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.
From the Heart of the Gospel
Pope Francis writes in this section about how the deep and beautiful truths of the Gospel are often not communicated effectively in the modern world because of the focus of mass communications on the controversial or difficult moral teachings. He calls the pastoral ministers of the Church to concentrate instead on, “the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (no. 35).
Christian Marriage, which takes into account the basic human desire to love and be loved, to give life and receive it, is certainly one of the most beautiful and appealing aspects of the Gospel. Marriage is essentially a response to a love that precedes it— God’s love. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) that Christian spouses are able to love one another with His own love.
The Gospel transforms daily life; it enlivens our hearts with hope and trust in God. We experience the Holy Spirit through joy and peace, generosity and service. God is visible in gatherings of families—children running around playing while the adults converse, for example, and in religious communities—working together with smiles and unruffled patience. These are witnesses to the faith that are “most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”
Why most necessary? Because there is fear in the modern heart. Getting married and raising a family based on Christ’s love has always been a daunting though enriching task embraced by many young people, but today many young people are delaying marriage or even not getting married at all. The most recent Pew research study, for example, showed that a record number of young adults in America are unmarried and that many young people do not see marriage as a priority. Cohabitation has increased, more children are born out of wedlock, and divorce is fairly common.
In these circumstances, the Gospel of the Family in the context of “the harmonious totality of the Christian message” (no. 39) is ever more necessary. Men and women need to hear and see that God can do even what seems impossible: bond two flawed human beings together for life, in love and fidelity. This is “the fragrance of the Gospel” (no. 39). Married couples, young and old, share your love visibly and inspire young people with your witness of fidelity!
Pope Francis offered a very clear message today to members of BICE (International Catholic Child Bureau), a Catholic NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of the child worldwide:
“On a positive note, we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
Click here for his full address.
Intention: We pray for a deeper understanding of what it means to be created male or female.
Reflection: During a recent morning meditation, Pope Francis reflected on the Book of Genesis. “The creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation,” the Pope explained. God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.”
Here the Bible shows us a very important truth; man and woman are equal, but different. This sexual difference is actually complementary. It is through the existence of woman that we are able to fully appreciate the uniqueness of man and vice versa. An example of this aspect of difference and complementarity can be seen in beautiful paintings where two complementary colors are used. When brought together, the two different colors look more vibrant and unique than they would have looked separately. The same can be said of man and woman. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, “femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity.”
Did You Know? In his Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II explained that “man became an image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning.” Through marriage, a husband and wife are able to be a true communion of persons by giving themselves and receiving the other in unselfish love. In this way, a husband and wife have the unique ability to reflect Trinitarian Love.
Today, Pope Francis concluded his Wednesday catechesis on the Sacraments with a reflection on marriage. He began by explaining that marriage is “A sacrament that leads us to the heart of God’s plan, which is a plan of alliance with his People, with all of us, a plan of communion.” He then explained, “The image of God is a married couple, man and woman, not only man, not only woman, but rather both. This is the image of God: love, God’s alliance with us is represented in the alliance between man and woman.”
“We were created to love, as a reflection of God and his love. And in matrimonial union the man and woman realize this vocation, as a sign of reciprocity and the full and definitive communion of life.” When a man and a woman receive the Sacrament of marriage, “God is, so to say, ‘mirrored’ in them, he imprints in them the features and indelible nature of His love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God too is communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have always lived and live forever in perfect unity. And this is the mystery of marriage: God makes married couples into one existence. The Bible uses a strong term: it says one ‘flesh’ only, so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage.” Pope Francis then concluded his catechesis by saying, “Married life is beautiful, and must be protected.”
Let us pray together for the courage to continue to protect the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman!
Pope Francis recently reflected on the Gospel reading of Mark in which the Pharisees, wishing to put Jesus to the test, asked him whether it is lawful to divorce. The Pope reminded his listeners that Jesus “goes right back to the days of creation.” Jesus explains, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female; ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one flesh.’”
Pope Francis had much to say about this event and explained quite beautifully that “the Lord is here referring to the masterpiece of creation.” For God “created the light and saw that it was good.” Then “he created the animals, the trees, and the stars: all good.” But “when he created man” he said “that he was very good.” Pope Francis continued, “the creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation.” Also because God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.” Pope Francis then explained that this moment was also “the beginning of love.” However, he added that “the Lord’s masterpiece was not finished there…the Lord holds up this love contained in the masterpiece of creation in order to explain the love he has for his people. Yet there is another step: when Paul needs to explain the mystery of Christ, he also does so in relation and in reference to the bride. For Christ is wedded: he wedded the Church, his people; as the Father had wedded his people Israel, so Christ espoused his people to himself.”
