There was little media coverage. Where did the Francis Effect go?
He’s not sounding the progressive notes liberals thought they’d been hearing from him and some Church hierarchy lately. Just after the Bishops’ Synod on the Family recently stirred so much controversy over the issue of same sex marriage, Francis boldly declared marriage is a sacramental union of man and woman and anything else is “an association.” It got attention in Christian media, but little to none elsewhere.
The movement to redefine marriage unquestionably has enjoyed dominance in the prevailing culture, which has helped that movement shape public opinion through media, politics, the entertainment culture, academia and other ways. The movement has been unified, successful and powerful, while the other side largely has not. Until now.
Yes, the massive March for Marriage in Paris held twice within months last year, with one in the US soon after, and dedicated organizations tirelessly working to engage the marriage debate and build a marriage culture, have made a difference in many ways. But they haven’t had the cohesive and powerful effect the movement to redefine marriage has in recent years. One event may not change that, but it could be a major tipping point. Could this have been the event?
It was the high level conference the Vatican hosted this past week that unified some of the world’s greatest scholars, intellectuals and religious leaders for a unique focus on marriage. Pope Francis opened it with sharp remarks about dysfunction in modern culture and its impact on individuals and families on the most fundamental levels.
Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”
To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”
Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.
Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”
It was inspirational, to say the least. Read Maggie Gallagher:
For the Vatican it was a truly unusual event, with people from every part of the globe and nearly every major faith tradition — Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Jains, Mormons and Muslims, not to mention Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists, pouring into Rome to share their faith traditions’ insights into the meaning of this thing called sex…
Something happened at this colloquium, something I would not say was talked about, so much as on display, something deeply foundational and mostly missing in modern discourse on the family, including (perhaps especially) much rational Catholic discourse — something that cannot be explained but only experienced by the hungry human heart.
The closest words we have are so mocked and ridiculed as to be reduced in their capacity to carry the meaning: purity? chastity?
There is something men and women can be together but only when we recognize our difference as deeply precious and meaningful, for in it lies the capacity of the lover and the beloved to influence one another. I mean in particular the special power of women for men to symbolize and therefore incarnate, a world outside that which every teenage boy enters adult life experiencing: the deep power of lust. Can sexual desire ever be something other than this relentless urge to use, to possess, to enjoy, to discard, to delight in degradation that is so evident all around us?
I heard an echo of it in what prominent evangelicals were trying to put into words…
Like famous Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren.
“To redefine marriage would destroy the picture that God intends for marriage to portray, and we cannot cave on this issue,” Warren said. “It’s a picture of Christ and his Church.”
“What are we going to do about this?” he said, according to a report from Christian Today. “The Church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high.”
“A lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right…just because it’s popular,” said Warren. “Truth is truth.”
Addressing the issue of remaining steadfast in the face of today’s culture, Warren told those meeting at the Vatican that “the only way to always be relevant, is to be eternal.”
He said it’s not necessary even to be on the right side of culture, but rather it’s just important to be on the right side, and he said it is time for the Church to be a “proponent of what’s right.”
“The Church must remain strong in its values, and continue to uphold the traditional teaching of marriage and the male-female relationship, despite cultural pressures,” Warren stressed. “It should lead the crowd, not follow it.”
Participants report that several addresses brought the crowd to its feet, for sustained ovations in some cases. Such was the case (as Michael Cook noted) with Lord Jonathan Sacks. His speech was more of an eloquent oration, profoundly stirring listeners to their core.
I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.
It was utter poetry.
Maggie Gallagher tried to find words to convey what it did and meant to be there at this extraordinary time.
At the end of this extraordinary three days Archbishop Chaput took the microphone to invite us to the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “I’ve been a bishop for 26 years, a priest for more than 40 years, and this was the most interesting colloquium I’ve been to in my life,” he said.
That says a lot, coming from Archbishop Chaput, who has not only attended but addressed countless fascinating, important, critical conferences on urgent issues of our times.
The conference ended not with a statement but with a promise: A movie will be made to express our deepest affirmations. Jacqueline Rivers and Reverend Gene Rivers read from the script for the story, the story of our lives:
For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate. . . . This we affirm.
After that, we all stood and applauded for what seemed like ten minutes, reluctant to leave, reluctant to have it end, which of course it should not, because now our task is to find new ways to go forth and carry on the great human story of the generations.
The colloquium wrapped with great warmth, a determined sense of purpose, and the Affirmation Carolyn Moynihan shared here. It was more the end of the beginning.