October 4, 2015
My wife and I attended the World Meeting of Families along with the festivities last Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia when Pope Francis came to town. It was a phenomenal experience! My wife and I were able to spend time together and to visit with some good friends from the Permanent Diaconate who I was ordained with in June. We heard a number of excellent talks about the family from some great speakers. I attended Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Cathedral on Saturday morning! I was blessed to be a Deacon of Communion on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at the Papal Mass on Sunday! It was quite a week. One that I will cherish forever!
The talks at the World Meeting of Families were sometimes very challenging…especially since my family and extended family experience the same trials that all families face: divorce, single-parent homes, same sex marriage, substance and alcohol abuse, mental illness, aging parents, terminal illness, etc. But is in the midst of these trials that God reaches out and speaks His truth to us. Sometimes we don’t hear, sometimes we don’t want to hear, and sometimes we don’t understand the truth that God speaks.
I’d like to share an experience with you that I had at the World Meeting of Families. One morning I was listening to the keynote speech by Cardinal Sarah from Guinea entitled “The Light of the Family in a Dark World”. I was pre-occupied and upset because of an argument that I recently had with a family member in which voices were raised and communication had ceased. I wasn’t happy with this family member and I was disappointed in myself for how I had responded. The Cardinal described the family as “the prime witness of Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross”. Moreover, families are called to live out this witness by…loving those who have angered us. Well, there were thousands of people in the convention hall, but I felt the words were spoken directly to me! I raised my eyes to heaven and thought, “Lord, are You speaking to me? You don’t expect me to take the first step and apologize…do You? My heart was hardened and as you can imagine I was fearful about the Lord’s response and how He might challenge me. The Cardinal went on to say that such love is only possible with the aid of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who help us overcome all that seem humanly impossible within the family. And my family will tell you that if there is anything that is humanly impossible, it’s me apologizing. I started thinking…”I pray every day that the Lord will enlighten my mind and open my heart to His truth. And that’s exactly what He’s trying to do at this moment.” I could feel the Holy Spirit in action softening my heart…opening me up to God’s love and truth. I took out my cell phone and I texted something very simple to the family member I was angry with…”I am sorry. Peace.” within seconds they texted back, “Peace, I’m sorry for how I acted.” Immediately I felt tremendous peace as if a huge burden had been lifted from me. God had reached out to me through the words of the Cardinal, and the Holy Spirit had softened my heart, allowing the message to penetrate…leading to peace and reconciliation between me and my family member.
Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth that God speaks to us. But when He reaches out to us He does so in love and mercy. To help us get back on the right path…a path that will lead us back into relationship with Him and others.
In today’s readings God reaches out and speaks the truth to us about marriage and family. Recall the words we just heard in the first reading from Genesis from which Jesus’ and the Church’s teaching on marriage unfolds…”The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” When God established marriage and family He did so for our own good…so that we would not be alone. He did this out of love for us. But there are certain truths that must be respected in order for marriage and family to bring about all that God originally intended. Contrary to what we sometimes believe, God doesn’t set up arbitrary rules that we can’t obey just so He can punish us. God loves us and wants the best for us. And as our creator He knows what is best…He knows and speaks the truth.
Well, what is God’s truth about marriage and family? Marriage is permanent. Marriage is a communion of persons whereby a husband and wife give themselves completely to one another and only to one another. Marriage is intended to be fruitful and open to children. Marriage is between a man and a woman.
But in the hardness of our hearts, we sometimes forget that we have promised to love our spouse in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. In the hardness of our hearts, we sometimes feel that we are justified in seeking happiness apart from our spouse…or maybe even at their expense. In the hardness of our hearts, we sometimes close ourselves to participating with God in bringing new life into the world. In the hardness of our hearts, we sometimes believe that a same sex attraction is license to marry whomever we want.
God’s truths are not easy to live out. In fact, in Matthews’ Gospel when the disciples hear Jesus’ teaching on marriage they respond “if that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” It is not possible to live up to God’s standards of marriage and family through our human efforts alone. Marital love lived to its fullest as God intended from the beginning is made possible by the Holy Spirit in the sacramental life of the Church which God gives us. The Sacrament of Marriage…a visible sign of the grace that God bestows on a man and a woman so that they will become a communion of persons. The Sacrament of Holy Communion…a visible sign of Jesus’ body and blood offered up for His bride, the Church, which nourishes and strengthens husbands and wives to offer themselves up for one another in authentic love. The Sacrament of Reconciliation…a visible sign of God’s love and forgiveness when husbands and wives fail to live up to the promises made in marriage.
The Synod of Bishops begins today in Rome and continues for 3 weeks. The Bishops will reflect upon and develop guidelines for the pastoral care of marriages and the family. During this time let’s consider offering up our prayers, our sacrifices, and our Holy Communion not only for the Bishops, but for all the faithful…that in the midst of our struggles n following the truth of the Gospel, especially with respect to marriage and the family, we may look with courage and confidence to the heavens and ask…”Lord, are you speaking to me?”