Sunday, May 05, 2013

Rules and the Spirit (Sunday homily)

The readings raise a perennial question about “rules”--
and about being guided by the Holy Spirit.

We’ve all heard it, and maybe we’ve said it: 
if only we could get back to simple Christianity, without all the rules.

Only notice: in the first reading, right at the beginning, 
to settle a dispute between Christians with different backgrounds, 
the Apostles needed to impose some…rules.

But this question occurs: why do we have to have rules?
Do we have too many? 
Let me share with you what Father Mike Seger, 
who teaches moral theology at our seminary, taught us: 
“Rules exist to protect values.”

That’s a very profound, and very useful, insight. I’ll say it again:
“Rules exist to protect values.”

One takeaway from that is this: 
if people don’t understand why we have a rule, 
it’s time to ask, what is the value it’s supposed to protect?

So to pick a high-profile example:
In the public arena, many of us, including the Catholic Church, 
are now forced to defend a rule about marriage: it’s a man and a woman.

And many people say who cares? Live and let live.

So let’s answer the question: what is the value at stake here?
And the answer is there are several: 
a true understanding of human identity, 
including the nature of family.

When we defend the understanding of marriage as man-and-woman, 
we’re also defending the fact of family being mother-and-father.

And what many don’t realize is that this debate 
isn’t just about a small change in the law. If only it were.
It’s about two very different views of human life and human nature.

That’s why many of those 
who want to change the definition of marriage 
aren’t content to win that legal change here and there--
you’re also seeing them put us in the same category as racists, 
and calling us bigots. 

And we’re just beginning to see florists, photographers, 
wedding-cake-bakers and so forth are being punished 
for saying, well I don’t agree with redefining marriage.

And, I might add, we’re also seeing the beginnings to what’s next: 
if marriage needn’t be about a man and woman, 
why does it have to be just two people?

So you see, this is not about just a small change in a law--
it’s about a fundamental shift in the values that shape who we are.

So to return to my starting point--
when we wonder why we have rule, 
look to see what value it serves to protect.

The Gospel, which talks about the Gift of the Holy Spirit, 
could be seen as a counterpoint to the first reading with its rules.

But the Holy Spirit isn’t really an “alternative” to having rules--
rather, when we have the Holy Spirit, we have just one rule: 
do what the Holy Spirit says.

If only we were at that point!
That’s what heaven is. 
On earth, our wills are not so well tuned to God’s will.
So in the meantime, we need help. That’s what rules are for.

That’s what the Sacraments are for. Going to confession.
Holy Eucharist. Prayer. Devotion. Our life as Christians.
To tune our wills to the will of God, the will of the Holy Spirit.


Anonymous said...

Yes, rules protect values, but whose values? You are welcome to as many rules as you want to protect your Catholic values, but in a democratic nation that is made of lots of different people -- Catholic or otherwise -- we have a different set of rules.

It's not that I and other pro-same-sex marriage advocates don't understand why the Church has rules. It's that we disagree and reject some of them, which is our right as citizens.

And please stop with the slippery slope of polygamy. Many countries and states have had legal same-sex marriage for a while now, and there is no serious movement for plural marriage in any of them. Legalizing polygamy is so unpopular I can't even find a legit poll about it; and it is so legally unprecedented I have no idea how the civil rights for a two-person relationship would be extended to additional people.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Well, your comment, I'm sorry to say, is riddled with incorrect assumptions.

First of all, marriage-as-heterosexual predates the existence of the Catholic Church. Or are you under the impression that, prior to the establishment of the Catholic Church, people of the same sex routinely entered into marriage?

Second, I'm not speculating about polygamy being next. There are already folks advocating for it. For you to say, oh but it's so unpopular, I might ask you what polls circa 1980 said about same-sex marriage? Let me know what you come up with.

As a legal matter, I fail to see how--except as an exercise in raw power--a valid argument can be made that there is a "right" for people of the same sex to marry, yet the state can arbitrarily limit marriage to two people.

On what rationale do you forbid three people to marry? Why are you so mean and hateful? Why do you deny them happiness? What's it to you?

Anonymous said...

> First of all, marriage-as-heterosexual predates the existence of the Catholic Church. Or are you under the impression that, prior to the establishment of the Catholic Church, people of the same sex routinely entered into marriage?

