The Sanctity of Life and the Sacrament of Marriage
-- A priest of the Bulgarian Diocese
Below are the petitions and prayer which were inserted in the Divine Liturgy on the recent Sanctity of Life Sunday. It is my feeling that they are worthy of careful thought.
The following petitions were inserted into the Litany of Fervent Supplication:
- Again we pray that You will grant to the people of this nation the will to do good, to flee from evil, and to practice all righteousness, making us respectful of life and sharers of Your blessings, caring for one another in mercy and truth.
- Again we pray that You will banish all evil from our hearts and wickedness from our laws, enabling us to be servants of Your holy will and performers of Your Love.
- Again we pray that You will kindle in our hearts the will to care for the needy, to show kindness to the poor, to aid the homeless and help the helpless.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, Who are in the bosom of the Father, True God, source of life and immortality, Light of Light, Who came into the world to enlighten it: You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of our souls by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit. O Master, who came that we might have life more abundantly, we ask You to enlighten the minds and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Your image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with divine and infinite love. Be Merciful, O Lord, to those who, through ignorance or willfulness, affront Your divine goodness and providence through the evil act of abortion. May they, and all of us, come to the light of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Men and woman have a great deal in common, and should share many rights and obligations. However, women have, undeniably, an incredibly important right, given to them by God, which men do not have - the right to bear children. This right borders on the divine rights of God, as women are able to join with Him in the act of creation, bringing into the world a child made in the image and likeness of God, a child able to become the dwelling place of God; indeed this is its destiny!
Both the Archangel Gabriel and her cousin Elizabeth declare to Mary: "Blessed are you among women". Mary is especially blessed in that her son is the Son of God, however, all women are blessed to have children in the image and likeness of God.
All members of our society, men and women, should honor, support, and reverence women for this reason, as well as for the fact that they are themselves in the image and likeness of God.
My greatest honor and joy, closer to my heart than anything else in my life, including even the holy priesthood, is my marriage to my dearly beloved wife and joining with her in the creation and nurturing of our four wonderful children. I am strongly aware of my responsibility to support and nurture her in this regard and in all things, and also to support our children and their families. In my priesthood I often have the joy of being a part of other families in our parish in performing baptisms and blessings and in bringing to them the Holy Eucharist.
From the earliest times, societies have expressed their respect for the dignity of women, for their right and honor of childbirth, and for the respect, support, and nurturing which they should receive, in the institution of marriage. In marriage, the husband publicly commits to honor and support his wife in a unique and permanent relationship. By attending a wedding, society at large commit to their support of the couple and their relationship. Marriage, and its commitments, are put in place before what are properly called marital relations.
While marriage has existed in many cultures and from the earliest times, there is no doubt that the Judeo-Christian culture has taken marriage as an important pillar of faith and practice and, over time, sanctified it. In creation, God made man and woman, so that they might be together. Her very title, "woman" conveys this unifying relationship, and the scriptures early on proclaim that man, "shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh", the oneness of that flesh being expressed in their children, who are truly, genetically one flesh with their parents.
By the time of Moses, the violation of marriage, adultery, has become a sin, one of the ten commandments. Arguably it has become one of the two greatest sins, along with murder, as expressed by David's confession in the 50th psalm.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, "by His presence at the marriage in Galilee, declared marriage to be an honorable estate", and clarified the indissolubility of the marriage bond, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, save for adultery..."
Finally, the Church has made marriage a sacrament, adding the grace of God to strengthen and preserve the marriage bond.
In short, marriage is a social and religious compact of immeasurable value and importance both to society and our faith. Of course, little could be more obvious than the abuse, indeed attacks, suffered by marriage and the family in our society. Divorce, adultery, fornication, abandonment, domestic abuse and violence, child abuse and neglect, rape, incest and pederasty, sexual slavery and trafficking, prostitution, abortion and infanticide; the list seems tragically endless.
This, however, does not mean that the institutions of marriage and family have failed; they have not. They are, and have been in many times and places, at the very bedrock of society as a whole and the foundation of good and meaningful life for many, many women, men, and children.
It does mean that there are many of us in this fallen world who, through weakness and by letting our appetites (more on this later) take control of our actions, intentionally or unintentionally harm our own marriages and families and those of others. These great institutions need the support of everyone.
Now for a moment I would like to focus on one particular problem, men pushing women to have sex without the commitment of marriage. Often, these men think they are doing nothing wrong. They are "sowing their wild oats", "hitting a home run". They brag about their "conquests", often founded on a string of lies and false claims of love and commitment. The women, on the other hand, who have taken part in the same act, are considered to be "cheap", "easy", and worthy of a whole slew of other epithets too disgusting for me even to write. They are shamed, names written on lavatory stall walls.
Let me be completely clear: These men are jerks, worthy of every opprobrium. Men are responsible for honoring and protecting women and treating them with the respect that they richly deserve.
Let me briefly note that, at times, women initiate these relationship themselves. In some cases of dire poverty or having fallen into addiction, they may prostitute themselves. These exigencies do not eliminate the responsibility of men to behave properly. While I can be sympathetic towards a woman who feels circumstances have forced her into prostitution, I cannot conceive of any reason for a man giving money for sex. If she needs it, just give her the money; try to help her in a real sense. In short, we must neither propose, nor accept a proposal.
As far back as I can remember, I have been a supporter of women's rights. It seems obvious to me that women can be bio-chemists, nuclear physicists, astronauts, or whatever their individual skills, talents and interests lead them to. (I do admit to some trepidation when my daughter went through an "I think I'll join the Marine Corps" phase, but she'll testify that I didn't tell her she couldn't do it.) My wife has told me that she appreciates the fact that I have always encouraged her and believed she was capable of doing whatever she wanted.
However, around 1960, the women's liberation movement took a turn with which I am not nearly so comfortable. These things never have a single source, but I tend to look toward Simone de Beauvoir and her 1949 book, "The Second Sex". Beauvoir was a French existentialist (author's note: When studying philosophy, skip existentialism; you will be a better person for it.) who had the poor judgment to fall in love with Jean-Paul Sartre, who was a jerk in the sense of my previous post. "The Second Sex" which is often credited with fueling what is called in retrospect second-wave feminism, made a number of very good points, bringing attention to workplace inequality, domestic violent and marital rape, and the need for women's crisis centers.
Beauvoir's book also made the claim that women's rights included sexual "liberation" - that is was a woman's right to have sexual relations inside or outside of marriage as she sees fit, and to decouple sexual activity from its consequences using birth control or abortion.
This is the big lie. It might just be the biggest lie in history. It has certainly caused more suffering, sorrow, and death for women specifically and society as a whole than the holocaust. Under the guise of liberating women, it in fact invites and encourages them - not to rise up - but to sink to the level of the worst of men, the jerks, to become their pawns.
As a priest, I have had young women come to me saying that men will not date them unless they agree to have sex, and have no interest in real relationships or commitment. I have consoled women who have come to realize that, when they had an abortion, "I killed my own child!", and men who, after encouraging a woman to have an abortion, even paying for it, realize the same thing. God forgives; scars remain.
Simone de Beauvoir married Jean-Paul Sartre, agreeing to the "open marriage" he wanted, with results which were both predictable and tragic. The women's rights movement itself suffered a split which has been described as a civil war within the movement, from which it has yet to recover.
But what I really want to mention are the effects of sexual "liberation" on our society and culture. Before beginning, I want to acknowledge that social changes are always complex and difficult to measure. These are my feelings about changes in our culture which I believe were, at least to some degree, the result of the sexual revolution.
My first mention goes to the amazing tendency among intellectuals and the media to ignore these consequences, almost a will to disbelieve. Rarely are they mentioned, and if they are mentioned, of course they have nothing to with women's sexual "rights".
