Tag Archives: My Thoughts for Pope Francis

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Two: What Family Is, Naturally


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

I hope you didn’t think I’d forgotten about this little series! This is the third in a series of posts about the preparation for the synod on marriage and the family. I invite you to add your responses in the comments or on your own blog.

Please offer a prayer for the synod. All the participants need our prayer more than anything! It begins on Sunday, October 5, and continues through October 19.

On to the next set of questions!

Marriage According to the Natural Law

a.k.a. What Marriage Actually Is, Naturally, Despite What We May Think It Is or Desire It to Be

What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles, and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

In academics, natural law is seen as philosophy and only one of many ideas. It’s not taken seriously, or it is seen as religion in disguise. I’ve never heard anyone outside of the Church even mention natural law (with one exception: Dr. J. Budziszewski), but then again, I’ve never studied philosophy. The cultural study (anthropology) of family is seen as fluid and changing: family is whatever you want to call it, parents are anyone with enough money and science behind them, and marriage is outdated in the modern world.

Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

Baptized churchgoers are more likely to be attuned to the natural law even if they don’t know it by name. They know deep down that some things just ought to be a certain way. Many don’t see an application of any aspect of Church teachings, including the foundation of natural law, to any sphere outside the Church. I don’t know about the “baptized in general.” If you happen to be baptized but not religiously involved at all, then you probably live in about the same way as the unbaptized religiously apathetic person.

How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?

Parts of the civil world outside of the Church are still clinging to the natural law of marriage, but they don’t always have the words or philosophy to back it up. They cling to history or social popularity, which is not nearly as strong a foundation. If “equality” means “treating everyone in exactly the same manner,” then “marriage equality” proponents might have a point. (I don’t think that’s what equality means.) The idea of family has been so far separated from the identities of individual men and women, and even of couples, that it doesn’t even come up in the same conversation.

In the Church, there is enough confusion that “denying” someone marriage to a person of the same sex is seen as cruel by many people. When civil marriage lost its goal of permanence, making divorce more common, it was only a matter of time before the complementarity of man and woman and the goal of family became lost, too. On the other hand, demonstrating the fruitfulness of marriage by raising large families has become a way to demonstrate faith. If you don’t have many children, people will think you’re being unfaithful. A family can be just a couple without children; fruitfulness comes in other forms, too. Everyone’s point of view is skewed.

In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with.

Cohabiting couples are a distinct and modern challenge. Many pastors are neutral on the cohabitation of never-married couples requesting the sacrament, not requiring them to separate or even suggesting it. The few that insist upon separation are seen as “not being pastoral” (a.k.a. not being nice). There is something to be said for the hope that the grace of the sacrament will convict cohabitors of their sin, but there is also something to be said for such couples setting a scandalous example. If a cohabiting couple can be married with the same ceremony as a chaste couple, what motive is there for the chaste couple to remain so? On the other hand, if a cohabiting couple is turned away from the sacrament, will they ever receive it, or will they seek civil marriage or simply never marry? How do we account for sexually active (fornicating) couples who don’t cohabit or who all-but-cohabit? In welcoming their decision to regularize their situation, do we implicitly condone their past behavior? We can never prove receipt of the sacrament of reconciliation, so are we inviting cohabiting couples to potentially receive the sacrament of marriage while in a state of mortal sin?

Non-practicing Catholics are often also cohabitors. If they are not, then there is the possibility that a Church wedding is nothing more than a big, pretty party. Baptized Catholics are allowed to be married in the Church, all other obstacles notwithstanding. Marriage might even be the way they return to active practice. If it’s not, though, we’re just helping them put on a show.

As far as (unbaptized) nonbelievers go, I think it’s fairly well-known that at least one member of the couple must be Catholic to have a Catholic wedding. If neither is, that sounds like just the opportunity for RCIA.

That’s the second section. It was much more philosophical, but there’s plenty of real life that stems from our ideas about the way life should be. Have you ever heard of natural law outside of a religious context (or just outside of a Catholic context)? Do you think marrying cohabitors in the Church sets a bad example? Pope Francis asked for your opinion, too!

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part One: How They Know About Family and What They Do About It


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

You came back! I’m touched.

This is the second (read the intro here) in a series of posts about the preparation for the synod on marriage and the family. This synod is properly called the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the topic “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” That’s a mouthful!

Each post in this series will include the actual questions asked in the survey along with my responses. I invite you to add your responses in the comments or on your own blog.

As I mentioned in the intro, Pope Francis, by way of the Diocese of Austin, asked for my opinion by linking to SurveyMonkey. Before I could get to the actual survey, though, I had to download and read this PDF, the preparatory document. I found it helpful to read that because it put me in the right frame of mind to answer the questions, but I would have found it useful to know that the questions on pages 4–7 were the ones that would be asked in the survey. I could have prepared my answers in advance rather than risk a computer crash or browser refresh that could destroy everything in an instant. With great technological power comes great responsibility. In the end, I copied and pasted my answers into a Google Doc so that I could write this blog series. