Breaking News: Pope Francis Values the Sacrament of Matrimony

On Sunday September 14, 2014 Pope Francis celebrated a Holy Mass with the Rite of Marriage inside St. Peter Basilica. It also was on the occasion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In his homily during the Mass, Pope Francis made some important connections between the feast day and the Sacrament of Matrimony, between the new life that is found through the Holy Cross and new life that is found in Holy Matrimony.

As to be expected, “the press” captured the opportunity to discuss this significant Holy Mass, especially since popes don’t regularly preside over a Mass with the Rite of Marriage. I wrestled with two different options for a topic for this article: (1) point out the errors of the media; or (2) focus on the truth of what Pope Francis stated in his homily. Certainly we must be ready to stand up for the truth and correct errors. One specific passage from Scripture comes to mind: “Always be prepared to make a defense [Greek apologian] to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15 RSVCE). But in apologetics, there is a danger of focusing too heavily on the errors of our critics and not enough on the reason for our hope: the truth that is found in Christ Jesus (cf. John 14:6).

Pope Picture at WeddingIn his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the first reading of the day, and he recalled that when the Israelites were on their journey through the desert, they became impatient (cf. Numbers 21:4). But married couples, too, as they walk together through the journey of life, can become impatient, even with each other. Pope Francis makes this exact point:

Here our thoughts turn to married couples who “become impatient on the way,” the way of conjugal and family life. The hardship of the journey causes them to experience interior weariness; they lose the flavour of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament. Daily life becomes burdensome, and often, even “nauseating.”

This is not a great frame of mind for any married person to be in. Whether you’re Catholic or not, you can recognize that married life can be difficult at times.

Because of the impatience of the Israelites, they failed to see the threat which was about to take them by surprise. “During such moments of disorientation … poisonous serpents come and bite the people, and many die” the pope commented. In married life there are serpents that attempt to attack the husband and wife. The serpents which threaten married life are seeking the death of their relationship. But the Israelites had a remedy to the serpents’ poisonous bites: they could look at Moses’ staff and recover (cf. Numbers 21:8). Likewise, married couples and indeed all people have a remedy, as we learn from our Savior:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:14-17).

Married couples, when facing “nauseating” days and weeks, can gaze upon the Cross of Jesus Christ and recognize a preeminent sign of God’s love for His people (cf. Romans 5:8). Pope Francis expresses his confidence in the One who can bring aid:

The cure which God offers the people applies also, in a particular way, to spouses who ‘have become impatient on the way’ and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment… To them too, God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to him, he will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the Cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path.

One might be tempted to think: “Of course… the Pope is going to say ‘Jesus is the answer’ and the Catholic blogger is going to agree. For those of us who are really in a troubled marriage, what can we do?” But the pope’s advice is the most real, the most concrete, advice that anyone will ever give us. If spouses try to heal their relationship on their own, they will quickly lose hope and they will fail. But if spouses entrust themselves to the living God who loves them beyond measure, they will be able to love each other with God’s love through the Holy Spirit: “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). We always have hope when we trust the One who makes all things new (cf. Revelation 21:5).

Edward Trendowski is Coordinator for Catechetical Resources for the Diocese of Providence and teaches pastoral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Labor Unions and Catholic Social Teaching

My father broke his back when he was 30 years old; he had four children under the age of 9. When it became impossible for him to go to work, my parents sold the new station wagon they had recently bought (a red ’59 Chevy Bel Air—if you are old enough you may recall its fine horizontal fins) and put the money back in the bank, expecting to need it for food, mortgage and utilities.

LinemanAt that point my father had been working for ATT (back when it owned all of the regional telephone companies) for only six years, but he belonged to a labor union. The contract negotiated with ATT by the Communications Workers of America provided him with the surgery and other medical care he needed as well as a salary during the months he could not work. The back surgery was a success, and after a few months the body cast came off and he continued to work for the telephone company for another twenty-eight years. The contracts that allowed him to keep his job while recovering was a good thing for both the employees and the corporation: the extensive education in electronics that my father received from ATT, for example, continued to benefit the company for almost three decades.

That was 1960, when labor unions were more common and more socially acceptable. Today, because of the war on unions and the poor in general, things are different. In a recent Labor Day editorial, Howard Hubbard, retired bishop of Albany, noted that “union membership is down, representing 11 percent of the overall workforce and 7 percent of private sector workers in 2013. In 1983, unions represented 20 percent of the overall workforce.” In Washington, “for-profit corporations outnumber those representing labor unions 50 to 1. About 72 percent of all expenditures on lobbying originate with organizations representing businesses.” Bishop Hubbard insists that “[i]t is imperative, therefore, that we promote workers’ organizations that defend their rights and ward off those forces of capitalism that can be exploitive and dehumanizing.”

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope. Here in North Carolina an interfaith “Labor Sabbath” was organized in an effort to encourage ministers to mention the importance of unions and worker rights from the pulpit. Of course, Catholic Social Teaching supports the dignity of labor and the workers’ right to unionize, but occasionally it needs to be reawakened from its complacency. In the United States, the legacy of the great labor priests such as John Ryan, Paul Hanley Furfey and George Higgins lives on in Bishop Hubbard and many others. But as John Dilulio Jr. has recently written in America, “without a rebirth of the American Labor movement our nation’s interwoven economic and political inequalities will only become more sizable—and more sinful.”

David Hammond teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.