Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

I keep this older posting at the head of my blog, outlining the viewpoint of all that follows. The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort. While somewhat bookish, given our use of books to establish continuity, we prefer conversation over writing and recognize that mere talking is rarely conversation. I think apologetics is a waste of time better spent on positive statement of belief. Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books) is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • Isaiah commentary; Brevard S. Childs
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Galatians commentary; Martin Luther
  • Fifteen Plays; by William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Pride and Prejudice; by Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations; Charles Dickens
  • The Golden Bowl; by Henry James
  • Novels 1930-1935; William Faulkner
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • History of the Church; James Hitchcock
  • Enchiridion Symbolorum; Denzinger
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

My booklist starts with Scripture, centered in the Psalms, and continues its intertwining of history, poetic literature, and philosophy broadly considered up to contemporary times. Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City, or 7:30am Mass at the Carmelite monastery,  in my case) and our encouragement of increasing use of the Liturgy of the Hours. We also try to form connections outside the Catholic Church (in my case, with St John’s Anglican, to which my wife belongs).


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose head steward is the bishop of Rome. After addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can ‘check one’s answers’ — the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians, especially regarding verse 5:6) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

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Solzhenitsyn and Modern Literature

From a 1990 article, on Solzhenitsyn and Modern Literature:

In a narrower context, August 1914 in its new augmented form is simply a great historical novel, one of the great narratives of public and private life in the twentieth century. In its insistence on the importance of individuals and individuality in history, and on the conditioned and conditional but real freedom that individuals possess, it undermines the extremes of social determinism and post-moral, anarchistic individualism—the extremes of Marxism or Structuralism and of the radical, post-moral, “self-reliant” individualism promoted by Carlyle, Emerson, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Norman Mailer, and other “imperial selves.” If Solzhenitsyn has helped give back to Russian readers their real history, obscured and lied about for so long by Communist propaganda, he has also given to Western readers something equally precious—an unforgettable example of the moral imagination at work, with the resources of, and in the light of, the Judeo-Christian tradition. In contrast to our avant-garde Establishment, Solzhenitsyn is no degenerate son, no “connoisseur of chaos.”

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Catholic Liturgy and Prayer

Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book ‘Prayer‘ gives a broad theological account of Christian prayer, particularly contemplative prayer.  However, it should be noted that the Liturgy of the Hours is at the foundation of Catholic prayer since priests and those in religious orders pray it daily. It’s important to keep this in mind when reading Batthasar’s book.

If one searchs this blog for ‘liturgy’, one will find various postings related to the Liturgy of the Hours, aka Divine Office, aka Breviary.  The full four volume edition is more useful than various abbridgements which often wind up distorting the basic nature of the Breviary. In my opinion, lay faithful should also resist the anxiety of the overly scrupulous and feel free to pick and choose from the full Liturgy of the Hours in their daily prayer. This will, in the long run for at least some people, be more useful that trying to do everything all at once, especially if one does not have supporting community praying the daily office.

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Archbishop John Wester on majority SCOTUS decision

Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Most Rev. John C. Wester:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States decided state marriage bans are
unconstitutional, meaning all states will perform and recognize same-sex marriage.
This decision, though significant, does not conclude debate over the definition
of marriage; we would like to affirm the following pastoral response.

As Catholics, we seek to uphold our traditional belief in marriage as a sacrament,
a well established and divinely revealed covenant between one man and one
woman, a permanent and exclusive bond meant to provide a nurturing
environment for children and the fundamental building block to a just society.
At the same time, we respect the dignity of all persons, not wishing to undermine
their pursuit of happiness but only to preserve and defend the gift of marriage as
divinely revealed in scripture and in natural law. Although we respectfully
disagree with those who would define marriage otherwise, we firmly hold that all
persons are loved by our compassionate God and deserve the respect and
dignity that is inherently theirs as human beings.

We acknowledge the right of our nation’s highest court to provide for a well
ordered society by establishing laws that protect the common good and safeguard
the civil and contractual rights and privileges of its citizens. At the same time, we
urge our lawmakers and judges to respect those institutions that are beyond state
and federal jurisdiction, institutions such as sacramental marriage that transcend
civil law and whose origins precede the existence of the state and go beyond its

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Hope then is a Gift

“Life and death are at war within us.  As soon as we are born, we begin at the same time to live and die.

