July 26, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Family is the foundational community for Church, society

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Today we remember Joachim and Anne, whom tradition identifies as the grandparents of Jesus. Through their intercession, and the prayers of their daughter, Mary, may all grandparents, and all who care for children, be strengthened in their sacred responsibilities.” (Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin)

The publication date for this column, Friday, July 26, is the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne. Nowhere in sacred Scripture do we find these two figures who are said to be the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, but since the first century Christians have believed that they were cured of infertility by God and given the great gift of a daughter, Mary, who was destined to become the mother of God.

Although we have no way of knowing whether Jesus actually knew his grandparents, artists in the Middle Ages frequently showed St. Anne embracing her daughter Mary and grandchild Jesus. It was one way of stressing the importance of family life and giving hope to couples struggling with infertility. Devotion to St. Anne also served as a comfort to women in difficult pregnancies.

Marriage and family life are truly at the heart of Christian faith. That’s why the Church insists on the sanctity of marriage and the essential role that families play in the formation of individuals and communities in the Church and in society.

In our 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” the bishops of Indiana offered the following reflection on the importance of the family:

“We Catholics believe that a crucial element in God’s plan for humanity is marriage, which we understand as the union of one man and one woman who make a commitment to each other for life and become ‘one flesh’ [Gn 2:24]. This sacred union forms the family, the basic unit of society, which is dedicated to the transmission of new life [children] and to stewardship of all God’s creation. The Church teaches that the family is a kind of ‘school of deeper humanity,’ love and hope for society [Vatican II, “Gaudium et Spes,” #52]. Our families teach us who we are as individuals and as members of human society. The family is also where we first learn how to live—how to take care of ourselves, how to share our gifts and talents with others, and how to collaborate and live in harmony with our neighbors whether close to home or far away.”

In recent years, the legalization of civil marriages for same-sex couples has challenged our Church to communicate more clearly, and compassionately, what we Catholics believe about the sacramental character of marriage between one man and one woman. We believe that this is God’s plan and that God’s fundamental design for marriage and family life cannot be altered as a result of changes in social customs or civil laws.

The Catholic Church upholds the dignity of all people, regardless of their race, gender, economic or social status or sexual orientation. All are welcome in the Church. God created each of us with equal dignity. The dignity of the human person, rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God, is a fundamental principle of Catholic teaching.

As many readers of The Criterion know, I’m from a big family. I’ve got dear family members and dear friends with same-sex attraction. So this issue—the basic dignity of all—is as personal to me as it is to anyone. My family members and friends know that I love them unconditionally. And they know that I respect their dignity as persons.

At the same time, as archbishop of Indianapolis, I am bound to uphold the dignity of marriage as a loving union of one woman and one man that is open to new life in accordance with God’s plan. This centuries-old teaching may seem old-fashioned or countercultural today, but it is fundamental to our understanding of what marriage truly is and how “this sacred union forms the family, the basic unit of society.”

To build up and protect human society, we must strengthen marriage and family life. As St. John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation, “Familiaris Consortio,” “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (#86). When families are strong, society is strong. When families are broken and unstable, all human communities suffer.

Please join me in praying that every human person will be loved and respected in accordance with his or her dignity as a child of God. Let’s also ask Saints Joachim and Anne to pray on behalf of all married couples and families so that through their intercession they may all be strengthened in their sacred responsibilities. †

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