all his seven suffragans.

“In light of the foregoing, I see no way, absent a public reversal of his public conduct, that Andrew Cuomo may present himself for holy Communion (per Canon 916), and, if he does present himself, I see no way that a minister of holy Communion may administer the sacrament to him (per Canon 915). Indeed, the only question in my mind is whether the ordinaries of New York should lift from the shoulders of individual ministers the burden of reaching this decision, by making a determination to this effect themselves and, assuming they do reach this conclusion, whether they should announce it publicly or in a personal letter to Cuomo. (Personally, I think a public announcement more befits the markedly public character of Cuomo’s conduct and responds better to the danger of scandal presented to the faithful by his actions).

Read the rest here.

H/T Deacon Greg Kandra

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Every Day A Cana

Tonight as we were sitting with the children and showing them our wedding album and discussing the events of 18 years ago today, we came to the picture that was never taken, the one I’m so sorry was missed, the one of the angel sent to remind Regina and me of our mission as a married couple. The angle’s name was Dottie, and she was a familiar fixture in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

She was homeless, and as is so often the case, weathered and aged beyond her years. How she came to be there at Saint Vincent Ferrer in New York, I cannot say–save for the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Regina and I put a great deal into the Mass: the music, the musicians, the readings, the three priests and deacon who were so close to us, our family and friends’ participation. We spent more time on the Mass than the rest of the day’s events, by far. It was glorious.

Then after Mass, as we were halfway down that very long aisle, past most of our family and friends, it happened.

Dottie appeared out of nowhere, directly in front of us.

She grabbed my arm and told me how beautiful Regina looked, how beautiful we looked, how happy she was for us both, how our wedding was the most beautiful she ever attended. Then she inclined forward to kiss me. And so we did. In a long intimate moment in the aisle she kept assuring us that we had God’s very special blessing and that we would have a good marriage. Regina and I took it in stride, and actually enjoyed the warmth and spontaneity of the moment. After working with homeless youth for seven years, it was as natural as walking.

Then, a friend leaned out and ushered her into the pew with him, and we were off to the steps for photos. Dottie stayed out front, waving at us in the limo. I never saw her again.

Eighteen years have presented us with a great many challenges. Making two into one has had its better moments, and some we’d rather forget. But just as Jesus came to the rescue at Cana, He has made us new many times over, each time perfecting in us some element of ourselves that needed the covenantal love of marriage and its attendant graces in order to grow.

With our son’s autism came a whole new dimension of vocation as a married couple. Though Regina as a pediatric nurse, and I in ministry to the homeless worked at our pro-life convictions, Joseph’s autism would open entirely new vistas in working within the movement to rebuild a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love. The plight of the handicapped, the abortions of 93% of all Down Syndrome children have become very personal. It has seasoned us both for dedicating our marriage to furthering the Gospel of Life, for advocating for the poor and the least among us.

Dottie’s apparition in the aisle was no mere fluke. It was a prophetic call to a young newly married couple. The beauty of the radiant bride that gently received the loving wishes of the weathered old woman without a home; uninvited, yet warmly and lovingly received. It has become the metaphor for our marriage, replete with the many who laughed with scorn at the moment–missing its import and beauty.

I think of Dottie whenever we take out the wedding album. I’ll never forget her face, her voice, that moment in the aisle. She was the first to greet us as a newly married couple, to kiss me and wish her blessings on us. She was elevated, as Jesus promised:

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Today one man, one homosexual judge, has decided for a nation that the people of a state do not have the right to conserve ancient societal institutions such as marriage. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative, passed by the voters in 2008, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Doubtless a river of ink will be spilled over this ruling and its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The questions, the searing questions for Christians are these: What was actually at stake? What, if anything, was lost today?

Was it the name of marriage, its definition, or its fundamental lived reality?

Certainly the definition of what constitutes marriage was dealt a deadly blow in one judicial ruling. But then, the very identity of marriage has been suffering death by a thousand cuts for decades. Marriage was always understood to reserve certain goods for heterosexual couples who promised their lives to one another in sacred oath.

Sexual activity, the procreating of children, adoption, rights of inheritance, rights of visitation, joint ownerships and contracts, joint rental leases, tax benefits, spousal coverage on insurance, have all been goods of marriage. One by one, each has been given away over the past few decades to cohabiting couples, both heterosexual and homosexual/lesbian.

Gays and lesbians may adopt children, whom society has decided do not need both a mother and a father for optimal healthy development.

Sodomy laws have been struck down.

Cohabitation outside of marriage is the norm.

Same-sex partners may share health benefits and have full hospital visitation rights.

Same-sex partners may cosign leases and mortgages.

Same-sex couples have domestic partnerships, quasi-marriage.

The list goes on and on. One by one the goods reserved to marriage have been given away without a firestorm of protest. The result is that gays and lesbians now have marriage in everything but name only. If we have not formally redefined marriage up to this point, we have done so operationally. Anger over Vaughn’s decision, while understandable, is a little like closing the barn door after the horses have gone.

Assuming the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Vaughn and restores the right of the people to define marriage, this will be a very small victory for marriage. No-fault divorce has done more to destroy marriage than all of the gay weddings times a thousand. We heterosexuals have been poor custodians of God’s great institution. Assuming a Supreme Court victory for traditionalists, what then?

Do we then turn our sights on cheap and easy divorces? Do we dare attempt to reclaim the goods of marriage and reserve them to heterosexual married couples only? Are we ready for that series of battles?

Or do we simply claim victory in a semantic skirmish and concede the war?

We have become too comfortable for far too long. Perhaps we dared not oppose the systematic surrender of marriage’s goods because of guilt over our rampant use of porn, rampant rates of adultery and divorce. Perhaps we were too busy with other pursuits, material acquisition and easy living, to man the barricades.

In his first homily as Pope, Benedict XVI reminded the Church that we were not made for comfort, but for greatness. Our collective shrug at the systematic looting of marriage’s goods points to our need to heed the Holy Father’s call to reorient ourselves toward greatness, and not a moment too soon.

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