Clearly women bear the burdens of the sexual revolution to a wildly disproportionate degree. The expectation of sex as a part of dating has already been mentioned; bluntly put, women who want sex to be in the context of marriage have a tough time getting dates. And, since sex outside of marriage is no longer wrong but simply a matter of consent, the pressure on the woman to "consent" escalates, a woman who does not consent is the new jerk. Should we wonder at the high rates of date rape, sexual harassment, and the use of alcohol and drugs to "get to yes", or the increase of hookups and the decrease in healthy, committed relationships?
If the woman gets pregnant, she is seen as the one at fault. Since the man never made any commitment in the first place, he has little motivation to make it then. "Here's $300; get an abortion. If you don't, it's on you." So the woman, "guilty" of the crime of loving and wanting to nurture the child inside her, joins the growing ranks of the single moms, the surest predictor of poverty in America.
Pressure on pregnant women to get an abortion comes from other directions also: Embarrassed relatives (Wait! What? I thought we were "liberated" here?) Supervisors and co-workers, even random people. Motherhood is rapidly going from being an honor to being profligate. Don't believe me? Ask around.
I wish that it was not necessary to point out that every abortion has at least one fatality, but given that aborted babies are called fetuses or fetal material or anything but babies, I'm afraid that it is. Need I also point out that abortion is sexist, in that more girls are aborted than boys, and racist in that babies from minority groups are disproportionately aborted?
Every baby that is aborted is a human being, a person, made in the image and likeness of God; a person capable of love, compassion, generosity, someone who could have made a contribution to mankind in art, science literature, parenting - all lost. A person who most likely would have become the ancestor of other worthwhile people. There is a great interest in ancestry today; Would you or I, perhaps, not exist if abortion had been acceptable fifty or one hundred years ago.
Some thought that child abuse and neglect would decrease, because every child would be a "wanted child". Actually, it has gone up. Studies have shown that almost every abused and neglected child was a wanted child. And more and more children are raised without that greatest of all gifts, parents who love them. They don't have the opportunity to learn how to be in a family, and the cycle repeats itself, only more so.
Men, liberated from husbandhood and fatherhood, have not gained, but been harmed also. There has been a sharp increase in prolonged adolescence among men, a failure to form lasting and meaningful relationships, an increase in the use of and addiction to pornography, and distorted sexuality. Colleges have become moral vacuums, plagued by rape, sexual harassment, binge drinking and sad and lastingly harmful behavior.
This post does not begin to do justice to the problems which, in whole or in part, can be laid at the feet of "sex lib". For a more in depth look, see "Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution" by Mary Eberstadt.
So, what to do? I think, perhaps, there is nothing we can do. We are caught in a moral and cultural sickness which may be unto death. However, with God all things are possible, so we must pray. I am not talking about a five second, "God help us" prayer, or the once a year prayers in a Litany on Sanctity of Life Sunday. We must pray unto blood, unto death. Then God, who knows the heart and can change the heart, will act.
Having prayed, we must also act, as God has given each one of us. I once heard a definition of a fool as someone who devises intelligent solutions to the problems created by their previous intelligent solutions. We must address both the consequences and the causes of these problems.
These consequences are not things, they are people: rape and abuse victims with emotional and physical scars; young women and men trying to hold on to what is good and true when many around them are casting it aside; pregnant women who are alone and scared; single moms who need understanding, support, and help with their real, daily struggle, and men and women trying to come to grips with an abortion in their past. Efforts are being made to help with these consequences, and more need to be made. As individuals and as a society, we never seem to do enough.
We must also seek out, acknowledge, and address the causes. We cannot ignore them, addressing only the consequences. We must do all we can to teach our children the importance and value of both women and men, the family, and marital celibacy - in school, in church, through our own example - in every way we can. This is the most important aspect of sex education.
By His presence at the wedding in Cana, Christ declared marriage to be a good estate and the bed undefiled. Societies throughout history have agreed with Him. Sexual relations outside of marriage are wrong, a sin before God, damaging to those who are involved in them and society as a whole. The same is true of abortion. Such are my thoughts, sketched out briefly. I don't know everything, nor do I have answers for everything. I only attempted to speak the truth in love.