Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has published a pastoral letter calling on Catholics to live their faith in their families and to renew the role of the family in broader culture.
“We have to help couples live the fullness of the Gospel in a broken, skeptical and hostile culture. Above all, the Church must shine a light on the joy of living a faithful Christian family life,” Archbishop Aquila said in his June 29 letter, “Family: Become What You Are.”
He said the Church must focus on “rejuvenating families and helping them become the first school of Christian life where children witness their parents reflecting the generous, sacrificial love of the Trinity.”
Archbishop Aquila said that if the family is to thrive in the face of cultural challenges, “the Church must redouble her efforts to teach about the joy, beauty and goods of marriage.” Catholics and the Church must relate marriage and the family to “the joy that comes from experiencing the redemption and freedom from sin Christ won for us.”
The Church, he explained, “must respond to our wounded and skeptical society with mercy and truth. She must be, as Pope Francis has said, like a ‘field hospital’ where injuries can be healed and wounds bound up.”
“Family life is a great gift of God. Yet many families today feel weak and demoralized. Family life throughout the world is wounded, broken in many cases, and misunderstood.”
He acknowledged that it is not possible for “every difficult family situation to be neatly resolved.”
“But I do know that with the grace of God, every person and sit¬uation can more closely resemble the intimate exchange of love we were made to experience.”
The pastoral letter takes its title from St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio.” Archbishop Aquila’s letter focused on the family’s Trinitarian meaning, the nature of marriage, and the challenges to the family. He also suggested practical ways for families to “live out their mission to be a place of love and life.”
The archbishop cited the words of St. John Paul II, who said that it is “indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and requirements of the family.”
He gave several practical suggestions on how to form one’s family to make Jesus Christ and the Church its “foundation.”
Stressing the need for hearts that are open to a personal encounter with Christ and the Trinity, he encouraged personal prayer and reading of the Gospels, as well as family prayer beginning with prayer between spouses.
He encouraged Catholics to “live the sacramental life of the Church,” especially by receiving the Eucharist, going to confession “at least monthly,” and regular Sunday Mass attendance. He suggested that families take advantage of parish and diocesan programs that “can help you encounter Christ and help families grow.”
Archbishop Aquila also said that it is “vital” for Catholics to give witness in the public square about marriage, the family, and the dignity of human life.
“Too many Christian hearts and minds have been formed by the culture in which we live, and too many have left their faith at the doors of the church, rather than working for the transformation of culture and society as the Second Vatican Council teaches.”
The archbishop’s letter addressed “various attacks or distortions” related to the family, including challenges like “growing confusion about sexuality,” contraception and divorce.
He noted that the goods of marriage include children, fidelity between spouses, and the “unbreakable bond” between them. The permanent bond of marriage “points toward the heavenly marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church.”
Marriage is a spiritual, emotional and bodily union “founded on the complementarity of male and female,” he said. This human difference between the sexes is “willed by God for the benefit and fulfillment of human beings.” The unique marital union aims to form and perfect the interior life of both husband and wife “so that together they might increasingly grow in virtue and in true love of God and their neighbor.”
Marriage is also ordained by God for “the procreation and education of children,” who are the “ultimate crown” of the married spouses. Even those spouses who cannot conceive children can share in and realize this “uniquely comprehensive type of human communion,” he added.
Archbishop Aquila reiterated Christian teaching that sexual activity is “reserved to those who are married.” He rejected the notion that sex is “merely an instrument of pleasure,” saying this idea confuses human identity, misuses our bodies, and separates us from God.
“Chastity recognizes the dignity of the human person and never treats another person as an object for pleasure. Chastity acknowledges the truth, dignity, meaning and purpose of sexual intimacy and requires self-mastery, which is difficult,” the archbishop acknowledged, while adding that chastity is possible “with the help of Christ.”
For the married, chastity means “respecting the goods of marriage in all marital relations.” For the unmarried, chastity means “refraining from sexual activity.”
“Not only homosexual acts, but the sexual acts of all non-married persons are contrary to God’s design for human flourishing,” he said.
Archbishop Aquila also voiced his “fatherly care” for those who experience same-sex attraction, saying that they “carry a heavy cross” whose struggle is “more than most of us understand.”
“Your tears do not go unseen by Jesus,” he said.
The archbishop’s letter explained Catholic rejection of some forms of medically-assisted conception, such as in vitro fertilization, while also noting that other medical treatments for infertility are “morally legitimate.”
He noted the fears and concerns that tempt married couples to contracept, but also said that contraception is “a barrier to married love and an enticement to selfishness.” He said Pope Paul VI’s encyclical against contraception rightly warned that it would increase infidelity, degrade morality, and cause men to lose respect for women.
He also explained the role natural family planning can play in a Christian marriage.
Furthermore, Archbishop Aquila lamented the high divorce rate and the suffering divorce causes for both spouses and children. The Catholic belief in the permanence of marriage is rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ, he explained, lamenting that hearts have “become hardened” to the permanent and lifelong commitment of marriage.
“Couples who truly reverence Christ and put him first in their marriage, loving one another as Christ loves, will remain faithful to each other even in difficult times in their marriage,” he said.
Archbishop Aquila noted the upcoming Extraordinary Meeting of the Synod of Bishops, to be held in Rome in October 2014, will focus on the family, as will the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015. In addition, the World Meeting of Families will be held in Philadelphia in September 2015.
The synods will address important concerns like raising children in broken homes, effective pastoral care for the divorced and civilly remarried, and marriage preparation.
The archbishop hoped that the letter will provide a “solid foundation” for archdiocesan Catholics and “all people of good will” so that they may “effectively respond to the challenges that families experience today.”
The Archdiocese of Denver has released several resources to accompany the pastoral letter, including a video message and prayer materials for a family rosary and grace before and after meals.