“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.’  So they are no longer two but one.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”  (Mark 10:7-9)

     When I observed in my recent post “Sins of the Fathers . . .and of Kings” that “one of the greatest  contributors to poverty and other debilitating social ills today is the break-down of sexual morality”, one reader commented: “It is enough to watch the news or TV for two minutes to realize that our miseries are not due to lack of dollars but to lack of morals.” The connection between our sexual conduct and our societal health is impossible to miss, at least for those who aren’t heavily invested in the so-called “sexual revolution”. It is clear that the societal endorsement of sexual license directly undermines the institution of marriage, and the breakdown of marriage in turn has a profoundly negative impact on children most immediately, and from there on everything and everyone else.

What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”  (Mark 10:9)

“Marriage of Mary and Joseph in the Temple” by Luca Giordano, before 1690

     This last point is backed up by an enormous body of research accumulated over decades.  I’m not going to delve into that mountain of data here, except to illustrate with a small sample from a 2014 article by posted on the United States National Institute of Health website:

Divorce adversely affects society by

Studies have attempted to estimate the financial cost of divorce to the United States, with most recent estimates reaching $33.3 billion per year, and with adolescent pregnancy costing at least $7 billion (Schramm 2003).

(Anderson, Jane: “The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects of divorce”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4240051/)

     We can see in the sociological findings above living proof of the words of Our Lord, when he said:

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;  for each tree is known by its own fruit.”  (Luke 6:43-44)

“The Holy Trinity” attr. to Francisco Caro, 17th century

     As damaging as the breakdown of the family is material terms, it’s important to bear in mind that the consequences listed above are, in and of themselves, contingent: there are worse things than worldly suffering.  The ultimate purpose of loving families and stable societies is to better prepare us to spend eternity with God.  The love we experience in our earthly families is intended to give us at least a glimpse of the life of the Trinitarian God, who, St. John tells us “is love” (1 John 4:8). Saint Paul tells us that our experience of human love in our families leads us to a greater love:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;  however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33)

     If stable, loving families bring us closer to each other and to Our Lord, consequences of family breakdown such as increased crime, more substance abuse, less religious observance and so on do the opposite: they separate us from each other, and they separate us from God. We should not be surprised by our Lady’s warning at Fatima as reported by the seer Lucia: “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”

     As it happens, the final battle is a continuation of the very first.  The Devil, whose name  (ὁ διάβολος) means “Divider,”  sought to separate the very first human family and set husband against wife, so that Adam found himself accusing both his wife and his God: “The man said, ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.'” (Genesis 3:12)

Blessed Margaret Pole

     The battle that began in The Garden has never ended.  Last week we looked at how the sexual immorality of English Kings Edward IV and Henry VIII half a millennium ago deepened and extended the separation between Christians that continues to this day.  As it happens, just this past Friday the Church observed liturgical feast of one of the smaller participants in that particular drama, Blessed Margaret Pole.  Margaret was the niece of Edward IV and Richard III, and also a member of the household of Henry VIII when she served as the governess to his daughter Mary (later Queen Mary).  Henry is known to have referred to her as “the holiest woman in England”. Nonetheless, he dismissed her from his court because she opposed the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (which he obtained by separating from the Catholic Church and putting himself at the head of the English church), and then his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. Blessed Margaret was later arrested and eventually beheaded because of the public opposition of her son, Cardinal Pole, to Henry and Anne’s marriage.

     I recently referred to St. Julia of Corsica as a “A Saint For Our Time”.  Blessed Margaret Pole, who gave her life in defense of the sanctity of marriage, also seems especially suited to the situation of our increasingly post-Christian culture. The niece of two kings and a woman renowned for piety, never tried for any crime much less convicted, Blessed Margaret was martyred because she refused to applaud publicly the sacrifice of Holy Matrimony to a third king’s lust.

     Blessed Margaret’s antagonist Henry VIII, on the other hand, could serve as a sort of patron “anti-saint” for our times. He was a man possessed of great gifts: he was given a strong, handsome, athletic body, a quick mind that he applied to writing and musical composition as well as to governing, and was entrusted with the rule of a rich and powerful kingdom. Henry never mastered himself, however, and so his prodigious talents were put at the service, not of his people, but of his equally prodigious cravings for women, wealth, and power. In the end he tried to swallow even the Church. In his later years his grossly obese body became a living image of his insatiable appetites.

Henry VIII

     People come and go, but human nature doesn’t change. King Henry is long gone, but his imitators are still with us. Like Henry, they are not satisfied with mere tolerance or tacit assent: they require full-throated public approval, and so the Margaret Poles must be silenced. None of us is literally being led to the block, thankfully, and pray God it never comes to that. Nevertheless, as we have seen over and over again, those who stand up for Church, family, and traditional moral norms today, even if they do so privately, can expect to have their character blackened and their livelihoods threatened.

     I have often heard Blessed Margaret’s younger and much better known contemporary, St. Thomas More, proposed as a Patron Saint for our age because of his martyrdom in defense of the Church and Marriage. Like him, Blessed Margaret’s firm reliance on Christ’s loving care gave her the strength to stand fast in the face of mortal threats, and the serenity not to be swallowed up in bitterness against her persecutors.  We would do well to invoke Blessed Margaret Pole along with St. Thomas More, and to pray for her intercession against the ravenous spirit of Henry VIII that yet again threatens both Faith and Family.

Featured Image at top of page: ‘Signing the register’, Edmund Blair Leighton (1920)  

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