The future needs the family

Archbishop Aquila

Editors Note: In this column, Archbishop Aquila presents some excerpts from a talk he gave to the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers. They have been edited for brevity and clarity. To read the full talk, visit: archden.org/archbishops_writing/the-future-needs-the-family/#.XVwuuuNKgdU

Some of you may have heard of the Benedictine monks of Norcia, the small Italian mountain town where St. Benedict was born. In 2016, their monastery and the basilica of St. Benedict was completely destroyed by the strongest earthquake that Italy has experienced in 30 years.

With the aftershocks continuing, the monks moved their community to a property outside the town’s walls and took shelter in canvas tents. While their monastery was demolished, their faith remained intact. They continued to celebrate Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours in their new improvised community.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, visited the monks to celebrate Mass and bless their “tent monastery,” which he said reminded him of “Bethlehem, where it all began.”

Then he made an observation that goes to the heart of what this conference is about — the future and the family. “I am certain,” he said, “that the future of the Church is in the monasteries, because where prayer is, there is the future” (The Benedict Option, p. 242).

Cardinal Sarah was talking about the monastic community, but he could have been talking about the family, since the family serves as the incubator for the values and virtues of the next generation. … And this is only possible when prayer stands at the heart of a family.

My friend and fellow bishop, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, recently gave a talk on “The Pastoral State of Marriage and the Family Today.” In it, he asserted that the main challenge for the Church today is rediscovering the “radical ‘newness’ of the Christian message about the family.” That message consists of speaking about marriage as a love that lasts a lifetime, or a calling from God, or a path that can lead to holiness and salvation. The Christian concept of marriage also presents “man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ and participating in God’s own act of creating new life.”

We are living in spiritually and materially impoverished times. In this context, the Catholic family can and should be like a lighthouse illuminating the way for others in stormy seas.

The early Church was able to flourish despite a series of persecutions that lasted almost 300 years because our ancestors in the faith had a deep, lasting faith in Christ and salvation through him. They did not belong to the world, just as Jesus did not. They were in the world, but not of it.
I would like to leave you with a story of love in a family from Saint Mother Teresa’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Listen to the power of the family:

… I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. …

I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: ‘Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they have not eaten for so long. Do something.’ So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children, their eyes shining with hunger — I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger.

And [the mother] took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her, ‘Where did you go, what did you do?’ And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew. And who are they? A Muslim family, and she knew [they were starving]. I didn’t bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see, this is where love begins at home.

Let us devote ourselves to first growing love in our families and then sharing it in our neighborhoods and parishes, states and country. In doing so, we will help build up family life and ensure that our ultimate goal of heaven is made manifest to the Church and the world.

COMING UP: Is religious freedom disappearing?

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If you have been following the recent political debates and the rulings being made by our courts, you will see that we seem to be at a turning point when it comes to the place of believers in our society. Increasingly, religious belief is being treated as equal to beliefs that do not rely upon reason but only one’s will.

As your shepherd, I urge you to ask the question: “How will I respond if I am forced to choose between my conscience and my livelihood?” And if we are penalized for living according to our faith, it’s prudent for us to ask how we will prepare for this new environment.

I have been giving the topic of religious freedom more thought lately because I recently joined nine of my fellow faith leaders in signing the Williamsburg Charter at the Western Conservative Summit.

“Religious liberty,” the Second Principle of the charter states, “is founded on the inviolable dignity of the person. It is not based on science or social usefulness and is not dependent on the shifting moods of majorities and governments.” In other words, religious freedom comes from our nature, from how we are created.

We only need look to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the millions of believers killed in Stalinist Russia, or the suppression of religious believers in modern day China, India or North Korea to see what happens when religious freedom is denied. Invariably, when a country’s political system does not allow its citizens to choose what they believe, it demands that they give the state the devotion and obedience that is due to God.

In the United States, this is unfolding a bit differently. As lawmakers accept and enshrine protections in our laws for sexual morals that conflict with the beliefs of many people of faith, they are favoring one set of beliefs over another. This is occurring despite the First Amendment stating that the government shall not make any law that establishes a religion, which in this case takes the form of a pseudo-religious ideology. The fervor with which advocates of same-sex relationships, transgenderism and legal abortion push for their vision of sexuality without regard for what scientific data says or doesn’t say demonstrates that their worldview is based on a belief, not facts.

St. John Paul II described the relationship between authentic faith and reason in his encyclical Fides et Ratio. He wrote, “There is thus no reason for competition of any kind between reason and faith: each contains the other, and each has its own scope for action” (#17).

What we are confronting today is faith without reason.

The outcry over believers like Jack Phillips refusing to use their skills to endorse a vision of sexuality that they don’t believe is evidence that reason is being abandoned. If this was a disagreement over facts, it would be much calmer. But it is an argument over beliefs. For further evidence, we can look at the spread of sex education curricula or media efforts that promote one’s gender as something that can be chosen. There is no scientific data that indicates gender can change without outside manipulation. It’s a belief – one that has immense spiritual and societal impacts – that’s being marketed as somehow healthier and more free.

Unlike the advocates of modern sexual morality who expect everyone adopt their values, the Christian faith teaches us to respect the free will of others and acknowledges that every person’s life impacts the common good. As Principle Six of the Williamsburg Charter says, “The Free Exercise clause guarantees the right to reach, hold, exercise or change beliefs freely. It allows all citizens who so desire to shape their lives, whether private or public, on the basis of personal and communal beliefs.”

Religious freedom has served as a bedrock principle of the United States, but unless we work to defend our place in the public square, form people in both faith and reason, support faithful family life, and encourage creative, charitable evangelization, it will continue to be in peril.
May God give us the wisdom, strength and joy we need to serve as his witnesses to the beauty of faith united with reason.