“Our home will be a chapel of love": The challenge and promise of the Christian family in our times
Archbishop José H. Gomez June 18, 2019
On June 18, Archbishop Gomez delivered the keynote address at the annual liturgy conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, speaking on the pastoral state of the family. The following is the full text of his address.
My dear friends,
I am honored to be with you tonight to talk about the pastoral state of the family.
I had the privilege to represent the American bishops at both the Synod on the family in 2015 and at last year’s Synod on young people. And in my daily ministry in Los Angeles, these issues of marriage, family and children are very close to my heart, as I will try to explain.
But first, I want to start our conversation tonight by talking about a movie.
“First Reformed” came out last year. It was about a Protestant pastor named Reverend Ernest Toller, and a young married couple that he is counseling.
It is not a movie that I necessarily recommend, but it is one of those movies that I think reflects the spirit of the age we are living in.
As the movie begins, the woman, whose name is Mary, comes to Reverend Toller because she is pregnant and her husband, Michael, wants her to have an abortion.
Michael is an intense, dark character. He belongs to something called the “Green Planet Movement,” and he is passionately convinced that it is wrong to bring a child into this world.
He confesses his despair to Reverend Toller. He talks about oceans rising, extreme weather, species going out of existence. He believes that in our lifetime, drought and famine are going to spread, causing the political order to break down, as “climate change refugees” take to the streets, fighting for food.
In his anguish, Michael challenges his pastor: “How can you sanction bringing a … child full of hope and naive belief into a world ... When that little girl grows to be a young woman and looks you in the eyes and says, ‘You knew all along, didn’t you?’ What do you say then?”
Of course, this is not just a scene from a movie.
These same kind of bleak scenarios are being spun out daily in newspapers and magazines, in books, in the media, in classrooms.
And it is true, as our Holy Father Pope Francis continues to warn us: climate change is a real threat and we have a responsibility to the generations that come after us.
But today we are looking at a future generation in which there may be far fewer children.
Like Michael in this movie, many young people are debating whether it is “ethical” to have kids in an age of global warming. There is an even larger conversation going on among millennials about the “value” of starting a family.
Just Google that simple question: “Should I have kids?” It is sad, the results that come back. Not only that. It is sad how many people are asking these kind of questions.
And the truth is this: for whatever reasons, people have already stopped having children. Birth rates are declining dramatically — not only in this country, but in nations across the West.
My point is this.
Usually when we talk about the state of the family, we talk about a cluster of issues — contraception and abortion; divorce rates, out-of-wedlock births, people living together rather than getting married; we talk about the growth of same-sex unions and the confusion about sex that we see in our society.
All of these issues are important to understand, they represent a true crisis of the family in our times. But to my mind, this one issue — our culture’s deep uncertainty about children — tells us far more about the state of the family today.
Our society has rejected what 20 centuries of Christian civilization considered a basic fact of nature — that most men and women will find their life’s purpose in forming loving marriages, working together, sharing their lives, and raising children.
Now — marriage, family, and children have all become an open question, a “choice” that individuals must decide for themselves.
This is the culture that we are living in.
And the question for us is: how are we going to live as Christians in this culture, and how are we going to raise our children and evangelize this culture? In these times, what case can we make for marriage, for the family, for children?
The parish and the mystery and mission of the Church
As a practical matter tonight, I want to suggest two basic directions for the Church and for Christian families.
But first I want to say a word about our experience in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
LA, as you may know, is the largest Catholic community in the United States, with about 5 million Catholics. And we are a young Church — a Church of immigrants and emerging communities. It is hard to imagine, but we serve our people every day in more than 40 languages.
We are also baptizing about 50,000 infants every year. That’s a lot, far more than any other diocese in the country.
But these are not just numbers for us. These are souls, entrusted by God to our care. As a pastor, I do not want a single one to be lost. I have five pastoral priorities and one of them is “Promoting marriage and the family as sacred institutions and the heart of a civilization of love.”
We have established a strong Office of Marriage and Family Life in the archdiocese, and this office has an important focus in supporting parishes and pastors.
And to me, that is the key. It’s not about the chancery — it’s about the parish. This is where people live their faith, day in and day out. I’m not sure every Catholic knows who their archbishop is. But I am sure that those who are engaged in their faith know what parish they belong to.
So, I’m trying to encourage ministries and initiatives in our parishes. At our Cathedral, we have a group that meets regularly called “Cathedral Couples for Christ,” and we have many parishes trying to help young married couples, offering small group programs and fellowship.
I’m also encouraging marriage and family ministries like Christian Family Movement, World Wide Marriage Encounter and ENDOW, which engages women in understanding what St. John Paul II called the “feminine genius.”
So, I would urge all of you who are working in these areas of catechesis and liturgy and pastoral formation — stay connected and involved with your parishes! This is where the Church’s mission really comes alive!
In my opinion, forming small faith communities is crucial. So is working to ensure “continuity” in our sacramental preparation programs.
When we marry a couple or baptize a child — we need to see that as the beginning of a relationship. We need to find ways to nurture that relationship, to support that child and that couple, to help them grow in their love of Jesus and their commitment to living the Gospel in their families.
The radical “newness” of the Christian family
That is the outline of the “pastoral strategy” that I recommend, this is what we are trying to in LA.
Now, I want to turn to two ideas that I think are important in our evangelization of the family.
First, I believe we need to rediscover the radical “newness” of the Christian message about the family.
When St. Paul said: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” — he was announcing a revolution in human thought and human society.
Before Christianity, no one had ever spoken about marriage in terms of a love that lasts a lifetime, or as a calling from God, or as a path that can lead to holiness and salvation.
