Signposts in a Strange Land

on August 1, 2013

While most folks are still buzzing about recent remarks by Pope Francis about homosexuals, women, Masons, etc, a brave bishop in the United Kingdom has spoken out about the government’s “Orwellian attempt” to redefine marriage.

As Catholics, like Israel in Egypt, we now find ourselves in an alien land that speaks a foreign language with unfamiliar customs. For what we mean by matrimony, sexual intercourse and family life is no longer what today’s world, the government, the NHS and policy-makers understand by marriage, sex and the family.

Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan released the pastoral letter to his diocese on July 29th, the Feast of St. Martha. The statement also read:

The passing of this Bill is the inevitable outcome of a process that has been gathering pace since the sexual revolutions of the 1960s. Until then, the traditional (that is, the natural and Christian) understanding of marriage, sexual intercourse and family life prevailed. Sexual intercourse was seen as located exclusively within married family life and having a double end or purpose: the expression of love and the procreation of children.

Since the 1960s, however, artificial contraceptives have been widely available, which split these two ends of sexual intercourse, separating the unitive and suppressing the procreative aspect. Lifted from its natural context within married love and commitment, and coupled to pleasure without responsibility, sexual intercourse could now be experienced outside marriage, and thus, in time, take on a new meaning in human relationships.

This has led to the ‘contraceptive mentality’ Pope Paul VI spoke of so prophetically in his 1968 Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae and to the decline of marriage – and now to its redefinition. For in the revised understanding of sexual intercourse and family life, powerful lobby groups have enabled homosexual relationships to become socially acceptable, and so the Government’s attempt to extend marriage to same-sex couples – and in time, presumeably, to other combinations and partnerships – is an inevitable development.

As St. Augustine reminded us in City of God, Christian are always going be strangers in a strange land; our home is not of this world. But Bishop Egan directs our attention to something new: the very meaning of our words and customs have been evacuated and replaced with things new and unnatural. The very culture has been emptied out and replaced with an anti-culture.

As a great Catholic author once explained, strangers in strange lands can sometimes be guided by signposts. Bishop Egan is serving as one of those signposts; a signifier in a world seemingly stripped of meaning. Men are driven by the need for these signs; it is the duty of the Christian to witness to the truth and be such a sign. In a way, these signposts remain eternally the same, and yet somehow they are forever new.

Echoing St. Augustine and many before and after him, Bishop Egan also reminds us that we are called to witness in faith and compassion to a fallen world. Some things never change.

  1. Comment by Joe on August 5, 2013 at 6:04 am

    This whining makes no sense to the younger generation — the bishop is speaking for his own generation only.

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