The two sessions of the Synod on the Family gave focus to the question of marriage and family in contemporary society. In some ways the media focus on the question of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion distracted attention away from the substantive issues about marriage and family being discussed by the 270 bishops, priests and lay people.
There is no doubt that marriage and family in Western societies are going through a period of crisis. . This crisis is the fruit of a number of significant social upheavals in society over the past fifty years.
1. The sexual revolution of the 1960s which sought to overthrow the accepted understanding of human sexuality and sexual morality.
2. The feminist movement which challenged traditional roles of women in society, in particular with regard to the home.
3. The contraceptive movement which dissociated sexual intercourse from its procreative dimension
4. The widespread legalisation of abortion and subsequent rise in abortion rates
5. The institution of no fault divorce and the subsequent rise in numbers of divorce
6. The increase in the numbers of couples cohabitating prior to and sometimes in place of marriage
7. The development in reproductive technologies which distanced procreation from the sexual act, eg. IVF, sperm banks, surrogacy
8. The dramatic increase in amount and easily availability of pornographic material
9. Finally, the recent attempts to change the definition of marriage.
These changes mean that young people today experience a totally different world in relation to matters of sexuality, marriage and family from previous generations.
Many of those within our Catholic School system have developed views which are radically incompatible with the teachings of Christ. The cultural and institutional structures that protected the dignity and beauty of sexuality, married love and family life are unravelling. People are increasingly sceptical that that a Christian understanding of marriage and family is necessary for human flourishing. This should come as no surprise: the evidence is in abundance to show that young people are suffering from a decline in the quality of marriage and family life.
As Catholic educators we cannot ignore what is happening around us. We certainly cannot surrender to the prevailing norms. We have a role to play in assisting the next generation to face the challenges in this area. We need to show them that there is a better way; to help them to recognise and understand just how vital stable and loving marriages are to the human wellbeing of the couples and the ability of couples to enable children to grow up healthy and strong. We need to speak the truth in love about human sexuality, marriage and the family.
Pope Francis recently commented: “All of the love that God has in Himself, all the beauty that God has in Himself, all the truth that God has in Himself, He gives to the family.” (Pope Francis, Festival of Families, 2015.)
A focus on sexuality, marriage and family needs to be a key element to our Catholic education. But in what form? Can we move beyond ‘moralising’ to propose an alternate way of living and loving? Can we help our students to understand that behind every ‘no’ there is a greater ‘yes’ to authentic human loving?
I believe we can. But this will required a renewed effort and systematic approach.
Firstly, it is important that we have a “missionary confidence”. To engage with these issues and present the truth of Catholic teaching will be a challenge in many instances. We will be standing against the tide of opinion on many topics. There will be a temptation to “not want to go there”. We will be tempted to remain silent on contentious issues. This will be to fail in courage and conviction.
It will also be to fail in love.
Secondly then, it must be love which compels us present the truth of Catholic teaching.
The fortitude and optimism of youth makes it easier for young people to disregard the tested values of their cultural and religious heritage. But we cannot sit back and allow them to be hurt. We must lovingly reach out to young people, perhaps even from our own experience of mistakes made, lessons learnt, mercy sought and forgiveness received.
No one gets ‘marriage and family’ 100 percent right. But this is not a reason to shirk from offering students a vision of marriage and family as the vehicle for life-long, life-giving love- that love which responds to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.
Pope Francis has remarked upon how important it is that young people “do not give themselves over to the poisonous mentality of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern” (Opening of Humanum Colloquium, 2014)
We have a mission to help our young people find this path.
The third point is that we need to identify the foundations for understanding Church teaching on love and life, marriage and family. Here I would mention a few:
• Helping students to develop a proper understanding of anthropology – an understanding of the human person, created as man or woman, as presented by our Catholic and biblical faith
• To encourage students to view human issues in light of the divine economy – the plan of God for human life
• A recognition of the need for what Pope Francis calls the “human ecology” – the creation of the means necessary for sustainable human life
• The capacity to see the potential for technology to erode the quality of human life – to assist students to rise above a shallow consumerism
Specifically, let me propose that going forward our teaching needs to cover the following topics:
• The dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and called to make a sincere ‘gift of self’
• The complementarity of masculinity and femininity
• The natural and sacramental meanings of marriage
• The truth, beauty and goodness of human sexuality
• The gift of children and the vocation of parents.
I know that our teachers are already trying their best to educate our students in these areas. However as this is an increasingly challenging space to be in, there is pressing need to enrich our curriculum, provide relevant professional development for our teachers, and where necessary, engage specialist educators and resources to support them in their task.
As just one example of the type of special initiatives that could be undertaken, I have organised to have Jason Evert come to Hobart on Thursday May 19 next year. Jason is a gifted communicator of God’s plan for human sexuality. He is able to present a Catholic view in a compelling and sensitive way that engages young people. I have asked John Mula to plan for all southern students in Years 10 to 12 to attend a morning session with Jason at the Derwent Entertainment Centre.
I’d also like to finish with a short video clip, produced as part of an international and interreligious colloquium on men, women, and marriage called “Humanum”, held at the Vatican last year.
Again this is just one example of the specialist resources that are being developed to communicate that the Christian view of sexuality, marriage and family is not just good, but beautiful.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 31 October 2015