I Used to Sit Next to you – A Reply, of Sorts

Anillos[1]A few weeks ago I read this article entitled I Used to Sit Next to You, By Emily Reis. The Article is from September 24th, 2012, but I only got around to reading it in the last few weeks.

When I read this article I thought, man that has been my life. I can remember the days before and right after we got married and how we used to sit in Mass and hold hands. Now, over the last 15 (Updated: 21) years, the space between us has just gotten further and further apart. Believe me the space between us has grown but every inch has been worth it.

Now, I love little kids. Usually if you see me at a function with families, you can tell it’s me because I have a little one in my arms. But one thing about little kids is that they just don’t get going to Mass. In my experience there is nothing you can do for a 2 year old that will help them understand that going to Mass is the greatest part of the week. You can tell a 3 year old over and over again, there up on the Altar, is God. You have to be quiet now. They won’t believe you, and will continue making truck noises. The 4 year old might begin to grasp the concept that they should be quiet but, to them an hour feels like forever. The 5 year old who has finally managed to stay quiet through the Homily, will be over joyed by the fact that you are getting up and moving toward the end of the pew, only to be utterly disappointed when it turns out you’re just going up for communion. All these things are true, and there is nothing you can do about it. So you might as well get used to it.

Though I love them dearly, they have all driven me crazy during Mass.20130325-212904.jpg
From the time when we only had one of them until now (and we now have 9)(update: 13 now), we have always had trouble with the kids during Mass. For those of you shaking your head and thinking, “man I can’t handle 2 in Mass how do they handle 9,” we are not super heroes. Well I am not a super hero. I think my wife might be, as she has been known to take all the kids to Mass by herself, when I am traveling. But super hero or no, it is really just about prospective. We had just as much trouble with two as you probably are.

Over the years we have had to deal with sitting further and further apart on the pew. Heck, there were times when I saw my wife at the beginning of Mass, again during communion as one or the other of us passed by the pew from the back of Church, and again after the last hymn. But it is not all bad news, it does get better.

As I said it does get better. We have two or three older kids now who can help us during Mass. They can hold the baby (2 now) and sit next to the 4 or 5 year old and usually help to keep them quiet. It does not always work and my wife and I still spend a fair amount of time holding, shushing, threatening, soothing and taking little ones out of Mass. But it is getting better.

In the last year the number of times we have been able to sit next to each other has gotten big enough that I need my fingers and toes to count. And I can now remember those times when we were younger and we were the ones watching the families wondering when we were going to be at that point.

The problem is that it is bitter sweet.DSC01734
My oldest four sons are Altar servers. When I see them up on the Altar before Mass in just the black Cassock as they set things up or light the candles, I see the men that they are rapidly becoming. When I watch them serve the Mass and kneeling before God, I know that they know how important the Mass is. I see my eldest daughter and her brother who are finally tall enough that I don’t have to stand right behind them in the Communion line to tell the priest “Yes, they can receive.” I know that they are all growing up. I am a sentimental sap, I know.

Having said that, I do like being able to sit next to my wife again. It is nice to be able to share a look during a reading or a quick squeeze of the hand when the Homily strikes home. Heck, the fact that we can hold hands again is pretty darn amazing. But, you ask how did we make it through? How did we keep going to Mass when we felt like we needed to go to confession every time we went to Mass? You are probably not going to like the answer, because it is not all puppies and rainbows.

Strong faith is probably not going to be enough.100_0634
Again, I can only speak from my experiences here. You can have incredible faith and still feel like a failure. You can feel like you are letting everyone else in Mass (including the priest) down by not managing to keep your kids quiet, or preventing them from grinding Cheerios into the carpet. You can feel like you should not be there when the guy in front of you turns around and not so politely asks you if you can keep the kids quiet. You can wonder why you even came to Mass when the older lady from the back of the church reminds you that they do have a cry room. You might wonder what the point is as you sit in the cry room (full of toys) and can’t quite hear the readings over the tiny cracked speaker. Why even leave the house when it is a struggle to get the two year old’s shoes on and by the time you get to Mass you have already told the older kids, “No we will not be staying for doughnuts after Mass because you didn’t behave.” Strong faith may not be enough to get you through these times. You are going to need help.