Even though we may not be even slightly aware of it, this battle of life and death goes on in us inexorably and without mercy.  If by chance we become fully conscious of it, not only in our flesh and in our emotions but above all in our spirit, we find ourselves involved in a terrable wrestling, an agonia not of questions and answers, but of being and nothingness, spirit and void.  In this most terrible of all wars, fought on the brink of infinite despair, we come gradually to realize that life is more than the reward for him who correctly guesses a secret and spiritual ‘answer’ to which he smilingly remains committed.  This is more than a matter of ‘finding peace of mind,’ or ‘settling religious problems.’

Indeed, for the man who enters into the black depths of the agonia, religious problems become an unthinkable luxury.  He has no time for such indulgences.  He is fighting for his life.  His being itself is a foundering ship, ready with each breath to plunge into nothingness and yet inexplicably remaining afloat on the void.  Questions that have answers seem, at such a time, to be a cruel mockery of the helpless mind.  Existence itself becomes an absurd question, like a Zen koan: and to find an answer to such a question is to be irrevocably lost.  An absurd question can have only an absurd answer.

Religions do not, in fact, simply supply answers to questions.  Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become degenerate.  Salvation is more than the answer to a question. To emerge alive from a disaster is not just the answer to the question, ‘Shall I escape?’

Everything hangs on the final issue, in the battle of life and death.  Nothing is assured beforehand.  Nothing is definitely certain.  The issue is left to our own choice.  But that is what constitutes the dark terror of the agonia:  we cannot be sure of our own choice.  Arew we strong enough to continue choosing life when to live means to go on and on with this absurd battle of entity and nonentity in our own inmost self?

The roots of life remain immortal and invulnerable in us if we will continue to keep morally alive by hope.  Yet hope in its full supernatural dimension is beyond our power.  And when we try to keep ourselves in hope by sheer violent persistence in willing to live, we end if not in despair in what is worse–delusion.  (For in reality such delusion is a despair that refuses to take cognizance of itself.  It is the merciful form which cowards give to their despair.)

Hope then is a gift.  Like life, it is a gift from God, total, unexpected, incomprehensible, undeserved.  It springs out of nothingness, completely free.  But to meet it, we have to descend into nothingness.  And there we meet hope most perfectly, when we are stripped of our own confidence, our own strength, when we almost no longer exist.  ‘A hope that is seen,’ says St. Paul, ‘is no hope.’  No hope. Therefore despair. To see your hope is to abandon hope.

The Christian hope that is ‘not seen’ is a comunion in the agony of Christ.  It is the identification of our own agonia with the agonia of the God Who has emptied Himself and become obedient unto death.  It is the acceptance of life in the midst of death, not because we have courage, or light, or wisdom to accept, but because by some miracle the God of Life Himself accepts to live, in us, at the very moment when we descend into death.

All truly religious thought claims to arm man for his struggle with death with weapons that will ensure the victory of life over death.

The most paradoxical and at the same time the most unique and characteristic claim made by Christianity is that in the Resurrection of Christ the Lord from the dead, man has completely conquered death, and that ‘in Christ’ the dead will rise again to enjoy eternal life, in spiritualized and transformed bodies and in a totally new creation.  This new life in the Kingdom of God is to be not merely a passively received inheritance but in some sense the fruit of our agony and labor, love and prayers in union with the Holy Spirit.  Such a fantastic and humanly impossible belief has generally been left in the background by the liberal Christianity of the 19th and early 20th centuries, but anyone who reads the New Testament objectively must admit that this is the Doctrine of the first Christians.  Indeed, Christianity without this fabulous eschatoalogical claim is only a moral system without too much spiritual consistency.  Unless all Christianity is centered in the victorious, living, and ever present reality of Jesus Christ, the Man-God and conqueror of death, it loses its distinctive character and there is no longer any justification for a Christian missionary apostolate.  In point of fact, such an apostolate without the resurrection of the dead, has tended to be purely and simply an apostolate for western cultural and economic ‘progress,’ and not a true preaching of the Gospel.”    — Thomas Merton, The New Man, pp3-6.

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Jonathan Sacks Speech

Speech give by Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, at the Vatican during the Humanum Conference (or the Colloqium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage), November 17, 2014  (also available as youtube video). The speech received a standing ovation.

