Lessons from Evangelii Gaudium #12
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.
Spiritual Accompaniment (nos. 169-173)
In evangelization, part of our task is to provide the attentive and loving presence of Christ to others, which entails being fully aware of and present often as we can. Pope Francis points out that our culture is “paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity” (no. 169). In both of these cases—not knowing our next door neighbors but knowing all the details of our friend’s dinner from Facebook – we inadequately recognize the other people as unique children of God, with all of their particular needs, struggles, and gifts to offer. The culture is in dire need of Christ’s “closeness and his personal gaze” (no. 169). It is not only the task of ordained ministers and pastoral workers to make this presence known to others; instead, Pope Francis reminds us we must all be initiated into this “art of accompaniment” (no. 169). The clergy and the laity alike must foster a proper disposition towards others that “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex 3:5).
While sufficient attention must be given to those whom we are accompanying spiritually, Pope Francis warns against a lapse into “a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption” (no. 170). We must keep in mind that each individual achieves true freedom only in God, while sin binds us and makes us a dim version of who we are. Our path of accompaniment must be therefore be likened to a “pilgrimage,” towards the Father in a life of virtue (no. 171). We cannot condone wrong actions or encourage people to focus on themselves alone. Attainment of virtue is a process, a habitus that requires much patience and correction.
The Holy Father encourages “the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing,” as the best way to show our respectful and compassionate presence on the journey (no. 171). By listening we are reminded of the mystery of each person in their relationship to God. We can never know everything about this relationship from the outside. Because of this, we must always aid and correct others by recognizing and helping them to realize “the objective evil of their actions, but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability” (no. 172). Through listening, prudence, and our own experience, we will come to learn the best ways in each situation to gain trust and encourage growth.
“Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization,” and this mission starts within the family (no. 173). Marriage is to be a place of spiritual accompaniment, where respect and compassion for one’s spouse abides. Being open with each other about your faults and failings in virtue, always with prudence and kindness, can be an opportunity for growth. Many married couples attest that no matter how well you know your spouse, they are still always a mystery. Make this week one in which you embody the art of listening.
World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015. We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting.
The Celibate Life: An Encounter with Beauty
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
The beauty of a life of chastity is the answer to a culture that has normalized “hooking up,” sex before marriage and cohabitation. Young adults have been inundated with the message that chastity and celibacy are outdated, unattainable, and even abnormal or unhealthy, but this is simply not true.
I want to focus on one of Pope Francis’s favorite words – “encounter” – as the remedy to this cultural problem. When we encounter authentic beauty, it strikes a chord deep within us, or as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, it “wounds” us (check out Benedict XVI’s 2009 Meeting with Artists for more about that). The world is in need of an encounter with Christ, the truly Beautiful One, who “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22). The world needs Christians to show the joy and beauty of the Gospel, the true freedom found in following Christ and His teachings. This is the way to reach young people who accept the cultural norms without reflection—showing them concretely what the alternative is, and that it is better.
As the WMOF catechesis says, celibacy includes “not only priests and vowed religious, but all those who are chaste outside of marriage….” (no. 99). I had a profound encounter with people living this way through the Catholic student center on my college campus. The fruit of the love and life of the priests, sisters and lay students I met there was unmistakably good. Their joy was palpable, attractive and infectious. As the WMOF catechesis states, “the possibilities for life which young people find imaginable depend on the examples they see and the stories they hear” (no. 108). I am grateful to God for placing these witnesses in my life in my college years, for my encounter with them opened my eyes to the incredible vision of the human person that the Church gives us and invites us to live.
I think also of my life the past few years as a 20-something and the friendships I have been blessed to have, and I recognize with great gratitude how fruitful they have been through His grace. To have a group of friends who are intentionally trying to live virtuous lives as they discern their vocations, and who support one another through prayer and fellowship, is an incredible gift. Single young adults need this type of healthy community, “an alternative space” (no. 101). Weary of what the impoverished culture has offered us, my friends and I desire more in and from life: more depth, authentic beauty, love, joy and freedom, and this is what we have each found in Christ. Encouraging one another in our relationships with Christ helps us to walk with the Lord toward whatever vocations we may be called to down the road.
The experience of encounter is necessary for understanding something different from what we know. My encounters with those who are celibate in the family of God, be they religious or lay faithful, have encouraged me in my own journey to follow Christ more fully, and to pray for the grace to be a faithful witness to Christ and his Church through virtuous living. Celibacy is truly a beautiful way of life that demonstrates that the richness and depth of a life lived with Christ is what we all desire and are made for.
This Easter, as we celebrate the Resurrection, we may also contemplate the gift of religious freedom; a gift that sometimes requires vigilance.
Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles wrote an article for The Tidings Newspaper in which he highlighted the importance of marriage and family to the plan of God, and the necessity of all citizens to be able to express their views about it. He noted, “Those who govern and shape the way Americans think and behave — in politics and law, education, entertainment and the popular media — form an increasingly secularized elite that has little tolerance for religious institutions or values.”
Regarding marriage, Archbishop Gomez reminded us that, “In his own teaching, Jesus pointed us back to this “beginning.” He told us that the marriage covenant between man and woman is at the heart of God’s design for creation — and that no one has the power to change that design.”
He encouraged us to pray for our country, and said, “But I’m sad to say that right now across the country, others are trying to impose their “faith” — a secularized ideology and an anti-religious morality — on religious believers and it is our rights that are at risk of being denied.”