I don't understand. I don't care how long heterosexual marriage has existed and I think it's irrelevant because a society's value system changes over time.

> Second, I'm not speculating about polygamy being next. There are already folks advocating for it.

Who? I just Googled "polygamy advocates" and all I see are a bunch of fringe, outdated websites and other anti-same-sex marriage people making the same slippery slope argument as you to try to muddle the issue. There are also a few writers and speakers speculating about it, but I repeat: there doesn't exist any serious movement to grant polygamy legal status in the Western world.

> For you to say, oh but it's so unpopular, I might ask you what polls circa 1980 said about same-sex marriage?

You're right. We can't find a poll 30+ years ago where the majority of people are pro-same-sex marriage, like we are today. And today I can't even find a poll about polygamy.

So what? A lot has changed since 1980. If polygamy has the same relevance on society in 30 years as gay rights do now (which I sincerely doubt), let's talk again.

The point is that today, in 2013, there are committed couples (2 individuals) who are denied survivor Social Security benefits, disability benefits, inheritance benefits, joint income tax filing, among many other rights because they happen to be married to someone of the same gender. We are focusing on that inequity.

Pat said...


1. The fact that marriage-as-heterosexual predates the existence of the Catholic Church doesn't have any real meaning in thsi discussion.

Property rights also predate the RCC, but we change them all the time, from society to society, to fit our needs.

2. Geegee's right about the polygamists. It's not a real threat.

3. Here's the real issue: the State grants licenses: for fishing, for running a securities business, for driving.... for lots of things. If you apply for such a license, and our g0vernment denies it to you, our government must have a compelling State interest that is served by deying you the license.

But there is NO compelling State interest that is served by deying Joe and John a marriage license. None.

Denying them a license won't make a single straight marriage stronger. Denying them a license, won't make straight people have more babies. Denying them a license won't cure cancer. Denying them a license won't add dollars to our coffers.

Denying them a marriage license gets us nothing.



Jackie said...


First - the comment that marriage pre-exists the Catholic Church was a response to Geegee's original post about rejecting the Church's rules on marriage - as if Father said the rule that marriage between a man and a women is only due to the Church 'rule'. He didn't. Neither does the Church.

Second - yes - the State DOES grant licenses - for a variety of things. The question is WHY does the State think it has the power to grant licenses? (Relatedly - what is the 'yardstick' is used to decide what areas?)

a. Classically - the State regulates (or ought to) only those activities and areas that have an impact on society that the State is charged with protecting. So - anti-monopoly regulations are enacted by the State to ensure a 'level playing field', growth in the economy, growth in new ideas and inventions, etc. In the US - this falls somewhat under the Constitution's commerce clause.

Fishing/hunting licenses are issued by the State theoretically to safeguard against overfishing/over-culling wildlife - so that it is available to all. The cost of these licenses ought to be to cover the cost of the work rather than a tax collection.

The State regulates marriage by saying that brothers and sisters or first cousins cannot marry. Why - because we know that in addition to breaking down family bonds (incest) it causes a marked increase in genetic birth defects. (This is why even a brother and sister who were not raised as siblings - didn't even know one another - still could not marry based on the regulation of the State.)

So - what is the State's compelling interest in marriage licenses? Marriage licenses are NOT a 'Congratulation on your sexual partner relationship' greeting card.

Society's/the State's interest in marriage has been and will be CHILDREN. Children impact how society is now and will be in the future. (How many in prison? How many on welfare? How many in good families, raising decent children, working to help society at home and in the work place.)

That is also why there are tax benefits for marriage and for children. The State has a vested interest to encourage behavior that helps society.

You still need a man and a women to have a child. EVEN with a test tube involved.

It is apparent that families without fathers - in communities without fathers - have a higher rate of crime, lack of education, shorter life spans, etc. Look at the poor areas of cities. It is now coming out - after 30 years or so - of 'test tube babies and sperm banks' - the emotional issues from those children born of science (and the greater incident of 1/2 siblings dating where men deposited hundreds of times). It is beginning to come out that children raised by homosexual partners also have higher incidents of emotional issues. (Of course that data is slammed, insulted, and the researchers called all sorts of names - because their research didn't get the 'politically correct results'.)

