In summing up the year 1661 Pepys has this to say, “…my chiefest thought is now to get a good wife for Tom – there being one offered by the Joyces, a cousin of theirs, worth 200 L in ready money…” (The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1661) How strange those words appear to us in 2015, yet how unconsciously Pepys wrote them 354 years ago. We are rightly horrified at the notion of marriage being nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold, a wife’s worth based on a monetary status. Yet in some parts of our present day world – this thinking still holds sway. Children and women are sold by those who see them as nothing more than commodities of their trade.
After listening to Pope France’s congressional address this week and other comments he has made in various settings, I consider the ideals he is calling us to. Some people are disgruntled with what he said. Some are angry with what he left unsaid. Ironically, most of what he said has been said before, for centuries, through the teachings of the Catholic Church, through the sacrificial love of Christ. Yet, will his words really change anyone?
In almost 400 hundred years, the general population of the world has come to embrace a higher value on marriage than mere profit. Though for some it is still a self-defined reality. Marriage is “what I think it is – nothing more, nothing less”. If marriage were to be reduced to 200 pounds of ready money, we would see that as crass, but in fact it would be just as logical under the assumption that marriage is what we make of it.
Pope Frances spoke of a reality beyond the personal definition of “what I think” and moves into territory that enrages certain personalities. Objective truth beyond a personal horizon appears to set limits on the human experience. Yet, each and every person has an opportunity to accept or reject this reality. I can insist that objective truth does not exist. Or I can open myself to the grace-filled reality of a supernatural existence which widens my vision. Either marriage has objective value beyond my personal experience or it becomes the toy of the participants.
The question for us remains, what will we choose? If Pope Frances is right, reminding us of an objective truth which sets limits on the human experience in terms of what is morally acceptable behavior and what is objectionable, then we have to look at whose code of conduct we choose to follow. Personally, I have chosen to accept the Creed of the Catholic faith. I have studied other creeds and belief systems but none other offers a God who loves us so much that he would die for us and insists that the only way to really love anyone is to love as He loved. Fifty years of life here on earth with our mixed human experiences have convinced me that Jesus Christ told the truth…is Truth.
I value marriage because it has meaning apart and beyond my personal experience. I value humanity beyond my moments of joy and despair. I do not condemn Pepys as a sinner, rather I pity him. What he missed! As Pope Frances heads back to his home, there will be a great deal of commentary. But rather than analyzing what Pope Frances said, we might consider, what are we missing?