I would love to tell you that all priests are understanding and that all the old ladies in church will be like grandmothers and all other parents will understand. The truth is that none of these are true. The good news, I mean other than The Good News, is that there are good priests who understand, and there are grandmothers in church who will help, and there are parents in church who understand. The trick is finding them. The trick is finding a support group, and a good parish, and to spend time talking to your priest.

Great Priests will understand that kids are the future of the Church, and will some times even make it a point to tell other people the same thing. I truly believe that most priests are great priests, but some times they forget. A gentle reminder is sometimes in order. This is true for all of us. Most important, (and this one is sometimes hard to remember when you are sitting on opposite ends of the pew feeling guilty for even being there) remember that you and your wife are a team, working toward the same goal. Heaven, and of course that spot in the center of the pew where you can sit close enough to hold hands. One of our old priests (a really great priest by the way) used to say that we did a great job juggling the kids during Mass. I was never sure if that was good or bad. And I always had images of kids being tossed in the air when he said it.

So you might ask what works?
Again, these are things that have helped us. My wife and I are pretty darn independent, and we have discovered that we will do things that other people just won’t. So these might not work for you. Also we don’t have any family that live around us that can help, so we have learned to do things mostly on our own.

  • Obviously spliting the kids up will have some effect, but if you have more than three kids this is not always effective.
  • If the kids will behave better for someone else ask a friend to take one of the kids. This only works if the kids will be better with someone else, if they are just going to misbehave with someone else then there is no point.
  • Going to Mass together. This is not intuitive because you might think splitting up might be a good idea, but going together shows the kids that you and mom are a united front. They are not going to get out of going to Mass by misbehaving.
  • Split the kids up. (But you said that already. Well I am saying it again.) if you have older kids (even as young as 8 or 9) have the 4 / 5 year old sit with them in the pew right in front of or right behind you. Sometimes getting to sit away from you (even just a little) will get the kids to behave. This was my wife’s idea and the priest who first saw her do it said it was brilliant. (See, I told you she was a super hero.)
  • Don’t sit on top of each other. (I make this mistake all the time.) As a large family it can be hard to find a pew that will seat all of us. Don’t be tempted to squeeze into a pew that would not normally fit you all. Sometimes too much family togetherness really is, too much family togetherness and you will all be on each others nerves before the Homily even starts.
  • Don’t bring toys to Mass. Empty the pew of books, prayer guides and especially those little pencils. Again, this might not sound like it makes sense, but those are distractions. They will distract the kids, the older and the younger ones and will in turn distract you and those around you.
  • Don’t use the cry room unless you actually have a crying kid. It might be tempting to start Mass in there and just camp out. But, especially when you are talking about a 4 / 5 / 6 Year old, it should be like time out, a place where you go when they are misbehaving, until you have it under control then head back to your pew.

I really don’t like to make lists like this because it makes people think that I really know what I am talking about. I don’t! Far from it. We have felt our way along, we have failed miserably in some places and in a few cases even succeeded. I think.

There is a bright ray of sunshine for all of you who can commiserate with the “I Used to Sit Next to You” article. Your kids will grow, they will learn to behave during Mass. It might not be easy to hear that from where you are right now. Just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel might not be enough. You might fear that light is an oncoming train. But there is a light, and there are other people who understand. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

For those of you saying, “been there, done that.” Remember next time you are in Mass and the kids behind you are squirming too much, remember that you have been there, and you have done that. When you see the mother or father trying to hold three kids, don’t frown and wonder what they were thinking, or question the way they are trying to handle the little one. instead quietly ask if you can help, and don’t be pushy if they say no. If you see the priest frowning at the parents with the kids who are grinding Cheerios into the carpet, remind the priest that without that kid, the Church has no future, and don’t be afraid to ask him where the vacuum is.

Oh and one last thing. Always bring extra tissues to Mass with you. I always forget (I think most dads do) and at least one of the kids usually needs one. Trust me, I will always welcome the proffered tissue. And if I forget to say it then, Thank you.

