Imagine being among the apostles on the day the Lord ascended to heaven: Jesus Christ, who had begun as a friend, a teacher, and a healer, and who revealed himself to be Son of God. Christ, who had suffered a brutal death, and risen to life. Christ, who was a life-changing mystery, a “stumbling block,” and a sign of contradiction, now ascending from Earth. For the apostles, nothing could be the same. The Ascension was a sign of hope—of the truth of the Gospel. It was also a reminder that the Church Christ founded would be entrusted to them, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our imaginations cannot do justice to what the apostles must have felt that day.
We celebrate the Ascension of Christ this week. Let us remember what a mystery Christ’s life truly is. Let us remember that we are called to enter into that mystery. And, brothers and sisters, let us remember the words of Jesus at the Ascension: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … and to the ends of the earth.” The Father has sent the Holy Spirit among us so that we might be witnesses to Jesus Christ.
Over the past five weeks, I’ve spent time discussing the mystery of marriage. I’ve done so because we are standing at an important cultural crossroads. Our culture is choosing between two views of marriage. The choice will have consequences for generations to come.
On the one hand, is the ancient conjugal view of marriage, which, as Robert George says, has long influenced law, culture, literature, art, philosophy and religion. The conjugal view of marriage is rooted in the idea that marriage is an emotional bond, a spiritual bond, and a bodily union between a man and a woman. In the conjugal view, says Professor George, love is “effusive: flowing out into the wide sharing of family life and ahead to lifelong fidelity.”
On the other hand is the revisionist view of marriage. Revisionists view marriage as a “loving, emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond partners. … In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment, and remain as long as they have it.”
The competition between these two views is important. The revisionist view of marriage directs people inward—it leads to a self-focus, by which marriage is about fulfilling an interior desire. It makes marriage—and the spouse—an object to be used for personal reasons, that is, one’s emotional fulfillment. It makes marriage temporary and self-defining. If revisionists find some other fulfilling, intense, emotional bond, they are free to also call that marriage, too.
The conjugal view of marriage points us outward. It points us to service—to serving our spouses, our children and our community. The conjugal view of marriage points to the idea that we must love a person entirely—even loving their fertility. In the conjugal view, the principal question is not “Am I fulfilled,” but “Whom shall I serve?” The conjugal view of marriage is an echo of Christ’s self-giving love. And only the marriage between a man and a woman can reflect Christ’s self-giving love and be fruitful in the bearing of children.
Society, to survive, needs the conjugal view of marriage. And because we need it, we need to promote it. The conjugal view of marriage is a part of the deposit of faith—a part of the very Gospel we profess. It is a teaching we do not have the authority to change. And we need to witness to the truth of it.
That is the Lord’s call at the Ascension. And he has given us the Holy Spirit so that we might do so.
The Holy Spirit will be with us as we promote marriage by defending it, by supporting it, and, for married people, by living marriage joyfully. In the mystery of the Ascension, God has prepared us for this moment. We must be his witnesses in the public square and “to all the corners of the world.”
And we must have hope—marriage is created by God. It is a beautiful gift given to man and woman, prior to the fall, so that they may become one flesh, share in co-creation with God, and from the two persons bring forth a new person, a child. No same-sex partners are able to do that. And while the state or government may attempt to redefine marriage, they are creating a lie that has no foundation in the truth. The Lord has given us all that we need to proclaim the truth about marriage—to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ who is “the way, the truth and the life.”