Don’t weaponize the blessing of couples

3 mins read
blessing of couples weaponization
Father Christian Olding blesses a gay couple during the blessing service "Love Wins" in the Church of St. Martin in Geldern May 6, 2021. Pope Francis has indicated an openness to considering with pastoral prudence the subject of blessing same-sex couples, so long as it's clear this is not a sacramental union akin to the sacrament of matrimony. (OSV News photo/Rudolf Wichert, KNA)

What would you do if you saw a fellow Catholic walk over to a holy water font, pull out a squirt gun, fill it up with holy water, and begin shooting others with it?

I can think of a half-dozen ways in which I might respond if I were to see a sacramental directed toward an end to which it was never intended. None of those ways, however, would involve me going over to the holy water font myself, pulling out my own squirt gun and mimicking the behavior of the person whose actions had set this hypothetical situation into motion.

I hardly need to say why. The man who shot others with holy water was misusing a sacramental, a blessed object whose proper use is an occasion for grace. There are no circumstances in which the proper response to the improper use of a sacramental is for me also to use it for a means to an end other than that to which it is supposed to be directed.

Yet, in the wake of the promulgation of the declaration Fiducia supplicans by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, my social media feeds began to fill up with posts from faithful Catholics urging people to do just that. On the surface, and devoid of context, those messages seem innocuous or even salutary: “Husbands and wives: Ask your parish priest to bless your marriage after Mass this Sunday.” In different circumstances, that would be a pious thought and good advice. What married couple couldn’t use a little more grace in their shared life?

Blessing couples with a political agenda

But context and intention matter. And the context here was the release of Fiducia supplicans, which provided direction on how, and under what circumstances, ordained ministers of the Church might provide a blessing to couples who are “in irregular situations and same-sex couples without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.” And further context included the very real concern that some members of the clergy would, for ideological reasons, conduct such blessings in a way that would incorrectly signal (both to those being blessed and to others who were aware of the blessing) that the Church has, contra ‌Fiducia supplicans, changed her “perennial teaching on marriage.”

As if on cue, the day after ‌Fiducia supplicans was released, the Rev. James Martin, S.J., arranged to offer a blessing to a same-sex couple in the presence of a reporter and a photographer from The New York Times. By inviting the Times to observe a blessing that ‌Fiducia supplicans had posited would be a response to a “spontaneous” request, Father Martin instrumentalized this particular blessing. (Far from being “spontaneous,” the blessing, the article revealed, was not requested by those whom he blessed but took place at the prompting of Father Martin.) The ultimate purpose of this particular blessing was not to be a potential conduit of actual grace for those being blessed, but to use Fiducia supplicans to further an agenda, and those being blessed were themselves treated improperly as a means to an end.

Ask because you need God’s grace

But the same is true of every married couple who were being encouraged to ask their parish priest to bless them the following Sunday. That encouragement was not aimed at the good of their souls; it had an ideological purpose similar to, though the polar opposite of, Father Martin’s purpose.

The weaponization of sacramentals — whether hypothetical holy water shot from a squirt gun or very real blessings offered not with the good of those being blessed in mind but to make an ideological or political point — is always wrong; it is a misuse of something sacred for non-sacred reasons.

Yet God, being God, can turn our misuse of the sacred to the good, and even the ideologically tinged debate over ‌Fiducia supplicans may have a salutary effect if it reminds us that sacramentals such as holy water and blessings are offered to us by the Church not as weapons to be used against one another but for the good of our souls. “The request for a blessing,” Fiducia supplicans notes, “expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy, and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live.”

So ask your priest for that blessing, and ask frequently. But do it because you know that you need God’s grace in order to bear the burdens of your life and to offer them in union with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and not because someone who doesn’t have the good of your soul in mind urges you to do so.

Scott P. Richert

Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.