Category Archives: marriage

Christmas: Promise and Purpose

By Daniel Downs

Christmas is a multifaceted story about real events wrapped in two narratives. The two narratives are found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Like a new train and its track, these two narratives are part of one colorfully packaged gift given to humanity by God. Together they show the meaning of Christmas.

Some scholars and teachers rightly say the reason for the season is God’s love, peace, and forgiveness of sin.

The first gospel begins with teen pregnancy. Yes, it’s true the Hebrew word translated virgin actually means young woman or teen girl. It’s equally true that in ancient Jewish culture teenage girls were expected to marry and then bear children. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies were as unlawful as immoral. The social stigmatism would have been as illiberal as Scarlet Letter puritanism. Just as a barren wife, a young unwed mother would have experienced the discriminating scorn of a religious society. Therefore, it is reasonable to interpret the transliterated Hebrew word almah as virgin (Mt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14).

Rabbinical literature originating in Babylonia portrays young Mary as mistress of a Roman soldier. Whether because of sinful consent, seduction or rape, Mary’s pregnancy was conceived by rabbis opposed to the gospel message as adulterated sin. The Palestinian view, as scholars call it, is considerably different. It lacked any negative diatribes against Mary or her son. Just as the Palestinian Talmud reflects its local context, the two gospel narratives were rooted in local events and daily life in Judea and Samaria.

We also will find the meaning of Christmas grounded in the same geographical, cultural, ideological, and historical situation of then current events.

While reading our two narrative gifts, two bright themes twinkle like lights reflecting off shinny wrappings. Those themes are promise and purpose. As if sitting prominently under a Christmas tree, the two themes are wrapped with bright colorful interpretations of unfolding events. Those events appear to be fulfillment of promises made by God through even more ancient prophets. As such, they reveal as well as affirm the purpose of God.

For example, the gospel of Matthew begins the story of Jesus’ birth with marriage. “Mary has been betrothed to Joseph…her husband (1:18, 19). In ancient Jewish culture, engagement was regarded as the beginning of a marriage. While Joseph was thinking about divorcing her, an angel told him to keep his wife because her pregnancy was God’s doing (1:19-20). Why would God do such a thing? The angel continued telling Joseph that Mary’s son would save his people. At that time, most Israelis were expecting a Messiah that would deliver them from the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire and puppet kings like Herod. That was not God’s purpose. Jesus was adopted and formed in the womb of Joseph’s virgin wife to save his people from their sins (1:20-21). This was seen by ancient writers like Matthew as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah (1:20-21; Isa. 7:14). As evident in writings like Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch, and Dead Sea Scrolls, the Messiah of David would represent the holy presence of God and lead all Jews into sinless living. In fact some believed the law would pass away when the true Messiah began to reign. For the law not to be needed meant all had to live holy lives at all times. Being capable of doing so meant the Messiah had to be as holy and sinless as those he would make holy or sinless. That is what the name “Immanuel” or “God with us” meant to those same ancient people.

If we trace the biblical history of God’s redemption, God chooses marriage and family as part of the means to its end.

The purpose of marriage is narrated in Genesis (2:18-25). After their moral crime, Adam and Eve were given a promised future in which God’s purpose would continue. Adam and Eve would create a society of families who would make God’s creation productive and who would overcome temptation and immorality (Gen. 3). It was for married society that God offered the first animal sacrifice in order to cover the naked guilt and shame of the first traditionally married couple. The clothing also served to minimize temptation (Gen. 3:21-23). Nevertheless, sibling rivalry and sexual perversion motivated by jealousy and lust followed (Gen. 4:1-24). One result was the rise of the first walled urban city, according to archaeology. Beginning with Adam’s grandson, the descendants of Adam began seeking God’s redemption (Gen. 4:25-26). Why? Because human decadence also continued until it dominated society. This was followed with the family of Noah being saved from the flood as well as the continuation the covenant of redemption that began with Adam (Gen. 6-8 & 9-10). The fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose was given greater specificity with the family of Abraham. Through this family, God promised to bless the entire world (Gen. 12-17). At the same time, the sterile couple, Abraham and Sarah, was promised a son, Isaac, through whom the promise would be fulfilled in history (Gen. 15, 18). Yet, the promise was The same could be said about the family of David and the promised Messiah (2 Sa. 7:12-16; Rom. 1:1-4). Not only through a specific descendant of David would Israel’s redemption be realized but all people across the globe would have access to it as well. With the virgin birth of Jesus, the promised redemption began to be fulfilled.