All of this, the Pope concluded, brings to mind the “plan of love”, “the journey of love of Christian marriage, which God blessed in the masterpiece of his creation with a blessing that can never be taken away. Not even original sin destroyed it.” And “when one considers this,” he quite naturally sees “how beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is.”
For Pope Francis’ full reflection, click here.
Reflection: “Pope Francis has observed that ‘religion [cannot] be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life.’ …Every Christian is called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to his or her vocation. Some Catholics, like the Little Sisters of the Poor who run nursing homes for the elderly poor, devote their entire lives to helping others and embrace a vow of poverty themselves” (Archbishop Kurtz).
Yet the HHS mandate compels objecting employers to provide coverage for drugs and devices which are against their consciences and threatens the ministries of the Little Sisters of the Poor and many others.
As this and many other lawsuits progress, let us continue our prayer efforts for the protection of the religious freedom so we may practice charity and live out our faith without penalty.
Did You Know? This Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases brought by families who are seeking protection of their religious freedom.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shares comments in his op-ed, “Will the Owners of Hobby Lobby Have to Check Their Faith at Their Own Door?”
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38).”
Today we celebrate that great event when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. The Annunciation is a huge solemnity in the Church because it commemorates that moment when God took on human flesh. This day exemplifies God’s love for us in so many ways. All throughout the Old Testament we read about examples when God’s love was rejected by His people. Time and time again, He offered opportunities to accept His love, all the while, allowing His people to choose Him freely (or not choose Him as was often the case). Mary’s fiat or “yes” is celebrated because unlike anyone in history before her, she was completely and unreservedly open to God’s will in her life.
The event of the Annunciation teaches us a great deal about freedom. Often times, when we think of freedom, we see it as the ability to choose between “a” or “b,” without any pressure or influence to choose either one. We often believe that such an influence would be considered an infringement on our freedom. But when we look closer, this view of freedom is devoid of all truth. It assumes there is no difference between the options “a” and “b” and that the only good is the ability to choose. It never considers what is being chosen.
Authentic freedom, on the other hand, is shaped by truth. In the words of John Paul II, “Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom.” Apart from truth, freedom cannot exist. Take for example persons considered “free” to “express their sexuality” through the use of pornography, a medium that completely disregards the truth of human dignity and what human sexuality is made for. Through this addicting “expression,” a person can quickly become a slave to the sin of pornography. Contrarily, we are most free when we are living according to the truth of our existence. Because she had never been touched by the stain of sin, Mary was completely free to embrace the will of God. She was completely free to live the life she was made to live.
Another lie society tells us is that our ability to choose is simply that, our choice. No one else needs to be involved and no one else should matter. We are autonomous, self-determining individuals, so the theory goes. The Annunciation shows us this is not the case. Mary’s willingness to participate in the event of the Incarnation has affected all of history. All of creation waited in anticipation of Mary’s “Yes.” We are all sharers in the benefit of Mary’s decision to choose the will of God. No choice we make is ever merely personal because we are all connected through our common humanity.
Finally, the Annunciation shows us that we can never truly separate faith and life. This is sometimes difficult to accept, especially within a culture that emphasizes the importance and necessity of separating “Church and state.” Today, it is considered normal to be “personally opposed” to something, but okay with it happening in the public realm. Our Catholic faith is different, however. There is no distinction between the public and private realm when it comes to living out our faith. Everything we do, whether it be eating, sleeping, talking or reading, should be done with an eye to who we are as created beings and why God made us. The Incarnation shows us that the physical matters. Salvation history occurs within history, it is a physical event.
There is a poem by Rev. John Duffy, C.S.s.R. which describes Mary’s first awakening after the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. In describing Mary, the poem explains “She was the Mother of the wandering Word, little and terrifying in her laboring womb. And nothing would again be casual and small, but everything with light invested (italics mine).” The Incarnation displays for us how involved God is in our daily lives. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).” He is not some distant God who creates us and leaves us to figure things out on our own. Instead, God is invested in our lives at every moment. He holds us in being through love, in love, and for love. As John Paul II explained, “man remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love (Redemptor Hominis, no 10).” So nothing we do should be separated from this realization that God is Love and desires each of us to be united with Him in Love. When we realize this, “nothing [will] again be casual and small.”