by Archbishop Joseph Naumann
The primary reason that Pope Francis made his recent pastoral visit to the United States was not to address Congress or to give a speech to the United Nations or to address the issues of religious liberty and immigration reform on the steps outside of Independence Hall.
In his address to the bishops of the United States at St. Matthew Cathedral, the Holy Father stated: “I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.”
Pope Francis came to the United States to give his personal support and encouragement to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Pope John Paul II initiated the World Meeting of Families in the early 1990s as a vehicle to highlight the importance of marriage and family for the world, society and the church.
The final keynote address for the World Meeting of Families was given both by Pastor Rick Warren, leader of an evangelical megachurch and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston. Pastor Warren, inspired by an observation of Pope Francis regarding the many threats to the family today, described our current situation:
“In today’s society, materialism is idolized, immorality is glamorized, truth is minimized, sin is normalized, divorce is rationalized and abortion is legalized . . . The elderly are dehumanized, the sick are euthanized, the poor are victimized, the mentally ill are ostracized, immigrants are stigmatized and children are tranquilized.”
Pastor Warren suggested that the solution to many of the world’s problems is joy-filled families that are built on the firm foundation of faith in a loving God. At one point, Pastor Warren challenged Christian families to stop acting like they are in the “witness protection program,” but instead become joyful and bold witnesses of faithful, committed love in the world.
Cardinal O’Malley observed: “It is important that Rick Warren is here. This is a witness of unity that’s important in today’s world as we strive to proclaim “The Gospel of Life”: the need to protect every human being from the first moment of conception until natural death, to defend the family as the sanctuary of life, and family as a sacred calling described on the first pages of the Bible.”
Pope Francis in his address at the prayer vigil for families asserted that the most beautiful thing God made was the family: “He (God) created man and woman. And he gave them everything. He entrusted the world to them. . . . All the love he put into the marvelous creation, he entrusted to the family.”
The Holy Father reminded us that, after the sin of our first parents, God did not abandon us, but eventually gave us the greatest demonstration of his love by sending his son. And where did God send his son? It was not to “a palace or a city or an office building, but to a family.”
The Holy Father said that God delights in families that are united, that love, that educate and form their children in virtue, that help build a society of goodness, truth and beauty. Pope Francis acknowledged that some might object that he has a romantic notion of family because he is not married. The Holy Father admitted that families have problems, difficulties and arguments. He said that children cause headaches and sometimes in the family plates fly!
“Families always, always have crosses. Always. Because the love of God, the Son of God, also asked us to follow him along this way. But in families also, the cross is followed by the resurrection, because there, too, the Son of God leads us. So the family is . . . a workshop of hope, of the hope of life and resurrection.”
In the Holy Father’s address to the bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, he challenged us as pastors to be close to families and particularly young couples. The pope recognized the pressure on young people not to start a family in some cases “because they lack the material means to do so, and others because they are so well-off that they are happy as they are. That is the temptation, not to start a family.” In this cultural context, it is our responsibility as pastors to encourage “young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and family.”
The Holy Father challenged us to show the world that the “gospel of the family is truly good news in a world where self-concern reigns supreme!” The pope asserted “the perseverance that is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history. Families transform the world and history.”
Everything depends on the strength of the family. The health of our nation, the future of civilization, the vitality of the church — all depend on the family. The essential, bedrock foundation for the family is the faithful, committed love of a husband and a wife. The greatest gift children can receive is a father who loves their mother and a mother who loves their father and who together love them.
Please pray for the bishops from throughout the world that are gathered in Rome for the Synod of Bishops on the family. May the Holy Spirit guide and direct their deliberations and decisions so that our church can better support strong marriages and healthy families, as well as discern better ways for us to accompany families and individuals who are hurting.
If you are married, I encourage you this week to do something special to demonstrate your love for your spouse. If you are not married, make a special effort to encourage, support and/or pray for married couples.
Cardinal O’Malley shared that once he asked a couple that had been married 50 years their secret for a successful marriage. The husband said that at the beginning of their marriage they settled on a division of decision- making responsibilities. He would make all the big decisions and his wife would make all the little decisions.
Cardinal O’Malley asked the man: “And this has worked well for you?” The husband replied: “Oh yes, very well! So far, there have been no big decisions!”