Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia recently gave an address on religious liberty at the University of Notre Dame. The Archbishop’s address included comments on the current state of marriage and family life in the United States and what must be done to fix it. Here are some highlights of his address:
Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, once said that — in the end — the only thing that matters is to be a saint. That’s the ultimate task of a place like Notre Dame…It’s to help you get into heaven — which is not some imaginary fairyland, but an eternity of life in the presence of a loving God.
Life is a gift, not an accident. And the point of a life is to become the kind of fully human person who knows and loves God above everything else, and reflects that love to others.
I’ve been a priest for 46 years. During that time I’ve heard something more than 12,000 personal confessions and done hundreds of spiritual direction sessions. That’s a lot of listening. When you spend several thousand hours of your life, as most priests do, hearing the failures and hurts in people’s lives…you get a pretty good picture of the world as it really is, and its effect on the human soul.
As a priest, what’s most striking to me about the last five decades is the huge spike in people — both men and women — confessing promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence and sexual confusion as an ordinary part of life, and the massive role of pornography in wrecking marriages, families and even the vocations of clergy and religious.
In a sense, this shouldn’t surprise. Sex is powerful. Sex is attractive. Sex is a basic appetite and instinct. Our sexuality is tied intimately to who we are; how we search for love and happiness; how we defeat the pervasive loneliness in life…
But let’s get back to the confessional. Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are. And remember that people only come to Confession when they already have some sense of right and wrong; when they already understand, at least dimly, that they need to change their lives and seek God’s mercy.
That word “mercy” is worth examining. Mercy is one of the defining and most beautiful qualities of God. Pope Francis rightly calls us to incarnate it in our own lives this year. Unfortunately, it’s also a word we can easily misuse to avoid the hard work of moral reasoning and judgment. Mercy means nothing — it’s just an exercise in sentimentality — without clarity about moral truth.
We can’t show mercy to someone who owes us nothing; someone who’s done nothing wrong. Mercy implies a pre-existing act of injustice that must be corrected. And satisfying justice requires a framework of higher truth about human meaning and behavior. It requires an understanding of truth that establishes some things as good and others as evil; some things as life-giving and others that are destructive.
Here’s why that’s important. The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage. Multiply that wreckage by tens of millions of persons over five decades. Then compound it with media nonsense about the innocence of casual sex and the “happy” children of friendly divorces. What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems.
People too worried or self-focused to welcome new life, to bear and raise children in a loving family, and to form them in virtue and moral character, are writing themselves out of the human story. They’re extinguishing their own future.
The future belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly. It belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally…
Weak and selfish individuals make weak and selfish marriages. Weak and selfish marriages make broken families. And broken families continue and spread the cycle of dysfunction. They do it by creating more and more wounded individuals. A vast amount of social data shows that children from broken families are much more likely to live in poverty, to be poorly educated, and to have more emotional and physical health issues than children from intact families. In other words, when healthy marriages and families decline, the social costs rise.
The family is where children discover how to be human. It’s where they learn how to respect and love other people; where they see their parents sacrificing for the common good of the household; and where they discover their place in a family story larger than themselves. Raising children is beautiful but also hard work. It’s a task for unselfish, devoted parents. And parents need the friendship and support of other likeminded parents. It takes parents to raise a child, not a legion of professional experts, as helpful as they can sometimes be.
Only a mother and father can provide the intimacy of maternal and paternal love…only a mother and father can offer the unique kind of human love rooted in flesh and blood; the kind that comes from mutual submission and self-giving; the kind that comes from the complementarity of sexual difference.
No parents do this perfectly. Some fail badly. Too often the nature of modern American life helps and encourages them to fail. But in trying, parents pass along to the next generation an absolutely basic truth. It’s the truth that things like love, faith, trust, patience, understanding, tenderness, fidelity and courage really do matter, and they provide the foundation for a fully human life.
If we want strong families, we need strong men and women to create and sustain them with maturity and love. And as a family of families, the Church is no different. The Church is strong when her families and individual sons and daughters are strong; when they believe what she teaches, and then witness her message with courage and zeal.
We now live in a country where marriage, family and traditional religion all seem to be failing…This didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen by accident. We behaved ourselves into this mess by living a collection of lies…
[T]he task of renewing the life of our nation requires a different kind of people. It demands that we be different people…living within the truth and refusing to lie.
The Calling Couples to Christ Apostolate is dedicated to sharing the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s plan for marriage. Our mission states: Inspired by the teachings of the Catholic Church, we help couples live Christ-centered, joy-filled marriages. St. John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Society will be changed one family at the time. Will you join us in this mission by praying for God to build up strong and holy families? Thank you and God bless your faithfulness to the cause.
You can read the full text of Archbishop Chaput’s address here.