July 13, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 14 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
When Blessed John Paul II was preparing his apostolic letter on the dignity of women, Mulieris dignitatem, he asked a Polish woman who was a distinguished philosopher to review the literature on women’s studies and give him a précis of her wide ranging readings. After she had tackled the American literature on the subject, she offered the Holy Father the results of her research. One evening at supper with a cardinal of the Roman Curia, the Holy Father said he had seen the wide range of positions and arguments and found them fascinating. He added, “But the question they all seem to miss is the one that seems to me to be the most important: What did God intend when he created us male and female?”
This question keeps coming back to me in the aftermath of the recent passage of legislation in our state that has extended the concept of marriage to persons of the same sex, giving permission for homosexual persons to be “married” in New York. But what did God intend when he created us male and female?
This is not meant as a polemic. Nor does it stem from my disappointment that this attempt to grant marital status to private personal relationships has won the day in our state. I recognize the legitimacy of one person’s feelings toward another. I have no doubt about anyone’s sincerity when one declares a sentiment of committed love for someone of the same sex. In my own life and the lives of us all, we have many bonds of love. They enrich our lives and they can be as committed in terms of intentionality as any bond of life and love. Yet I would not and could not claim that these bonds of deep love, constant kindness, mutual esteem and support, faithfully caring for the other, can ever be called marriage. That remains to me a mystery. It is true that some want the label of “marriage” because, without it, they feel they are inherently being discriminated against. I understand the motivation and am sympathetic to anyone who feels maltreated. Yet redefining something that is to be what it is not defies logic and constructs an artificial reality that can only lead to more and more problems, and more and more fissures in the social fabric of our society.
This was illustrated right after the Fourth of July by an article in the N.Y. Times entitled, “Who’s on the family tree? Now it’s complicated.” The piece put together a very real modern scenario in which one “gay” couple had a child by a surrogate mother, a second from a former husband, a third who was adopted with the result that children who were biologically related were also related by sentiment and were at the same time cousins and step brothers and sisters to one another. The “parents” then had to work out various scenarios to explain to little children who each one was in varying degrees to the other. This was all reported to us as “part of today’s world” with about as much sensitivity as a discussion of what happens when one child goes to Yale and the other to Harvard.
And this is the main point. None of these complicated and challenging, indeed potentially disastrous, situations is necessary. They all are the products of a society that deems that “if it can be done, we must be free to do it at will.” Science and technology in the medical and biological spheres have given us many ways to manipulate the human person from the chromosome to the fecundated zygote to the child in and outside the womb. Who stops and asks about the implications of this licensed liberty to order up what we want when we want it even to the production rather than the procreation of a child?
The ongoing, soon to be permanent, difficulty of all this is what my professor, the late Bernard Lonergan S.J., labeled the longer and the shorter cycle of decline. One false proposition or one misguided choice leads inevitably to a series of ever greater false choices. Because the first choice is flawed, one must devise more and more new “arrangements” to cover the original defect, the original “scotoma.” Courts are already busy trying to make sense out of the complications of humanly inappropriate and ultimately harmful choices. The need and the necessity to invent new and ever more complex rationales ultimately will founder on itself. Then will we have the strength and the courage and the insight to admit the failures of social experimentation and rectify them in the name of a much more important good: the human person with all the dignity and rights and openness to the Transcendent that is intrinsic to every human being?
That leads me back to the question Blessed John Paul expressed so simply but so eloquently, “But what did God intend?” Without claiming that I can speak for God, I do believe there is a wisdom and a truth that has been rightly captured by the great traditions of Athens and Jerusalem, that has been adopted by Rome and furthered through the constant reflection and teaching of the Church that reveals much about the human person in society, much about human dignity and human capacity, much about what furthers the true common good of society and, conversely, what does not.
My much admired professor, Father Lonergan, in an essay published in 1970, called this a “crisis, not of faith, but of culture.” He closed his essay on The Dimensions of Meaning as I close this little column: There is bound to be formed a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists. There is bound to be formed a scattered left, captivated by now this and now that new development, now this and now that new possibility. But what will count is a perhaps not numerous center, big enough to be at home in the old and the new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to be made, strong enough to refuse half measures and insist on complete solutions even though it has to wait.
As a man now in his eighth decade, I am convinced by history and experience that the place where this can be found and the one institution where this can be realized is the Church of Jesus Christ. It will not be easy. We cannot become proud or condescending. But we must proclaim the truth about the real meaning of human life and human dignity. We must engage in a public dialogue to mediate that to one and all with patience and humility. But we must also have great confidence that Jesus reveals to us the real meaning of human dignity and that we, as faithful Catholics, must continue to insist on what is true and right, what is good and beautiful and open up to others the importance for us all of the answer to the Pope’s question: What did God intend?