This column is the eighth in a series of introductory essays on “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the preparatory catechesis for the eighth World Meeting of Families that will take place in Philadelphia September 22-27 with Pope Francis.
If you would prefer, you can watch an video of this essay here, presented by the Very Reverend David Hoefler, Vicar General of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
Chapter eight is called “A Home for the Wounded Heart.”
The preparatory catechesis acknowledges real barriers people today face in living the Church’s vision of marriage and the family. It also shows us practical ways to overcome them.
One barrier for many persons today against living what the Church teaches about married love is that these teachings are objectively hard and may even seem impossible.
Another barrier is that we are all wounded by sin and so are weak and are suffering.
A third is that our wounded brothers and sisters often don’t see in the family and in the parish a welcoming place that will be a support against loneliness.
First is the barrier of difficult teachings. There is no doubt that what the Church is saying to the world today and to her own children about human sexuality, marriage, and the family is difficult. But these hard teachings are the teachings of Christ, who himself faced opposition. In fact, “some of Christ’s hardest sayings deal with marriage, sexual desire, and the family” (89). Two of these are his teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and on impurity of heart (89-90).
Second is the barrier of being wounded. Pope Francis uses the image of the Church as a field hospital after a battle. We are all injured by life to some extent and, “sexuality is uniquely vulnerable to such wounds” (90). But the greatest need each person has is his or her need to encounter the person of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician. This is the problem that needs to be addressed first.
Surprisingly, Pope Francis does not address this medicine to people “out there” but to every one of us in here: He said,
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day (91).
This healing encounter with Christ is our first conversion. Our second conversion begins then and it continues for the rest of our lives as “an uninterrupted task” (92). In big or little ways we are like the prodigal son who is continually returning to his father’s house.
Little by little
In the healing and in the growing we all need, chapter eight recommends what St. John Paul II called the law of gradualness. This is our little-by-little growth in holiness. The catechesis says, “As they recover from the wounds of sin, Christians grow in holiness in every area of their lives, including their sexuality” and “when they fall short, they need to return to the mercy of God made accessible in the sacraments of the Church” (93).
This law of gradualness must be clearly distinguished from the erroneous notion of the “gradualness of the law” (93). That false teaching asserts that the moral law can be set aside for people who find it too hard.
It is not good to be alone
Third is the barrier of isolation. The healing the Church offers to her children is first in the medicine of the truth about the family and human sexuality. Second, it is in her pastoral care in giving the sacraments as therapy. But these are not enough. Wounded sinners need a community to rely on. Living “catholic teaching depends upon the Catholic community” (94) because otherwise the demands cannot be borne!
Why? To leave behind sexual sins and to live chastity, or be in a personally difficult situation because of separation or civil divorce, or to be a single parent, or to be single when one does not want to be, or to be a widow—all these seem to doom one to a life of loneliness.
A hospitality examination of conscience
The balm we must apply here is the welcome and acceptance of our families of birth and marriage and the family of the parish in which our joys and sorrows are shared.
Here are some questions raised in chapter eight that we can use as a kind of examination of conscience for helping the wounded of heart:
- Many are called to live celibacy. Do we see the value that celibacy has for the life of the Church? Thus, do we see the persons that God calls to live celibacy as treasures for the Church?
- Many are called to suffer with Christ. Do we see the redemptive value that bearing a burden that is offered to God has? Thus, do we see the treasure that all those who are wounded possess?
- The catechesis tells us, “Nobody is limiting lay or ordained Catholics in the friendship which we can offer those who struggle” (95). Do we practice hospitality toward those who struggle or do we avoid or ignore these persons?
Chapter eight ends on this note: “Life in the Body of Christ is meant to be lived as interdependent members, who build one another up in love. The Church’s teaching, sacraments, and community all exist to help us on the journey” (97).
Let’s be clear again on those three aids: first, Christ’s own difficult teachings about the truth of human sexuality, marriage, and the family; second, the sacraments of the Church, which heal and strengthen us through grace; and third, the interdependent members of the domestic church of the family and the larger family of the parish.
The chapter begins with an image of the Good Samaritan, tending the wounds of the man who fell in with robbers. They left the man beaten, robbed, and stripped of his clothing. The priest and the Levite avoided the man but the Good Samaritan came to his aid. Christ is the Good Samaritan. We must also be Christ, the Good Samaritan, to those whose hearts are wounded.