Many challenges to families need addressing today, including perhaps too much attention given to college basketball’s “March Madness,” and not enough to studying Church teaching. So said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the head of the U.S. bishops conference, at a Mar. 16 discussion at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “If we took the same studied approach to what the Church is saying as we do, let’s say, to sports, we’d be experts,” he reflected. The problem, he explained, is many Catholics see the secular headlines on Pope Francis and don’t study Church teaching to grasp what he is really saying. Moral and doctrinal confusion ensues. “I tell our people we have to be students,” he said. One of the missions born from last year’s extraordinary Synod on the Family, he added, “is to take an interest, become a student, even as much as March Madness.” The archbishop revealed he has filled out an NCAA tournament bracket, but wouldn’t directly state his pick to win. “I am from Kentucky,” he said, dropping a not-so-subtle hint to laughter from the audience. The archbishop was discussing last year’s extraordinary Synod on the Family and the upcoming ordinary synod, both in the context of the New Evangelization. The extraordinary synod focused on “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.” The ordinary synod, which will take place this October in the Vatican, will continue deliberations of the previous synod to result in “pastoral guidelines” for these challenges. In a wide-ranging talk with the university’s theology professor John Grabowski, the archbishop revealed some of the inner workings of the recent synod, the family’s importance to the New Evangelization, and some obstacles and opportunities to the family’s role in the U.S. Many young people doubt they will have a successful marriage because they see the divorce statistics are so high, or they grew up in a broken family. Rates of cohabitation and children without parents have risen sharply in the last two decades. The Church must “inspire, especially young people, to think they’re not a statistic. That they’re not going to fail,” Archbishop Kurtz insisted. “We need living examples of faithful love,” he continued. Canonization of more saintly married couples — like the parents of St. Therese of Liseux, Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, who could be canonized during the next synod — could help in this regard, he acknowledged. “One of the things that I raised is I said at the synod, I said don’t tell me that people don’t understand sacrificial love when they see a mother or a father sacrificing for a child that maybe has a disability,” he added. “I think in some ways that brings out the best in people, and I think we need to be able to highlight that.” Another challenge for American families is to place more importance on relationships, he explained. “We have so much. We sometimes don’t give time to the people who are most important in our lives. The most important things are the relationships that we have,” he said. More Catholics need to “put a priority on the gift of marriage and family.” He also addressed questions about tension at the synod over discussing matters of pastoral care. Yes it was present, he admitted, while adding that it’s a natural part of the process. “I went back to the Acts of the Apostles, and I read about the Council of Jerusalem,” he said, chuckling that in his epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul admitted of tension at the council, or “passionate discernment,” as Archbishop Kurtz referred to it. That indeed “characterized the second week” of the synod after the controversial mid-term report was published. The relatio contained “some really good things,” yet “some things that we felt needed improvement.” “We wanted to leave that synod with the best document possible,” he said, explaining some of the passionate deliberations, adding that “the Holy Spirit works through zeal and passion and listening.” He also shared what he told President Obama in a December meeting between the two at the White House. Quoting Pope Francis’ words to families, “don’t limit your life to what happens in Church,” he told the president that the Church in the U.S. needed religious freedom to serve the poor in the public square. “I said, 'listen, we’re not looking for any special favors. We just know as a Church, we need to serve others. Please don’t tie our hands.'” Archbishop Kurtz also discussed Pope Francis' plan to visit the U.S. in September, including an appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and what he will find. Like any guest visiting the Church in the U.S., “you want them to get a real feel for what I would call how beautiful the Church is, and how beautiful the commitment of faith is in the hearts of people,” he explained. “America sometimes from the outside looks like we’re this big superpower and all we’re interested in is money and material things,” he said, but added that in visiting the U.S., “I think [Pope Francis] will see some beautiful things.”
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