The young people whom I have had the opportunity to minister to as a priest have been oftentimes one of the most delightful as well as the most challenging at the same time. Some of them have been very well formed spiritually, but for the most part, they also seem to be worldly savvy rather than actively putting their faith into practice when faced with the struggles of daily living. Sad to say, the world does seem to be a stumbling block, preventing them from living out their faith. The way it panders to their feelings, influencing their moral standards and desensitizing their conscience makes it a particular challenge to any minister, lay or ordained, to reach them at their hearts and souls. Generally, they seem to relate to what is portrayed in the movies, and I have on occasion had to use some phrases that are particularly useful to bring across a teaching point. I recall one phrase that Peter Parker, also known as Spiderman, uttered in the movie of the same name. It ran "with great power comes great responsibility". It has been a very useful phrase for teaching not only youth, but adults as well, as there is a lot of truth in it. Perhaps the adult world should hold that as a golden rule as well.
In the past week, we saw how President Obama, arguably the most powerful man in the world, make a personal statement about how he supports gay marriage. He made it clear that it was a personal belief, citing how among the members of his own staff who lived out their homosexual orientations in life, he came to see how good and effective they were as workers and staff members. It was the first time ever that a President of the United States of America made such a public and quasi-official statement on gay marriage, and understandably, it caused Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to respond with great concern this stand of Mr. Obama. Needless to say, the gay rights activists were beside themselves to see such endorsement given to their cause at the presidential level. It brought to mind Peter Parker's phrase with a heavy heart.
It is clear that marriage as an institution is being threatened on so many levels as it is. The last thing it needs now is to have a same-sex union to be called a "marriage", let alone having it presidentially endorsed, even if it is a "personal" opinion. It will most certainly be misread and misquoted as something that is official and bona fide, even if it is not. Marriage is and has always been the sacred union that joins a man and a woman in a lifelong exclusive bond. It has been raised to a sacramental level, meaning that when that union is lived out in its fullest and most selfless, loving way, it mirrors God's very own existential love because from it comes the possible fecundity of another human living being. This is simply not a possibility in any same-sex "marriage". Using the word "marriage" so loosely and with such flippancy will undoubtedly confuse the impressionable young minds. This will stymie the Church’s efforts in forming the minds of our future adults.
What is the root of the issue here? There are many, I am sure. But one of the biggest issues is that of a misplaced and misinformed sense of "rights". We do have rights, but they are all within the purview of God’s divine law. Inside of this issue of misinformed "rights" are erroneous presumptions like "it's my right to do with my body as I please", or "to satisfy my deepest longings is my right as a human being" or “I have a right to find my own happiness no matter what it takes”. However, at the heart of a true Catholic spirituality is the fact that life is not about rights, and instead, that life is a gift given out of grace. The moment the "rights" card is waved and brandished about and thrust in the face of our interlocutors, it is clear that we are no longer on common ground.
We only need to read and reflect on the temptations of Jesus in the desert to see that life is not about "rights". His three temptations were all "rights" centered, weren't they? Being the Son of God, the tempter insinuated that he had rights and privileges. Turn stone to bread, get the angels to be at his service, and right to be given the world if one worships the wrong god.
These are very real temptations, and everyone faces them at some point in their lives. Jesus gives us the right approach when faced with such temptations. Pun definitely unintended.