Some Thoughts on Marriage/Family, Particularly in Light of the Upcoming SynodPerhaps, it should not have come as a great surprise, when Governor Corbett failed to continue a legal defense of marriage in Pennsylvania; it was the most recent slide on a slippery slope of depravity. Corbett's failure seemed to be quickly followed by silence from pulpits and a popular desire to turn the page - even among those who view themselves as pro life / pro marriage. The sad states of affairs is that many Catholics appear to have long ago succumbed to
- separating the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act,
- looking the other way from couples living in sin, and
- treating marriage as though it were NOT indissoluble.
In Catholic dioceses in the U.S., declarations of nullity went from 398 in 1968 to 60,000 in the early 1990s (cf., Brian Fraga, OSV Newsweekly, 5/20/2012). Carried away by "pastoral" concern to reconcile divorced / "remarried" people to the Church, there is growing concern that attempts to foster marital reconciliation are largely getting ignored. Diocesan marriage tribunals require a civil divorce to initiate annulment proceedings, but are couples properly reminded that they must seek the bishop's permission, BEFORE divorcing? (cf., Emily Stimpson, Our Sunday Visitor, 5/13/09; Rev. Joseph Klee, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 4/10/14).
As per Bai MacFarlane of Mary's Advocates: “Rather than focusing so much on trying to make sure those in second marriages get their marriages blessed by the Church, we hope the Catholic tribunals focus more on keeping families together. We are concerned that in the U.S., those in authority are ignoring the process in canon law designed to protect marriages and keep couples together” (Martin Barillas, Spero News, 9/25/14). Others are also asking whether proper and appropriate concern for abandoned spouses and children is getting a de facto toss aside by tribunals, in favor of putting smiley faces on second "marriages" (cf., Hillary Towers, PhD, Catholic New Agency, 3/4/11; Rev. Charles Zmudzinski, C.P.M., J.C.L, Fathers of Mercy, undated).
How is it that so many seem to think that advertising the possibility of annulments is in keeping with authentic respect for marriage? If they truly believe that's a good idea, why don't we see similar advertising for laicization?
Instrumentum Laboris: What It Does NOT SayNews organizations were quick to pick up on the Vatican's June 26th release of Instrumentum Laboris, the preparatory document for the upcoming synod. Much media focus has been on how the Church might supposedly change her teaching to accommodate adults who disagree.
Keeping with the tone of Pope Francis, Instrumentum Laboris absolutely emphasizes the compassionate mercy of God. At the same time, Instrumentum Laboris specifically states that it stands unwaveringly with the the Church's constant teaching, citing the Bible, the Catechism, Humanae Vitae, and the Theology of the Body, among its sources. Instrumentum Laboris maintains that, "When an overall view of marriage and the family is sufficiently set forth according to tenets of the Christian faith, its truth, goodness and beauty is clearly visible" (# 13).
Instrumentum Laboris pays great attention to the well being of the entire family - particularly the well being of children - rather than narrowly focusing on adults. Much is said about the well being of children in challenging situations, such as the absence of a parent, when a teen becomes a parent, and atypical home situations. In cases of divorce, it notes that well meaning suggestions have come from Europe and North America to "streamline" determinations of marital nullity (That "suggestion" has been reported in some quarters as though it was a fait accompli.). However, Instrumentum Laboris notes that inherent dangers would include fostering "in young people’s minds the idea that marriage is not a life-long commitment" and "the mistaken idea that an annulment is simply 'Catholic divorce'" (# 99).
Instrumentum Laboris concludes that "the following three main areas ARE under discussion in the Church: how the Gospel of the Family can be preached in the present-day; how the Church’s pastoral care programme for the family might better respond to the new challenges today; how to assist parents in developing a mentality of openness to life and in upbringing their children."
Despite Instrumentum Laboris' Caution, are Papal Reminders about the Evils of Divorce Being Imprudently Tossed Aside?
Pope Leo XIII
- "29. Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families; the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. Since, then, nothing has such power to lay waste families and destroy the mainstay of kingdoms as the corruption of morals, it is easily seen that divorces are in the highest degree hostile to the prosperity of families and States....
- "34....the supreme pontiffs have resisted the most powerful...rulers, in their threatening demands that divorces...be confirmed by the Church...[they] have been contending for the safety, not only of religion, but also of the human race. For this reason all generations of men will admire the proofs of unbending courage which are to be found in the decrees of ....[e.g.,] Clement VII and Paul III against Henry VIII....all rulers and administrators of the State who are desirous of following the dictates of reason and wisdom, and anxious for the good of their people, ought to make up their minds to keep the holy laws of marriage intact....
- "41....no power can dissolve the bond of Christian marriage whenever this has been ratified and consummated; and that, of a consequence, those husbands and wives are guilty of a manifest crime who plan, for whatever reason, to be united in a second marriage before the first one has been ended by death. When, indeed, matters have come to such a pitch that it seems impossible for them to live together any longer, then the Church allows them to live apart, and strives at the same time to soften the evils of this separation by such remedies and helps as are suited to their condition; yet she never ceases to endeavor to bring about a reconciliation....
- "44....We commend, venerable brothers, to your fidelity and piety those unhappy persons who, carried away by the heat of passion, and being utterly indifferent to their salvation, live wickedly together without the bond of lawful marriage. Let your utmost care be exercised in bringing such persons back to their duty; and, both by your own efforts and by those of good men who will consent to help you, strive by every means that they may see how wrongly they have acted; that they may do penance; and that they may be induced to enter into a lawful marriage according to the Catholic rite.
- "45. You will at once see, venerable brothers, that the doctrine and precepts in relation to Christian marriage, which We have thought good to communicate to you in this letter, tend no less to the preservation of civil society than to the everlasting salvation of souls" (Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum, 2/10/1880).
Pope Pius XI
- "4....We follow the footsteps of Our predecessor, Leo XIII, of happy memory, whose Encyclical Arcanum, [was] published fifty years ago, We hereby confirm and make Our own, and while We wish to expound more fully certain points called for by the circumstances of our times, nevertheless We declare that, far from being obsolete, it retains its full force at the present day....
- "37....how many and how important are the benefits which flow from the indissolubility of matrimony cannot escape anyone who gives even a brief consideration either to the good of the married parties and the offspring or to the welfare of human society....experience has taught that unassailable stability in matrimony is a fruitful source of virtuous life and of habits of integrity. Where this order of things obtains, the happiness and well being of the nation is safely guarded; what the families and individuals are, so also is the State, for a body is determined by its parts. Wherefore, both for the private good of husband, wife and children, as likewise for the public good of human society, they indeed deserve well who strenuously defend the inviolable stability of matrimony....
- "44. When we consider the great excellence of chaste wedlock, Venerable Brethren, it appears all the more regrettable that particularly in our day we should witness this divine institution often scorned and on every side degraded.
- "45. For now, alas, not secretly nor under cover, but openly, with all sense of shame put aside, now by...all the inventions of modern science, the sanctity of marriage is trampled upon and derided; divorce, adultery, all the basest vices either are extolled or at least are depicted in such colors as to appear to be free of all reproach and infamy. Books are not lacking which dare to pronounce themselves as scientific but which in truth are merely coated with a veneer of science in order that they may the more easily insinuate their ideas....
- "49. To begin at the very source of these evils, their basic principle lies in this, that matrimony is repeatedly declared to be not instituted by the Author of nature nor raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a true sacrament, but invented by man....
- "51. Armed with these principles, some men go so far as to concoct new species of unions, suited, as they say, to the present temper of men and the times....
- "56....the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
- "57. We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls, in virtue of Our supreme authority and in Our solicitude for the salvation of souls, not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God; much more, that they keep themselves immune from such false opinions, in no way conniving in them. If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust, and let him take to himself the words of Christ: 'They are blind and leaders of the blind: and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit [']....
- "67. Those who hold the reins of government should not forget that it is the duty of public authority by appropriate laws and sanctions to defend the lives of the innocent, and this all the more so since those whose lives are endangered and assailed cannot defend themselves. Among whom we must mention in the first place infants hidden in the mother's womb. And if the public magistrates not only do not defend them, but by their laws and ordinances betray them to death at the hands of doctors or of others, let them remember that God is the Judge and Avenger of innocent blood which cried from earth to Heaven....
- "85. The advocates of the neo-paganism of today have learned nothing from the sad state of affairs, but instead, day by day, more and more vehemently, they continue by legislation to attack the indissolubility of the marriage bond, proclaiming that the lawfulness of divorce must be recognized, and that the antiquated laws should give place to a new and more humane legislation....
- "86. Others, taking a step further, simply state that marriage, being a private contract, is, like other private contracts, to be left to the consent and good pleasure of both parties, and so can be dissolved for any reason whatsoever.
- "87. Opposed to all these reckless opinions, Venerable Brethren, stands the unalterable law of God, fully confirmed by Christ, a law that can never be deprived of its force by the decrees of men, the ideas of a people or the will of any legislator: 'What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder'....
- "88. Let that solemn pronouncement of the Council of Trent be recalled to mind in which, under the stigma of anathema, it condemned these errors: 'If anyone should say that on account of heresy or the hardships of cohabitation or a deliberate abuse of one party by the other the marriage tie may be loosened, let him be anathema;' and again: 'If anyone should say that the Church errs in having taught or in teaching that, according to the teaching of the Gospel and the Apostles, the bond of marriage cannot be loosed because of the sin of adultery of either party; or that neither party, even though he be innocent, having given no cause for the sin of adultery, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other; and that he commits adultery who marries another after putting away his adulterous wife, and likewise that she commits adultery who puts away her husband and marries another: let him be anathemae.'
