‘All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco was quoting from Eusebius, the fourth-century historian chronicling pagan Rome. Having Christians around wasn’t the worst thing in the world. When a plague hit, instead of fleeing to the countryside as the well-to-do pagans did, they would stick around and care for you when you were sick and forgotten — and they would care for Christians and pagans alike.
Archbishop Cordileone’s nod to history brought to mind images of the Eighties. Even as the most vocal activists from ACT-UP were demonstrating in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Catholic schools around New York City accusing the Catholic Church of hate, Cardinal O’Connor would be ministering to men dying of AIDS in the arms of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
But as we jump from headline to headline and from celebration to outrage, human stories often get lost unless used for propaganda. This is a predominant reality of our current culture. What we hear about people is often caricature. We opine about their decisions or activities without bothering to learn the facts. This is who we are as a tweeting, blogging, status-updating people.
And so, on the topic of what has become an annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., Cordileone made the plea: “Please do not make judgments based on stereotypes, media images, and comments taken out of context. Rather, get to know us first as fellow human beings.” Or, perhaps, as Pope Francis put it in another not entirely unrelated context, “Who Am I to Judge?”
Cordileone was responding to a group of politicians and activists protesting his involvement in the march. If you Google “March for Marriage,” you will encounter negative write-ups, just as, if you Google the name of my friend Rick Santorum, the former United States senator from Pennsylvania, you will read terrible things about him written by people who do not know him and do not care. Expletives tend to be the polite things said. There’s a problem with this. We should be better than this.
Nancy Pelosi, who has joined in the excoriations of Cordileone, might not agree, but her archbishop is worth taking a moment to listen to, whatever you make of the ongoing marriage debate. At the March for Marriage he said:
We now in our own time need to proclaim and live the truth with charity and compassion as it applies to us today: the truth of a united family based on the union of the children’s father and mother in marriage as the foundational good of society. Every child comes from a man and a woman, and has a right, a natural human right, to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their own mother and father. This is the great public good that marriage is oriented towards and protects. The question is then: Does society need an institution that unites children to the mothers and fathers who bring them into the world, or doesn’t it? If it does, that institution is marriage — nothing else provides this basic good to children.
That’s not hate speech. That’s taking a moment to pause and consider why government would ever need to have anything to do with marriage in the first place.
There’s a lot of talk about love, obviously, in the marriage debate. But rather than talking about and politicizing love while adopting a tyrannical impulse as a substitute for democratic debate, Cordileone suggests that we conduct ourselves in charity in politics and in our daily lives, as we interact with people for whom the cultural changes that have swept through our society in recent decades have real-life, multigenerational implications.
Cordileone points to our modern reality: “All we have to do is look around and see that our society is broken and hurting in so many ways; there is so much work to do to fix it and bring healing. Yes, it is very complex, and many different things need to be done: We need to fix our economy; we especially need to pay a living wage to working-class families; we need to fix our broken immigration system; we need to improve our schools, especially those that are failing children from poorer families. Yes, we need to do all this and more. But none of these solutions will have a lasting effect if we do not rebuild a marriage culture, a culture which recognizes and supports the good of intact families, built on the marriage between a man and a woman committed to loving faithfulness to each other and to their children.” There will be, he concludes, “No justice, no peace, no end to poverty, without a strong culture of marriage and the family.”
This is who we are. Individually, we may wind up choosing something else, wanting something else, doing something else. But can we reflect on what’s common about our human nature and what’s good for a society? If we cannot, we might be losing sight of our foundations.
Responding to a ruling striking down an amendment to the Oregon constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland wrote about what the Catholic Church teaches regarding marriage:
Our teaching about the true nature of marriage is no castigation of people who are gay. We simply believe that two people of the same sex are unable to marry. That is not to say that gay people cannot experience deep friendships, commitment, loyalty, generosity, and love just like anyone else. It is to say that men and women were made for each other by God in a unique and complementary way. Their union in marriage is something we believe cannot occur between two people of the same gender.
The future of humanity passes through the union between one man and one woman. The complementarity of men and women, and the capacity of a man and woman to procreate, gives their union special and unique significance. This complementarity and the capacity that exists for the creation of a new person are essential to marriage, even when this potentiality is not fully realized, as in the case with couples who divorce or couples who do not have children.
We live in a fast-paced short-attention-span time. So if we can take a news event and — in 140 characters, or a short video, or a quick conversation — use it to draw people into something deeper, we might impart a bigger picture than our computer screens, news debates, and certainly political campaigns typically lend themselves to. If we try to encounter people instead of bludgeoning them with opinions, or even with natural law, tradition, and teaching, we might be surprised whom we meet and what good and beauty and truth we’re drawn to.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.