With this column I bring to a conclusion a lengthy catechesis on the subject of marriage and family life. I wish to briefly recall that the reason for this extended teaching has been the attention being given these days throughout the universal Church to this important topic. We are between two synods of the world’s bishops on the subject of the pastoral care of the family. Also we are preparing for a World Meeting of Families to be held this fall in Philadelphia with our Holy Father.
Another impetus for this catechesis was the stark realization, brought to light through the local consultation in preparation for the two synods, that we are reaping the fruits of decades of inadequate and flawed catechesis on marriage and family life. There is an obvious need for a clear teaching on the nature, meaning and purpose of marriage according to the divine plan.
I have made my best attempt to lay out a clear, faithful and unambiguous presentation of the Church’s understanding and teaching on the essential nature of marriage. This teaching is based on the natural law, Sacred Scripture and 2,000 years of reflection and teaching guided by Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit to his Church.
It is not a teaching that is always easy to hear. It can be a challenging teaching, and some of you have expressed your disagreement with what I have attempted to lay out, or have tried to make the argument that this vision of marriage is too idealistic or even impossible to achieve given the reality of marriage and family life in the world today.
I must be clear that what I have taught in this series is not my own opinion, but the teaching of Christ and his Church. It is my responsibility as your shepherd to hand on this teaching faithfully and without compromise, even while emphasizing the mercy of God when we fall short. What we must resist is the very real temptation to cast aside this beautiful and majestic ideal of what marriage is all about in favor of a more secular and worldly vision that is much easier and, for some, more comfortable. We must hold fast to this teaching and rely on the grace of God to help us when it gets difficult to achieve.
The fact is that marriage is in crisis, and the future of our civilization and our culture is at stake. This may seem too strong for some, but with all my heart I believe it to be true. Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily opening the world synod of bishops on the New Evangelization in 2012:
“...matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming ‘one flesh’ in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization.”
For those who have worked hard for many years in your own lives to uphold and witness to God’s vision for marriage and family life, we all thank you. Amidst all the struggles and challenges that life has thrown at you, you have remained faithful. You are a light shining in the darkness.
I would like to speak a final word to all of those persons in marriages or family situations that are wounded, filled with suffering and are in need of Christ’s healing love and mercy. Do not lose heart or give in to sadness and despair. God loves you. The whole Body of Christ, the Church, loves you and wants to help you find healing and strength in the face of what life has thrown at you or what is the result of your own unfortunate choices in the past. God is merciful, and we hope to help you find a way to experience that mercy in the heart of the Church.
As we fully engage the realities of marriage and family life in our time, our new archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life will be gearing up to help strengthen and heal our families in the grace and mercy that only Jesus can bring. Pray for us, that our efforts make bear much fruit.
Finally, I would like to make a request of all of you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I ask you to join me in praying at least one rosary a week between now and the synod of bishops to be held in October of this year asking for God’s blessings and guidance on this important moment in the life of our Church. I ask especially that married couples and families pray this rosary together. Let us entrust this synod, and all of our marriages and families to the loving care of our Blessed Mother, mother of the Word incarnate, and mother of all families.