The usually sensible Fr. Longenecker proposes that the Catholic Church get out of the civil marriage business as a way to avoid being forced to officiate at same-sex ceremonies.
There is a much simpler solution: We could decline to offer Catholic wedding ceremonies to couples unless at least one of the two is a practicing Catholic.
We already try to do this, witness the massive hoops that Catholic couples are forced to jump through in order to get a church wedding as it stands. We attempt the same thing for the other white-dress sacrament as well, never mind that our usual strategy is counter to Catholic teaching.
I don’t propose that we torment same-sex couples with our notorious bureaucracy until they cave under the weight of it all and flee to the UU. But what if we were to treat our sacraments as something that Christian souls seek when they are earnestly desiring to know, love, and follow God? What if, when someone presented themselves for a sacrament, we were to take them seriously in their request, no matter how utterly unready for the undertaking they seemed to be?
When two men or two women present themselves to the pastor requesting a wedding ceremony, or some family darkens the doors of the church for the first time in a decade requesting First Communion, what if we tried, “Well, I’m very glad you’re here, but I’m concerned that you’re asking for something you don’t fully understand. Let’s begin by your telling me a bit about yourselves. Can you tell me about your relationship with God up to this point in your life?”
There’s good news. God made you, He loves you, He wants to live forever with you. This is the story of Jesus, the story of your salvation. This is the what the Church is, what the sacraments are . . . if you’re still with us, let’s start digging into the Ten Commandments. Okay good, let’s talk about how God made us male and female and what that means — for everyone in general, and for you in particular? How about we learn about the fitting worship that is due to God alone, and how that works in your life?
By the time you’ve actually prepared a person to be ready to receive a sacrament, the question of whether they are going to Mass every Sunday or whether they want to marry a person they simply cannot marry has ceased to be a concern. Someone who is properly disposed to receive the Eucharist is in a state of grace — including fulfilling the Sunday obligation. Someone who is properly disposed to receive the sacrament of Marriage will by definition choose, to the best of his or her ability, a suitable spouse.
Practicing Catholics go to Mass on Sunday. Practicing Catholics don’t marry people they are ineligible to marry.
So ironically, if we could just follow the Catholic faith, we would have no argument with Caesar. We’ll witness the marriage of any Catholic who is prepared to receive the sacrament, end of story.
Artwork: Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464) The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons