What’s Your Calling? Part 3. A talk by a Cistercian

What matters most of all?

God is often/feels absent. People have low self esteem and a low self image.

So as a Cistercian, I can be stuck in a cell, with someone who is absent and a person I do not like (!).

Cistercians do not teach or do any active work. So are they useless? Aren’t they?

Yet people who profess no faith and those who lead very troubled lives visit the Cistercians and feel a great sense of peace, the moment they come through the gates. The Cistercians are a presence.

The big question, Who am I called to be?

People ask, “How can I love God more?” I should rather ask, “How can I be more open to the love of God for me?”

Loving someone else is allowing the love of God to flow through me to another person. If I do not love another person what I am actually saying is that I wont let God’s love flow through me to that person.

The “useless” life of the Cistercian speaks to a lot of people who think their lives lack meaning.

Because no life lacks meaning, the life is of inestimable value to Christ.

Prisoners of conscience who feel forgotten. The elderly, the ill, those who feel they can do “nothing useful”. The call of the Cistercian speaks to all these people. That their life has inestimable value simply because they are.


Homily by Same Cistercian

We cannot go to heaven by our own efforts- that is why Jesus came.

To be a Christian is not about obeying rules, no- it is about having met A Person. (Jesus). A God who loved so much these creatures who turned away.
There is nothing we can do to make him love us less.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. God’s love for us is total.
No aspect of human life can be beyond the reach of God’s love.
Grace, the gift of His life giving love.


What’s Your Calling? Part 2

Talk on the Vocation to Religious Life

Everything comes from God. We only love, because God has first loved us. We are born out of love, in order to love.

The Monastic vocation is to give everything back as fully as possible, preferring nothing else to the love of God. It is a vocation to bear witness to the world the generosity of God, by giving a radical gift of ourselves back to God. It is a response to a gratuitous personal call. This is a call that has not been earned, nothing has been done to “deserve” it.

It is also a search for God lived out in community. Community can be quite intensive as it is enclosed and helps us let go of our own will.

The whole structure of the day helps in the aim of searching for God.

The Monastic vocation concentrates on imitating Christ particularly in the aspect of His prayer “Jesus went up to the Hills to pray”. The Monastic tradition traces its roots back to the Desert Fathers  who lived in the first few centuries. Not to be seen as “professional prayers”, but given the service of praise.

It is a beautiful thought than in every hour of every day,  there are people praying all over the world and when we pray the prayer of the Church, we enter into that prayer.

There was a reference to “dialup” and broadband. Whereas dialup just allows the internet to be available for a small period of time, broadband makes it constantly available. The prayer of the monasteries like the “broadband”, with a line to God constantly open to God, rather than for a limited time only.

The Benedictine Vows are Obedience, Stability and Conversion.

  • Obedience to the will of God in all the details of life. Obedience comes from the latin which means to hear.
  • Stability- a response to the fidelity of God. To offer a place of prayer and peace.
  • Conversion involves turning away and turning towards. It is a work of the spirit. Allow the spirit to transform us into the image of the Son. It includes chastity. Poverty sometimes is better understood as simplicity, since the sisters have all the necessities. It involves how to go without, cheerfully and without grumbling
  • (See more here)

It involves recognising and believing in the value of a life of prayer.

Part 2 Apostolic or Missionary Vocations

To go out to the marginalised, where no one else wants to go. To seek the need of a place. To give out of love because God gave all. It is about solidarity with the poor, to be with them to know what they need. Some poor or sick are unable to explain their needs, so need to spend time with them to understand.

It is not about prohibitions. Chastity makes the heart strong and the spirit great. The heart is too big to be just filled by creatures. This is true of everyone, in every state of life. Part of the heart can only be satisfied by God.

A key point is that vocation needs to lead to inner freedom or it is not from God. It should be joyful, but this joy does not mean always smiling, but a deeper inner joy. A test is that if thinking about the vocation does not bring joy then this casts doubt about the suitability of the vocation.

There is the issue that people do not understand the use of the vocation to pray and this is a challenge.

There was also a comment that whenever you choose one thing, this involves not choosing several other things. However, paradoxically in choosing one thing, there is freedom.

One Sister commented that taking a “narrow path” can mean something narrow in terms of narrowness/being specific in purpose.

Married Couple

Comment that with the joys and struggles, they gained particular grace from attending a “Marriage Encounter Weekend”, where they gained new strength in their marriage. They understood better the call to live as a sacrament for each other and recognised the great power they could draw on- God’s grace.

There was also sharing how Natural Family Planning deepened their trust and their relationship with God.

This quote from Tertullian:

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there [p36] are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.

The big truth of marriage is that you are living for each other.

The way of praying may be different to those in religious life, praying with a babe in arms in front of the cross and at the sink, but these have parallels with monastic duties.

What’s Your Calling?

Just come back from an enjoyable weekend away called, “What’s Your Calling”. Writing a blog post…or two…to record some notes from the retreat.

For the introduction we were given ten points to know about vocation.

A big question, “Who does God Call Me to be?”  and a quote from St Catherine of Siena, “If you are who you are called to be, you will set the world on fire”.


God is the one who has placed a restlessness in our hearts for Him, for everyone in any of the states of life.

Ten Things to Know about Vocation

1. God Calls

The point is that the call comes from God not us.

<God-is-Calling The image to the left giving a very current way to understand how we can receive a call and then take it or drop it.

God’s call is for everyone, irrespective of age or even if you have already found your call. So, even for  Priest, a married person or a Religious Sister, God still calls. This is helpful as there can be a tendency to think of  God’s call being either to religious life or else God is simply letting you be. This is untrue. God calls all. The big call is the “Universal call to Holiness”  (see chapter five here). This applies to everyone.

In the past there has been an idea that the holy life is just for a few people (and in particular that these are “other” people and do not include me!). This misunderstanding has been corrected with the universal call to holiness. Also, John Paul II at the World Youth Days often said “Do not be afraid to be the Saints of the New Millenium” and “Do not settle for mediocity”


2. It is a two way gift

God gives us everything we have. There is an invitation to recognise this with gratitude. All we have to give, is ultimately from him. A call is a gift too.

3. God preserves our freedom

We can choose whether to respond to a call or not; back to the picture above.

4. Know Thyself

A key point for discernment is to know yourself.


5. It’s All about Jesus

The focus ultimately needs to be on Him.

6. Find your place in the symphony

There is something special about listening to an orchestra and the combination of all the different instruments playing together and the beautiful sound it makes. Where is my part? Where do I fit?

Often mentioned throughout the weekend was Blessed Cardinal Newman’s famous poem

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next… I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

3. Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He {302} may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

There was an emphasis on remind us that our lives have meaning and purpose.

7 Ask for help, Spiritual Direction

Not to try to do everything on our own. There are people around willing to help, so ask.

8 Expect Some Blindness

Things are not always clear. Sometimes we are led through the desert places. This is part of the process.

9 God writes straight with crooked lines

At Francis of Assisi heard the call to “rebuild my Church” and so went around doing that until he realised that the call was to a much deeper rebuilding of the Church. Sometimes we can answer a call and maybe find ourselves in a place we are not ultimately meant to be, or only intended to be for a while. It may be just part of the journey rather than the destination. God can pull us back if we make the wrong decision.

10. Discernment is not a vocation!

Discernment is not a destination. The time comes to make a decision.

This was given as a “plan of life”, for a way of life conducive to hearing our call.

Plan of Life

  1. Daily Mental Prayer – Unless we pray we cannot hear God’s call.
  2. Regular Attendance at Mass and Adoration
  3. Examen and use of the Sacrament of Reconcilation
  4. Regular Reading of Scripture
  5. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
  6. Reflection on the movement of the Spirit.


Evangelium 2013 Notes on a Talk about St John Vianney and the Revival of the Faith in UK

Here are my notes on Bishop Mervyn Davies’ wonderful talk on St John Vianney.

Any errors then attribute to me and my memory, any credit then attribute to him! There will also be gaps as I did not capture everything.

“Today we stand in need of a generation of Saints” JPII. Census shows England is now a minority Christian Country.
Vacuum is dangerous as it leaves people open to dangerous ideologies such as relativism.

597 AD Benedictine Monks arrived on the shore in Kent sent by Pope Gregory. 40 chanting (psalms?)
Imagine how hopeless it must have seemed to them, arriving at a pagan land. The French warned them exactly how unpromising the territory was before they arrived. Yet they went on to bring the conversion of England.

The latest census shows England as a minority Christian country for the first time since those days.

John Henry Newman some coming infidelity 150 years ago  “I see trials that lie before us that would make dizzy St Gregory and St Athanasius, a world simply irreligious “. He also believed this situation would be overcome.   Example of some youths who told Bishop Mervyn that they had never prayed in their lives.  (Yes the situation is challenging but…) The first Christians were unequal to the task of evanglisation, “Go! Make disciples of all nations!”. This mission was impossible without the promise, “I will be with you always “.

Jean Vianney born 1786 during French Revolution, became a priest on 13th August 1815, dies 1859. He had to take his exams in French because he could not learn latin, so he was sent to a small insignificant parish in Ars where people were apathetic and preferred to work in the fields than go to Mass on a Sunday. He was not dispondant, he saw only the promise, “I will be with you always”   He said that we can be like people dying of thirst beside a great river. We have all the means. Similarly, St Escriva heard,”You can’t, but I can”. God wants to be seen through our scantry resources.   Pope Francis said that we need a Church capable of meeting those wandering aimlessly and disappointed, Taking the example of Luke 24 and the road to Emmaus.   Are we capable of bringing people home?   Jean Vianney said that we are all beggars, but we know where the bread of life is to be found. He was born shortly before the French Revolution when the Church had to hide in France.  

Lukewarm Catholicism will be quickly swept away. George Weigel says, in his book, Evangelical Catholicism, that the Catholic future of Europe lies in the renaissance of faith. Vianney sought a renewal of Catholic Faith. At one point a quarter or a fifth of France went to the curee de Ars for Confession, but he was never eloquent in public speaking. However, JP II quoted Him extensively. Hundreds of thousands came to him every year.   The Gospel is for everyone, not just those who seem more open and receptive.  Lumen Gentium 5: The Universal Call to Holiness.   This mission is about ourselves ((Linking back to the JPII quote about the need for saints, the need to live holy lives.))

  When a petition circulated saying that Jean Vianney was incapable of being a Catholic Priest. He looked at the petition and signed it!!!   Yet, Jean Vianney was convinced that what was accomplished in his parish, could be accomplished in every parish in the world.   A key feature of every vocation is that it requires perseverence. There must be this key element.

Prayer in the Catechism


Post : Prayer in the Catechism
URL : http://bridgesandtangents.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/prayer-in-the-catechism/ Posted : March 20, 2013 at 8:30 am
Author : Stephen Wang
Tags : catechesis, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christian prayer, how to pray, prayer, prayer in the Catechism, spirituality Categories : Spirituality

I was in Leeds last week, leading a study day for some of the clergy there. The topic was ‘Prayer in the Catechism’, looking at the history and theology of Part 4 of the Catechism, and sharing some practical tips about how to use this in teaching and catechesis.


The text from the Catechism is here (http://www.catholicdoors.com/catechis/cat2558.htm#2558) (the first section of Part 4 on Christian Prayer).

Here is the audio of the three talks if you are interested.

> Talk 1: The importance of Part 4 (Christian Prayer) in the theological structure of the Catechism. >
> Listen here (https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1777890/Talks%20etc/Fr%20Stephen%20Wang%2C%20Prayer%20in%20Catechism%201%20-%20Structure%20of%20Catechism%20%2814%20March%202013%29.mp3) . >
> Download here (https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1777890/Talks%20etc/Fr%20Stephen%20Wang%2C%20Prayer%20in%20Catechism%201%20-%20Structure%20of%20Catechism%20%2814%20March%202013%29.mp3?dl) . >
> Talk 2: The history and structure of Part 4
> Listen here (https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1777890/Talks%20etc/Fr%20Stephen%20Wang%2C%20Prayer%20in%20Catechism%202%20-%20History%20and%20Overview%20%2814%20March%202013%29.mp3) . >
> Download here (https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1777890/Talks%20etc/Fr%20Stephen%20Wang%2C%20Prayer%20in%20Catechism%202%20-%20History%20and%20Overview%20%2814%20March%202013%29.mp3?dl) . >
> Talk 3: The theology of Part 4
> Listen here (https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1777890/Talks%20etc/Fr%20Stephen%20Wang%2C%20Prayer%20in%20Catechism%203%20-%20Theology%20%2814%20March%202013%29.mp3) . >
> Download here (https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1777890/Talks%20etc/Fr%20Stephen%20Wang%2C%20Prayer%20in%20Catechism%203%20-%20Theology%20%2814%20March%202013%29.mp3?dl) .

