Sunday, May 14, 2006

Marriage and the Family

In a speech given to the John Paul II Institute conference entitled "The Legacy of John Paul II on Marriage and the Family: to Love Human Love," Pope Benedict draws upon the vast source of teaching from John Paul II and illuminates, in very short form, several appropriate points. By the way, you can find the whole address here.

Pope Benedict alludes to Karol Wojtyla's (John Paul II) early days as a priest and bishop and the idea to "teach to love" which guided him through the difficult times after the publication of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae, which, not coincidentally, Pope Benedict calls "prophetic and always timely (profetica e sempre attuale)."

This idea to "teach to love" undergirded John Paul II's "Catechisis on Human Love," found in the Wednesday audiences that spaned several years. Found in these catecheses are two fundamental elements (one of which I will discuss) to which, Pope Benedict notes, the John Paul II institute has reflected and developed over the past twenty-five years:
The first element is that marriage and the family are rooted in the innermost core of the truth about man and his destiny. Sacred Scripture reveals that the vocation to love is part of that authentic image of God that the Creator willed to imprint in his creature, calling man to become similar to him precisely in the measure in which man is open to love. The sexual difference entailed in the body of man and woman is not, therefore, a simple biological fact, but bears a much more profound meaning: It expresses that way of love with which man and woman become only one flesh; they can realize an authentic communion of persons open to the transmission of life and cooperate in this way with God in the procreation of new human beings.
One could spend a lifetime writing and developing those ideas contained in the first two sentences of that paragraph. Pope Benedict first calls attention to marriage and family being founded upon the truth about the human person and his calling towards God. The Church's teaching on marriage and family are not founded upon a false notion of patriarchy or out-dated idea concerning how to live but rather about the very nature and truth concerning who we are and how best to find happiness in this life and the next. Pope Benedict indictates the core of this understanding is from Sacred Scripture in light of man's call to love as being an "authentic image of God." And through love, we can become more and more closely united to God himself. Secondly and seemingly almost out of place, Pope Benedict refers to the sexual difference of man and woman not as simply biological but as expressive of the way of love between man and woman as "one flesh." The allusion to sexual difference is important because one of the insights drawn from the Theology of the Body is the complementarity that exists between man and woman because they are meant for each other. Contained in this "one flesh" of man and woman is the sacred reflection of Christ's relationship to his Church. This sacred reflection of Christ and the Church should help us gain insights into the importance of the total giving of self needed within the "one flesh" unity of man and woman in marriage. Because in this total giving of self in the conjugal act, man and woman are an "authentic communion of persons" which is open to new life and to the cooperation of God in procreation.

More could be said about this one paragraph but I will end my reflections for now. I may return again to this speech because it contains many such gems.


Katherine said...

So do you think that the Church, or at least the American Church, has largely failed to show married couples the glorified elevation of their own vocations? If so, could this play a part in the laxity (is that a word?) with which so many people today get married and raise children?

James said...

In answer to your questions: yes, and yes. See my responses below.

I believe that the teaching of the Church in these areas of marriage and family have been ignored largely by various areas of the Church from the hierarchy right down to the pew. It is not coincidental that Pope Benedict refers to Humanae vitae which signaled, not so much that the Church's teaching in the area of sexuality would go ignored, but rather the reality of the failure of catechesis in the Church in these areas prior to this renewed call to love from Paul VI. This failure of catechesis should be characterized as a failure to teach about the dignity of the human person as well as the dignity of marriage and the family - and this is not so much from the perspective of that Rome/The Pope needs to address it, but rather local pastors and bishops need to address it. Not only in teaching the Truth but also in living the Truth. And so far, the results have been mixed. Where pastors and bishops have taught and lived the Truth, people respond to the Church's teaching because it offers a dignifying vision of how to live, whether married or in the religious life. Where pastors and bishops have neglected or watered down the Truth, people do not respond to the Church's teaching. In this neglect, the Truth seems imposing and difficult and not worth living. John Paul II rightly developed the insights he did regarding marriage and the family in response to to renew the call to love, but again, it has yet to come to full fruition because of the lack of catechesis on the parish and diocesan levels. And this raises the last issue of concern that I have, how often do we pray in parishes for holy and good marriages? We generally hear of prayers for priests and vocations to the religious life and priesthood, but how often do we focus on giving young people the tools and prayers necessary for life-fulfilling marriages? Just because a parish holds pre-cana classes or NFP classes does not mean that it fulfills its duties to the laity to provide moral support for married and future married Catholics. We should be offering our support for marriages in our daily prayers, both in the home and at Mass.