Gifts of gratitude and hope

He came to America and encountered us in the streets, schools and historic places where we gathered. Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States and the World Meeting of Families has renewed our hope and filled many with gratitude for the beauty of family life.

At his final Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pope Francis declared, “Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter gratitude and our appreciation.”

The Holy Father made this invitation to generosity in the context of urging people to renew their trust in God’s Word, which “invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman.” And that covenant of marriage, he emphasized, “generates life and reveals God! Which helps us participate in the prophecy of peace, of tenderness, of family love… .”

This World Meeting of Families made history by having over 18,000 attendees – the most since the gathering was started by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994. It was truly beautiful, and gave me hope to see how many families present in Philadelphia had already responded to God’s invitation to live with generous hearts.

But even more than the numbers, I was struck by the beauty of the selfless, sacrificial love I saw. In the large families that were present, the older children cared for their younger brothers and sisters. In older families, younger family members pushed their parents or grandparents to the different venues in wheelchairs. And then there were all the babies who traveled from near and far on pilgrimage with their mothers and fathers, giving witness to the truth and goodness of family life and marriage.

This was the family Pope Francis affirmed in his speeches, with his embraces and prayers. By their presence, the families in Philadelphia gave witness that they do not belong to the “throw away culture,” “the culture of death,” or the “culture of indifference” but to “the culture of life,” which their encounter with Jesus Christ ignited in them. And as I wrote in my Sept. 11th column, “The quiet family revolution,”  there are many other families who are doing the same. I am deeply grateful for this witness, and as a Church we need to continue to support generosity in the family.

During his Saturday night gathering, called the Festival of Families, the Holy Father also touched on how family life has its share of suffering. “Sometimes people tell me, ‘Father, you speak like that because you are not married.’ Families have difficulties…families, we quarrel. And sometimes plates can fly. Children bring headaches, and I won’t even speak about mothers-in law.”  And then he added, “In families there are always difficulties, but those difficulties are overcome by love.”

On Sunday morning he reinforced that message when he met with prisoners and reflected on how Jesus washing the disciples’ feet demonstrated his desire to heal every wound of the human heart, even the heart of a criminal. He reminded all of us that we have wounds that only Jesus can heal, and that the family is the privileged place where that healing can take place.

Pope Francis’ first visit to our country brought the Gospel to many who may not have heard it in years, if at all. In his words and by his gestures he placed the beauty of the family in front of millions, and for that all of us should be grateful to God. We must also take advantage of this moment to do all we can to bring the hope of the family to the world.

On Oct. 4, the Holy Father opened the three-week Ordinary Synod on the Family in Rome. Please join me in praying each day for Pope Francis and all of the bishops that they will be guided by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth and love – and that they will lift up the beauty of family life to our broken world.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash