Teachings on the family

Last Friday the Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority declared that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, supposedly rooted in the Constitution.

You can read some good responses to this decision on pages four, nine, and 13. Pope Francis did not put out a statement on it, but looking over the series of talks he has been giving at his weekly Wednesday audiences, in preparation for the Synod on the Family this fall, one can see his thoughts on the topic and the theology which underlies the Church’s teaching on Marriage and family.

In a recent editorial (June 12) we quoted what he had to say on April 15. That talk was entitled “The Family — Male and Female I.” Something we did not quote then was this line: “Man and woman are the image and likeness of God. It is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God.”

This is a dramatic statement by the pope. He was not denigrating other people, but he was stating that the closest symbol we have on earth representing God is that of the couple united in Holy Matrimony.

On April 22 the pope spoke about the account of the creation of woman from the rib of Adam: “The fact that God moulds woman while man sleeps means precisely that she is in no way man’s creation, but God’s. He also suggests another point: in order to find woman — and we could say to find love in woman — man first must dream of her and then find her.”

The pope then warned that “if we do not find a surge of respect for this covenant, capable of protecting new generations from distrust and indifference,” then we will live in a world in which “children coming into the world [are] ever more uprooted from the mother’s womb. The social devaluation for the stable and generative alliance between man and woman is certainly a loss for everyone. We must return Marriage and the family to the place of honor!”

The pope reminded us that “the responsibility of guarding this covenant between man and woman is ours.” He then noted how God made clothing for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21): “It is an image of tenderness towards the sinful couple that leaves our mouths agape: the tenderness God has for man and woman! God Himself cares for and protects His masterpiece.”

A week later, on April 29 the pope spoke directly on Marriage. He began by recalling the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11): “This reminds us of the Book of Genesis, when God completes His work of creation and makes His masterpiece; the masterpiece is man and woman. And here at a Marriage, at a wedding feast, Jesus begins His own miracles with this masterpiece: a man and a woman. Thus Jesus teaches us that the masterpiece of society is the family: a man and a woman who love each other!”

Regarding Marriages breaking up, the pope said, “The difficulty of staying together — both as a couple and as a family — leads to bonds being broken with ever increasing frequency and swiftness, and the children themselves are the first to suffer the consequences.”

He said that children, growing up surrounded by Marriages which are only “temporary,” will “unconsciously” choose temporary relationships, instead of lifelong Marriage.

The pope noted the Sacramental power of Holy Matrimony: “When Christians marry ‘in the Lord,’ they are transformed into an effective sign of God’s love [their sign makes really present God’s love]. Christians do not marry for themselves alone: they marry in the Lord for the good of the entire community, society as a whole.”

May 6 Pope Francis gave Part II of his talk on Marriage. “Christian Marriage is a Sacrament that takes place in the Church, and which also makes the Church, by giving rise to a new family community.”

He then quoted St. Paul (in one the readings we often cringe at, due to the earlier lines about the obedience of wives). Paul said about Marriage, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). Pope Francis then echoed what he said above about the married couple being the image of God. “Paul says that the love between spouses is an image of the love between Christ and His Church.”

In an earlier audience (April 8) Pope Francis spoke about some shameful parents. “There are those who dare to say, as if to justify themselves, that it was a mistake to bring these children into the world. This is shameful! Let’s not unload our faults onto the children, please! Children are never a ‘mistake.’ 

“Children also pay the price for immature unions and irresponsible separations: they are the first victims; they suffer the outcome of a culture of exaggerated individual rights, and then the children are forced to grow up too early. They often absorb the violence they are not able to ‘ward off’ and before the very eyes of adults are forced to grow accustomed to degradation.”

The pope expressed in that audience a hope for an end to parental selfishness. “Think what a society would be like if it decided, once and for all, to establish this principle, ‘When it comes to the children who come into the world, no sacrifice on the part of adults is too costly or too great, to ensure that no child believes he or she was a mistake, is worthless or is abandoned to a life of wounds and to the arrogance of men.’ How beautiful a society like this would be!”

The pope gave a talk about “engagement” before Marriage on May 27 and spoke against premarital relations. “The Church, in her wisdom, guards the distinction between being engaged and being spouses — it’s not the same — especially in view of the delicateness and depth of this test. Let us be careful not to disregard lightheartedly the wisdom of this teaching, which also comes from the experience of happy married life. The powerful symbols of the body hold the keys to the soul: We cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening some lasting wound in the Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor 6:15-20).

The quotes of Pope Francis do not mention homosexuality, but they do reflect the world in which “gay marriage” became legal. It is a world in which a contraceptive, utilitarian approach to “love” has come to dominate. In this world arguing that Marriage has something to do with the procreation of children seems quaint (as we heard in the Supreme Court oral arguments this spring).

The pope realizes this and knows that just repeating condemnations will convert few people. Instead, he is trying to, over time, reconstruct the building blocks of the family. In the meantime the Church and other faithful believers will face many challenges and will be put to the test. May we learn (and live) what the Church teaches so that we can get an “A” (and not the Scarlet Letter type one).

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