As we have seen, God chose a young married couple to bring His adopted son into the world. The fact that an angel visibly announced God’s adoptive purpose for Jesus’ life before his conception gave them a solemn mission of parenting. Their purpose was to raise God’s son to fulfill his life purpose—the salvation of Israel as well as rule of the kingdom (Lk. 1: 32-33). All of this was affirmed first by the priestly shepherds who were told by a host of angels that the salvation this new born King would bring was for all people (Lk. 2:10-14). Further affirmation came at Jesus’ dedication by the temple priest Simeon (Lk. 2:21-32). Simeon again affirmed that Jesus was salvation for both Jews and gentiles according to Isaiah 49:5-6. Finally, the ambassadors of Parthia, the Magi, came escorted by a military regiment to pay homage to the newly born Messiah (Mt. 2:1-6). Consequently, Mary and Joseph were parents with a holy mission to deliver God’s gift of salvation holy and sinless for both Israel and the world. They had godly relatives and friends as well as a culture defined by God’s word (however tainted by sin and the influence of Rome’s presence) to assist them.

This was God’s Christmas gift to all people for all times. Jesus’ parents wrapped him in a Hanukkah candle wick because God wanted all people to see that His son is true light of the world (Lk. 2:12-14). While his destiny was to suffer the shame and judgment for all sins of all people on the cross and in hell, God saw the fulfillment of his redemptive purpose advance toward final fulfillment (Isa. 53). Having fully satisfied divine justice, God raised His son from hell, from death’s tomb, and from the rejection of ignorant men. And, by lifting His son up to His side in heaven, the light of His peace, grace, and holy life forever shines for all to behold and embrace. God’s just forgiveness, His presence and empowerment, and His acceptance are continually held out by our gentle risen Shepherd and Lord Jesus. The gift only has to be received and lived. When all parents and their children do, society will finally realize the common good of God’s will. Then peace will then reign on earth.

World Congress Of Families Hails Victory For Natural Marriage In Australian Parliament

What was supposed to be a historic advance for “same-sex marriage” turned into an ignominous defeat and a victory for marriage and the natural family, when the lower house of the Australian parliament voted overwhelmingly against a gay-marriage bill by a vote of 98 to 42 on September 19th in Canberra. Then on September 20th, a similar bill was defeated in the Senate by 41 votes to 26.

This means that there will be no change to the definition of natural marriage in Australia.

World Congress of Families Managing Director Larry Jacobs congratulated Australian pro-family forces on a hard-earned victory, including three World Congress of Families Partners in Australia, the Australian Family Association, Endeavour Forum and Dads-4-Kids Fatherhood Foundation.

“When the governing Australian Labor Party abandoned its longstanding defense of natural marriage, it was supposed to all be over except for the celebration on the part of homosexual activists,” Jacobs observed.

“But thanks to the hard work of Australian groups like the National Marriage Coalition, the Australian Family Association, Endeavour Forum, the Dads-4-Kids Foundation, and the intense lobbying of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians in behalf of maintaining the historic definition of marriage, 40% of Labor MPs in the House joined members of the National and Liberal Parties to defeat this step toward the deconstruction of natural marriage,” Jacobs added.

Earlier this year thousands of pro-family leaders gathered to affirm natural marriage in The Madrid Declaration of World Congress of Families VI (May 25-27, 2012), unanimously adopted by more than 3,200 delegates from 72 nations. The Declaration provides in part:

“We affirm the natural family to be the union of a man and a woman through marriage for the purposes of sharing love and joy, propagating children, providing their moral education, building a vital home economy, offering security in times of trouble, and binding the generations.”