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Words of Clarity from Cardinal Timothy Dolan

I can’t add much to this, only to say yes! With all my heart Yes! If you have ever wondered why the Catholic Church is so upset about the HHS mandate, this is it.

If you Can Understand Just This One Thing


I really love going to Mass and learning something new. Since I have been trying to reading the readings before Mass because I am often distracted by young children, the Homily is pretty much the only part that I have not heard before. We have been incredibly blessed in that we have found several priests in this area that do give incredible homilies. What follows is what I learned this weekend and is all thanks to our wonderful priest.

This past weekend was the feast of Pentecost. This is when we celebrate the gift of the holy spirit to the disciples. It is the last week of Easter, and what we consider the birthday of the Church. I should be careful to say that this is the birthday of the Church and not when the Church of conceived. These are to very different things. Obviously the Church was conceived by God during the life of Christ, but the Church was born on Pentecost because that is when it became “human.”

One of the things that I hear a lot as a criticism of the church is, “What about all the bad and evil things they have done over the years?” I will admit this is something I have struggled with myself. I mean how can reconcile that. The answer is so simple that I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, and it has to do with Pentecost.

There are two parts of the Church, the human part and this is the part that we see every day, and the part that comes from God. A good example of this is the Our Father. The words of the Our Father, were given to us from God, from Christ. We use the words that he taught us that is a from God part of the Church. Now how we pray it, what we do while we are praying it, meaning do we all hold hands or stand an pray individually or kneel, do we bow our heads or look to the heavens with our arms spread wide. Those are all human things.

I want to make it perfectly clear. I do not (let me say that again) I DO NOT condone anything that has been done by the human side of the Church, or by humans who were supposed to represent the Church that was harmful to other people. There have been some terrible things done, those were human, imperfect things.

The important part of the Church, the God part of the Church, what you learn in your Catechism, “Take this bread and eat it, for it is My Body,” this is infallible and has never changed. No matter what anyone says from a Layperson all the way up to the Pope himself, they can not change those parts.

God gave us His Grace in the form of the Holy Spirit. He gave us the ability to understand and spread His teachings, but we are human and imperfect and we do make mistakes. A lot of mistakes! I am not giving those that have made the mistakes a pass. All I am saying is that they are not the core, the God part, of the Church.

For the readings from Pentecost Sunday

Just a quick reminder

I saw this in someone else’s post about the new Mass translation, and I felt it was a great reminder.

St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.

Have a great weekend folks

Daily Gospel

Jn 21:1-14
Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.He revealed himself in this way.

Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”They said to him, “We also will come with you.”So they went out and got into the boat,but that night they caught nothing.When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”They answered him, “No.”So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boatand you will find something.”So they cast it, and were not able to pull it inbecause of the number of fish.

So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,and jumped into the sea.The other disciples came in the boat,for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,dragging the net with the fish.

When they climbed out on shore,they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”because they realized it was the Lord.

Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,and in like manner the fish.This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Easter

I have been meaning to write a post about Easter for a few days now. I had honestly planned to write one before Easter, but well that just didn’t happen. What is done is done so I’m working on it now instead.

I wanted to talk about my Easter experience but I think I want to talk about change. You see last year during holy week I attended every Mass / Service. As cool as that sounds and as much as it might sound like I am bragging or something, it was not of my own doing.

The truth is that my oldest two sons are to thank / blame. They both love to serve on the alter so when the lists for the extra Masses go up for Lent / Easter and Advent / Christmas it is hard to keep them from signing up for all the slots. Last year however, as the days grew short and no one else was signing up they ended up serving at every Mass for holy week. In case you are wondering, yes I am very proud of them for their service and hard work and have some hopefully not unfounded hopes that one of them might hear that call. See yesterday’s post, or Father M. N. post about being a priest during lent.

