Why is it important to encourage and defend strong families, anchored in the faithful, permanent and fruitful marriage of one man and one woman?
Pope Francis offered one simple answer.
"Families are the ‘home church’ where Jesus grows. He grows in the spouses’ love and in the children’s lives. For this reason, the enemy attacks the family so much. The devil does not want it. He tries to destroy it, to prevent love from becoming free. … May the Lord bless the family and make it strong in the face of the crisis by which the devil wants to destroy it," said Pope Francis, during his June 1 homily at a Mass for members of the charismatic renewal movement.
In the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, Satan seeks to destroy the love, unity and trust affirmed in the first family, the one "flesh union," which crowns the covenant of creation. And in New Testament accounts of the birth of Christ, King Herod seeks to destroy Jesus. He is the Messiah, and his existence thus stirs fear and hatred in Herod’s heart.
In the case of the Holy Family, while Mary and Joseph protect their child from Herod’s wrath, later, Jesus’ virgin Mother accompanies her Son as he fulfills the will of the Father and permits the spilling of his blood — "the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant."
Herod extinguished the lives of all the young, firstborn Jewish sons of Jesus’ age, but his lethal mandate could not annihilate the will of the Father.
Families are the way of the Church, as well as the way of society and the way of the nation. And yet, despite the vital importance of stable, intact families, we are failing to protect and defend them from an array of external threats, whether they arise from federal courts that overturn state laws opposing the redefinition of marriage or political movements that dismiss any value of pro-marriage policies or a tough economy that has extinguished the dreams of many would-be breadwinners.
Catholics and other people of goodwill who seek to build up strong families and who oppose the redefinition of the family to incorporate same-sex couples will be joining the March for Marriage in Washington on June 19.
Legal experts who support marriage as a union of one man and one woman say the march will send an important signal to lawmakers and courts that have dismissed opposition to "marriage equality" as a remnant of a bygone era.
Yet, as Pope Francis has made clear, marriage and family life are also under attack from within, roiled by materialistic values that frame marriage bonds and children as a burden to individual freedom and fulfillment.
The problem, said the Pope in a June 2 homily during a Mass for married couples, is a "culture of well-being," which has "convinced us: ‘It’s better not to have children. It’s better. You can go explore the world, go on holiday. ... It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats,’ and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. … Then, in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful; it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes his Church fruitful."
The ethos of "well-being" tempts us to believe that we can experience love and fulfillment without sacrifice. And it has arguably played a much greater role in the destruction of our marriage culture than political movements calling for "marriage equality."
Indeed, a striking example of our modern tendency to dismiss the value of marriage vows is the persistent efforts of media commentators to portray the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family as an opportunity to change Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
Pope Francis frankly discusses the corrosive impact of shifting cultural norms on marriage practices and attitudes, and he has suggested that a significant portion of unions blessed by the Church may be invalid. But he has also defended the singular importance of marriage vows, describing them as a reflection of Christ the Bridegroom’s unconditional love for his Bride, the Church.
In his June 2 homily, he said that married couples should be inspired by Jesus’ faithfulness to his Church: "Married life must be persevering, because, otherwise, love cannot go forward. Perseverance in love, in good times and in difficult times, when there are problems: problems with the children, economic problems, problems here, problems there — but love perseveres, presses on, always trying to work things out, to save the family. Persevering: They get up every morning, the man and the woman, and carry the family forward."
In a May 22 article posted on National Review Online, Ryan Anderson, the author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, called on Americans who understand the value of strong marriages to help spread the word about the meaning and purpose of a central social institution. Anderson warned that a "conjugal view" of marriage as a "comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life" was slowly being replaced with a "consent-based idea that marriage is a commitment marked by emotional union."
He called on churches in the United States to offer a more effective catechesis on marriage, establish ministries that help people with same-sex attraction to live their faith and advocate for religious liberty, in order to help secure the right of churches to educate the young about the meaning and purpose of marriage and family life.
We live during a time when a seismic political and cultural shift in values is shaking our confidence about defending and living the truth of marriage. But we know from the crucible of our own experience with marriage and family life that the power of faithful witness and personal encouragement can make an enormous difference. Let’s defend marriage in the courts and the public square, but let’s also foster respect and love for marriage vows in our homes and communities.