Maine Bishop Issues Letter on Greatness of Marriage
by David Gibson
A pastoral letter on the “greatness and the beauty of marriage” was released March 2 by Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine. “It is troubling that far too many people do not understand what it means to say that marriage — both as a natural institution and a Christian sacrament — is a blessing and gift from God,” Bishop Malone said.
The pastoral letter emphasizes the importance of marriage “as a fruitful institution so necessary for the life of society and the world.” The bishop hoped to challenge everyone who reads it “to embrace anew the truth, beauty and goodness of marriage as it has always been and always will be.”
He thanked couples who, through a faithful marital commitment, witness “in their daily lives to the beauty, goodness and truth of marriage.”
He also thanked those working “with young people and engaged couples,” and those helping already-married couples “to grow in love and strengthen their union, particularly when life presents challenges and difficulties.”
However, Bishop Malone is disturbed by the “challenges and questions” raised today “about the meaning of marriage.” He said “the most pointed of these questions arises in the context” of the proposal “to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex.”
Marriage often is viewed as a private matter having little relation to society’s common good, Bishop Malone said. He expressed concern that marriage often is relegated solely to achieving personal satisfaction and fulfillment.
In essence, marriage is a permanent, exclusive “union of one man and one woman,” he wrote. Marriage, he said, is “ordered toward an authentic union” of a man and woman, and toward “the generation of new life.”
Voters To Decide Same-Sex Marriage
Enough citizen signatures have been collected to place a same-sex-marriage initiative on Maine’s November ballot, the second referendum for the state’s voters on this issue in three years. In November 2009, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, Maine voters repealed a state law that would have allowed same-sex marriage.
During a March 2 press conference, Bishop Malone said his pastoral letter, titled “Marriage: Yesterday, Today, Always,” will be “at the heart of our response” to current challenges. The diocese’s “main thrust,” he said, will be teaching and education.
“We learned the last time around that we need to do a lot more effective teaching” about marriage as the union of a man and a woman, he explained. He has made clear that the diocese will be involved “vigorously” in opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.
The intent is not to attack gay people, but to tell what natural law and revelation say about marriage, he has said.
Brian Souchet, director of the diocesan Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said the bishop will “speak out boldly and publicly in defense of marriage,” focusing not only “on the November referendum, but beyond.”
Bishop Malone’s pastoral letter said that with their “exclusive and permanent promise,” a man and woman “truly become one,” sharing a “totally unique” life together.
Thus, “attempting to redefine marriage to include any other kind of relationship empties the term of its meaning.” he said.
The pastoral letter underscored marriage’s natural-law foundation. “The church’s effort to promote and protect marriage in the public square is not a matter of forcing faith on anyone,” he said. Instead, marriage is rooted in the law of nature.
The truths of reason rooted in natural law “establish the foundation of any society that is respectful of individual human dignity and the common good,” the bishop said.
The existence of a relationship, even one said to be based on love and commitment, does not automatically constitute a marriage – and saying so is not discriminatory, he observed. He said, “No one has a right to have the law or the institutions of the state call marriage something that it is not.”
When other relationships need legal access to various benefits, rights or privileges, he said the state can respond through “any number of legal provisions, as long as the truth and purposes of marriage are not obscured.”
Letter Stresses Marriage’s Importance for Children
Bishop Malone acknowledged “not only the heroic example of many faithful couples, but also the perennial difficulties” they face in “varying degrees.”
He accented the importance of marriage and the family for children. Children find their greatest security in their parents’ permanent marital love, he insisted.
“Children are a gift in a myriad of ways,” he wrote. And while children “are the fruit of love and meaningful commitment,” they also “are a cause of love and meaning.”
He pointed out that “the procreative meaning of marriage involves not only the conception of children, but also their upbringing and education, including spiritual formation.” And he recalled that Blessed John Paul II once said any couple trying to live out an openness to procreation will learn that sacrificial love is required of them.
Marriage, the bishop commented, is not easy for anyone, “especially younger couples who struggle with our current economy, manage the demands of home and work, and have to attend to extended family and many other obligations.”
He said marriage needs to be understood, like every vocation, “within the primary vocation to love, because humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, who is himself love.”
The church, he said, should “pray always for the wise discernment of young people, including engaged couples.” And already-married men and women should be included in such prayer, “that their lives may grow in holiness and that they may experience a love that is generous, joyful and fruitful.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.