Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Update from Rome: Preaching the Truth with Love

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This comes from Rome, where the sun is shining brightly, the sky is deep blue, the breeze is warm, the wine flows, and the pasta is al dente… and you are jealous!

It has been a full week.  Last Thursday and Friday, the entire College of Cardinals met with Pope Francis to discuss marriage and family.  The cardinals spoke as pastors, very aware of the threats to marriage and family, attacks from culture, the state and entertainment, for instance; but also of the beauty, nobility, and poetry of God’s grand gifts of husband, wife, father, mother, and children.  How can we propose to the world anew the grandeur of family, and defend marriage, without wringing hands and manning the barricades?  How better can we preach the truth with love?

The cardinals also pushed the image of the Church as family: God, our Father; Mary, our mother; Jesus, our older brother; the saints, our elders; our fellow Catholics, our siblings.  Like any family, we have our dysfunction, but we come to our supernatural family for rebirth in baptism, nourishment at the Eucharist, reconciliation in penance, maturity in confirmation, solidarity in prayer and charity.  We are born into this family of the Church, and we long to die in her embrace.

The consistory itself, welcoming the nineteen new cardinals and their people from all over the world, took place on Saturday and Sunday. Pope-emeritus Benedict ”stole the show,” with his humble, unexpected presence, quietly joining the rest of us in prayer.  It had been a year since we had seen him, and he brought joy to our hearts.

Yesterday and today I’ve been at meetings to plan the Synod of Bishops slated for October, 2014, and October, 2015, both on the topic of — you guessed it — marriage and family. It’s very clear that Pope Francis wants to use these synods — meetings in Rome among the Pope and elected delegates from bishops around the world, along with clergy, sisters, and laity present as experts and observers — as a regular and respected form of his governance and teaching.  He is big into listening, as was clear to us as he sat with ears open in the two days of consistory, and our meetings for synod preparation.

With all this going on, I have not had much time to savor the sun, sky, breeze, wine, or pasta!

So, tomorrow, I’ll be home again after this week in the Eternal City, happy to be with you, yet relishing a return here the Sunday after Easter for the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

Serving Young Adult Catholics in New York

Friday, January 24th, 2014

You might remember how, about four-and-a-half years ago, Bishop Dennis Sullivan, then our auxiliary bishop, now the chief shepherd in the diocese of Camden, began what I call the antipasto for our current process of pastoral planning, Making All Things New.

He, along with a couple dozen faithful collaborators, toured the archdiocese, holding “town hall meetings” for thousands of the folks. His question was simple: what are the needs of God’s People? What spiritual care and pastoral service do you most expect from the Church? What especially would you like to see this archdiocese start, or do better?

Five or six pressing pastoral needs surfaced, and we’ve spent the last four years trying to respond to them. Let me mention one of them to you: young adult ministry.

Our parents and grandparents reported that young adults — that means usually post-college to late thirties — were drifting from the Church. Used to be, they noted, that young adults got married in their early twenties, had babies quickly after that, and got settled into a parish. No more! The average age for marriage (for those that do marry at all, which is yet another big challenge) is now late twenties and early thirties.

So, guess what? Young adults drift , and are sometimes in a “no-man’s land” when it comes to the Church. Thank God, some remain active and committed, although they may “parish-hop”; others become lacklustre in their faith; others, sadly, leave the Church, for no religion at all, or for another, usually evangelical Church.

The priests told us this was indeed the case, and that the problem was beyond the remedy of any one single parish. What was needed, they all urged, was diocesan-wide action. We heard you!

Over the last six-weeks or so, I’ve been to three “humdinger” events for young adults.

In Advent, our recently expanded Young Adult Office sponsored a Mass on a weekday evening at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and asked me to be the celebrant. They do this monthly. The cathedral was jammed. Confessions were heard prior to Mass; the music was excellent; I tried my best to give a decent sermon; the crowd was attentive, reverent, happy.

Young Adults gathered for Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral

After Mass, I mingled with them, and heard them observe how much they appreciated the company of other Catholics their age. A big chunk of the group then adjoined to a nearby locale for “milk and cookies.” (You know better!)

Right after New Year’s, I attended another event for our young adults, this one called Catholic Underground, at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish on East 90th Street.

Again, SRO, with even hundreds down in the basement. This crowd spent the hour in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, praying the evening divine office of the Church, with moving, live meditative chant and music as a backdrop. A half dozen priests heard confessions, and they coaxed me into saying a few words at the conclusion of our prayer. All adjourned to the hall afterwards for a concert, refreshments, and fellowship.

Finally, a couple of Sundays ago, I offered the 7:30 p.m. Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue. I had heard that this, too, was a popular mecca for young adults, and sure enough, it was. Great crowd, uplifting music, good participation, well-planned worship . . . and drinks and snacks afterwards.

I heard the same message: these young adults enjoy sleeping-in and loafing on Sunday morning, and look forward to the evening Eucharist and good company later in the day.

These young adults tell us they search for three things: nourishment in their faith through good prayer and worship; friendship with others who share their religion; and opportunities for Christian service.

Our Archdiocesan Young Adult Office is hyper to respond to these needs. From what I have seen, they’re doing it! And, they’ve even got workers in the other areas of our expansive archdiocese to meet young adults there. Here’s how you can access them: www.catholicnyc.com.

We’ll keep trying, because these young adults need the Church . . . and we sure need them!

Analysis on Pope Francis’ Vision

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Let me share with you one of the best analysis of Pope Francis that I have read recently. This op-ed, written by Michael Coren, was published in yesterday’s New York Daily News. Just in case you missed it, here is an excerpt:

What Francis has urged, though, is a new painting. Black and white is vital, but the true picture can only be understood through a whole variety of colors. So this is a Pope of nuance and backstory, of delicacy and empathy of delivery. Truth needs to be sung rather than shouted, and he is telling the world — and particularly those who have left the Church and those who hide behind its rules instead of being liberated by them — that while we cannot compromise on truth, we must not compromise on love.

On the gay issue, for example, we are all so much more than our sexuality, and are all supremely and superbly loved by God who is our creator. Marriage is absolute, but to dislike or even hate someone because they are gay is not only wrong, it is anti-Catholic.

Francis is clearly explaining that no gay person will give any attention to a Church that appears to close doors rather than greet newcomers. They may reject the message, but at least encourage them to hear it.

That is the papal message, and while the details are indeed difficult, the overall plot is simple and clear.

You can read the whole op-ed here.

A Call to Counter Cultural Witness

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Sad . . . worrisome . . . but hardly surprising.

That’s how I answered another concerned person who asked my sentiments about Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision allowing the redefinition of marriage.

Sad, because the ominous erosion of the pivotal institution of society and civilization — marriage – has been accelerated.  Yes, the decision could have been more troublesome, but it’s still somber.

The understanding of marriage as the lifelong, faithful, loving union of one man and one woman, as a husband and a wife become a mom and dad to their babies, and bring about a family, is a given in the human heart, a constant in history, flowing from what philosophers term the natural law, a definition embedded in reasoned reflection on the human person, antedating any government, written law, or religion.

To protect and foster that union has been the driving force of civilization.  Sure, it’s been under pressure from the start – by, for instance, cheating on one’s spouse, abandoning spouse and children, lack of selfless love, or divorce, just to mention a few threats — but culture has always understood that such pressures could not prevail, and that this ancient institution had to be cherished if the human community were to flourish.  Governments then have a duty to enact and defend laws that protect this special relationship, in order to promote the common good of all.

For those of us who believe in God, things get even better, because this God has revealed that this foundational relationship of marriage is a mirror of the way God loves us!  In other words, God loves us like a wife loves her husband, like a husband loves his wife.  Since God’s love for us is forever, faithful, and fruitful (bringing life), so is marriage!

The creator elevated this natural understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithful and forever, giving us new life in babies, to a supernatural level, as Jesus taught.