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one. But to me it is a story of seven key moments, each of them surprising and unexpected.
The first, according to a report in the press on 20th October of this year, took
place in a lake in Scotland 385 million years ago. It was then, according to this new
discovery, that two fish came together to perform the first instance of sexual reproduction
known to science. Until then all life had propagated itself asexually, by cell division,
budding, fragmentation or parthenogenesis, all of which are far simpler and more
economical than the division of life into male and female, each with a different role in
creating and sustaining life.

When we consider, even in the animal kingdom, how much effort and energy the
coming together of male and female takes, in terms of displays, courtship rituals, rivalries
and violence, it is astonishing that sexual reproduction ever happened at all. Biologists
are still not quite sure why it did. Some say to offer protection against parasites, or
immunities against disease. Others say it’s simply that the meeting of opposites generates
diversity. But one way or another, the fish in Scotland discovered something new and
beautiful that’s been copied ever since by virtually all advanced forms of life. Life begins
when male and female meet and embrace.

The second unexpected development was the unique challenge posed to Homo
sapiens by two factors: we stood upright, which constricted the female pelvis, and we had
bigger brains – a 300 per cent increase – which meant larger heads. The result was that
human babies had to be born more prematurely than any other species, and so needed
parental protection for much longer. This made parenting more demanding among
humans than any other species, the work of two people rather than one. Hence the very rare phenomenon among mammals, of pair bonding, unlike other species where the male contribution tends to end with the act of impregnation. Among most primates, fathers don’t even recognise their children let alone care for them. Elsewhere in the animal kingdom motherhood is almost universal but fatherhood is rare.

So what emerged along with the human person was the union of the biological mother
and father to care for their child. Thus far nature, but then came culture, and the third

It seems that among hunter gatherers, pair bonding was the norm. Then came
agriculture, and economic surplus, and cities and civilisation, and for the first time sharp
inequalities began to emerge between rich and poor, powerful and powerless. The great
ziggurats of Mesopotamia and pyramids of ancient Egypt, with their broad base and
narrow top, were monumental statements in stone of a hierarchical society in which the
few had power over the many. And the most obvious expression of power among alpha
males whether human or primate, is to dominate access to fertile women and thus
maximise the handing on of your genes to the next generation. Hence polygamy, which
exists in 95 per cent of mammal species and 75 per cent of cultures known to
anthropology. Polygamy is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that
many males never get the chance to have a wife and child. And sexual envy has been,
throughout history, among animals as well as humans, a prime driver of violence.

That is what makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary with its
statement that every human being, regardless of class, colour, culture or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself. We know that in the ancient world it was rulers, kings, emperors and pharaohs who were held to be in the image of God. So what Genesis was saying was that we are all royalty. We each have equal dignity in the kingdom of faith under the sovereignty of God.

From this it follows that we each have an equal right to form a marriage and have children, which is why, regardless of how we read the story of Adam and Eve – and there are differences between Jewish and Christian readings – the norm presupposed by that story is: one woman, one man. Or as the Bible itself says: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Monogamy did not immediately become the norm, even within the world of the
Bible. But many of its most famous stories, about the tension between Sarah and Hagar,
or Leah and Rachel and their children, or David and Bathsheba, or Solomon’s many
wives, are all critiques that point the way to monogamy.

And there is a deep connection between monotheism and monogamy, just as
there is, in the opposite direction, between idolatry and adultery. Monotheism and
monogamy are about the all-embracing relationship between I and Thou, myself and one
other, be it a human, or the divine, Other.

What makes the emergence of monogamy unusual is that it is normally the case
that the values of a society are those imposed on it by the ruling class. And the ruling
class in any hierarchical society stands to gain from promiscuity and polygamy, both of which multiply the chances of my genes being handed on to the next generation. From monogamy the rich and powerful lose and the poor and powerless gain. So the return of monogamy goes against the normal grain of social change and was a real triumph for the equal dignity of all. Every bride and every groom are royalty; every home a palace when furnished with love.

The fourth remarkable development was the way this transformed the moral life.
We’ve all become familiar with the work of evolutionary biologists using computer
simulations and the iterated prisoners’ dilemma to explain why reciprocal altruism exists
among all social animals. We behave to others as we would wish them to behave to us,
and we respond to them as they respond to us. As C S Lewis pointed out in his book The
Abolition of Man, reciprocity is the Golden Rule shared by all the great civilizations.

