The Noble Nature of Marriage and Family
We’re in the final days of the Synod of Bishops here in Rome, dedicated to the topic of Marriage and Family. It has been enlightening and fascinating, listening to my 185 brother bishops, as well as priests, sisters, theologians, and married couples from all over the world. The following quote from our guiding preparatory document seemed to inspire our conversation:
“The primary task of the Church is to proclaim the beauty of the vocation to love...this can be seen in the moving testimonies...where a renewed desire for marriage and family life is so clearly manifested... The Church is called upon to offer support and guidance...in faithfulness to the Lord’s mandate to proclaim the beauty of family love” (Preface, Instrumentum Laboris, p. 1)
I first read those words about six weeks ago, as I was getting ready for the Synod, on the twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, and was inspired by God’s Word revealed in the second reading at Sunday Mass that day: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed...” (Romans 12:2).
God’s revelation to the People of Israel elevated marriage, as He compared His love for His chosen people to the passionate, faithful love of a husband for his wife. Children, He taught, were never to be sacrificed; no! Instead, we are called to sacrifice for our children!
This revelation is made even more profound by Jesus, who restored marriage to the way His Father intended it: forever, faithful, fruitful in the procreation of children.
Saint Paul even deepens this inspired teaching, comparing the bond between husband and wife to the eternal bond between Jesus and His bride, the Church, and challenging parents and children to the highest virtues and responsibility in a united family.
Church historians tell us that the early Christians fascinated their culture with their deep respect for the noble nature of marriage and family. Their commitment spoke to the dominant culture of the Roman Empire, challenging a promiscuous society that treated women as chattel and marriage as less than forever and faithful.
Those early generations of Christians were convinced that their task was to transform the world, especially by their example in loving marriage and family, not to conform to the world’s habits. And successive generations of saints and theologians would tell us that the love between a man and woman in marriage is an actual reflection of the Blessed Trinity, and a hint of the personal, passionate love God has for each of us.
I was very moved, during the consistory of cardinals Pope Francis summoned last February, by the testimony of Cardinal Robert Sarah. My brother eloquently recalled the arrival of the Church’s missionaries in his native country of Guinea, Africa, over a century ago.
There, the cardinal recounted, they found a culture where marriage was often at odds with what God had taught Israel and the Church. So different was the Church’s belief about marriage and family from the dominant culture then that it was ridiculed and rejected. Observers warned, the cardinal recalled, that the Church would obviously have to change its teachings on the bond of one man and one woman united in lifelong, life-giving marriage to conform to the culture, or never be accepted in Africa.
Instead, the tiny Christian community began to transform society by their truth and example! People were attracted to a Church that believed fidelity possible and liberating! We now see the fruit of this in the vibrant Catholic communities of his country, truly “a light to the world.”
Ours is the task of recovering the truth, beauty, and goodness of marriage and family. In a world that wonders if anyone can really say “forever;” if fidelity is possible; if children are a gift and never a burden; we say, yes! We echo what God the Father, His Son, and His Spirit alive in the Church have revealed: that the bond between a man and woman in marriage, faithful and forever, leads to a healthy, sound civilization, with happiness here and in eternity.
We dare to be poets and romantics, reclaiming the foundation of the “civilization of love” and “culture of life” that can transform the world, resisting the temptation to conform to a world that wonders if any love—God’s love, or the love of a man and woman in marriage—can ever be forever. In a world that often answers “no,” we thunder a yes!
That’s my sentiment as I prepare to return home to you, my people, with a renewed admiration for our wonderful married couples and families! I love you! I thank you! I need you!