It’s interesting that these Scripture readings about marriage and children come a week after Pope Francis was here in our country to close out the World Meeting of Families. Marriage and family life is one of the things closest to Pope Francis’ heart, especially at this time in history when a lot of cultural forces are working against it. I’m sure many of you were tuned in to what the pope was up to last week, but I wanted to take this time to quote him at some length, particularly if you missed his comments on family life. At the end of the Festival of Families last Saturday, Pope Francis made these off-the-cuff remarks:
“All of the love that God has in Himself, all of the beauty that God has in Himself, all of the truth that God has in Himself, He gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love. But let's go back. When the man and his wife made the mistake and distanced themselves from God, God did not leave them alone. There was so much love, so much love that He began to walk with humanity. He began to walk with His people, until the fullness of time arrived, and He gave the greatest sign of His love, His Son. And His Son, where did He send Him? To a palace? To a city, to start a business? He sent Him to a family! God came into the world in a family.
And he was able to do this because this family was a family that had its heart open to love, that had the doors open to love… God always knocks at the door of hearts. He likes to do this. It comes from His heart. But, do you know what He likes best? To knock on the doors of families and find families that are united, to find families that love each other, to find the families that bring up their children and educate them and help them to keep going forward and that create a society of goodness, of truth, and of beauty.” [Off-the-cuff remarks to WMOF on 26 Sept 2015]
With all this, today’s Gospel passage about marriage and divorce can certainly make us uncomfortable. Divorce is something that each of us has undoubtedly encountered among our own loved ones. We know that the messiness of human life doesn’t always meet the ideal of God’s design for marriage and family. But let me just say, if you are divorced, please know that you are loved and cared about. And please know that you are not excommunicated.
[There has been a lot of confusion about this. Recently, the secular media has reported that Pope Francis has declared that the divorced are not excommunicated. This is actually not something new. And even being unable to receive Communion because of being married outside of the Church is not the same thing as excommunication, which is actually a pretty rare thing. And this reminds me, too: please don’t rely on the secular press to get your information on the pope, the Church, etc. They botch it up all the time. There are a ton of resources out there to get reliable Catholic news and information, including word-for-word transcriptions of what the pope actually says each day.]
Anyway, marriage and family is a part of God’s plan for humanity. Marriage, sexuality, and children are all interrelated/intertwined in this great loving design. Yet our society tends to want to pull these three things apart, which causes a great variety of significant problems. Still, what is revealed to us in the Gospel—while it is certainly challenging—is never meant to beat us down but to continue to always keep us striving for something more. St. John Paul II said, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” [FC 86] So this is all too important not to strive for.
Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims Jesus’ witness of sacrifice, humility, and faithfulness to us. Jesus shared, and continues to share, His whole life with us. Through His Passion, death and resurrection, Jesus gave Himself up for the sake of those He loved, hearkening back to His great statement, “This is my body given up for you.” We must rely on the example of Christ, that example of faithfulness, patience, humility, self-giving, and sacrifice.
In his remarks last Saturday, the Pope Francis also said, “…In families, there are difficulties. In families, we argue; in families, sometimes the plates fly; in families, the children give us headaches...But in families, there is always, always, the cross. Always. Because the love of God, of the Son of God, also opened for us this path. But, in families as well, after the cross, there is the resurrection. Because the Son of God opened for us this path. Because of this, the family is — forgive the term I'll use — it is a factory of hope, of hope of life and of resurrection. God was the one who opened this path…Let us care for the family. Let us defend the family, because there, there, our future is in play. [Off-the-cuff remarks to WMOF on 26 Sept 2015]
Pope Francis is known for tossing his prepared text and speaking off the cuff, but the words of the text he had prepared are beautiful as well. He wrote, “From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this ‘God with us,’ who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home... As Christians, we appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships. We learn that ‘to love someone is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise’ (Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving). We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it.”
He continues, “…Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is "forged" by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows. Love can flourish in men and women who try not to make conflict the last word, but rather a new opportunity. An opportunity to seek help, an opportunity to question how we need to improve, an opportunity to discover the God who is with us and never abandons us. This is a great legacy that we can give to our children, a very good lesson: we make mistakes, yes; we have problems, yes. But we know that that is not really what counts. We know that mistakes, problems and conflicts are an opportunity to draw closer to others, to draw closer to God.”
So we give thanks to God for the gift of family life; we know that the Lord looks to bring healing to whatever needs healed; and we continue to strive together for truth, goodness, and beauty.
©2017 St. Peters Catholic Church Huron Ohio.
Built by BrandBrella