Friday, October 17, 2014

If I had five minutes to present at the Extraordinary Synod ...

Now I know that I am not, nor ever will be, an invited guest at the Synod.  There are married couples present in the discussions right now from around the world.  Most, if not all, of the couples have been married for decades and lead various marriage preparation or enrichment programs across the globe.  They have all been given a few minutes to speak to the Holy Father and the 200 or so bishops in attendance.  Their statements have also been disseminated to the public through the Vatican Press Office.

Knowing that I am not a national or world marriage leader, nor a veteran of a marriage spanning decades, as the Synod unfolds, there are still a few things I wish I could say -- that someone would say -- to the Synod fathers.  It would be something like this ...

Holy Father Pope Francis, Cardinals and Bishops of the world -- thank you for making marriage and the family such a priority that you are dedicating two Synods -- an "extraordinary" and an "ordinary" -- to these topics.  Thank you for wanting to bring the beautiful truth of these teachings to the world.  Thank you for recognizing the struggles and graces of family life and seeking to better understand so as to articulate the incredible identity of the family.

It is certainly no secret that marriage and the family are under great attack in our world.  This is manifested in differing ways by continent, country and region.  I believe, however, that all of these attacks have one thing at heart.  It is what St. John Paul II referred to in his encyclical letter, "Evangelium Vitae" as the "eclipse of the sense of God and of man."

The crisis of marriage and family is fundamentally, I believe, a crisis of anthropology.  We do not know who we are.  Formed strongly by the industrial, sexual and technological revolutions, we think we are what we do, the pleasure we obtain and the speed at which we can obtain objects and pleasure.  We, as a culture, as a world, are massively confused about what it means to be human; what love, freedom, sacrifice, truth, suffering, conscience, sexuality, our very bodies are and mean.  

It's a common misconception that the Church's "rules" are arbitrary and perhaps even vindictive sentences from a group of celibate men.  It is widely believed that Church teaching is not rooted in anything, is not valid or thoughtful or for our own good.  

This is what we need you to teach and preach and live and encourage.  The world needs to know that because of who we are -- and because of who God is -- we are called and invited to live accordingly.  We need to know that the Church doesn't give us arbitrary rules but a beautiful plan to be authentically human.  We need to know that openness to life isn't something we should grit our teeth and bear, but something we are blessed to receive.  We need to know that same-sex attraction doesn't make a person evil or undermine their dignity, but that same-sex sexual encounters cannot fulfill us.  We need to know that cohabitation isn't "test driving" commitment, but instead that we are capable of the radical risk of giving our life to our spouse.

We don't just need to hear about controversial teachings, though these are important.  We need to hear that marriage is a Sacrament, a vocation, a path to holiness.  We need to hear that marriage is a privileged way of revealing God's love to the world.  We need to hear the stories of married saints whose family life was heroically lived.  We need to hear Mass petitions for families.  We need to be sent forth with confidence that God's grace makes love possible.

We need to be challenged.  We live in a culture of mediocrity.  We are told consistently not to strive for higher things -- in fact, that we are incapable of higher things.  The Church is the lone voice stating confidently, "You are called to be more!"  This is a compliment, not an insult.  We need to hear it, to know it, to believe it.

We need mercy, yes, but we also need truth.  In fact, the two belong together.  To receive both of these, we need to know who we are.  And this brings us back to the beginning (literally, to the beginning of these thoughts and to the "beginning" of Genesis).  Holy Father, Cardinals and Bishops, you have been entrusted with so much goodness and beauty -- promoting and safeguarding the Catholic faith in the world today.  We need you to remind us of who we are, who the family is, who God is, and what He is calling each of us to live.  We don't need the truth to be watered down; we need it to be lovingly expressed.  

Please don't forget that the Church's teaching on marriage and family is beautiful.  What a gift to the world if you could remind us of that, encourage us to embrace that beauty and renew our confidence that this beauty is possible.  

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