So - other than a marriage license as the congratulatory card from the State for a new sex partner - what compelling societal reason have you got for homosexual 'marriage' recognized and encouraged by the state?

Pat said...


First: Those who raise the "marriage pre-dates organized government" argument do so in an attempt to argue that civil marriage is beyond human intervention since it's an institution that goes back to our cave days. My comment was meant to challenge that false argument by pointing out that many of our civil institutions (like property rights) go just as far back, and yet they are ALL subject to human intervention.

Second: The primary State interest in regulating marriage is not the rearing of children. If that that were the State's primary interest in marriage then the State would ... REGULATE THE REARING OF CHILDREN within the institution of marriage.

How can you not see this basic fact? You live in a country that does NOT grant benefits (and assign responsibilities) to "married people who have children"?

The State grants benefits (and assigns responsibilities) to "married people".

The State also grants benefits (and assigns responsibilities) to "parents".

Your rights and obligations as a spouse accrue the moment you MARRY - not the moment you give birth. Your rights and obligations as a spouse cease the moment you DIVORCE- not the moment your child reaches 18.

Similarly, your rights and obligations as a parent accrue at the moment you give birth - regardless of your marital status.

Is marrriage important in rearing children? Absolutely. But our laws and public policies do not conflate the 2 institutions as you suggest.

Third: You ask why would the State encourage marriage as good social policy aside from the fact that it is an ideal environment for raising children? Here are a few reasons off the top of my head:

The people want it. This fact should not be underestimated. Millions of people find a partner and desire to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. It is good social policy for the State to give the people what they want, especially if what the people want seems to be good for the people. What is good for the people is often good for the State.

Marriage makes citizens healthier. Over 40 years of research in this area shows that marriage provides both physical and psychological health benefits. Married people live longer lives and healthier lives. It is in the State's interest to encourage this.

Investment in Society. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. And the economic partnership of a marriage makes the couple more likely to reinvest in the local community. By being married, my wife and I save money, which allows us the dsiposable income to patronize your restaurant, or hire your daughter as a part time worker in our bakery.

It saves the State money and worry. By marrying each other 2 people commit to care for one another, often relieving the State from signifiacnt financial and social obligations when a person becomes ill or unemoployed or underemployed. Also, revenue comes into the State from marriage licenses, higher income taxes (the so-called "marriage penalty"), and decreases in costs for state benefit programs.

Given these reasons, if you think critically about our laws and public policies and how they work, you can't really argue against gay civil marriage.

Jackie said...


On your first point – you weren’t responding to a bunch of ‘those’ – but to Father’s response to a question on his homily. Not to the great masses. And while yes, there is human intervention on many of these – it does not follow that all the interventions are correct. I need go no further than the Supreme Court decision Dred Scott. That was a private property intervention too.

Really – your thinking critically starts with ‘The people want it’? ‘It is good social policy for the State to give the people what they want.’ I will applaud your honest in articulating how you decide what ought to be - your yardstick. But it is hardly critical thinking!

It is NOT true that gay and lesbian partnerships (whether contracted via the State or not) provide a longer, healthier life. Those ‘marriage’ statistics only apply to heterosexual marriages. It is true that a gay lifestyle has a shorter life span, more illness, etc.

In general, the State has respected the rights and duties of parents and has not taken over those duties unless the parents cannot – even with help – provide in a basic way for the raising of children. Those States that do ‘take over the rearing of children’ are generally not considered good governments – the Nazi’s, the USSR/Soviet Union, etc. There is something naturally abhorrent in that – recognized by most people in most times across most cultures. So – it is false to say that the only way a State shows interest in rearing children is to regulate it. That is poor logic.

You point out that marriage and children are separate areas and are treated as such. It is partially true that over the past 40 – 50 years the reality between marriage and parents has been separated in how the State approaches it. That is based on the very liberal, no fault divorce that has spread across the country. In the past – there was only married, single and widow(er) on the tax form. There was no head of household. WHY – because children were expected to be born into a married couple OR to be adopted by a couple. That is why there was tax help for marriage. It is true that there were single mothers (not widows) but they were not encouraged to continue to do that based on tax help. (As opposed to the welfare system now!)