At the time having them at every Mass was kind of hard. We have several little kids who quickly get rambunctious in church and so we didn’t go to each one as a family. So it meant that I went to Mass either only with the kids who were serving (only once) or with a smaller all number of kids. My eldest daughter 5 at the time did go to every Mass with me and only missed out on stations Friday night. I say it was hard because it meant being at the Church a lot that week and away from home.

This year was a different story all together.

pause for root canal

ouch

now back to the regularly scheduled blog post

This year, as I said was different. I was a away for a good part of Holy week, and when I got back from my trip, I was totally exhausted. We didn’t end up making it to anything until Stations of the Cross on Friday and then, Mass on Easter Morning.

It is not that unusual to only go to those two, but honestly after the previous year, I really felt like I was missing something. It was kind of an odd feeling to have but there it was. As much as it felt odd to have that feeling, I kind of look at it as a good thing. I mean I would rather have the feeling like I am missing something, than feel like I am going too much.

In Support of The Priesthood

Saint Peter the Apostle

There is very little I can add to this so I won’t say much other than to say, I support the priests, I hope that at least one of my boys fells called to be a priest, and I hope by posting this that other young men might think of it
as well.

A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America

A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next AmericaA Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America by Charles J. Chaput
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I normally would not write a review of an article, but the take away from this one was too much to ignore and let go silently.

I did give this article 5 stars and if I could have given it more I would have. The insight was incredibly profound.

For those of you wondering if this is just an article about being Catholic it is not, it is about being religious in America. It does focus on the problems within the Catholic church. But, the problems facing the Catholic Church are not unique, and are being faced by other Christians religions, and even not Christians.

Though this article was written a couple of years ago, the problems have gotten worse since then and not better. If you are worried about this, and wondering what you might be able to do to make things better, this article would be a good place to start.

The author Charles J. Chaput, obviously has put a lot of thought and research into this, so that the article is not a rant about how the current administration is or is not doing this or that, but a thoughtful review of what has happened in the last twenty to fifty years and how that differs ideals of the founding fathers, and some predictions about what the future will look like if things don’t change.

View all my reviews

Two and a Half Homilies

This weekend, because of some rather unusual circumstances I ended up going to Mass three times. Not that I mind, if nothing else by the end of the weekend, I felt like I knew a lot more about the readings than I normally do.

Here is the short version of what happened:

On Saturday night, my sons had their last obligation to serve as altar boys, at our old parish, but because several of the kids were sick I only took the older boys to Mass. I have say going to Mass either by yourself or only with older kids that you don’t that you don’t have to keep telling to, “quit touching that,” is really a different experience. Then Sunday morning most of us went as a family to our new parish. One of the older boys was still kind of sick and one of the younger boys was still actually sick so we left them at home to veg out and get better while the rest of us went to Mass. By Sunday evening, the older boy who had been only sort of sick was feeling better. Earlier in the weekend I had gotten a note from a priest that we know, and had been meaning to visit for some time telling us that he would be presiding over Mass at 4PM on Sunday Afternoon. So since I now had a healthy boy, who really should go to Mass if he is well enough, and as I said we wanted to visit with our friend after Mass, we went.

It is really interesting hearing three different takes on the the same readings. And honestly I feel like I learned quite a bit. Though I love history, and read an listen to a lot of it, I have never really studied biblical history, I feel like many people may know a lot more than I do on the subject. So if you have heard some of this before just stick with me for a couple of minutes.

The first Homily given by Father W.E. started out really well. We learned that Nicodemus was one of the Jewish leaders at the time, who didn’t quite agree with the rest of the leaders and wanted to hear more about what Jesus was saying. However, he was not quiet ready to come out into the light about it. (the Theme of the Gospel reading (coming into the light (grace) of God) by the way) and so he would actually come to Jesus at night. So it you read biblical history, he is some times refereed to as the Night Visitor.

Unfortunately that is where the first Homily stopped because it was uninterrupted by, “And here is the pastoral administrator to continue the homily.” The rest of the homily was not on this subject. In fact, though I did my best to pay attention I am not really sure what it was about. One of the things (among many) that I don’t like about the Pastoral Admin giving the homily is that it really never seems to have much to do with anything. So I call this first one a half homily. What there was of it was pretty good, but it was cut short.

