PINE BEACH, New Jersey, November 9, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — While a movement of outspoken cardinals and bishops have suggested that it is not only “unrealistic” for couples in irregular situations to abstain from sex, but requires a “heroism [that] is not for the average Christian,” living as brother and sister is exactly what Peter and Anne Stravinskas decided to do so that they could align their lives by God’s standards and be able to receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
The couple’s only child, Father Peter Stravinskas, told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive interview the story of his parents’ decision. Fr. Stravinskas, founder of the Priestly Society of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Newman House Press, and The Catholic Response, is a respected scholar, author, and apologist.
It was in the 1940s when the Catholic marriage of Fr. Stravinskas’ dad, also named Peter, hit rocky ground and fell apart. Peter’s wife had abandoned him. Even though Peter was a common laborer and largely a self-taught man, he knew the Catholic faith well enough from his love of reading the great Catholic thinkers G.K. Chesterton and John-Henry Newman to understand that marrying again would distance him from God and the Church.
He knew Christ’s words from the Gospel of Luke which stated, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery.” He also knew the sixth commandment given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai which stated, “You shall not commit adultery.”
Despite this, Peter went ahead and civilly married Anne, a fallen-away Catholic. When Peter Jr. came along in 1950, the couple decided that he would attend Catholic school.
It was during the boy’s second grade preparation for receiving the sacraments of First Confession and Holy Communion that the parents’ faith life received an unexpected jump start. Fr. Stravinskas related it this way:
“I came home from school one day and said, ‘Mom, I love you very much.’
“I love you too,” she replied.
“Mom, when I die I want to go to heaven!”
“Of course, we all do,” she said.
“Well, we've got a problem. If I die and go to heaven, and you and Daddy aren't there, will it be heaven?”
“Well, why wouldn’t Daddy and I be there?”
“Because Sister Rita Gertrude said today in class that people who don't go to Mass on Sunday go to hell when they die.”
Fr. Stravinskas said his mom immediately ended the conversation by telling him to go and have his milk and cookies.
Later that evening when the boy’s father returned home from work, Peter Jr. was sent to his room while his parents discussed the conversation held earlier. But Peter well-remembers the words he heard while listening near the door:
“We have a problem with the kid,” the mom said.
“What’s that?” asked the dad.
“That crazy nun from school is causing us trouble,” she said. “She told Peter today that we are going to go to hell because we don't go to mass on Sunday.”
“Well, what did you expect her to say?”
“When I go to school tomorrow to help with the volunteer work, I'm going to tell her to mind her own business and stay out of our house.”
“Well, you can do that,” he replied. “I don't know how much good it's going to do.”
As Peter listened quietly behind the door, he remembers a brief moment passing by before his dad added: “I think there's probably a simpler solution. I think it would be easier for us to start going to Mass on Sunday then it would be for us to convince Sister that we are not going to go to hell.”
The following Sunday the entire Stravinskas family attended Mass for the first time.
It now began to gnaw on Anne that when the time came during the Mass for people to receive Holy Communion, she was unable to participate. While she experienced a longing for Jesus, she knew that her sexual activity with a man who, in the eyes of the Church, was married to another woman made her unworthy to receive Jesus into her soul.
Fr. Stravinskas remembers his mother once saying: “I don't know why I go to Mass at all if I can't receive Holy Communion.”
The couple eventually brought this difficulty to their parish priest. He told them that one way to proceed would be to petition Church authorities in Rome to examine the first union to determine whether or not a real marriage was contracted. If the marriage was determined to be invalid, then Peter and Anne would be free to marry and thereby conform their relationship to the standards set by God and followed by the Church. It would then follow that both would be able to receive Holy Communion.
But the priest also told them the annulment process was not only lengthy, but costly.
The faithful priest then presented the couple with a much simpler solution.
“He said the easiest solution for them to participate fully in the Catholic faith would be to forgo relations and live as brother and sister,” related Fr. Stravinskas.
“And, from that time on, that's what they did,” he said.
