If Love is Our Mission: Some Questions Regarding the World Meeting of Families

2015-07-24_14-01-55Now is the time to defend marriage and family. We are still feeling the effects of Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, with the widespread use and acceptance of contraception and the propensity to resort to abortion when the contraception fails. Although reports tell us that abortion numbers are down, we know that we are still battling to win the hearts and minds of those steeped in the “culture of death.” Moreover, with the recent Obergefell v. Hodges case that, at least in the secular mindset, effectively changed the definition of marriage, we know that the fight to defend the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman is far from over and will continue to be a critical debate for many Christians.

Thus, it should be a cause for rejoicing that the World Meeting of Families, the first of its kind here in the United States, will be held this year in Philadelphia. Moreover, it is the first time Pope Francis will visit the United States, and his appearance at the World Meeting of Families will show to many—even in the public sector—his willingness in supporting the family. The theme for the event, “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” is based on a quote from St. Irenaeus, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The concept is similar to a pattern found in Pope Saint John Paul II’s writing. In his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, John Paul II wrote, “Man is the way for the Church,” and likewise, in his Letter to Families, written in 1994, “Both man and the family constitute ‘the way of the Church’” (RH 14; LF 2). In such a way, the purpose of the World Meeting of Families is designed to show that, just as man himself reveals the glory of God when fully alive, so too does the family, when it is upheld and supported by a deep and enduring love.

If this international meeting is meant to support families and inflame them with an enduring love for Christ so that they can go forward, invigorated and ready to embody the Gospel of Life, it would obviously be incongruous to invite homosexual couples and “families” to the event.

And yet, that is precisely what has happened.

Rorate Caeli reports that the Pontifical Family Council President, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, when asked about homosexual couples and families coming to the event, said, “We are following Instrumentum Laboris on the Synod to the letter. Everyone can come, nobody is excluded. And if anyone feels excluded, I’ll leave the 99 little sheep and go and get him.” (One might also pause and question the integrity of such a document). The National Catholic Reporter, while writing something similar, is quick to add from the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles. J. Chaput, “We don’t want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for positions contrary to the life of our church, so we’re not providing that kind of lobbying opportunity.” While the article attempts to cover up this odd invitation by focusing more on the details of the event, we understand the gist: homosexual couples and families are publicly invited to the Catholic World Meeting of Families.

This is certainly a peculiar invitation, especially coming after the Supreme Court’s decision and the promise of both American and international bishops to defend the Church’s teaching of marriage as between one man and one woman. But, since Christ is the only true judge, and we cannot fully know the intentions of those involved, we should ask ourselves: what constitutes a family? Could a homosexual “family” legitimately come to the World Meeting of Families? We can readily find an answer in John Paul II’s theology, particularly in his Letter to Families, written for the “International Year of the Family” (surprisingly called by the United Nations). A great defender of marriage and family—perhaps the greatest—we can narrow his theology down to three main elements that are necessary for the existence of a family: a marriage between one man and one woman, a communion of persons, and finally, the fruits of the communion, which are usually children.

First, John Paul II never ceases to proclaim, “Marriage, which undergirds the institution of the family, is constituted by the covenant whereby ‘a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life,’” citing the Code of Canon Law (LF 17). Thus, the family is derived from the covenant between one man and one woman. He continues, “Only such a union can be recognized and ratified as a ‘marriage’ in society” (LF 17). There is no room for any other kind of bond to be considered a marriage. Despite the mindsets of individuals who may disagree with him, John Paul II is drawing from the words of Christ: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’” (Matthew 19:4-5)? Therefore, from the beginning of creation, God designed the marriage bond to be between one man and one woman: as John Paul II would say, it is written into the very nature of the human person as male and female.

Although a homosexual union is clearly not between one man and one woman, let us take the argument further. John Paul II writes that marriage is between one man and one woman because it is “ordered to the well-being of the spouses” (LF 17). What constitutes that well-being? The saintly pontiff writes about the communion of persons that comes from the marriage bond. Even prior to any children, we can say that, “The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum” (LF 7). The way that the husband and wife are communio personarum is through becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). While there is certainly the spiritual aspect of becoming “one flesh,” John Paul II adds that it is “through the body that man and woman are predisposed to form a ‘communion of persons’ in marriage” (LF 8, emphasis added). The body of the man and woman, being designed in a particular way by the Creator, allows them to become physically one flesh. Furthermore, also given as a command from God, the aspect of indissolubility is critical for this communion of persons (Matthew 19:6). The indissolubility of the marriage bond is the very means by which the two can become a communion: without the security of life-long fidelity, there could be no true “communion” but only a pseudo-bond, dissolvable at any time based upon the whims and feelings of the two individuals.

We know that, so long as the man and the woman are healthy, and through the grace of God, this union of flesh allows for the procreation of children: these are the fruit of the union of the two. John Paul II writes of “communion” and “community.” He says, “‘Communion’ has to do with the personal relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘thou,’” which is, as we have said, the bond between the man and woman (LF 7). But he continues, “‘Community,’ on the other hand, transcends this framework and moves towards a ‘society,’ a ‘we’” (LF 7). Therefore, John Paul II is able to conclude that family

Arises whenever there comes into being the conjugal covenant of marriage, which opens the spouses to a lasting communion of love and of life, and it is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the procreation of children: the ‘communion’ of the spouses gives rise to the ‘community’ of the family (LF 7, emphasis added).

In other words, the love that is present in the communion of marriage is not kept within itself but is rather poured out into a community, a community of children, who are created through the cooperation of the man and woman with the grace of God, Who infuses an immortal soul into each child. This constitutes the family: a communion of man and woman that extends to a community of children. While some marriages are not blessed with children due to infertility or other difficult circumstances, those factors do not limit them from bearing fruit. They could provide a community for adopted children or wholeheartedly give themselves to charitable work within the Church. Regardless, this is how John Paul II can say, “The family, as a community of persons, is thus the first human ‘society’” (LF 7, emphasis added).

Considering that homosexual couples and “families” fail to meet the first step, it follows that they cannot fulfill the communion or community aspect of John Paul II’s vision for the family. While some may believe they have both communion with each other and community with other homosexual couples and potentially adopted children, both of those beliefs are erroneous, because they are false imitations of God’s design for human nature. Therefore, we can conclude that such couples and “families” are not really couples and families at all, but rather only seek to mimic that true union of life and love.

We then only have one question to ask: why have they been openly invited to the (Catholic) World Meeting of Families?

If they are not truly a family, then there is no need to invite them to a meeting specifically designed for nurturing the family. Certainly, if it is a public event, no one can be prevented from coming, just as anyone can picket for his or her cause on the public sidewalk. But the Catholic Church should not feel obliged to say that “everyone is welcome.” Of what are we afraid? Are we afraid of proclaiming the truth about marriage? Are we afraid of offending someone, to the point that we feel compelled to say that all are welcome to come to the meeting of families?

Even the preparatory document for the world meeting, under the title of the theme, says that the homosexual union is not a natural one ordered to the family. It says, “With respect to the idea of same-sex marriage, as is well known, the Church declines to bless or sanction it” (135, Our Sunday Visitor). How can we be satisfied with such a contradiction between the words of the document and the deeds of authorities involved? Even though the homosexual couples and families will not be allowed to “lobby” for their beliefs, their very presence sanctions the idea that such a union is acceptable. For those who are less familiar or less willing to accept the Church’s current teachings, the presence of such couples could cause them to believe that the Church agrees with their actions, causing scandal for those within the Church and those outside her walls. We think of the old phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” Even if the homosexual couples and families do not say a word or carry a sign, their actions and presence will speak louder than anything else will.

Will there be many homosexuals at the event? Probably not. If they are there, will people see them and wonder about their presence? Perhaps, but it is certainly not the focus of the event. Nevertheless, if Msgr. Paglia wishes that “the meeting in Philadelphia and the Synod in October may truly build an ecclesial and social season, characterized by a renewed focus on the family,” then we must focus on truly renewing the family, the family that is the fruit of the union between one man and one woman. This renewal does not involve a complete openness and welcome to those who are not truly families and are only families in the secular sense of the word. If “we want the Gospel of mercy proclaimed in the great cities of the world,” as Msgr. Paglia continues, then we will not hide behind the lies of welcoming everyone to avoid controversy but rather uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church about the truth of marriage and family. We can only act in such a way, however, if true love is our mission.

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