We Catholics in the State of Michigan have been praying this year for married couples and for families. This work of prayer has been taken on in light of the two synods on the family being held in Rome last year and this year. Well, this month, representative bishops from all the bishops’ conferences in the world will gather in Rome to hold this second synod with Pope Francis.
In our diocese, our ad hoc committee on Marriage and Family consulted with the parish councils of our diocese. They helped me to form my response to the questionnaire that was submitted to Rome in preparation for this synod.
The media have promoted the idea that the Church will change her teaching and her practice in regard to Communion for those living marriages that are not recognized by the Church, and in regard to the recognition of same-sex marriages. The synod does not seem to have on its agenda any change to the Church’s teaching (and thus her practice) regarding same-sex marriages. It appears that there is a recognition that the Bible and our Church tradition simply do not allow for a change in that teaching. On the other hand, while maintaining that teaching, we all need to make sure we are practicing the very love of Jesus as we care for all people and respect their human dignity. Nonetheless, we would continue to recognize that same-sex marriages are contrary to the very human nature which God has created and thus are objectively sinful. Like Jesus, we are always called to love the sinner and help bring him or her to holiness. That, after all, is how Jesus is addressing each one of us every day.
As to the matter of marriages not recognized by the Church, the Church has always maintained that Catholics who are living in marriages the Church does not hold valid also are living objectively in a state of sin. The remedy for this is to invite those couples even more generously to seek the Church’s blessing on their marriages. For cases involving divorce and civil remarriage, couples are encouraged to seek a decree of nullity (commonly called an annulment) of their first marriages, if it becomes clear those first marriages were not valid in the first place.
It is this process of annulment that I believe the synod will seek to reform and make more widely available in our world today. It is possible that a broader understanding of what invalidates a first marriage may be recommended. Our culture today understands neither permanent and faithful commitment, nor the necessary connection between sexual activity and conception. These notions have affected the attitudes of many people, especially the young, who engage in marriage. So the question being asked is whether they really were capable of making the commitments expected by God and his Church in holy matrimony.
In addition, there are many young Catholics getting married today outside of the Church. We can all help them to become renewed in their faith and become free to receive the sacraments by encouraging them to ask a priest or deacon to accompany them through the process of blessing their marriage.
Of course, we all need to be better informed about God’s plan for marriage and what the Church teaches about that plan. We are promoting this quite strongly in our Catholic schools, especially through the teaching of the Theology of the Body of Pope St. John Paul. Let us pray that this will bear fruit and that our marriages and families will be places of deep love and prayer.
For Marriage Resources, visit www.dioceseoflansing.org/content/marriage-and-family-resources.
You may also want to view the USCCB Resource page: www.foryourmarriage.org.