Last week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This was the culmination of a worldwide collaborative effort to achieve what many believed was simply impossible – the stuff of science fiction became reality in July 1969. It changed the world and our awareness of our place in the universe forever. It’s not the only thing that has changed in the past five decades. Our social structure especially as it relates to marriage and the family has been radically altered.
In the early 1960’s almost everyone in mainstream Western civilisation understood marriage to be a life-long and sexually exclusive union, freely entered into by one adult man and one adult woman, with an orientation towards establishing a family. The secular understanding of marriage largely conformed to the Christian understanding, the primary difference being an appreciation of marriage as a sacramental witness to the nature of God’s love by Christians.
Generative, permanent, faithful, sexually complementary – one by one, these aspects have been challenged in law so that today, there is an ever increasing gulf between what the Catholic church proclaims marriage to be and how civil law defines it, and how the majority of citizens understand it.
Sadly, we can no longer even speak of ‘Christian marriage’ as there is no agreement among the tens of thousands of protestant denominations on what it is, with the Catholic church being one of the few to hold the ground on these essential definitions.
In 50 years, Western Civilisation has gone from a Catholic ideal of marriage being almost universally accepted to one, where the only thing we have in common is that it should be freely entered into, and that it is a union for adults only. Nor can we assume that our young adults will graduate after 13 years of Catholic education with even a vague understanding of what the Church teaches on this topic.
Moreover, our opponents have done an excellent job of convincing the public that the Catholic vision for marriage is discriminatory, oppressive, un-illumined and totally deserving of contempt. And what do we have to show for all this so-called relational enlightenment and so-called freedom? Well the evidence is both clear and frightening. It is relational carnage out there. If the new world order was delivering more fulfilling relationships, healthier families and better adjusted children, we wouldn’t need to be so concerned. But it’s not.
Our culture has moved from the norm of monogamy, to serial monogamy at the turn of the century, to an anything-goes-poly in our present age where affairs, open relationships, hook ups, sexual experimentation, multiple re-partnering and blended families are celebrated as the new and liberated normal. And if you think that raising your kids in the Catholic tradition will be sufficient to immunise them against the culture’s values, think again. Our own children are struggling to find peers who share their values and are asking whether they will ever find someone who is even prepared to enter a dating relationship that reserves sex for marriage.
We have a saying in business that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Well may we adapt this to be “culture eats theology and doctrine for breakfast”. So, to paraphrase another Apollo lunar mission quote: “Rome – we have a problem”.
Today we come together as Catholic marriage educators in all its forms with a serious challenge before us. No longer can we assume that couples seeking to marry in the Catholic church understand that contraception, voluntary childlessness, open marriage, same-sex unions and divorce are not part of the package. We cannot even assume that they will have even a basic understanding of the Catholic faith.
We are now, not just in the role of helping couples form and sustain a healthy marriage; rather we are at the front lines of the evangelising mission of the Church. Bringing people into a deep encounter of authentic love, an encounter with the God who loves them for all eternity.
Culture is changed by those within it. We, as the People of God, offer what the very heart of the human person is created for: intimate relationship with God. We, as Church, offer what every human person desires: to know they are loved and loveable. We offer, through the very human and imperfect experience of Catholic Marriage an imperfect but tangible human experience of God’s timeless, intimate and unrelenting love for us.
Our cultural offering is a love that calls us to greatness, to infinite possibility. It is a culture of life, a culture of hope. So, this is why we gather here from around Australia, and further afield, from different areas of mission; from schools and youth, from pre-marriage formation to post marriage enrichment, to crisis support to the work of the tribunal. We gather as a way of:
- Recommitting to our mission of Building a positive Catholic Marriage Culture.
- Finding new ways to manifest in the world the Catholic understanding of authentic love and marriage.
- Reminding ourselves that we are not alone, and that with God, everything is possible.
Many of us are feeling worn down by the relentless erosion of our cherished values and personal insults on our character for opposing the so-called social evolution. It would certainly be easier to simply give up the marriage business and do something else. But we don’t, and we won’t. Somehow, we don’t think God would be satisfied with that. As Saint Theresa of Kolkata was known to have said: “God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful”.
So, we will remain faithful even as we seek to be successful. In doing so, we know we are signing up, not for awards and warm applause, but for the opposite. Nothing important comes without cost. Sr Lucia, one of the three peasant children at Fatima to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917 wrote the following to Cardinal Caffarra, who had been commissioned by Pope John Paul II to establish the Institute for Marriage and the Family.
St Lucia, one of the three peasant children at Fatima to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917 wrote the following to Cardinal Caffarra, who had been commissioned by Pope John Paul II to establish the Institute for Marriage and the Family.
“The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family. Do not be afraid, because whoever works for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family will always be fought against and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. Nevertheless, Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
It begs the question: why? Why focus on marriage and family? Why does Satan care?
In a single sentence: because God’s love is nuptial in character and Matrimony helps us understand that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us into a spousal relationship. Matrimony, human marriage, is the foretaste, the living witness to this divine reality; that our God is a union of three persons in one, who calls us into that union. Matrimony is not an aside, a ‘nice-to-have’ ceremony, a second-class Sacrament. It is central to the proclamation of the Gospel and the key to understanding the nature of our redemption.
We are not just bringing the culture of true marriage to the world, we are proclaiming the gospel. So let us get down to business; the business of changing culture through marriage.
So, we hope you find this time together rejuvenating and invigorating, challenging and inspiring. We have brought together presenters who have a proven track record of innovative thinking and experiences from which we can all learn. We are tremendously grateful to each of them, many of who come here at their own cost and give of their time freely. We thank each of you for making this conference a priority in your busy lives.
Historians tell us it takes just a dedicated 1% of a population to give rise to a revolution. Scripture tells us with just the faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains. What we do this over these two days are important. What we do with these two days behind us even more so.
Thank you for your presence. Have a great conference. Enjoy!