In recent decades, this fundamental relationship of marriage has been under dramatic pressure:  no-fault, easy divorce; living together like a husband and wife before marriage, or even for years without the formal bond; glorification of promiscuity; and even same-sex “marriage.”

In the face of each threat, people of faith, and thoughtful, reflective people of no faith at all, have expressed genuine concern that the ordinary, intended, given definition of marriage was almost becoming the exception.  People of faith have tried — not always successfully, I admit — to do this in a non-judgmental, calm way.  In other words, we discourage divorce, without harshly judging those who have to suffer through it; we oppose same-sex “marriage” while never condemning those with same-sex attraction (a bigotry God also abhors); we consider adultery wrong, while forgiving adulterers.  In other words, we’re pro-marriage, not anti-anyone.  Thus, while we highly respect the Supreme Court, we find very troubling the statement that one’s defense of marriage as historically and naturally understood to be based only on bigotry.  The justices have the responsibility to interpret law, not the motives of honest citizens.

We love many people:  our parents and siblings, our good friends.  But we don’t marry them.  Marriage is about love, yes, but a unique love that procreates children.

This past Wednesday, marriage as classically defined, naturally understood, and historically defended, took a big hit.  That makes us sad.

We’re also worried, because those of us who will continue to hold to the definition of marriage consonant with reason, nature, tradition, and faith, might now be coerced to accept, promote, and allow what we find so sad and ominous.  We’ll be told to “keep our oppressive, bigoted, medieval, outmoded” opinions to ourselves.  If we want to hand those “opinions” on to our children, teach them to our people, behave in accord with them, and exercise the duties of our faith publicly — to serve, teach, heal — we’re worried we’ll be harassed.

We’re worried enough to ask, now just who is doing the imposing?  We’ve been stereotyped as imposing our strange “view” of marriage upon others.  We worry, because now the highest court in our land has undermined the definition of marriage, and imposed a new definition on everyone else.

We also worry about an apparent understanding of government that considers itself able to exercise such power.  If I remember my American Studies courses correctly, the wisdom of our founders, as we’ll celebrate Thursday, was that they viewed government as a human construct to protect and defend mediating institutions such as family, marriage, and faith, not to change or tamper with them!  Kings claimed a “divine right” to alter the natural order, and our founders rebelled against that claim.

So, as one commentator observed, “The government can talk and issue rulings all it wants, but nobody can change the very definition of marriage.”

Sad, worried, but hardly surprised.  I confess that I won a $5 bet last week, as I had wagered months ago that the Supreme Court would follow this rush.  The powerful engine to redefine marriage left the station about a decade ago.  Somberly, we’ve come to realize that, once Hollywood, the entertainment industry, college professors, the society and editorial pages of our big urban newspapers, the sit-coms, movies, and talk shows get behind something, get out of the way.

What becomes normative, then, is not natural law but the polls, not the Constitution but the “correct,” not the Bible but the blogs and the TV, not the Church but the chic.

No surprise . . .

What to do?  We can get mad, bitter, angry, and harsh.  Forget it.  That’s hardly decent, and it’s counterproductive.

We could “circle the wagons” and retreat from a culture that more and more finds our values toxic and wants to stifle us.  Don’t go there.  We’re to engage the culture, not run from it.

We could long for the “good old days,” and wring our hands about these awful modern times.  Of course, the older you get, the more you realize there were no good old days, and that our job is “to make pasta with the dough we got,” to work and live honorably and justly in the here and now.

We better start with ourselves, because, a good chunk of people of faith, even among our own Catholic people, do not share this sense of sadness and worry over Wednesday’s decisions.  Part of the New Evangelization is to present the timeless teachings of our faith – - like true marriage – - in a cogent, coherent, fresh way, re-convincing our people.

We remind ourselves of what Blessed John Paul II called our duty to be counter cultural:  that our beliefs are often at odds with contemporary trends, but that this reality only encourages us to live them out more heroically.  True freedom is not the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought.

We recover a sense of faithful citizenship, and, as loyal American citizens, continue to explore every method of reversing this sad and worrisome decision, reminding our elected officials and magistrates that the rights of conscience and religious freedom are not government favors or concessions, but flow from the very nature and dignity of the human person.