“We affirm that the natural family is a fixed aspect of the created order, one ingrained in human nature. The natural family cannot change into some new shape; nor can it be re-defined by eager social engineers.”

“We affirm that the natural family is the ideal, optimal, true family system. While we acknowledge varied living situations, all other ‘family forms’ are incomplete or are mere fabrications of the state.”

Jacobs further noted that in the United States, 31 states have now adopted the definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman,” all by popular vote. The latest was North Carolina, in May, by a vote of 61% to 39% where WCF Partner, the National Organization for Marriage was instrumental in defending natural marriage. “Every time the people have had a chance to vote directly on the issue, the only definition of natural marriage that protects children has carried decisively,” Jacobs declared.

The Honorable Kevin Andrews MP, a 3-time World Congress of Families Speaker, Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services and author of the new book, Maybe ‘I do’: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness, has summarized the key reason for protecting natural marriage in his remarks at the 2012 National Marriage Day Rally at the Australian Parliament. “Hundreds of social science studies reveal that having a mother and a father is the optimal condition for human thriving. We remove this protection at great risk to many, especially children. Marriage must be protected. The future well being of children and society depends on it.”

Catholic Church’s Internal Legal System Charged with Unfairness and Partisanship

By Bai Macfarlane

A Catholic News Agency (CNA) story from June 4, says Pope Benedict challenges US bishops to revive Christian culture: “The Holy Father spoke of the challenges in marriage, in family life.” Gregory Lynne, a practicing Catholic residing in Virginia, observes that, “in regards to marriage and family, the U.S. Catholic Bishops act schizophrenically in the practices and teachings of their diocesan staff including their tribunals.”

In a recent article, Monsignor Cormac Burke – a canon lawyer who served on the appellate court for internal matters for the Catholic Church (Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota) – said there is a widespread problem in the English-speaking world. Specifically, judges in the tribunal courts in the Catholic Church who rule on canon law affecting Catholic marriages commonly have a mistaken bias toward giving annulment decisions and they treat defendant-respondents unfairly.

An annulment, which in canon law is called a declaration of invalidity, is a decree from the Church tribunal system saying that two people were never really married. Cases start when one party alleges that their marriage is invalid. The other party, the defendant-respondent, has the right to argue that their marriage is valid. The law requires that all marriages shall be presumed valid until proven otherwise.

Schizophrenia, in general use, is a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements. Mr. Lynne’s concern centers on the Catholic Church’s complacency and/or complicity when her own members force upon their spouses and children no-fault divorce. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that divorce is immoral and a grave offense against nature.

Lynne sees further inconsistency when the local Church tribunals easily issue annulment decrees alleging that spouses were never married in the first place. In Lynne’s experience, his wife forced a no-fault divorce on him and his children

Lynne says, “The priest that married us, Fr. Charles Irvin (Lansing, MI Diocese) (himself a canon lawyer) told me the vows he witnessed between us were disposable.”

Lynne vehemently disagrees, citing the marital commandment (1 Cor. 7:10-11), which “tolerates ONLY legal separation and which also enjoins spouses to seek to reconcile. Meanwhile, lax Church clergy concession toward civil divorce (vs. legal separation) has enticed my wife into bigamy, further alienating our mutilated family with a step-father while the validity of our marriage is still putatively, canonically-intact.”

If the U.S. bishops undermine their own Church’s official doctrine and law on marriage, separation, divorce, and annulment, it unlikely that they will have any effect strengthening marriage and family amongst the culture at-large. The Pope is asking them to revive Christian culture, particularly regarding marriage and family.