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Pope Benedict and Chief Rabbi Bernheim on Marriage

It seems a bit late to be looking at the Pope’s Christmas message. It said so many good things, wanting peace in Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, the Congo and Asia. Well wishes to North Africa and the “beloved land of Egypt” to bring a society founded on justice and respect for the freedomm and dignity of every person.

I want to go back to a little before Christmas and look at this:


and as it relates to a bill going through parliament relating to marriage in less than a week now, I think it is acceptable to go back to the time of the Holy Family.

This post is trying to go deeper into question two of the previous post, or rather a similar question, which is “Why does it matter so much?”. Is this whole question of marriage being one man and one woman really that important? Does it really make such a difference if the definition is changed?

It would be better to read what the Pope said than this blog post, as it is so much better and says so much more. Anyway, I will look at some key striking points:

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

So a key point is that what is up for grabs is now is this whole notion of whether our gender identity is a social construct or something “in the essence” of human nature. The bible- “male and female he created them”

Benedict goes on to say

No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him.” (bold is mine)

So what seems to be at stake is the dismantling of the family. If everything is a social construct then there is no norm and no reason to prefer one arrangement over another. Pope Benedict then quotes Bernheim in saying the child then just becomes an object to which people have a “right”.

Catholic Voices seem to be the only ones to try to put something into English from Chief Rabbi Bernheim’s address . Again, it would be better to read the post than this blog:


Going deeper into this theme of the child being treated as an object “What matters here is not homosexuality – which is a fact – but the irreversible risk of destroying genealogies, identities and rights (making the child an object, rather than a subject), and so undermining the common good and the public interest, for the sake of a tiny minority.”  He goes on to mention that it simply matters to a child that they are related to their Mum and Dad.

A further poin is that not everyone who loves someone else can marry them, it is a fact of life.

Marriage is not simply the recognition of love; it is an institution which binds the union of a man and woman to the succeeding generations.

Marriage is the institution of a family, a cell which creates a direct relationship between its members through ties of blood. It creates descendants. And in doing so, it is a fundamental act in building the stability both of individuals and of society.

Then a key point, which answers my question, so, “what is the big problem?” is here, from the CV Blog summary of Bernheim:

An attempt to abolish sexual difference

Behind the drive to gay marriage is an attempt to deny sexual difference, and to enshrine gender theory. Gender theory has developed from ideas first used by feminists to denounce social distinctions between men and women. Against the idea of biological differences between men and women, the theory suggested that the differences were social constructs; there is no such thing as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, only a ‘sexuality’ (homo or hetero).

A more radical version of this theory seeks to eradicate all differences between men and women, to attain a perfect equality, on the grounds that there cannot be sexual difference without inequality. ‘Sex’ as a natural category has been gradually relativized. ‘Queer theory’ takes this theory of gender to another extreme by positing the idea that heterosexuality is not a given, or norm; and that sexual identity is merely a social construct, not a determinant. It can be chosen, or thrown off; there is no need to take account of it.

Queer theory seeks to replace sexual identity with sexual orientation, which an individual chooses or embraces as they wish – feminine and masculine are merely roles which can be renounced or exchanged. Women, men, straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered … there are no longer sexual identities, only individuals with ever-shifting orientations.

In this theory, family is a form of social conditioning – an obstacle to the expression of the self – which imposes the straightjacket of sexual identity. It is not sexual identity which matters, but sexual orientation: a physically masculine person might be psychologically feminine and vice-versa. In this theory it is not nature which determines sexual identity but the individual’s will. Why not, therefore, institutionalise the union of two people, whatever ‘sex’ they are?  And on what grounds does society refuse to entrust to them children, given that that the different models are considered equivalent?

Although I do think there is a sense which those the LGBT lobby would disagree that you choose your “sexual identity”, don’t they think that is something you are born with…so not sure how Bernheim would respond to this question, whether “gender identity” for them is nature or nurture.

Finally, in summary it says that there are three problems with the bill:

The real problem here is how harmful this bill would be for our society as a whole, and how, whilst benefiting a very small minority, it would irrevocably blur three crucial concepts:

  • Genealogy: replacing motherhood and fatherhood with “parenthood”;
  • The status of children: no longer the subjects of rights, but objects which people claim to have a right to;
  • Identity: our gender ‘preferences’ or ‘orientations’ coming to take precedence over sexuality in the name of a supposed fight against inequality, which has been distorted into a movement to eradicate difference.



Marriage- One Man and One Woman….Why?

An alternative blog post title could have been “Till death do us part” …or… “for as long as the love lasts” ?

There are some very straightforward arguments why marriage should be, as it always has been, one man and one woman:

  • In the UK no party mentioned changing this as part of election manifesto. So no electoral mandate.
  • Marriage is that unique relationship where man and woman come together and bring into being a new son or daughter. It is distinct and different from other relationships, so has a different name. There is no other way of a new human being coming into existence without one man and one woman. The state only gets involved with marriage because it is the basic building block of society. The family is the way by which new humans are brought into existence and reared, so the state takes an interest in it. It has been scientifically proven that the best environment for children is with their own biological parents.
  • There are already Civil Partnerships which give partakers the same legal rights as those in marriage. Changing the law is unnecessary. (The Church did not oppose Civil Partnerships, but what I hear stated less often is that the Church wanted them to be open to any two people who would like to have them, eg maiden aunts who live together might want inheritance rights given by Civil Partnerships.)

As this is such a hot topic in the UK and it is about to go through parliament, I have been reading up on it.

In particular this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Marriage-Sherif-Girgis/dp/1594036225

“What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense”.

The rest of this blog post is devoted to a couple of questions that this book helped me to clarify, namely:

Q. Why do you allow marriage for infertile couples and not for same sex couples?

Q. Why should it weaken marriage if it is opened to same sex couples? (Why would it make a difference)

In my view, the second question is the key one. The book covers much more than these two question, but these were two questions which I wanted a more satisfactory answer.

Q. Why do you allow marriage for infertile couples and not for same sex couples?

This argument is not to say that marriage is only about children. It does suggest that, without children, the state would not get involved in marriage, no more than it gets involved with our friendships.

But what about the infertile couple? Many infertile couples admit that their infertility is a suffering for them, “it makes it impossible for the couple’s union, though marital, to be in a new and quite literal sense embodied”.

An explanation the book gives is that something unique happens in “coitus” in the bodily union between a man and woman. The male and female, quite literally become one body. Their combined organs make sense in a way they simply do not on their own. In a woman nce a month an egg goes on its way and shows that in this generative function, the male or female body is incomplete alone.  Coitus or the sex act, brings about this unity, completes this generative incompleteness, whether or not the single act in itself leads to procreation. This means that the coitus between an infertile couple is valid in the same way as sex between a couple outside a fertile period.

This kind of bodily unity can only ever be achieved  between a man and woman, it is not possible between more than two or two men or two women. Only a man and woman can be unified in the sense of being together for this unique purpose where the generative organs work together, united, to bring a new human into existence. This unity as one body occurs, even if conception does not result. They are two different stages, the unity and then, afterwards a possibility of conception.

Much the same way as, if I fast before an operation, my stomach is empty. The stomach may not be “doing very much”. That does not mean it stops being part of my body or that I can say that another empty stomach is part of my body because they are both equivalent. The stomach is  there in unity with the body even if at a particular point of time it is not processing food. In coitus, the bodily unity makes sense in the way no other bodily unity makes sense, whether or not conception results. That is why sex is good for bonding in marriage and is not only about procreation. It only exists because of procreation tho’. Someone else posed the question, “what would our society look like if we had asexual reproduction instead?”

Another argument is that society has not viewed infertility as a preventing a marriage from being valid, but it has seen impotence as grounds for declaring a marriage null and void or being annulled.

Q. Why should it weaken marriage if it is opened to same sex couples? (Why would it make a difference)

The book starts by explaining the “conjugal view of marriage”– marriage is a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond. “It is a vision of marriage as a bodily as well as a spiritual bond, which is like all love, effusive, flowing out into the wide sharing of family life and ahead to lifelong fidelity. In marriage, so understood, the world rests its hope and renewal”. I understand this to mean that married love has traditionally been understood as flowing out to the family and children.

Currently there is a “revisionist” view of marriage. “it is a vision of marriage as …  a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity- a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desires. In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment and remain as long as they find it.” So, in the revisionist view marriage is more inward looking, focussed on the two that are married. It is an emotional bond and should the emotion cease then that is grounds for the marriage to cease (which is consistent with divorce ethics).

The book argues that it is the entrenchment of this revisionist view of family, which is about emotional bond with no consideration to family life that is particularly damaging for marriage itself and society.  The revisionist view is larger than the same-sex marriage (SSM) debate, but anything that supports and promotes the revisionist view, is not helpful.

“The health and order of society depend on the rearing of healthy, happy and well-integrated children. That is why law, though it may take no notice of ordinary friendships, should recognise and support marriage”. This argument would particularly strike force in America where there is a strong feeling that the state should keep its place and not meddle where it does not belong. I think in the UK there is greater cultural acceptance of the states involvement in our affairs even if David Cameron is trying to push for the “Big Society”. It is an important consideration- why does the state take an interest in marriage? Why,  unless because of its relationship to society, the small units, the building blocks on which society depends.

“So it is not the conferral of benefits on same-sex relationships itself but redefining marriage in the public mind that bodes ill for the common good”. This is a totally separate discussion from civil partnerships. What is at stake is the definition of marriage, the basic building block of society. As the revisionist view takes further hold, marriage is seen as an emotional union and not, primarily about being ordered to procreation and family life. Where the definition of marriage is reduced to an emotional bond, it is weakened. An emotional bond may disappear for a little or a long while. If that is the measure of the marriage, then there is even less reason to stay together. An emotion is a weak thing to have as a foundation. Of course, people want it to be there, but if it is the defintion of marriage, it weakens it. If future generations are not taught about the connection between marriage and bodily union and with it family life, this is damaging to their understanding of marriage and so society.

A point which surprised me was the damage to friendship. If marriage is reduced to an emotional bond, then what is friendship? Is marriage a particularly emotional and intense friendship. Is there a sense in which friendships are denied the depths of an emotional bond, because it is too like “marriage” in the revisonist sense. The book argues it will become “less acceptable to seek and harder to find emotional and spiritual intimacy in non-marital friendships”.  What, in this case, distinguishes marriage and friendship? In the conjugal view it is “bodily unity” which makes the two different.

The book also argues that  “people everywhere tend to require social pressures to get and stay married: a strong marriage culture”, that is why it is important our laws and culture help with this.

The argument is based on:

1. Laws tend to shape beliefs

2. Beliefs shape behaviour

3. Beliefs and behaviour affect human interest and human well-being.

Exford Professor Joseph Raz, no friend to the conjugal view, says, “One thing can be said with certaintly about recent changes in marriage law. They will not be confined to adding new options to the familiar heterosexual monogamous family. They will change the character of that family..they will not disappear suddenly. Rather they will be transformed into a different social form, which responds to the fact it is one of several forms of bonding and that bonding itself is much more easily and commonly dissoluble”

In other words, redefining marriage would change its meaning for everyone.

If marriage is just an emotional union there is no reason for permanence, exclusivity, limiting to two. The norms of marriage as we know them today make less sense.

“If marriage is about emotional union, why priviledge two person unions or permanently committed ones? What is it about emotional union, valuable as it can be, that requires these limits?”. Permanence and exclusivity will make less sense.

The book also argues that if you disconnect the marriage from children then you also disconnect the ideal of biological parents being the best for children. No arrangement is proposed as the ideal. That is already happening in UK.

This post is an attempt at a summary of some arguments of an entire book. I hope that this is helpful, but to summarise so much in a short space is a challenge.