And, we never give up hope.  The witness given by our husbands and wives, moms and dads, to faithful, life giving, lifelong love is more cherished and essential than ever.  These days, the vocation of a man and woman, united forever in faithful love, leading to babies and families, is as potent a sign as celibacy is for priests!

Besides, “the truth shall set us free!”  That always gives us encouragement, and trumps worry and sadness, right?

A blessed Independence Day!

Insight from Professor Robert George

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Here’s an interview by National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez with Professor Robert George of Princeton on marriage:

The institution of marriage has already been deeply wounded by divorce at nearly plague levels, widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation, and other damaging factors. To redefine it out of existence in law is to make it much more difficult to restore a sound understanding of marriage on which a healthy marriage culture can be rebuilt for the good of all. It is to sacrifice the needs of the poor, who are hurt the most when a sound public understanding of marriage and sexual morality collapses. It is to give up on the truth that children need both a father and mother, and benefit from the security of their love for each other.

You can read the rest here.

A Father’s Day Reflection

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Along with so many other people of faith – and of no particular religion at all – we Catholic pastors and citizens persevere, on this Father’s Day, in our prayers and efforts to defend the timeless definition of marriage as the loving, faithful union between one man and one woman leading to a family.

At the conclusion of tomorrow’s 10:15 Sunday Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, I’ll ask for prayers that this noble endeavor, at the heart of nature’s understanding of the common good, and historically protected by our country’s normative principles, will succeed.

We appreciate and encourage the legitimate concern of some of our thoughtful elected officials to make sure religious freedom is always guaranteed, but still in principle will oppose any radical bill to redefine the very essence of marriage.

While one searches the Constitution in vain to find any “right” of two people of the same sex to marry, one immediately locates the right of people of faith not to have intrusive government interfere with the free exercise of religion as the first of the Bill of Rights.

One has to wonder why the proponents of this radical re-definition, who claim overwhelming popular support, would not consider, for example, a referendum to determine the people’s will on such a drastic departure from traditional values?

Please let me once again resist the caricature that we are “anti-gay.” Our strong convictions are not anti anybody, but simply pro marriage. We would just as vigorously defend marriage from a demand by a heterosexual, or anybody else, to redefine the very nature of marriage to accommodate a relationship beyond that of one man and one woman.

We celebrate Father’s Day. The sacred word “father” implies “mother.” The terms “father and mother” presume “husband and wife,” and imply “children.”

These words are so basic that they’re the first ones a baby says; so foundational that they’re among the first words of the Creator recorded in the Bible.

Government presumes to redefine these sacred words at the peril of the common good.

The True Meaning of Marriage

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The stampede is on.  Our elected senators who have stood courageous in their refusal to capitulate on the state’s presumption to redefine marriage are reporting unrelenting pressure to cave-in.

The media, mainly sympathetic to this rush to tamper with a definition as old as human reason and ordered good, reports annoyance on the part of some senators that those in defense of traditional marriage just don’t see the light, as we persist in opposing this enlightened, progressive, cause.

But, really, shouldn’t we be more upset – and worried – about this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth – one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity, hoping for children – that has served as the very cornerstone of civilization and culture from the start?

Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America – not in China or North Korea.  In those countries, government presumes daily to “redefine” rights, relationships, values, and natural law.  There, communiqués from the government can dictate the size of families, who lives and who dies, and what the very definition of “family” and “marriage” means.

But, please, not here!  Our country’s founding principles speak of rights given by God, not invented by government, and certain noble values – life, home, family, marriage, children, faith – that are protected, not re-defined, by a state presuming omnipotence.

Please, not here!  We cherish true freedom, not as the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought; we acknowledge that not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a “right.”  And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?

Our beliefs should not be viewed as discrimination against homosexual people.  The Church affirms the basic human rights of gay men and women, and the state has rightly changed many laws to offer these men and women hospital visitation rights, bereavement leave, death benefits, insurance benefits, and the like.  This is not about denying rights. It is about upholding a truth about the human condition.  Marriage is not simply a mechanism for delivering benefits:  It is the union of a man and a woman in a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children.  Please don’t vote to change that.  If you do, you are claiming the power to change what is not into what is, simply because you say so.  This is false, it is wrong, and it defies logic and common sense.

Yes, I admit, I come at this as a believer, who, along with other citizens of a diversity of creeds believe that God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage a long time ago.  We believers worry not only about what this new intrusion will do to our common good, but also that we will be coerced to violate our deepest beliefs to accommodate the newest state decree.  (If you think this paranoia, just ask believers in Canada and England what’s going on there to justify our apprehensions.)

But I also come at this as an American citizen, who reads our formative principles as limiting government, not unleashing it to tamper with life’s most basic values.

Marriage: the core of every civilization

Friday, May 13th, 2011

It was one of the more uncomfortable moments in my life.

Outside of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Milwaukee, where I, as archbishop, was celebrating Sunday Mass on an otherwise magnificent Wisconsin autumn day, were a couple dozen very vocal protestors, representing some off-brand denomination, shouting vicious chants and holding hateful signs with words I thought had gone the way of burning-crosses and white hoods.

This frenzied group, taunting the people as they left Mass, were rabid in criticizing the Catholic Church, especially her bishops, for our teaching that homosexuals deserve dignity and respect.

To be more precise, this group was yelling at us because, they objected, the Catholic Church was so friendly, welcoming, and defensive of gay (they used other foul words) people.  They waved placards explicitly quoting and condemning #2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which affirms the dignity of those with same-sex attraction, and warns against any form of prejudice, hatred, or unjust discrimination against them, and insists that homosexual acts, not persons, are not in conformity with God’s design.

Never have I faced such a vitriolic crowd, blasting the Church for simply following the teaching of Jesus by loving and respecting people regardless of anything, including their sexual orientation.

When a reporter asked me for a comment, I replied, “They’re right:  we do love and respect homosexual people.  These protestors understand Church teaching very well.”

I’ve been recalling that episode often of late, because now I hear Catholics, — and, I am quick to add, Jews, other Christians, Muslims, and men and women of no faith at all — who have thoughtfully expressed grave disapproval of the current rush to redefine marriage, branded as bigots and bullies who hate gays.

Nonsense!  We are not anti anybody; we are pro-marriage.  The definition of marriage is a given:  it is a lifelong union of love and fidelity leading, please God, to children, between one man and one woman.

History, Natural Law, the Bible (if you’re so inclined), the religions of the world, human experience, and just plain gumption tell us this is so.  The definition of marriage is hardwired into our human reason.

To uphold that traditional definition, to strengthen it, and to defend it is not a posture of bigotry or bullying.  Nor is it a denial of the “right” of anybody.  As the philosophers remind us, in a civilized, moral society, we have the right to do what we ought, not to do whatever we want.  Not every desire is a right.

To tamper with that definition, or to engage in some Orwellian social engineering about the nature and purpose of marriage, is perilous to all of us.  If the definition of marriage is continually being altered, could it not in the future be morphed again to include multiple spouses or even family members?

Nor is it “imposing” some narrow outmoded religious conviction.  One might well ask just who is doing the “imposing” here:  those who simply defend what the human drama has accepted from the start, a belief embedded in nature and at the core of every civilization — the definition of marriage — or those who all of a sudden want to scrap it because “progressive, enlightened, tolerant culture” calls for it.

Sadly, as we see in countries where such a redefinition has occurred, “tolerance” is hardly the result, as those who hold to the given definition of marriage now become harassed and penalized.

If big, intrusive government can re-define the most basic, accepted, revealed truth that marriage simply means one man + one woman + (hopefully) children, in a loving family, then, I’m afraid, Orwell’s works will no longer be on the fiction shelf.  As someone commented to me the other day, “Wouldn’t it be better for our government to work on fixing schools than on redefining marriage?”

And resistance to this rush to radically redefining the ingrained meaning of marriage cannot be reduced to an act of prejudice against people with a same-sex attraction.