Your list of investment in society – yes, true marriage does do many of those things – commitment, etc but, with the ease of no fault divorce – many of those benefits, unfortunately have been lost as marriage has moved from a familial covenant that is not dissolvable – except under the most extreme situations to a contract that can be broken with the greatest of ease. Gay so called ‘marriage’ is just the next step. (And please tax revenue for the license and saving money for the economy – just shack up! Co-sign the lease!) In fact, the government has picked up more obligations as fewer and fewer people marry, fewer children are born out of wedlock into communities of no fathers. Weakening and diluting what is supposedly marriage will, in fact, weaken it more.

Lastly, based on your ‘what the people want’ – then polygamy, or any other ‘partnership’ - should ‘the people want it’ will be come a law. And – when the people of California didn’t want it – that wasn’t the end – it was go to the Courts to overturn what the people wanted.

Lastly Pat, I almost always think critically and logically and I most certainly can argue against gay so called ‘marriage’. Your reasons aren’t even close! But you sure do think a lot of yourself.

Pat said...


1. If Fr. Fox meant something OTHER than what I understood him to mean regarding" marriage pre-dating organized goverments", he can let us know. But based on his prior posts on this topic, I'm sure I'm right. Perhaps you're new to reading this blog?

2. Yes, the people want marriage. They also want access to clean drinking water, educated children and a chance at home ownership. Are you SERIOUSLY arguing against the State enacting laws and supporting social policies that help the People get get these things - these things that are clearly beneficial? No, you're just being SO stubbornly argumentative that you're not being sensible. It is ABSOLUTELY good social policy to give the people these things - why, who do you the State exists to serve?

3. Wow, you are confusing 2 separate arguments: the question is: is the State served by facilitating marriage (aside from its interst in child rearing)? I satted that married persons are healthier and happier and live longer on the whole than single people. That is a FACT and you have not controverted that fact. However, you now seem to say "maybe true, except not true for gay married people." With no evidence to support your statement. That's like you screaming on the day that Loving v Virginia was decided that interracial couples wont benefit from marriage rights because so far we've only had same-race marriage. Are you suggesting that gay people won't benefit from civil marriage? Based on what? Haven't interracial couples benefitted from marriage? Haven't all groups who've been able to marry wound up benefitting from it?

4. If you send me credible, empirical evidence published in a peer-reviewed publication that gay people live shorter, less healthy lives than straight people I will send you $100.

5. Your Nazi paragraph is rambling. Mere typing. And what sense I could find in it argues AGAINST your point. To wit: you previously held that the State regulates marriage because its really interested in/attempting to regulate how children are raised. Now you're saying that when the State steps in regarding how children are raised it's all Nazis and Communists? Why don't you read your laws - the State regulates the raising of children TODAY through a set of laws ( a combination of criminal laws, health codes, domestic realtions laws and others ) and it encourages marriage through separate laws.

6. Your following paragraph where you admit/acknowledge the truth that "marriage and children are separate areas" should end with a period and ramble on about oh that's only because of the liberals. This is our country. This is our legal system after 200 years of improvements. It's the best in the world.

7. Thank you for agreeing that my few quick examples of the benefits of marriage (aside from prividing an ideal forum for raising children are accurate are " – yes, true marriage does do those things."

So in short, you agree with me that given our laws and public policies and how they work there are many reasons the State would benefit from encouraging Jim and Judy to get hitched (regardless of their desire/ability to rear children) and all of those reasons apply equally to Bill and Bob.

Thank you.

Pat said...

Apologies for the typo, omitting the critcical word "not":

6. Your following paragraph where you admit/acknowledge the truth that "marriage and children are separate areas" should end with a period and NOT ramble on about "oh that's only because of the liberals". This is our country. This is our legal system after 200 years of improvements. It's the best in the world.

Jackie said...


You are a rude and arrogant person - a bully. It is of absolutely no use to discuss anything with a bully - because you have no desire to discuss but to play gotcha.

Go be rude to someone else.

Pat said...


These are incredibly important issues. You are arguing matters which effect OTHER people's lives.

And when you are confronted with reasoned debate you cry "bully" and run away? Because I challenge your bold assertions? With facts!


The value (for me) is in the 12 or 14 year old child who happens upon this site and will draw her own reasonable conclusions from your damaging and baseless statements.

I will pray tonight that the Holy Spirit enlighten you that you may delight in God's will and walk in his way.