February 6, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Embrace the truth of marriage and family life with love

I have a book that contains the talks given by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United States last April.

I have enjoyed reading and reflecting on the 20 some homilies and talks that the Holy Father gave, especially since I was unable to be present because of chemotherapy treatments.

Among other topics, the Holy Father spoke to the bishops about marriage and family life. He spoke in laudatory terms about the faith and charity of our laity.

He also expressed concern about the state of family life. He asked: “How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society?”

He then summarized in pungent terms the troubling conditions that are evident in our culture. I quote him at length.

He said: “Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person.

“Hence, we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent.

“In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.”

He reminded us bishops that, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “We must devote our personal interest, care, time, personnel, and resources toward pastoral care of the family.”

Pope Benedict said, “It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved ‘yes’ to life, a ‘yes’ to love, and a ‘yes’ to the aspirations of the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfill our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord.”

I don’t need to tell you that our Catholic belief and understanding about the sanctity of marriage and a generous family life are countercultural. It is well known that the divorce rate, percentages of cohabitation and the decrease in marriages in our Catholic population are no different than in the U.S. population at large.

This is a source of frustration and disappointment for our priests. I also know that it is a deep concern for many of you parents and grandparents, too. Helping couples prepare for marriage is often challenging.

It is my impression that, for the most part, our young men and women are pretty familiar with the teaching of the Catholic faith. But they are also familiar with the widespread skepticism about the truth of our faith and morals; some do not readily accept our teachings.

The secularist environment in which we live runs boldly and forcefully in contradiction to our commitment to the indissolubility of marriage and generous openness to the transmission of life. Our materialistic and individualistic culture does not support an unreserved “yes” to life, “yes” to love and “yes” to the aspirations of the human heart.

The cultural “idols” of our society live as though they have no real understanding of what authentic love entails. They certainly are not credible models of commitment. Nor does the culture and media hold them accountable in any public way.

At least on the surface, living with a generous regard for “the good of the other person” is lost among popular social values in the secularist arena.

As I interact with our youths and young adults, I find more and more that they are searching for like-minded friends, partners and models that do support life, love and the aspirations of the human heart.

Those of us who are teachers, preachers, parents and mentors owe our young folks the real opportunity to hear and embrace the truth with love, even though it runs counter to popular culture.

Our Church will continue steadfastly to proclaim the beauty as well as the challenge of the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise and blessed by the Church in the sacrament of matrimony.

We, clergy and laity alike, must also be ready pastoral companions who support the indissoluble lifelong commitment of our married folks and encourage them to a generous openness to family and life. †

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