What was new and remarkable in the Hebrew Bible was the idea that love, not
just fairness, is the driving principle of the moral life. Three loves. “Love the Lord your
God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” “Love your neighbour as
yourself.” And, repeated no less than 36 times in the Mosaic books, “Love the stranger
because you know what it feels like to be a stranger.” Or to put it another way: just as
God created the natural world in love and forgiveness, so we are charged with creating
the social world in love and forgiveness. And that love is a flame lit in marriage and the
family. Morality is the love between husband and wife, parent and child, extended
outward to the world.

The fifth development shaped the entire structure of Jewish experience. In
ancient Israel an originally secular form of agreement, called a covenant, was taken and
transformed into a new way of thinking about the relationship between God and
humanity, in the case of Noah, and between God and a people in the case of Abraham
and later the Israelites at Mount Sinai. A covenant is like a marriage. It is a mutual
pledge of loyalty and trust between two or more people, each respecting the dignity and
integrity of the other, to work together to achieve together what neither can achieve
alone. And there is one thing even God cannot achieve alone, which is to live within the
human heart. That needs us.

So the Hebrew word emunah, wrongly translated as faith, really means faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, steadfastness, not walking away even when the going gets tough, trusting the other and honouring the other’s trust in us. What covenant did, and we see this in almost all the prophets, was to understand the relationship between us and God in terms of the relationship between bride and groom, wife and husband. Love thus became not only the basis of morality but also of theology. In Judaism faith is a marriage. Rarely was this more beautifully stated than by Hosea when he said in the name of God:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.

Jewish men say those words every weekday morning as we wind the strap of our tefillin
around our finger like a wedding ring. Each morning we renew our marriage with God.

This led to a sixth and quite subtle idea that truth, beauty, goodness, and life
itself, do not exist in any one person or entity but in the “between,” what Martin Buber
called Das Zwischenmenschliche, the interpersonal, the counterpoint of speaking and
listening, giving and receiving. Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic literature,
the vehicle of truth is conversation. In revelation God speaks and asks us to listen. In
prayer we speak and ask God to listen. There is never only one voice. In the Bible the
prophets argue with God. In the Talmud rabbis argue with one another. In fact I
sometimes think the reason God chose the Jewish people was because He loves a good
argument. Judaism is a conversation scored for many voices, never more passionately
than in the Song of Songs, a duet between a woman and a man, the beloved and her
lover, that Rabbi Akiva called the holy of holies of religious literature.

The prophet Malachi calls the male priest the guardian of the law of truth. The
book of Proverbs says of the woman of worth that “the law of loving kindness is on her
tongue.” It is that conversation between male and female voices, between truth and love,
justice and mercy, law and forgiveness, that frames the spiritual life. In biblical times
each Jew had to give a half shekel to the Temple to remind us that we are only half.
There are some cultures that teach that we are nothing. There are others that teach that we are everything. The Jewish view is that we are half and we need to open ourselves to another if we are to become whole.

All this led to the seventh outcome, that in Judaism the home and the family
became the central setting of the life of faith. In the only verse in the Hebrew Bible to
explain why God chose Abraham, He says: “I have known him so that he will instruct
his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is
right and just.” Abraham was chosen not to rule an empire, command an army, perform
miracles or deliver prophecies, but simply to be a parent. In one of the most famous lines in Judaism, which we say every day and night, Moses commands, “You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house or when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.” Parents are to be educators, education is the conversation between the generations, and the first school is the home.

So Jews became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us
from tragedy. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, Jews were
scattered throughout the world, everywhere a minority, everywhere without rights,
suffering some of the worst persecutions ever known by a people and yet Jews survived
because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and
their faith.

And they were renewed every week especially on Shabbat, the day of rest when
we give our marriages and families what they most need and are most starved of in the
contemporary world, namely time. I once produced a television documentary for the
BBC on the state of family life in Britain, and I took the person who was then Britain’s
leading expert on child care, Penelope Leach, to a Jewish primary school on a Friday

There she saw the children enacting in advance what they would see that evening
around the family table. There were the five year old mother and father blessing the five
year old children with the five year old grandparents looking on. She was fascinated by
this whole institution, and she asked the children what they most enjoyed about the
Sabbath. One five year old boy turned to her and said, “It’s the only night of the week
when daddy doesn’t have to rush off.” As we walked away from the school when the
filming was over she turned to me and said, “Chief Rabbi, that Sabbath of yours is saving
their parents’ marriages.”