The Second homily of the weekend given by Father M.N. He also focused mostly on the Gospel reading, and it was a great call to confession. We as humans would rather live in the dark than come into the light because our lives are evil. That can be hard to hear, but we need to hear it because we as Catholics have a way to reconcile that. Yup, this homily was about the sacrament of reconciliation. Father M.N. is pretty young (about my age, he is young because I am young, So says I.) and he tells a fair number of stories about himself growing up. This week was no different, as he told about a time he did something he really should not have and before he got caught told his mother what he had done. He Talked about how that had freed him of his burden. How as Catholics we were given the gift by Christ of reconciliation and we can have burdens lifted, if only we take part in that wonderful gift. I heard you father M.N. Making plans to go to confession this week.

Father M.N. also took a few moments to explaining why we have to confess to a priest, and not just anyone. This having to do with the power Jesus gave to the Apostles on the third day, saying “whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven…” and how that was passed down from the Apostles to the priests of today. He did this with the help three young men (early teen-aged boys) pretending to be the bishops of the past, passing down the power of the Apostles.

Father M.N. tends to preach for a younger audience. He includes a lot of stories about his childhood, he very often gets genuine laughs from children and adults alike (real laughs.) His Homilies are animated and loud. This is not by any means a negative comment, just a comment on what I see. Everyone in Mass who is old enough to pay attention, is paying attention because he holds your attention and what he is saying is interesting. That can be a challenge and I really appreciate that he makes that effort and goes the extra mile to engage the people in the pews.

The Third Homily of the week was given by Father M.M. He happens to be a good friend, and someone I think of as a spiritual adviser, even if he really does not know that. (BTW I don’t THINK he reads this so…) If I sound overly enthusiastic about this homily it is because I am. He is a great speaker, and someone who never pulls any punches about the faith.

This Homily, though it did talk about the Gospel reading some, focused more on the first reading, in which Israel was taken into captivity by Babylon and denied their Sabbaths for 70 years. Father M.M. focused on the loss of the right to practice our faith, an how if we do not actively participate in the Mass we run the danger of having it taken away from us. As demonstrated in this reading God can even work through the non believers. If we, for example, say I don’t need to go to Mass because “I read the Bible at home,” or “I take a walk in the park to get closer to God” we are missing out on the most important part, The sacrifice that was given to us by God Himself, the the Body and Blood, that we are commanded to do, “In Memory of Me.” A paraphrased quote, “birds are great but they don’t pray to God. Dogs are nice, and obedient but they don’t have souls. The Animals of nature are great but they do not offer sacrifice. The human person is different.”

Near the end of the Homily, Father M.M. did talk about how this related to the The HHS mandate, and how if we let something like this happen, what will be next? I took this as a very fitting analogy to, “[Their enemies] burnt the house of God and tore down the walls of Jerusalem…”

I want to pause for a moment to say that I don’t have any illusions about The U.S. being Jerusalem and though the HHS mandate currently facing the U.S. is a big deal, it is not quite the same thing. However I am speaking more about the loss of religious freedoms around the world and the general apathy of those that call themselves religious to do anything about it.

Before it got to the HHS Mandate, Father M.M. spent a few minutes driving home what I think was a very important point. He told another story about Cyrus, this one historical in nature and not biblical, though very telling about the man’s character. Again I am going to paraphrase. The story went like this.

Cyrus’s army had destroyed another army that had given them trouble for some time. The Leader of which was brought to the palace presumably to be executed. When he arrived for whatever reason Cyrus deiced to question him instead.

Cyrus: What would you do if I spared your life?
Other leader: I would serve you forever.
Cyrus: What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?
Other leader: I would die for you.
Later that day
Other leader to his wife: Did you see that Palace?
Wife: No
Leader: what did you see then?
Wife: the face of the man who said he would die for me.

While telling the story at the proper points Father M.M. pointed to various parts of the very beautiful church building. Reminding us why we come to Mass, and what it is important for us to come to Mass and not just pray in our homes or “commune with nature.”

