A few days ago, while running (or attempting to run) in my local park, I rounded a corner and came to a thumping halt. Some twenty feet from me was a young couple, dressed in wedding attire and posing for a portrait. The bride-to-be looked about eight months pregnant.
The photographer waved me along the path as he adjusted his camera lens. “Keep going; we’ll make sure you’re not in the shot,” he said.
As I continued my workout, I stole a few glimpses at the pair, who looked radiant in the late afternoon sunlight. My silent prayers for a blessed life together mingled with, quite honestly, a few mental tongue-clucks over the order in which they’d chosen to do things.
After all, wouldn’t it have been easier to get married before having a baby? Hadn’t these kids made things rather difficult for themselves, for their families and possibly even for the wider community?
And wasn’t this sequence of events utterly against the divine algorithm?
I quickly reminded myself that I was in no position to judge. For one thing, I didn’t know anything about the couple, including their actual marital status. For another, I have enough of my own explaining, and repenting, to do before God.
Refocusing on my run, I doubled my pace — only to once again stop in my tracks.
The groom had dropped to one knee, and he and the bride caressed her womb as they smiled into each other’s eyes.
And in that moment, I didn’t see two Gen Z kids who had defied church teaching (of which they may well have been completely unaware), or two examples of social and moral decay, or even two “obstacles” to both my exercise routine and my idea of how the world should work.
Instead, I saw a holy family.
Not a perfect family: only one ever was, and in many ways, they too were likely misjudged throughout their humble, faithful life in Nazareth.
But this couple — whose union, premature and uncovenanted as it may have been, had generated a new life — reflected to me, however imperfectly, the sanctity inherent in the divinely ordained bond between man and woman.
Of course, God’s plan is to build families on the foundation of marital love. That’s why the privilege of human sexuality finds its profoundest expression in marriage, which is “a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity,” from which (despite our attempts to rewrite nature’s script) “all human generations proceed” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2235).
Yet while the Lord’s plan always spares us unnecessary heartache, we cannot pretend that such wisdom is apparent to a post-Christian culture.
According to the Pew Research Center, about half of the nation’s Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. Those numbers are even higher among younger Catholics.
A majority of U.S. Catholics don’t believe it’s a sin to use contraception, or to live with a romantic partner outside of marriage.
If that’s the case among the faithful, how much less can we expect the “unchurched,” the “nones” (who don’t identify with any organized religion), to respond to our teaching?
Despite our just efforts to restore marriage and family life to its God-given fullness, we will not transform the culture until we truly begin meeting people where they are and as they are. Rather than withdraw into political and religious camps, we need more than ever to remain in dialogue with those who disagree (often violently) with us.
And we need to show them — through a patient, courageous, practical and compassionate witness — what St. Paul rightly called “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31), that of love.
The battle to uphold the dignity of human life will ultimately not be won in legislatures and through social media threads, but in hearts. The flesh of messy, fallen humanity is the very flesh Christ assumed to redeem. He meets us right where we are, to bring us to where we need to be.
In service to him, let’s do the same for others, especially those in most need of love, wisdom and mercy.
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