So that is one way of telling the story, a Jewish way, beginning with the birth of
sexual reproduction, then the unique demands of human parenting, then the eventual
triumph of monogamy as a fundamental statement of human equality, followed by the
way marriage shaped our vision of the moral and religious life as based on love and
covenant and faithfulness, even to the point of thinking of truth as a conversation
between lover and beloved. Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and
where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child.
What then has changed? Here’s one way of putting it. I wrote a book a few years
ago about religion and science and I summarised the difference between them in two
sentences. “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things
together to see what they mean.” And that’s a way of thinking about culture also. Does it
put things together or does it take things apart?

What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is
what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.

For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth
control, in vitro fertilisation and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral
change like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm
others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and
other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that
marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from
love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from
responsibility for their care.

The result is that in Britain in 2012, 47.5 per cent of children were born outside
marriage, expected to become a majority in 2016. Fewer people are marrying, those who
are, are marrying later, and 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Nor is cohabitation a
substitute for marriage. The average length of cohabitation in Britain and the United
States is less than two years. The result is a sharp increase among young people of eating
disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, stress related syndromes, depression and actual and
attempted suicides. The collapse of marriage has created a new form of poverty
concentrated among single parent families, and of these, the main burden is born by
women, who in 2011 headed 92 per cent of single parent households. In Britain today
more than a million children will grow up with no contact whatsoever with their fathers.

This is creating a divide within societies the like of which has not been seen since Disraeli spoke of “two nations” a century and a half ago. Those who are privileged to grow up in stable loving association with the two people who brought them into being will, on average, be healthier physically and emotionally. They will do better at school and at work. They will have more successful relationships, be happier and live longer.

And yes, there are many exceptions. But the injustice of it all cries out to heaven. It will go down in history as one of the tragic instances of what Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit” that somehow we know better than the wisdom of the ages, and can defy the lessons of biology and history. No one surely wants to go back to the narrow prejudices of the past.

This week, in Britain, a new film opens, telling the story of one of the great minds of the twentieth century, Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician who laid the philosophical
foundations of computing and artificial intelligence, and helped win the war by breaking
the German naval code Enigma. After the war, Turing was arrested and tried for
homosexual behaviour, underwent chemically induced castration, and died at the age of
41 by cyanide poisoning, thought by many to have committed suicide. That is a world to
which we should never return.

But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not inhibit us from being advocates for the single most humanising institution in history. The family, man, woman, and child, is not one lifestyle choice among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love. It is where we learn the delicate choreography of relationship and how to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group. It is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love. It is where one generation passes on its values to the next, ensuring the continuity of a civilization. For any society, the family is the crucible of its future, and for the sake of our children’s future, we must be its defenders.

Since this is a religious gathering, let me, if I may, end with a piece of biblical
exegesis. The story of the first family, the first man and woman in the garden of Eden, is
not generally regarded as a success. Whether or not we believe in original sin, it did not
end happily. After many years of studying the text I want to suggest a different reading.

The story ends with three verses that seem to have no connection with one
another. No sequence. No logic. In Genesis 3: 19 God says to the man: “By the sweat of
your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were
taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Then in the next verse we read: “The
man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life.” And in the next,
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

What is the connection here? Why did God telling the man that he was mortal
lead him to give his wife a new name? And why did that act seem to change God’s
attitude to both of them, so that He performed an act of tenderness, by making them
clothes, almost as if He had partially forgiven them? Let me also add that the Hebrew
word for “skin” is almost indistinguishable from the Hebrew word for “light,” so that
Rabbi Meir, the great sage of the early second century, read the text as saying that God
made for them “garments of light.” What did he mean?

If we read the text carefully, we see that until now the first man had given his
wife a purely generic name. He called her ishah, woman. Recall what he said when he
first saw her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be
called woman for she was taken from man.” For him she was a type, not a person. He
gave her a noun, not a name. What is more he defines her as a derivative of himself:
something taken from man. She is not yet for him someone other, a person in her own
right. She is merely a kind of reflection of himself.