- "89. If therefore the Church has not erred and does not err in teaching this, and consequently it is certain that the bond of marriage cannot be loosed even on account of the sin of adultery, it is evident that all the other weaker excuses that can be, and are usually brought forward, are of no value whatsoever. And the objections brought against the firmness of the marriage bond are easily answered....Now all those arguments that are brought forward to prove the indissolubility of the marriage tie, arguments which have already been touched upon, can equally be applied to excluding not only the necessity of divorce, but even the power to grant it; while for all the advantages that can be put forward for the former, there can be adduced as many disadvantages and evils which are a formidable menace to the whole of human society.
- "90. To revert again to the expression of Our predecessor, it is hardly necessary to point out what an amount of good is involved in the absolute indissolubility of wedlock and what a train of evils follows upon divorce....
- "103.... in order that no falsification or corruption of the divine law but a true genuine knowledge of it may enlighten the minds of men and guide their conduct, it is necessary that a filial and humble obedience towards the Church should be combined with devotedness to God and the desire of submitting to Him....
- "104. Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.
- "105. Consequently, since everything must be referred to the law and mind of God, in order to bring about the universal and permanent restoration of marriage, it is indeed of the utmost importance that the faithful should be well instructed concerning matrimony....
- "106....by every fitting means, oppose error by truth, vice by the excellent dignity of chastity, the slavery of covetousness by the liberty of the sons of God, that disastrous ease in obtaining divorce by an enduring love in the bond of marriage and by the inviolate pledge of fidelity given even to death....
- "112. All these things, however, Venerable Brethren, depend in large measure on the due preparation remote and proximate, of the parties for marriage. For it cannot be denied that the basis of a happy wedlock, and the ruin of an unhappy one, is prepared and set in the souls of boys and girls during the period of childhood and adolescence. There is danger that those who before marriage sought in all things what is theirs, who indulged even their impure desires, will be in the married state what they were before, that they will reap that which they have sown; indeed, within the home there will be sadness, lamentation, mutual contempt, strifes, estrangements, weariness of common life, and, worst of all, such parties will find themselves left alone with their own unconquered passions....
- "116. Now since it is no rare thing to find that the perfect observance of God's commands and conjugal integrity encounter difficulties by reason of the fact that the man and wife are in straitened circumstances, their necessities must be relieved as far as possible.
- "117....in the State such economic and social methods should be adopted as will enable every head of a family to earn as much as, according to his station in life, is necessary for himself, his wife, and for the rearing of his children, for 'the laborer is worthy of his hire.' To deny this, or to make light of what is equitable, is a grave injustice and is placed among the greatest sins by Holy Writ; nor is it lawful to fix such a scanty wage as will be insufficient for the upkeep of the family in the circumstances in which it is placed" (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 12/31/1930).
Pope Paul VI
- "23. And now We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem—that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded" (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 7/25/1968).
Saint Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body (1979 to 1984)
- "As a whole, the catechesis which I began over four years ago and which I am concluding today can be summed up under the title: 'Human love in the divine plan,' or more precisely, 'The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.' The catechesis can be divided into two parts. The first part was dedicated to a study of Christ's words....The second part of the catechesis was dedicated to the analysis of the sacrament based on the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33)....we took up, at the end of this whole series of catecheses, the analysis of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The doctrine contained in this document of the Church's modern teaching is organically related to both the sacramentality of marriage and the whole biblical question of the theology of the body, centered on the key words of Christ. In a certain sense we can even say that all the reflections that deal with the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage seem to constitute an ample commentary on the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae" (Saint Pope John Paul II, 11/28/84).
- "52. In Abraham’s journey towards the future city, the Letter to the Hebrews mentions the blessing which was passed on from fathers to sons (cf. Heb 11:20-21). The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith, became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf. Heb 11:11)" (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 6/29/13).
- "the family is the fundamental cell of society...; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will" (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium:, 11/24/13).
- "Matrimony....leads us to the heart of God’s design, which is a plan for a Covenant with his people, with us all, a plan for communion. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, at the culmination of the creation account it says: 'God created man in Hs own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.... Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 1:27; 2:24). The image of God is the married couple: the man and the woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both of them together. This is the image of God: love, God’s covenant with us is represented in that covenant between man and woman. And this is very beautiful! We are created in order to love, as a reflection of God and His love. And in the marital union man and woman fulfil this vocation through their mutual reciprocity and their full and definitive communion of life" (Pope Francis, General Audience, 4/2/14).
- "it is necessary to reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family, with a father and a mother capable of creating an ideal environment for their development and emotional maturity" (Pope Francis, Discourse to the Delegation of the International Catholic Office of Children, 4/11/14).
Annual addresses to the Roman Rota (i.e., the Church's "Supreme Court," if you will)It can rightly be asked whether the annual addresses by Saint Pope John Paul II (1979 - 2005) and Pope Benedict XVI (2006 -2013) - as well as Dignitas Connubii - evidence a growing pattern of dis-ease over possible abuse of Church tribunals. To declare a marriage null that is indeed valid is a horrible injustice to all parties (cf., Vatican Overturns Kennedy Annulment). This past January, Pope Francis reminded the Roman Rota that: "In every case, every profession and every cause, people are waiting for justice."
Let Us Join Our Voices in Pope Francis' Prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.