As the Synod of Bishops on the Family draws closer, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver has offered a reflection for his brother bishops on the pastoral issue of proclaiming “the gospel marriage” of Christ to the world.
“If pastoral solutions to the contemporary challenges to marriage are not grounded in what God has revealed about marriage, they will not lead to real freedom and happiness,” he wrote in the current issue of the UK-based Faith magazine.
The extraordinary synod of bishops will take place at the Vatican in October 2014 to discuss the pastoral care of the family and pastoral challenges in the context of evangelization. About 150 leading bishops are expected to attend.
Archbishop Aquila said that Christ’s interchange with the Pharisees over the issue of divorce offers a good starting point for those taking part in the synod. Rather than giving into their arguments for justification of such an act, Jesus reminds his listeners of God’s original plan for marriage.
Today, some continue to denounce Christ’s “gospel of marriage” calling it “impractical” and, as a result, “non-pastoral,” the archbishop explained.
The response to such beliefs should not be to “manufacture a pseudo-truth about marriage in the name of being ‘pastoral,’” but rather to “draw the correct conclusion” about why the faithful would come to believe this in the first place.
“In my view, these opinions expressed by the people of God should compel bishops to declare a profound mea maxima culpa,” he stated. “They point to our failure as pastors, teachers and spiritual fathers.”
Noting that “mercy cannot be confused with tolerating an evil,” he stressed the importance of helping the faithful to properly form their consciences.
He explained how, as Bishop of Fargo, he mandated that a Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body be taught to all couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage. While many couples resisted at first, their hearts were often changed.
One young woman even wrote him telling the archbishop that while she was initially upset over having to take the classes, she later became grateful and asked why this was not taught to high school students.
“I would have been saved so much hurt and heartache in college if I had been taught this earlier and not listened to the voice of the world,” the young woman said.
As a result, he required that Theology of the Body be taught at all Catholic high schools and in teen religious education programs in the diocese.
The response to confusion about marriage among the faithful is “not to adopt a pseudo-truth about marriage or a falsely pastoral approach permeated with the casuistry of the Pharisees,” Archbishop Aquila emphasized.
Rather, he wrote, the solution “is fidelity to the only Truth that really saves the human person: Jesus Christ!”
Before the fall and original sin, Adam and Eve existed in intimate unity as God intended, he explained. This should be the starting point for understanding marriage, not man’s disordered definition.
“From the perspective of God’s saving grace and restorative mercy, the truth about marriage revealed by Christ is practicable and most pastoral,” he explained.
As bishops continue to prepare for the synod, they should keep in mind Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, he added. Jesus proclaimed the truth about the woman’s situation and how she was living in sin and showed her the love and mercy of God’s law.
“This is the kind of pastoral approach that we should adopt for the synod on the family,” he said. “We should imitate God whose works are always justice, truth and mercy.”
Archbishop Aquila encouraged his brother bishops to remember Christ’s exhortation to his disciples to go out and “make disciples of all nations,” no matter what the cost.