Friday, October 29, 2010

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends II

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends continued:

As a result of this accommodation, rates of cohabitation, divorce and the practice of contraception among Catholics are roughly the same as the rest of society. In other words, the Church in America is composed of members who fare no better in their personal holiness than non-Catholics. If the majority of Catholics fail to observe all the moral laws of Christ then the Church as a whole will be ineffective in her witness. As Pope Leo XIII said, “As souls cannot be perfectly united in charity unless minds agree in faith, he [Christ] wishes all to hold the same faith.” The power to do good and the ability to glorify God as a Church requires a united front. But a united front in action is only preceded by a union of minds.

Collectively, a union of minds and uniformity of action is essential. Just as important is the obligation of every Christian to accept and live out all that Jesus Christ taught. A very important Scripture passage in understanding the necessity of total fidelity to Christ’s teachings is from James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.” St. Augustine, just a few centuries later, elaborates on this principle by saying, "There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition." In other words, if a person is faithfull to nine out of the Ten Commandments, but is not observing the sixth commandment- "Thou shall not commit adultery," then it is as if he or she violated all the commandments. The same applies to fornication, contraception or any sexual sin. Using the analogy of St. Augustine, any one of these serious sins is like that drop of poison in a big glass of purified water. What good is the purified water if it contains one drop of poison?

Do not these passages from St. James and St. Augustine summarize, in a nutshell, why the Catholic Church has struggled to preserve the dignity of marriage in our culture? Is it not the case that in most marriage preparation programs couples who cohabitate are not required to repent from their sin before getting married in the Church? As such, they are neither trained in virtue for the sacrifices every marriage demands or prepared for eternity by repenting from the sin of pre-marital sex. This pastoral passivity speaks to the heart of the problem.

Before the 1960's, and especially in the first millennium, a common pastoral practice in the Catholic Church was that she required repentance from sin, especially serious sins, as a pre-condition for participating in the Sacraments. Also, throughout the centuries- leading up to the 1960's -if one was to enter the Church he or she had to believe everything Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. Picking and choosing was not an option.

It is encouraging to note that Archbishop Nienstedt of Minneapolis is attempting to dust off those ancient pastoral practices of the Church. He said, "I believe if you are going to be Catholic, that you have to be 100% Catholic…That you stand by the Church, you believe what the Church believes and you pass that on to your sons and daughters and your grandsons and granddaughters."

On part III of this series: Some specific examples of the pastoral practices of the early Church and how they apply to today's marriage trends.