This essay was crafted in response to the following prompt: How should American Catholics move forward in their witness to the truths of marriage and family? What elements of this movement are most integral to its success? To view Ron Belgau's response, click here.
Why are we losing the culture wars on family? One simple reason is that for years, young people have been told that our (natural-law, Judeo-Christian) vision of marriage is cruel.
That charge has been internalized. Many LGBT people my age don’t call us cruel for political advantage, or out of trained melodrama; they really believe it. Their belief doesn’t make our message cruel, but it makes their experience one of real pain. And pastorally, that’s what counts.
One thing we can do for these brothers and sisters of ours is to remind them of what they can do for us—of what we need them to do. For while fear of loneliness may give many LGBT youth pause about our ethic (a topic for another essay), I suspect a second common fear is of ennui or despair: the dread of being Christians “consigned” to singleness, with nothing positive demanded of them, by the Church or the wider culture.
That is, behind the LGBT cry for dignity may be the sense that social standing comes from being needed by the community, which comes from having publicly recognized responsibilities—which nowadays only marriage seems to offer.
In one way, we all can sympathize. We all suffer the ultimate indignity of mortality—of being disposable to a harsh universe. Here the Gospel alone provides an adequate answer: We’ve been made necessary—by divine adoption—to God’s designs for the cosmos. This is the astonishing good news that people alienated by our moral vision need to hear.
The Church has a name for the shape that this “adoptive” necessity takes in each life: vocation. If we want to answer the cry for dignity, then, we should teach people the Church’s exhilarating truths of personal vocation: of what Christ needs from them.
This will mean getting past the four-entrée vocational menu I was once taught: priesthood, religious life, marriage, and “single blessedness” (which I always heard as “… other”). Our vocations encompass not just the broadest outlines but all the “good works” that “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Is Christian marriage not in your future? Then your vocation includes the art, adventure, service, ministry or music or writing you are called to pursue. It includes the deep and fulfilling relationships that make real and prosaic demands on you, and any of a thousand other ways you can add to the world’s sums of beauty and love.
Moreover, because nothing escapes God’s providence, the contours of your call can be traced by your crosses as well as your talents. Even your greatest hardships (of desire or identity or otherwise) are permitted in love, for an increase in love.
And because God made you free and irreplaceable, you can make real contributions to the Kingdom that no one else can. God is so generous that His grace enables you to add crucial raw material to His Kingdom. When Christ returns, He will join a new heavens to an earth forever marked by the “good fruits of [your] nature and enterprise,” as the Second Vatican Council teaches. The Kingdom will eternally be different for your contributions in Christ, which He needs, as a man among us, just as truly as He needed Joseph’s apprenticeship or Mary’s care. And if you make those contributions faithfully to the end, you will, in the Council’s evocative understatement, “find them again,” but now “freed from stain, burnished and transfigured” in that new Kingdom.
Finally, because our world is fallen, your call, whatever else it involves, will require your readiness at any hour to die for fidelity to it, as Christ died for His.
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The Gospel, in short, calls us to a heroism of infinite consequence, offering more full-blooded variety than any bourgeois vision of respectability. Young people who hear it in full will be roused from adolescent solipsism and drawn into God’s arena. The charge that Christianity is cramped and cruel will become increasingly ridiculous.
A natural place to teach these truths is in confirmation class. After all, in confirmation Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, who enables our unique service and witness. Moreover, reminding young people of the Church’s audacious teaching on vocation can help win them over (or back) just when they’re most tempted to see her moral vision as cruel.
For that daring doctrine shows that “single blessedness” as well as marriage or consecrated life can point to our final union in Christ—marriage to its bodily realism, and celibacy to its all-inclusiveness. It shows that there’s no “normal” vocation for those who “can,” with back-up plans for the rest, but unique calls to us each, willed in love from the world’s foundation. And it reveals that our deepest status marker is not single or married, gay or straight, member of this or that household; but son or daughter of God, made in His image, destined for His household and the glory of His Kingdom.