Father M.M. Tends to preach more toward adults, in language that everyone can understand. The subject (as all the homilies I talked about are) is always serious and gives you a lot to think about. I usually find myself not getting all of the message of Father M.M.’s homily until I have had time to really think about it. (In other words they are very deep and give me a lot to think about.)

So as you can see two and a half homilies, that were very good, and very different. I came away from this weekend trying to figure out if there was a way from me / us to attend a Mass with Father M.N. and Father M.M. every week to get the most out of the readings. I don’t think there is but it would be interesting. I don’t normally attend more than one Mass in a weekend and don’t think the situation to do this again will present itself any time soon but it certainly made for an interesting weekend for me.

NOTE:
I want to note that I am not by any stretch of the imagination a biblical scholar and I am by am by no means critiquing any of the homilies that I heard this weekend. My comments were and are my opinions. (See warning #1 and #2 on the upper left side of the page.) I respect all three of the priests and appreciate that they have different styles. And I thank all three of them for enlightening me this weekend.

Second NOTE:
I don’t think I have access to the text of any of the homilies from this weekend, so I am going from memory here folks. If I left out part of a homily it is only because I am human and forget things. The parts I talked about where the parts that stuck out most to me, and therefore had the greatest impact. The comments about style at the end of each homily was meant to give you an idea of the flavor of each of their preaching styles.

The Readings from the week were all from the Forth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

First Reading
2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23
The causes for the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon are described.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 137:1-2,3,4-5,6
A lament from exile for the loss of Jerusalem

Second Reading
Ephesians 2:4-10
In grace we have been saved, so that we may do the work of the Lord.

Gospel Reading
John 3:14-21
Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man will be raised up so that those who believe in him will have eternal life.

A letter from the Pope

I am going to cheat a little today since I have not had a chance to write all day. I am going to post a letter from the Pope to the United States Bishops. Honestly I don’t know what else I could say other than Woohoo. I can’t add much to this.

This is Direct from the Vactican’s own site so:

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
TO THE BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FROM REGION VIII ON THEIR “AD LIMINA” VISIT
9 March 2012

Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet all of you with fraternal affection on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum. As you know, this year I wish to reflect with you on certain aspects of the evangelization of American culture in the light of the intellectual and ethical challenges of the present moment.

In our previous meetings I acknowledged our concern about threats to freedom of conscience, religion and worship which need to be addressed urgently, so that all men and women of faith, and the institutions they inspire, can act in accordance with their deepest moral convictions. In this talk I would like to discuss another serious issue which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit to America, namely, 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.

Yet, as Blessed John Paul II observed, the future of humanity passes by way of the family (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 85). Indeed, “the good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage and from the family founded on marriage is so great as to call for full pastoral commitment to this particular area. Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 29).

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 defense 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. This teaching, stated with increasing clarity by the post-conciliar magisterium and comprehensively presented in both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, needs to be restored to its proper place in preaching and catechetical instruction.

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.

Here too I would express my appreciation of the pastoral programs which you are promoting in your Dioceses and, in particular, the clear and authoritative presentation of the Church’s teaching found in your 2009 Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan. I also appreciate all that your parishes, schools and charitable agencies do daily to support families and to reach out to those in difficult marital situations, especially the divorced and separated, single parents, teenage mothers and women considering abortion, as well as children suffering the tragic effects of family breakdown.

In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. The integrating and liberating function of this virtue (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2338-2343) should be emphasized by a formation of the heart, which presents the Christian understanding of sexuality as a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfilment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love. 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.

Young people need to encounter the Church’s teaching in its integrity, challenging and countercultural as that teaching may be; more importantly, they need to see it embodied by faithful married couples who bear convincing witness to its truth. They also need to be supported as they struggle to make wise choices at a difficult and confusing time in their lives. Chastity, as the Catechism reminds us, involves an ongoing “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom” (2339). 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” (Homily, Inaugural Mass of the Pontificate, 24 April 2005).

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.

I now commend you and your brother Bishops, with the flock entrusted to your pastoral care, to the loving intercession of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. To all of you I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, strength and peace in the Lord

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