Erosion of institutions like marriage hurts all of society

Father John A. Kiley
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Two Blackstone Valley men were recently featured on the front page of the local press celebrating their same-sex nuptials formalized in nearby Massachusetts. Some of their justification for entering into the legal novelty of a same-sex union focused on the little harm that their lifestyle imposed on their neighbors and their community. They go off to work and eat at nearby restaurants and conduct much of their lives as any other couple might. “What fault is there in that?” they might suggest. And, of course, on an individual basis, there probably is very little mischief that can be laid at their doorstep.

Yet, while these two men (and others) might not be doing any immediate damage to the family next door or down the street, they are doing grave injury to the institution of marriage whose roots are sunk deep in human nature and in Divine Revelation. The modern exaltation of the individual over any institution is the source of the same-sex union discussion, the cohabitation debate, the abortion controversy, the divorce dilemma, the immigration crisis and, yes, the fall off in religious practice. Individual rights are absolute today. Diversity is vigorously commended as the hallmark of modern society. The greater the departure from the norm, the modernist muses, the better off civilization will be. Students at Rhode Island College can mock Jesus Christ, illegal aliens can plead their civil rights, a sports hero can father babies from two women without loss of prestige. The institutions of religion, of international law, of marriage are dishonored with impunity while the individual perpetrators are applauded with delight. In the popular mind, the institution has become a drag on individual potential.

Christians and other members of the Western world and even humanity in general have developed certain institutions that have proven down through the centuries to strengthen, to enhance, to improve human life. Marriage, family, religion, government, education, business, the military, among others, are institutions that have fostered and protected and nurtured human society since the Stone Age. Some of these institutions have taken distinct forms in different eras. Polygamy and concubinage pre-dated modern marriage. Charles I, Louis XVI and Nicholas II can testify that monarchies are not the eternal form of government. The Christian Church drew heavily from Jewish tradition. So institutions do evolve. Yet as they evolve, institutional precedent must be respected. The status quo, the perennial philosophy, the universally accepted myth, must not be fractured at the whim of the individual. Perhaps Louis XVI and Nicholas II’s time had come; but the terrors that followed them in France and Russia illustrate tragically what happens when mankind pretends to begin again by despising traditional values. Perhaps the neat Tridentine Church of our youth needed rejuvenating, but the upheaval in Mass attendance, priestly vocations, religious communities and Christian marriages is a prime example of too much, too soon. As may happen with same-sex unions, the wisdom of the ages yielded to transitory pressure. The big picture was eclipsed by a single point of view.

In the second reading this weekend, St. Paul advises the young Timothy, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Not all mankind appreciates Divine revelation nor even the Bible. Yet believers must accept that God has truly enlightened successive generations of Christians with certain truths rooted in God’s own Nature and in the nature of man. The duty of Divine Worship, reverence for authority, the sanctity of life, appreciation of marriage and family, respect for private property, esteem for another’s reputation, virtuous living – these are the very fabric of society. To amend these goals out of convenience or sentiment or fashion is to fly in the face of God Himself.

Institutions like marriage and family, like religion and liturgy, like law and order, are not the residue of antiquity burdening mankind with obsolete practices. Institutions are the collective human memory distinguishing the beaten path from the dead-end street, the narrow gate from the broad thoroughfare, the ladder to heaven from the road to hell.