September 3, 2015
Embracing Faithful Marriages
This weekend I have the joy of witnessing the sacrament of matrimony for a wonderful Catholic couple.
The young woman I’ve known her whole life, the young man but a year...but long enough to admire him and realize she chose well when she replied “yes” to his proposal to marriage.
They are both lifelong Catholics, and love the Church. While they’d be the first to admit they’re far from saints, and while I can attest that they are fun and sure enjoy a good time, they take their faith, prayer, Sunday Mass, and the Church very seriously. Neither have been married before, and they do not “live together.” Yes, they’ve put plenty of time into the planning—invitations, reception, dress, flowers—but the priority for them is that this is a sacrament, and they have spent a lot of energy concentrating on the sacrament itself, the readings, the prayers, and the true meaning of marriage. For them, this is “the real thing,” a vocation, planned by God. Their love they intend to be forever, faithful, and fruitful (a lot of kids!). With God’s grace and mercy, they believe, the vows they will exchange this Saturday at her parish church— promises the world seems to believe are somewhat tentative and nearly impossible to live out—are “doable,” and will be the most liberating and exciting adventure ever imagined.
Their families beam, and have wrapped them in a lot of support and prayer.
Now, before I go any further, a few points I have to make: for one, I admit I’m biased here, and have a “vested interest” in this one, because she, Erin Dolan, is my niece, and he, Tom Kelly, comes from a splendid Catholic family I know from my happy days as Archbishop of Milwaukee. So, I’m one of those “beaming” about this grand couple! Yes, this will be the highlight of the summer for me!
Two, I admit their beautiful approach to marriage is unfortunately somewhat rare today. As you all know, to have a committed Catholic couple, joyful in their faith, neither previously married, not living together, putting priority on the grace of the sacrament, eager for children, is a bit exceptional today. When it happens...Alleluia!
Celebrating the marriage of Erin and Tom will be, for me, a fitting way to prepare for the Synod of Bishops this October in Rome. As you have heard, at the invitation of Pope Francis, over two-hundred-and-fifty bishops from the Church universal, chosen by their brother bishops, along with appointed theologians, sisters, priests, and married couples as consultants and observers, will spend three weeks in prayer and ordered conversation on marriage and family, all in the presence of the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis.
The Holy Father has set as the goal of this synod a renewal of the meaning, nobility, luster, and deep spiritual significance of the sacrament of marriage.
For two millennia, God’s revelation about matrimony— expressed so poetically in the Bible (in both the Old Testament as well as the teaching of Jesus and Saint Paul), reflected in human nature, and acknowledged by traditional culture—has been taught, defended, and fostered by the Church. Pope Francis wants to make this even more compelling and credible.
Wise pastor that he is, the Pope realizes the urgency and timeliness of this goal, because he, too, knows that couples like Erin and Tom are getting it right, but that they seem to be in the minority. Fewer and fewer people, Catholics included, even approach marriage; more and more couples, even believers, live together without the grace of the sacrament; more and more marriages, even among people of faith, don’t last; more and more couples seem apprehensive about having babies; and governments in North America and Europe have taken upon themselves the presumption of diluting the clear definition of marriage so dazzling in Sacred Scripture, human reason, and humanity’s lived experience.
That’s the synod’s staring point: what God has revealed about marriage, that it mirrors the personal, passionate, perpetual love that He has for us, and that Jesus has for His Church, and that the union of a man and woman in marriage is lifelong, life-giving, and exclusively loving.
Not that challenges to this sacred understanding of matrimony are unimportant; they are, and cannot be ignored. The Church needs to extend its pastoral embrace to those whose marriages have broken down, or to those unable to marry because of a previous bond or same-sex attraction. Another challenge that couples face today are the economic, sociological, psychological, cultural trends that make fidelity to God’s revelation about the nature of marriage and family even more heroic. Pope Francis has wisely encouraged free discussion about those issues.
But the starting point is what God has revealed to us, what the Church has boldly proclaimed about marriage and family so clear since Genesis, and how faithful, loving husbands and wives, who become dads and moms, are called to be “lights to the world.”
And the goal is to support them, increase their number, stand with them, and serve them well by an exuberant reclaiming of the Church’s rich and beautiful heritage of married love.
You might recall that we bishops commenced this important conversation about marriage and family at another synod last October.
While there, I was moved by the witness of my brother bishops from Africa. You think we here at home have challenges to married life as biblically understood? Our African brothers and sisters have much more cultural, economic, and sociological pressure to “tone down” or alter the noble ideal of marriage and family revealed by God and fostered by the Church.
But they, with a fortitude that can only come from the Holy Spirit, have, for over a century, since Christianity arrived, decided to challenge their culture to conform its approach to marriage to God’s plan, instead of diluting the Church’s truth to conform to culture.
And it’s working in Africa! The Church is transforming culture!
With malice towards none, with charity towards all, the synod can rise up to renew the mystery, message, and meaning of marriage and family, not giving in to cultural pressure, but raising up what God intended “from the beginning.”
If I get discouraged, I’ll think of Tom and Erin.