Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homily on the Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization

Pope Francis has asked us all to join him in praying for the success of the “Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”  The synod will begin one week from today.  What are the consequences of this Synod?  Well, for one, since it starts next week if you wake up early next Sunday and go to 9:00a.m. Mass you’re likely to hear me give the same sermon over again.  You’ve been warned!

The long title of this gathering, the “Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” gives us three questions: first, What is a Synod? second, What are the Pastoral Challenges facing Families? and third, What is the role of the Family in the context of Evangelization?

A synod is a gathering of Bishops and other invited experts who advise the Pope regarding the situation of the Church throughout the world.  Synods are different from Ecumenical Councils like Vatican II.  Synods do not produce documents.  Synods do not promulgate any kind of legislation or Church law.  Their purpose is simply to advise the Pope on issues he thinks important.

So if your friends ask you, “Hey, is the Catholic Church about to change her doctrine or laws about marriage and the family?” you can tell them, “No, for two reasons.  First, because a synod does not make laws, and second, because the Church’s doctrines have been handed down to us from Christ’s Apostles and can not change.”


This brings us to the second question: What are the Pastoral Challenges facing Families?  The insert in today’s bulletin lists many: “poverty, divorce and remarriage, war, disease, political instability, abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and contraception.”  These issues, which have been discussed at great length within the Church many times, have a continual urgency.  A brief overview of the last few decades may help to shed light on this.

The Catholic Church has always taught that one of the essential goods of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and that the nature of the marital act is intrinsically ordered towards this good.  This property of marriage by its nature excludes contraceptive methods and a contraceptive mentality.  In the year 1930, however, a gathering of Anglican Bishops rejected this truth.  They said this:
“in those cases where there is [...] a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, [...] other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of [...] Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”

Although these Protestant leaders used a traditional-sounding rhetoric, in effect they told their people that, so long as they felt their situation to be a difficult one (and who among us doesn't feel our personal circumstances to be difficult?) they were free to ignore the Church’s ancient and unchanging teaching on the nature, meaning, and purpose of the conjugal act.

After the Anglicans caved in, virtually all Protestant denominations followed suit.  Even many Catholic Priests were led astray -- although the Church herself is guarded by the Holy Spirit from ever teaching error in her official doctrines.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI outlined the effects contraception would have on society in his prophetic encyclical Humanae vitae:
“Responsible individuals will quickly see the truth of the Church's teaching if they consider what consequences will follow from the methods of contraception and the reasons given for the use of contraception. They should first consider how easy it will be [for many] to justify behavior leading to marital infidelity or to a gradual weakening in the discipline of morals. [...] Indeed, it is to be feared that husbands who become accustomed to contraceptive practices will lose respect for their wives. They may come to disregard their wife's psychological and physical equilibrium and use their wives as instruments for serving their own desires.”
The Pope said that if the intimacy of marriage becomes a means of personal pleasure rather than a life-giving union it gradually leads to an alienation of affections, the seeking of pleasure in ways not faithful to the marriage vows, and thus ultimately to a rise in the divorce rate, which has proven true.

The Pope also warned that in a society where contraception was widely used the State could force contraception or abortion on people against their will.  This happens in China.

This was the trajectory of the world forty-five years ago: the use of contraception was rightly predicted to lead to increased rates of marital unfaithfulness, divorce, and abortion.

What is the state of the world today?  Well, for that we need look no further than the television.  This Fall’s most critically acclaimed show is “Transparent”, where Jeffrey Tambor plays a father who, at seventy years old, finally outs himself as “trans” to his three children.  Tambor’s character “Mort” explains to his children that he feels he has really been “Maura” all along -- that he feels he is a woman despite having a man’s body.

The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” no longer apply. No [they say,] ‘it was not God who created them male and female – society did this, but now we decide for ourselves.’ Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.

A line of thought that began in the early twentieth century with contraception -- where children are treated not as a loving gift from God to be welcomed but as a disease to be prevented -- now reaches its conclusion.  The basic concepts of family: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister -- these are socially constructed realities, and thus arbitrary ones, ones that have no lasting meaning or value for us.

Now we may say, like the people of Israel in the reading from Ezekiel, “The Lord’s way is not fair!”  The Church’s teaching is hard!  Hard to accept and hard to live.  God might say to us in reply, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?”  God’s laws are the way in which we find our true and lasting happiness.  When we depart from them we always end up, in the long run, unhappy and unsatisfied.

The way we respond to these situations of the world today is very important.  We must never be hateful or cold towards people, passing judgment or writing them off because of decisions they’ve made.  We must not be like the Pharisees Jesus condemns in the Gospel!  Better to be a prostitute who listens to and accepts the word of God than a “righteous” person who goes to church every week but has no love in their heart.  We must show love to everyone.


This brings us to our final topic: What is the role of the Family in the context of Evangelization?

While society around us abandons and destroys all notion of traditional family relationships, which should bring us great joy in life, then if families live out their Catholic faith they become a light shining in the darkness, offering hope to those who are sad and despairing.

There are two ways that we can be a light to the world.

In a recent meeting in Rimini, Italy, Fr. Antonio Spadaro said that one can see the Church
“as a lighthouse,” a beacon that illumines the way for ships in a storm, [proclaiming:] “I am here, the harbor is here, safety is here.” And this is [...] true. The Church is a rock, [...] indefectible.
But there is another way to give light to those who are in darkness: the torch. A torch does not stand still, but “walks among men, illumines humanity where it finds itself. If humanity moves toward the abyss, the torch moves toward the abyss, it accompanies men in their development.”  It is in this way that the torch “may be able to draw man away from the abyss and allow him to see it.”
This puts an enormous burden upon you, the laity.  I’m here manning the lighthouse -- if anyone comes to the Church I’m happy to sit down and answer their questions.  But for all those who don’t come to Mass, you must be that light, using what knowledge you have to say “No, this is a cliff! this is the abyss! this is not what will make you happy!”  You are the ones who encounter those in your neighborhoods, your circles of family and friends who have not accepted the Church’s teaching.  And you must be the one to lead them, step by step, to safety.

May God grant wisdom to our Bishops and all who will attend this Synod.  Let us take seriously the call to educate ourselves and to pray for the success of this effort of the Church to preach the Good News of the family.


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