It wasn’t until his high school years while discussing with his Dad the Catholic teaching on marriage that Fr. Stravinskas learned the truth about his parents’ decision.
“And my father said to me, ‘Well, yes, irregular situations do happen. But, to be faithful to Christ, your mother and I have lived as brother and sister for 10 years now.’”
“And they lived that way throughout the rest of their marriage,” said Fr. Stravinskas. Peter passed away in 1983 at the age of 71. Anne lived until 87, passing away in 2005.
Fr. Stravinskas called the language of “integration” in the final report of the Synod on the Family — recently concluded in Rome — a “Trojan horse” designed to attack at its very heart Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
“If it’s true that a person remains bound to their spouse, even if the marriage fails, that means that any subsequent sexual activity the person engages in is the sin of adultery. That's what Jesus says in the Gospels,” he said.
People who disagree with this teaching have an argument with God, not with the Church, he said.
“When people say to me they don't accept the Church's teaching on divorce and remarriage, I say to them, ‘Let's make your statement more precise: What you’re really saying is that you don’t accept the teaching of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity on this issue.’ If they are willing to say that, then I will tell them that I’ll quickly get out of their way before the lightning strikes.”
“This teaching on divorce and remarriage is not within the power of the Church to change. It comes from God himself. The Church took this doctrine so seriously that she was willing to give up the entire Church in England in the 1530s because of her belief in the indissolubility of marriage,” he said.
Fr. Stravinskas explained why it is gravely wrong for Catholics who are divorced and remarried to present themselves for Holy Communion.
“It's the sin of sacrilege. The sin of sacrilege is unworthily approaching the holiest of Sacraments. St. Paul is very clear on that in his Epistle to the Corinthians. He said a person must examine himself first, and if he is not in the proper disposition, he must not receive the body and blood of the Lord. If he does — and here is the penalty — he eats and drinks condemnation to himself. It's the gravest of sins,” he said.
He also took issue with some Synod fathers’ misuse of the Emmaus story found in the Gospel of Luke in citing it as a model for “accompanying” those in irregular situations to a full participation in the sacraments.
“The first thing about ‘accompaniment’ is that it’s really a spiritual work of mercy, namely to admonish sinners, to warn them about the nature of their sin. If we look how Jesus accompanies the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, first of all, he calls them ‘foolish’ for having closed minds. He then accompanies them on the road and opens up for them the scriptures and sets their hearts on fire for the truth which they contain.”
“That's the kind of pastoral accompaniment the Church needs to give to people in irregular situations. And not just them, but anyone living in any kind of sin,” he said.
Fr. Stravinskas said his parents’ testimony to the possibility of living in an irregular situation while being faithful to the teachings of Jesus is pertinent to the Church today.
“When we have Cardinals like Kasper and Marx saying that abstaining from sexual relations is ‘unrealistic’ and a ‘heroism’ that lay people can’t live, that’s not only ridiculous and even obnoxious, but it flies in the face of the Universal Call to Holiness so beautifully expressed by Vatican II.”
“It’s a position that dishonors my parents and thousands of other couples like them who have decided to put their confidence to carry forward in the grace of God. Our faith teaches us that God gives everyone the grace to avoid sin. People do live this,” he said.
He said that priests need to begin using their own example of living full happy lives while abstaining from sex as an example to encourage people to be faithful to God’s plan for marriage and sexuality as expressed in the Church’s teaching.
“Using their own witness of celibacy, priests can tell young people that it is possible to wait until marriage. He’s not asking them to do anything that he isn't doing himself. Likewise, he can encourage people with same-sex attraction to refrain from acting out. Again, he can tell couples living faithfully the Church’s teaching against contraception but struggling with periodic continence that the Church is only asking them to abstain for a period of time, while the priest has abstained his entire life.”
“There are all kinds of situations where people cannot, for prolonged period of time or even permanently, have sexual relations. We have to be able to give them an example, even if it’s only on a natural level, that this is possible.”
“As Saint Paul once said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” he said.