Marriage: God’s most stunning creation

Archbishop Aquila

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and many people are thinking about how they can best show their love to someone. Although it is countercultural, the Church holds up faithful, Christ-centered marriage as the most satisfying and complete answer to this question.

This past week Pope Francis paid tribute to spouses who live out their marriage with unity and fidelity. They give the world what he called “an example of true love” that serves as “a silent sermon to all.” As the Church joins numerous other churches in celebrating National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, the gift of marriage lived well must be at the center of our witness.

For instance, Pope Francis once told the story of a couple that he met who were celebrating 60 years of marriage. He asked them if they were happy and they responded, “We are in love.” Their love enabled them to persevere through the difficulties of raising children and the inevitable sorrows and sufferings of life, such that they could tell the pope that after 60 years, they are still in love. Is this the hopeful, positive vision of marriage that we are promoting?

Their beautiful witness is a sign that real, lasting love is possible despite the significant drop in marriage rates, the rise in divorce and the increasingly short-lived nature of relationships we see today. Through the graces offered in marriage, holiness and genuine happiness can be found, a fact that is supported by many numerous sociological studies.

At the same time, there are many signs pointing to marriage declining in the U.S. The rate of married people has declined from a high of 72 percent in 1960 to around 50 percent in 2016. Another sign of the health of marriage from a Catholic perspective is how open people are to children. The Center for Disease Control’s recently released 2017 data shows that the country hit a 30-year low this past year with a birthrate of 1.76 births per woman — 2.1 children per woman is considered the replacement rate. Colorado came in even lower at 1.63 births per woman.

These results should prompt us to question how much we are doing to support and encourage marriage and to foster a culture of life within them. We must help Catholics understand the three goods of marriage: fidelity to one’s spouse, a lifelong commitment and the gift of children. In addition to promoting understanding, we should ask what we are doing to encourage openness to life and to support those who have children in our parishes, neighborhoods and world.

Some practical ideas that parishes can consider include: hosting events that model good dating practices, recruiting mentor couples for accompanying engaged couples preparing for marriage, and providing financial, emotional and spiritual support for struggling families. I am sure there are many other innovative ways that faithful people can create to respond to this reality, some of which already exist, such as the Building Family Culture retreats offered by Dr. Jared Staudt, the Marriage Missionaries apostolate, Marriage Encounter retreats and Families of Character.

As people of faith, we should above all take hope in the truth that holiness and happiness in marriage are possible with God’s help. St. Therese of Lisieux offers us the example of her parents, who were declared saints in 2015. She wrote of Louis and Zelie Martin: “God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

“Marriage,” as Pope Francis has stated, “is the most beautiful thing that God has created,” since it reflects the unity and love of God. May we as a Church work to support and strengthen marriage so that the silent, daily witness of married couples reflects God in our midst and builds up our society.

COMING UP: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.