As I write, the Solemnity of All Saints is drawing to a close and the eve of All Souls quickly draws near. These two great celebrations call to mind one of my favorite quotes of Bl. Cardinal Newman:
Life is short. Death is certain. Eternity is long.
It is good to turn our thoughts to eternity; to heaven. St. Paul said as much when he taught: Since you have been raised up to new life in Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. (Colossians 3:1)
This is how the saints lived, following Christ, with their feet on the ground and their eyes towards heaven. Thoughts of Christ and his eternal Kingdom stirred their hearts and motivated their every action to live life fully for God; concretely in loving service of their neighbors. They knew that Christ had conquered death and rose from the dead, and they were capable of joining all of their hardships to his with the hope that in so doing they would discover greater life here and grow in the only life that truly matters for any disciple, which is our life in Christ. This notion was captured well in a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Lord, let me not run from the love which you offer, but hold me safe from the forces of evil. And on each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
It is good to think of heaven while facing squarely the challenges we face today. As a tidal wave of secular force continues to crash upon our times and culture we can and still do live with faith and hope, because we know this life is fleeting, and the life of Christ is sustaining us now and drawing us onward to the fullness of life. We need this hope, because we cannot neglect our duties and obligations to the family of God who accompany us during these times in this earthly pilgrimage.
In this past month, I have followed closely the proceedings of the Extraordinary Synod on the family. We have heard many thoughts regarding the family and marriage. Some of these thoughts were captured in the relatio given during the midway point of the Synod, Pope Francis’ address during the final session, and finally, the concluding document.
Beyond the Synod, closer to home, federal judges across this nation continue to declare that state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are unconstitutional.
In light of all this recent focus (and fuss) on family and marriage, I gathered a group of young adults for dinner and discussion this past Wednesday evening. It is clear that the ‘tolerance mentality’ of the times is having its effect on what our people believe. Even though there is appreciation for ‘traditional marriage,’ there is also a willingness to allow people to live and express love as they choose, and find no problem calling it ‘marriage.’
At one point, I asked the group: “Where does morality and salvation fit into this discussion?” to which they responded: “That is a good question.” I also ask: “When everyone is allowed to define what is ‘true’ for ones’ self, do we not see what happens?” Absolute Truth disappears when everyone lives according to their own truth. And when these ‘various forms of truth’ conflict with one another, how does anyone any longer know what is ‘True?’
Before leaving this brief discussion of marriage and family, it is very clear to me that we as Church need clear and strong teaching of the fundamental nature of marriage. We need to teach not only the sacramental aspect of Holy Matrimony, but the fundamental nature of the social institution of marriage, which can only be the indissoluble union of love between a man and a woman, which is open to the generation of new life. Marriage is always a life of the spouses lived as a complete ‘gift’ to the other.
To all of those who are living and striving to live this life of husband and wife, I say “Thank you.” We need to continue to find ways as Church to encourage and support our married couples and families.
Back to thoughts about ‘truth.’ The present culture of ‘tolerance’ and ‘live and let live’ can only lead to division, which is more and more the fruit being harvested. The goal of governance is the common good of all peoples, and the common good leads to harmony. For people of faith, we find this common good and sole expression of Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Where I see Pope Francis leading the Church is this: First, we are to recognize the beauty of Christ through an intimate encounter with Christ. We are to first personally fall in love with Christ, who alone reveals the love and mercy of the Father. Christ and his Holy Spirit will reveal to us ‘all truth’ so that we may live fully the Divine Life the Father longs to share with us. The Holy Spirit will then help us to know and love the Truth of Jesus Christ.
Second, we are to recognize that many people for various reasons are not living the fullness of the truth in their lives. We are to embrace them and accompany them, not judge and condemn them. Jesus came into the world to save the world, not condemn the world, and this is our attitude once we come to know and love Christ. As we accompany God’s people, together we seek the Truth, all the while seeking to ‘build a bridge’ by which we walk together to greater and greater wholeness and holiness.
So, let us look to heaven, where the great company of holy men and women await us and intercede for us. Let us know and love Christ and his Truth. Let us get to know and love our neighbor, and together, build a bridge (which is Jesus Christ) that will bind the wounds of a hurting humanity while binding us together as one, in our faith in Jesus Christ.