“Angelicum Review,” the prestigious journal from the Dominical Pontifical University in Rome, published Msgr. Cormac Burke’s article, “Justice and Transparency in Matrimonial Decisions.” Burke has an extensive website where anyone can read case law from the Roman Rota and he corresponds with readers:

“Among other e-mails that my website brings in, a number come from respondents in marriage cases. They inquire about procedural matters, and particularly about how to proceed if, after a first instance Affirmative decision, they wish to appeal to the Roman Rota. Case after case has served to confirm the impression I formed during my years at the Rota (an impression which was common among the judges there) that, especially in the English-speaking countries, quite a number of local tribunals show a lack of due respect for the rights of the respondent, a reluctance to inform him or her of the ways open to them if they oppose a first instance decision and at times, it must be added, even a certain misrepresentation of the difficulties (especially in relation to costs) which may arise from an appeal to the Rota.

“One senses a trace of partisanship here, as if the Judicial Vicar or the judges involved, yielding to a pro-nullity pastoral stance, had lost the impartiality that is a necessary quality of the just judge.”

Msgr. Burke shares excerpts from a current annulment case being tried by a U.S. tribunal court, in which the defendant-respondent was treated unfairly. The identity and diocese of the defendant-respondent are kept secret, but Burke publishes and criticizes direct quotes from the US tribunal judge’s letters to the defendant-respondent.

The U.S. tribunal judge gave the defendant-respondent disinformation about his right to appeal the first ruling that his marriage was invalid. The defendant was erroneously told that in order to appeal to the Vatican, the defendant had to prove to the local judge that the reasons for appeal were serious enough, plus the appeal to Rome was going to cost the defendant-respondent a lot of money. Former Roman Rota Judge, Burke clarified that the local tribunal does not have any discretionary power to stop someone from appealing to Rome to defend the validly of their marriage.

In Burke’s article, he says, “It is quite common for tribunals to suggest to a party thinking of an appeal to Rome, that this is a very expensive practice. This is not true.” In the early 1990’s there was an agreement between Rome and any U.S. diocese. Burke explains:

“If the Tribunal accepts the petition (cf. c. 1505, §1), it is logical that the Petitioner makes a payment towards the expenses of the case. But if the Respondent is opposed to the claim, there would be no logic whatsoever in requiring him or her to share in the expenses of a case initiated by the Petitioner. Taking this a step farther, if after a first instance Affirmative decision, the Respondent pursues his or her right of defense by appealing to the Roman Rota, justice requires that the local Tribunal facilitates this appeal and does not seek to make it more difficult – e.g. by suggesting that the Respondent must pay something in the order of $500 or $850. This would be totally contrary to the terms and spirit of the agreement mentioned above.”

Burke also exposes the unjust practice of withholding from the defendant-respondent a full copy of the final decision. If the petitioner/plaintiff gets a pro-annulment decision from the lower tribunal, the decision or “Sentence” is supposed to describe the law-based rationale that the judges used to conclude that the marriage was invalid. The defendant-respondent is supposed to get a full copy of the Sentence – which they would need as they correspond with an appellate court to describe their objections and observations. The defendant-respondent in Burke’s article was not allowed to get his own copy of the Sentence.

Lynne said that the Tribunal of the Diocese of Richmond Virginia, in 2003, would not provide him his own full copy of their Sentence declaring his marriage was invalid, even though he made multiple requests. Only after Lynne had appealed Richmond’s decision to the Roman Rota did the Richmond court provide him a full copy of their decision.

Deborah Nuzzo, a defendant-respondent in the Tribunal of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, says that in 2010, the tribunal would not let her have her own full copy of their decision.

In and e-mail interview, Nuzzo said “The director of Brooklyn’s tribunal told me that they never give copies of the Sentence to the parties. He went on to say that there is not a Church tribunal in any of the adjoining states who do. When I pressed him to explain, he glibly answered, ‘someone might put this on their refrigerator.’ This was the second time I received the same answer to my question. It is against canon law to withhold this, plus it treats a serious matter as a joke.”

Nuzzo advises respondent-defendants to learn about their rights and inform the bishop every step along the way if rights are being denied, and to save all written correspondence for future defense to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

Bai Macfarland is founder of Mary’s Advocates, a advocacy work for the advancement of traditional Catholic marriage and family law.