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Auxiliary bishop of Sydney and episcopal vicar for life and health Bishop Anthony Colin Fisher, OP said the marriage and family “revolutions” in recent history are much more radical than they seem because “Like kangaroos hypnotized by an oncoming car, we often fail to notice what is happening until it is too late to protest, let alone get out of the road.”
Bishop Fisher spoke about his concern for traditional families in a talk, “Why the marriage-based family is best and worthy of state protection and promotion,” at St. John’s Seminary on Oct. 6.
Four decades of social experimentation with marriage and family have caused four revolutions: “sex on demand” in the 1960s, “divorce-on-demand” in the 1970s, “children-on-demand” in the 1980s, and the “marriage-and-family-is-what-you-make-it revolution” in the 1990s, he said.
Throughout those decades, sex has lost any intrinsic meaning or marital significance, marriage has lost significance as a lifelong commitment with self-sacrifice, children have become “commodities” with the use of infertility technologies, and relationships that were not traditionally defined as marriage — “de facto” and same-sex relationships — are recognized by law, he said.
“Marriage and children are now seen not just as optional extras but, like all options, as rights for any adult who wants them. Individuals can have children with or without marital acts, and enjoy all the signs and privileges of marriage with or without a lifetime heterosexual marital commitment or an openness to children,” Bishop Fisher said. “The notions of marriage and family are being expanded to the point of triviality. This has robbed even many Christians of a coherent understanding of what marriage and family are.”
Today, fewer people get married and fewer people stay married, because they believe that “marriage is only for as long as it works,” Bishop Fisher said. “The divorce option is now so deeply ingrained in us, that it is hard for any young person today to engage in the sort of total self-giving that marriage requires, and, in the meantime, years of living together and other experiences have habituated would-be spouses in a debili-tating noncommitment. So, Britney Spears can get married twice, or now three times in one year.”
We are now forced to redeem “marriage and the marriage-based family against the background of a culture that is no longer sure of what these things are,” he added. “We are not discriminating unjustly. We are recognizing relevant differences.”
“Recent rewriting of history notwithstanding, marriage has almost always been understood as a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life whereby they undertake to live sexually and otherwise as a husband and wife with a view to family,” he continued.
Not all relationships are marriage, not all people are marriageable, and putting marriage and nonmarital friendships on the same level devalues both, Bishop Fisher said.
Marriage is a “unique challenge” because of the “otherness” of opposite sex, and these differences between sexes are complementary, he said.
“It would be naïve to imagine that the roles of both husband and wife — and so of father and mother — are entirely interchangeable or can be readily performed by persons of either sex without loss to themselves or others or without very considerable supplementation,” he said.
Marriage-based families are worthy of government protection because they are best for most people in all societies, he said.
“Married people are generally healthier and happier than their divorced, never-married, cohabiting or same-sex counterparts,” he said. “There is no evidence that pseudo-marriage gives yield these public and private benefits.”
“Good marriages and families don’t just happen,” he added. “They require enormous commitment and need to be supported by an appropriate cultural, economic and political juridical.”
Bishop Fisher went on to say that there are many benefits of a good marriage even to people who are not called to marriage.
“I will never be married myself, except in a spiritual sense of being, as a Christian, part of Christ’s bride the Church, and as a priest, in persona Christi a husband to that bride,” he said. “But, I am not literally married, and that could be instructive to those who think the only way to dignify a state in life is to call it marriage.”
In addition, Catholics should protect marriage because it is a sacrament, Bishop Fisher said.
“By the power of that sacrament, their bodies, minds and wills are united indissolubly and fruitfully in the service of each other and the wider Church,” he said. “Sacramental love is cross-shaped rather than heart-shaped, the persevering love told better in Easter cards rather than Valentine’s cards. Marriage understood in this self-sacrificial way will be family-focused, not in a way which demeans the intimacy and personal fulfillment precisely in that most concrete enfleshment of their love in children.”
A long, standing ovation and time for questions followed Bishop Fisher’s talk.
Danielle Huntley, a junior studying philosophy at Boston College, said she appreciated Bishop Fisher’s conviction that was based in love, not animosity.
“It presented a level of unambiguity that is so often lacking in Church leadership,” she said.
“He clearly articulated a rational basis that the state should protect a traditional definition of marriage,” agreed Mary Kate Connolly, a lawyer and chairperson of the spiritual development committee for the Office for Young Adult Ministry.
Several said the talk inspired them to take a more active role in the protection of marriage.
“It challenged me personally to work toward promoting the beauty of marriage,” said Sister Carmen Christi, FSP.
Chris Palladino, a third-year seminarian at St. John’s, said new seminarians need courage to speak the truth about the faith in a pastoral way.
“It’s very, very important for us to be reaffirmed in the truth,” he said.