It was a new and thrilling idea to speak of man and woman becoming “one flesh” and participating in God’s own act of creating new life.
The first Christians evangelized by the way they lived. And the way they lived was to be in this world but not of this world. They lived the same lives as their neighbors, but in a different way.
They entered into marriage as a life-long relationship of friendship and mutual devotion, and they considered it a sacrament, a mysterious sign of God’s love for his people.
They rejected birth control and abortion and welcomed children in joy as a gift from God and treated them as precious persons to be loved and nurtured and brought up in the ways of the Lord.
The first Christian families changed the world — simply by living the teachings of Jesus and his Church. And my friends, we can change the world again, by following the same path.
I was reading this week the beautiful letter that the Church father Tertullian wrote to his wife in the early third century. It is worth us listening to:
How beautiful … the marriage of two Christians, sharing one hope, one desire, one way of life. They are truly two in one flesh; and where the flesh is one, the spirit is one, also. They pray together, worship together, fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another… they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. They visit the sick and assist the needy. … Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices.
My friends, this is the kind of love we need to seek in our homes. And this is the kind of love that we need to share with our neighbors.
Recovering the Christian story
My second point is that we need to recover the Christian narrative, the Christian vision for life and human happiness.
We have allowed our technological civilization and consumer economy to shape our priorities and ideas about what is real and true, and about what gives life meaning.
But as Christians, we are the keepers of the real truth about human life and human destiny — the amazing reality that we are all made by a God who loves us as a Father and calls us to live as one family.
I think of those beautiful words of St. John Paul II, from the beginning of his pontificate: “Our God, in his deepest mystery, is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love.”
We need to tell this good news to our neighbors — that this God of love, who created the galaxies and oceans and mountains in the beginning, is still at work today, still creating.
Everything that is, comes from the thought of his love. That means your life and my life and that means the life of the child who is somewhere being born in this instant.
And God intends his plan for creation, for history, to unfold through the human family.
This is why the Bible begins with a wedding — the marriage of Adam and Eve in the garden. And this is why the Bible’s final pages again show us a wedding — the marriage supper of Jesus Christ and his Bride, his Church at the end of time.
From the beginning, God is creating — from out of all the peoples of the earth — one single family. The family of God. His Church.
So, it is not by accident that Jesus comes into this world, born of a mother’s womb and raised in a human family. And it is no coincidence that he performs his first public miracle at a wedding.
My friends, this is the story that has been entrusted to us. And this is why what you do in your own homes, and what you are doing in your ministries to support marriages and families, is so important.
God is inviting all of us to participate in the mystery of his own work of creation and his own plan for the redemption of the world.
We are called to help every married couple realize this vocation — to live their love forever in a mutual and complete gift of self; to renew the face of the earth with children, who are the fruits of their love and the precious love of our Creator.
We are the answer to the challenges of our times
Let me try to gather my thoughts and offer a few conclusions.
I started tonight by talking about a movie, in which a young man named Michael argues passionately that it is wrong to bring a child into this world. And as I said, I believe the Church — and that means all of us — needs to speak to all the “Michaels” in our society today.
A society where children are no longer being born, is a society where people no longer understand what makes life worth living, or what gives life meaning.
You and your families, the ministries we promote in our parishes and dioceses — we are the answer to this challenge, my friends.
It is not about just giving birth to children. It is about hope. It is about living with confidence in God’s Providence, knowing that he loves us and will never abandon us — no matter what this world may bring.
God’s sign for the world was a Child, his only-begotten Son. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Every child who is born is also a sign of God’s love — a mystery, a gift, a miracle. In every child, even those in the womb, we glimpse the mystery of the Christ Child, in whom we come to know God.
So, my first conclusion is personal, it is a prayer for you.
And it is this: If you are married: love your spouse with a great affection and raise your children well. Work for them, sacrifice for them; teach them to talk to God and listen for his calling in their lives. We cannot be afraid to call our young people to greatness, to be saints.
And if you are ministering to families, my prayer is that you will teach them the “little way” of the Holy Family.
Jesus lived for 30 years in a “hidden life” in his home in Nazareth.
He did this to teach us that the little unseen things that parents do every day — earning a living, making meals and doing the housework; taking the kids to church and confession, saying prayers at bedtime — these are all vital to the Church’s mission. These are all part of God’s loving plan for the world’s redemption.
The early Christians spoke of the family as the “domestic Church.” And this is the way for us to think about our own families and about the mission of the family in our culture today.
My brothers and sisters, I began with the fictional story of a married couple, Mary and Michael. Let me close with the story of a real married couple, the Servants of God Eugenio Balmori Martínez and Marina Francisca Cinta Sarrelangue.
They were married in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1937. Marina and Eugenio worked hard and sacrificed to give their five children a Catholic education. They endured the hardships that many couples go through — stress about the kids, unemployment, long periods of separation because of Eugenio’s job.
Eugenio died suddenly in a car crash at age 46. And Marina lived for the next 40 years as a widow and single mother, working hard to earn a living, continuing to serve her children and the Church.
I want to leave you with some words from Marina. On the eve of their wedding, she wrote to Eugenio: “Our home will be a chapel of love, where no other ideal will reign other than to thank God and to love each other very much.”
My brothers and sisters, these words are God’s promise, his answer to the challenges of the culture we are living in.
The answer is this: Life is not ours to sanction or command. Life is a beautiful gift — the child received by a husband and wife is as beautiful and precious as anything we find in nature.
By the love in our homes — by the sacrifices we make and the love that we hold in our hearts and pass on to our children — we are called testify to this God who is our Creator and Father. This God, who holds all of this world — and every one of us — in his loving hands.
This is our Father’s plan for your family and for every family. And this is the mission of his Church.
Thank you for listening.
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