Forum: We Must Stand for the Truth About Marriage

Patriotism is a virtue; Supreme Court ruling a reminder to pray and sacrifice for the nation

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Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.

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On June 26, 2015, five Supreme Court justices created a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage in every state of our nation. That decision, in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges, did come as a surprise to most Americans. But, for many Catholics and Christian believers, the Court’s decision has been a confirmation of a disturbing reality—an affirmation of the profound disconnect between Christian morality and the legal principles that now govern our country.

Marriage, throughout history, has been a fundamental component of any healthy society. Strong marriages form strong families. And strong families form strong cultures and civilizations. The Supreme Court decision said that liberty requires citizens to define marriage in whatever way they see fit. This means that some people will define marriage in virtuous and holy ways, and some will define in dangerous ways—in the eyes of the law, all will be equal. Liberty, the Supreme Court has determined, means that reality can be defined in any way that we see fit.

Defining reality according to our own desires and not according to an objective truth, always has hidden costs. In the case of marriage, the cost comes for children who are told that motherhood and fatherhood are not important—whose natural right to maternity and paternity is denied. But the so-called “liberty” to define reality according to our desires will have more grave consequences—especially for the weak, the vulnerable, and the poor.

Although we are graced with strong parishes, and strong Catholic communities; we cannot deny the profound impact of relativism and secularism on our culture. As I’ve talked with friends, I realize that in the wake of Obergefell vs. Hodges, many Catholics are left wondering what they ought to do, and what they ought to say.

How should a Catholic respond to Obergefell vs. Hodges?

Before anything else, Obergefell vs Hodges reminds us of the absolute imperative of prayer and sacrifice for our nation, and its future.

Patriotism—the love of one’s homeland—is a virtue. We are called, as Catholics, to love our country. And we are called to pray, especially, for those we love. Regular periods of prayer, fasting, and sacrifice for our country, its citizens, and its common good are fundamental habits of good citizenship for Catholics. If we wish to see truth recognized and honored in our country, we must pray that it will be so. And if we wish to trust with confidence that the Lord will guide our nation, we must entrust it to his care in our prayers.

We are also called—more obviously than ever before—to be active witnesses to the truth and meaning of the Gospel. The Supreme Court says that man is free to define life’s most important questions for himself. Catholics know that the answer to life’s most important questions is a person—Jesus Christ, himself. As Saint John Paul II would often remind us, “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life.”

Pope Francis calls all Catholics to be missionary disciples. Missionaries are those who “go out” and proclaim Christ—and we must be those missionaries. We cannot expect our nation to have any sense of the deepest meaning of life if its people do not know Christ. We can only expect the world to know Christ if we proclaim him—in joy, in freedom, and in love.

Obergefell vs. Hodges does not need to become a source of discouragement for us. Instead, we can see it as a diagnosis of the profound problem caused by relativism, selfishness and by sin, in our country. We know the solution to those problems is found in Jesus Christ. And we know that we can be active, creative, and faithful missionaries—those who use the initiative the Lord has given us to invite the world to encounter his mercy.

In fact, Obergefell vs. Hodges should become a reminder of how many people are hungering for truth in a world of emptiness; how many people are longing for light in a world of darkness. This is, in fact, an exciting time to be missionaries, because of how obviously the world is longing for truth.

On the day the Court imposed same-sex marriage on our country, I posted a short statement on social media, from the bishops of Nebraska’s three dioceses. The statement affirmed that marriage is a gift from God, written into the very fiber of our creation. It affirmed that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, created for the formation of families, the cornerstones of all civilizations. The statement encouraged Catholics to remember that no human law can change the reality of marriage, and it asked all people to witness to the beautiful grace of married life, and family love. 

I was surprised by the response to this short statement. On my Facebook page, while some comments were thoughtful, in other comments, arguments broke out. Opinions were strong. Too often, people called each other unrepeatable names. Crudities and calumny seemed commonplace. I was reminded of what we all must learn as missionaries, especially in a post-Christian world, to always speak the truth in charity.

We will face hatred because of truth. In fact, Christ promised that the world would hate us, as it hated him. But when we respond to hatred and persecution with love, we make Jesus Christ present. When we respond to mockery with joy, we win hearts and minds for Jesus Christ.

As we stand for marriage, the world will hate us. The world will misunderstand us, and persecute us. But that hatred is the opportunity God gives us to love. It is the moment he offers us to live as he lived. And as we follow Christ, responding to hatred with love, the deepest meaning of life’s realities will be clear to all those we encounter.

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