POPE ADDRESSES UNITED STATES BISHOPS ON CRISIS OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY
This morning in the Vatican Benedict XVI received a group of prelates from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have recently competed their “ad limina” visit. Extracts of his English-language remarks to them are given below:
“In this talk I would like to discuss . . . the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality. It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”
“In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.
“In our conversations, some of you have pointed with concern to the growing difficulties encountered in communicating the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family in its integrity, and to a decrease in the number of young people who approach the Sacrament of Matrimony. Certainly we must acknowledge deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades, which failed at times to communicate the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament, the vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity.”
“On the practical level, marriage preparation programs must be carefully reviewed to ensure that there is greater concentration on their catechetical component and their presentation of the social and ecclesial responsibilities entailed by Christian marriage. In this context we cannot overlook the serious pastoral problem presented by the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who seem unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society. I encourage your efforts to develop clear pastoral and liturgical norms for the worthy celebration of matrimony which embody an unambiguous witness to the objective demands of Christian morality, while showing sensitivity and concern for young couples.”
“In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. . . . It is not merely a question of presenting arguments, but of appealing to an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality. The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young. . . . Chastity, as the Catechism reminds us, involves an ongoing “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.” In a society which increasingly tends to misunderstand and even ridicule this essential dimension of Christian teaching, young people need to be reassured that “if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing, of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”
“Let me conclude by recalling that all our efforts in this area are ultimately concerned with the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognizing our responsibility to teach, defend and live the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfillment. It is my hope that the Church in the United States, however chastened by the events of the past decade, will persevere in its historic mission of educating the young and thus contribute to the consolidation of that sound family life which is the surest guarantee of intergenerational solidarity and the health of society as a whole.”
NEW EVANGELIZATION ALSO BEGINS IN THE CONFESSIONAL
This morning Benedict XVI received 1,300 priests and deacons who are participating in an annual course on the “internal forum” organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary.
Benedict XVI underscored the importance of adequate theological, spiritual and canonical preparation for confessors, noting that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is essential to the life of faith and is closely associated with the announcement of the Gospel. “The Sacraments and the announcement of the Word must, in fact never be seen as separate from one another,” he said. “The priest represents Christ, the Envoy of the Father, and continues His mission through ‘word’ and ‘Sacrament,’ in the totality of body and soul, of sign and word.”
Thus sacramental Confession is an important aspect of new evangelization. “True conversion of hearts, which means opening ourselves to the transforming and regenerative action of God, is the ‘motor’ of all reform and turns into an authentic force for evangelization. During Confession, the repentant sinner, thanks to the gratuitous action of divine Mercy, is justified, forgiven and sanctified. . . . Only those who allow themselves to be profoundly renewed by divine Grace can internalize and therefore announce the novelty of the Gospel.” All the saints of history bear witness to this close relationship between sanctity and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. New evangelization itself “draws life blood from the sanctity of the sons and daughters of the Church, from the daily process of individual and community conversion, conforming itself ever more profoundly to Christ.”
The Pope reminded his audience that, in administering the Sacrament of Penance, priests are instruments facilitating the meeting between mankind and God. The repentant sinner feels a profound desire to change, to receive mercy, to re-experience, through the Sacrament, “the encounter and embrace of Christ.
“Thus you will,” the Holy Father added, “become collaborators and protagonists of as many possible ‘new beginnings’ as sinners you encounter. . . . New evangelization also begins in the confessional, in the mysterious encounter between man’s endless plea . . . and the mercy of God, which is the only adequate response to humankind’s need for the infinite.” If the faithful are truly able to experience the mercy of Christ in the Sacrament “they will become credible witnesses of sanctity, which is the goal of new evangelization.”
The Pope went on to explain that these questions become even more critical when the people involved are priests who, to collaborate in new evangelization, must be the first to renew an awareness of themselves as sinners, and of their need to seek sacramental forgiveness in order to renew their encounter with Christ.
In conclusion Benedict XVI exhorted his listeners to ensure “that the novelty of Christ is always the focus of, and the reason for, your priestly lives, so that the people who meet you may, through your ministry, proclaim as Andrew and John did that ‘we have found the Messiah.’ Thus each Confession, from which each Christian will emerge renewed, will represent a step forward for new evangelization.”
TELEGRAM FOR THE DEATH OF CARDINAL JOSE T. SANCHEZ
The Holy Father has sent a telegram of condolence to Cardinal Ricardo. J. Vidal, archbishop emeritus of Cebu, Philippines, for the death of Cardinal Jose T. Sanchez, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy. Cardinal Sanchez died this morning in Manila at the age of 91.
In the text of his telegram Benedict XVI gratefully recalls “the late cardinal’s dedicated service to the Lord as a priest and bishop in his native country, as well as our service together in the Roman Curia during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II.” The Pope commends Cardinal Sanchez’s “noble soul” to the Lord and prays “that his witness will inspire others to dedicate their lives to the service of the Lord and His Holy Church, especially in the priesthood.”
The Holy Father today received in audience:
• Eight prelates of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on their “ad limina” visit:
• Archbishop George Joseph Lucas of Omaha, accompanied by Archbishop emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss.
• Bishop William J. Dendinger of Grand Island.
• Bishop Fabian Wendelin Bruskewitz of Lincoln.
• Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas.
• Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City.
• Bishop Michael Owen Jackels of Wichita.
• Bishop-elect Edward J. Weisenburger of Salina.