Words and definitions are important. We can't really describe and understand the reality that surrounds us without them. So what happens when a higher power- say, the United States judicial system – tries to redefine words? Can that change our reality?
Well, yes and no.
The world gives us an awful lot of definitions that we need to recognize as lies. 'Happiness,' is understood by our generation as partying and pursuing earthly pleasures, rather than pursuing a relationship with God and knowing His perfect Love. 'Life' only applies once you're outside the womb and convenient for your loved ones, rather than describing the presence of an immortal soul at conception through natural death.
If we accept the definitions the world gives us, that's the sort of life we are going to be living – THAT is our reality. It's not a life likely to lead to holiness. If we want to live our lives for God, we need to accept His truths.
He gives us His Truth because He is our Creator, who loves us and wants what is best for us. The Creator knows His creature best!
Sometimes these truths are hard, but we need to trust that God will grant us the grace to accept them and live them out. Satan loves nothing more than to say, 'You want the Truth? You can't handle the Truth!' and feed us lies instead.
Defining marriage: a hard truth
The Supreme Court of the United States recently struck down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which federally defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
This makes me wonder: Who has the power to define? Words like 'life' and 'marriage' were words I thought carried self-evident definitions, but it seems the government disagrees.
Paragraph 1603 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
'Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics.'
This case is a 'variation' on the human aspects of the institution of marriage. Because marriage is a gift from God, humans cannot do anything to make it better or more inclusive. No one has the power to change marriage – not even the Supreme Court. Even though the court voted against the definition of marriage which has existed since earth began, they cannot change the meaning of marriage itself. They are simply allowing misattribution of the term.
For example, if they renamed a 'cat' as a 'dog,' it wouldn't change the animal into a dog or make it equal to a dog. Anyone can compare the two and see they're different. They might be similar in some ways, but having claws, fur, and sharp teeth doesn't make them the same, just as having a sexual relationship and sense of commitment doesn't equalize two relationships as 'marriages.'
Two definitions, only one Truth
The Church and the State have two separate definitions of marriage. The Church teaches us that marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman, something transcendent and permanently affecting the two souls, allowing them to become co-creators with the Lord. This definition is given to us by God. The government is trying to define marriage as a contract, something that can eventually be terminated, a bunch of rights on paper. This definition is apparently determined by popular vote.
Our nation is famous for the phrase, 'we hold these truths to be self-evident,' in the Declaration of Independence.
What does it mean for a truth to be self-evident?
Our founding fathers were discussing the rights of man, which are 'endowed by their Creator.' They are truths and rights that will not change no matter what the culture or society says.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, 'Truth is not determined by majority vote.' If certain rights are given to us by God, and by His Truth, the government cannot grant or nullify them – even if the country votes to do so.
As both Catholics and citizens, this can sometimes get pretty confusing. The Church tells us that civil laws are meant to structure society towards truth and goodness.
The basic structure of society is the family, which begins with husband and wife. Changing the definition of marriage means that structure, and the whole of society, is built on a lie. A society built on lies is bound to eventually crumble, so it's the government's job to protect truth.
The government has done a lot of good in upholding truth too, like abolishing slavery and working to eliminate racism and sexism, which are offenses against the dignity of man.
Marriage and life, however, are not rights that can be granted by the state. This is why we continue to fight against abortion, and this is why we will continue to oppose same-sex marriage: It is a lie to say the state can grant those rights.
They are given to us by God.
A nation of witnesses
In a country that, like Pilate, asks, 'What is Truth?' (John 18:38) we are called to be Christ's witnesses. We need to answer our society with God's Truth. We need to preach the beauty of one man and one woman in marriage. We need to seek Jesus in all we do. We need to remember, especially when the government says otherwise, that God gave us the meaning of life, of love, and of marriage.
While society asks us to embrace relativism, Jesus asks us to embrace the cross.
It is a cross to stand up for marriage. It is a cross to reject the definitions of the world and accept those given to us by God. No matter what words or phrases the government invents, none can change those given by the Word, who is Truth itself.