As long as the man thought he was immortal, he ultimately needed no one else. But now he knew he was mortal. He would one day die and return to dust. There was
only one way in which something of him would live on after his death. That would be if
he had a child. But he could not have a child on his own. For that he needed his wife.
She alone could give birth. She alone could mitigate his mortality. And not because she
was like him but precisely because she was unlike him. At that moment she ceased to be,
for him, a type, and became a person in her own right. And a person has a proper name.
That is what he gave her: the name Chavah, “Eve,” meaning, “giver of life.”

At that moment, as they were about to leave Eden and face the world as we
know it, a place of darkness, Adam gave his wife the first gift of love, a personal name.
And at that moment, God responded to them both in love, and made them garments to
clothe their nakedness, or as Rabbi Meir put it, “garments of light.”

And so it has been ever since, that when a man and woman turn to one another
in a bond of faithfulness, God robes them in garments of light, and we come as close as
we will ever get to God himself, bringing new life into being, turning the prose of biology
into the poetry of the human spirit, redeeming the darkness of the world by the radiance
of love.

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No Longer Two But One

(from essay by Cardinal Müller, see citation at bottom of page)

The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is often met with incomprehension in a secularized environment.  Where the fundamental insights of Christian faith have been lost, church affiliation of a purely conventional kind can no longer sustain major life decisions or provide a firm foothold in the midst of marital crises–as well as crises in priestly and religious life.  Many people ask, how can I bind myself to one woman or one man for an entire lifetime?  Who can tell me what my marriage will be like in ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years?  Is a definite bond to one person possible at all?  The many marital relationships that founder today reinforce the skepticism of young people regarding definitive life choices.

On the other hand, the ideal–built into the order of creation–of faithfulness between one man and one woman has lost none of its fascination, as is apparent from recent opinion surveys among young people.  Most of them long for a stable, lasting relationship, in keeping with the spiritual and moral nature of the individual person.  Moreover, one must not forget the anthropological value of indissoluble marriage: it withdraws the spouses from caprice and from the tyranny of feelings and moods.  It helps them to survive personal difficulties and to overcome painful experiences.  Above all, it protects the children, who have the most to suffer from marital breakdown.

Love is more than a feeling or an instinct.  Of its nature it is self-giving.  In marital love two people say consciously and intentionally to one another, only you–and you for ever.  The word of the Lord, “what therefore God has joined together” (Mk 10:9; Mt 19:6), corresponds to the promise of the spouses: “I take you as my husband….I take you as my wife….I will love, esteem, and honor you, as long as I live, till death us do part.”  The priest blesses the covenant that the spouses have sealed with one another before God.  If anyone should doubt whether the marriage bond is ontological, let him learn from the word of God: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning 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’?  So they are no longer two but one” (Mk 10:5-0; Mt 19:4-6).

For Christians, the marriage of baptized persons incorporated into the Body of Christ has a sacramental character and therefore represents a supernatural reality.  A serious pastoral problem arises from the fact that many people today judge Christian marriage exclusively by worldly and pragmatic criteria.  Those who think according to the “spirit of the world” (1 Cor 2:12) cannot understand the sacramentality of marriage.  The Church cannot respond to the growing incomprehension of the sanctity of marriage by pragmatically accomodating the supposedly inevitable, but only by trusting in “the Spirit which is from God, that we might understnad the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12).  Sacramental marriage is a testimony to the power of grace, which changes man and prepares the whole Church for the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the Church, which is prepared “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2).  The gospen of the sanctity of marriage is to be proclaimed with prophetic candor.  By adapting to the spirit of the age, a weary prophet seeks his own salvation but not the salvation of the world in Jesus Christ.  Faithfulness to marital consent is a prophetic sign of the salvation that God bestows upon the world.  “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12).  Through sacramental grace, married love is purified, strengthened, and ennobled.  “Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ’s sacrament, this love remains steadfastly true in body and in mind, in bright days or dark.  It will never be profaned by adultery or divorce” (Gaudium et Spes 49).  In the strength of the sacrament of marriage, the spouses participate in God’s definitive, irrrevocable love.  They can therefore be witnesses of God’s faithful love, but they must nourish their love constantly through living by faith and love.

(Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, p 159-161 in Remaining in the Truth of Christ, Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church; edited by Robert Dodaro, Ignatius Press 2014)

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