Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, published in the Southern Nebraska Register.
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In the century before Christ was born, the great Roman poet Horace wrote a wise line: “Tua res agitur paries cum proximus ardet.” The English translation is: “It concerns you when your neighbor’s wall is on fire.”
Horace taught that we are connected to one another—that human beings are responsible for each other’s wellbeing, and that the misfortunes of others can endanger each one of us. Horace meant that we need to respond when neighbors face danger—that justice, and love, demand that we care for the needs of those in our communities.
St. Paul expressed Horace’s wisdom more clearly. To the Church in Philippi, he wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Christ put it even more clearly—“whatever you do for the least of your brothers,” he said, “you do for me.” If we really love Christ, the needs of those around us will become our needs, and the misfortunes of others will become our concern.
In November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Nebraska, alleging that Article I-29 of our Constitution is a violation of federal law. The article states that in our state, marriage shall be understood as a union between a man and woman—and that marriage cannot be contracted or recognized as a relationship between two people of the same sex.
Over the past few months, Nebraskans have fought to protect our Constitution. As the lawsuit continues to run through the federal courts, Catholics will continue to proclaim and clarify the real meaning of marriage.
Tragically, marriage has been legally redefined in many states across the country. The federal government has accepted alternative definitions of marriage. So-called ‘same-sex marriage’ is increasingly accepted by cultural, religious, and political leaders. To some, universal recognition of same-sex marriage seems inevitable.
As the debate goes on, some Catholics have begun to ask why fighting same-sex marriage is so important. A friend asked me recently, “If the Church will not have to violate her teaching, why does same-sex marriage concern me?”
Radical redefinition of marriage concerns each one of us. It concerns me, and it concerns you.
It should concern all of us when our state’s Constitution is undermined—when the votes of Nebraskans are less important than the force of well-funded and well-organized political interest groups. It concerns us when the government is used to validate and endorse whatever kind of social arrangement citizens might wish to make—no matter the harm.
It concerns us when the world forgets that children do best with mothers and fathers, each playing unique roles in formation and education. It concerns us when “fatherhood” and “motherhood” become lost or muddled concepts. It concerns us when the real needs of children are undermined for the sake of “tolerance” and political correctness.
It concerns us when the state forces bakers and photographers, teachers and parents to ignore what they believe—to abandon their convictions and their faith—in order to make a living for their families.
It concerns us when our state is not free to recognize that men and women, forming stable families and stable communities, have an important role in every human culture. It concerns us when our state is not free to support and promote the sacrifices of those men and women. It concerns us when our state must deny real truths about human families, and human hearts.
It concerns us when we begin to lose sight of God’s plan for the world. It concerns us when the world confuses real God-given dignity with moral license and pathways to unhappiness. It concerns us when a confused, unhappy, and over-sexualized culture makes it harder for all people—no matter their attractions or inclinations—to know God’s love.
Redefining marriage concerns each of us because its impact is profound. For the sake of our neighbors and friends—for the sake of our whole community—we need to continue to proclaim and clarify the truth about marriage.
Proclaiming the truth about marriage, and families, and parents, is an act of love. It is an act of love for our state, which has the right to be organized according to reality. It is an act of love for children, who have the right to know the complementary love of mothers and fathers. And it is an act of love for all those who might be kept from discovering God’s real love—and their real dignity—by the confusing lies of the world.
The Church should be a place of welcome for all people. It should be a place where all people come to know God’s love, and to know his incredible plan for their lives. The Church should be a place where knowing the truth is a source of hope, of healing, and of joy. And that means that the Church should be a place where the truth is proclaimed—charitably, respectfully, and openly.
The world is very confused about the meaning of marriage, about the importance of families and, ultimately, the world is very confused about happiness, and joy, and peace. The world is a dangerous place for anyone who is seeking real love. Christ’s love—and his plan for each one of us—is the antidote to that danger. That concerns each one of us.
Tua res agitur!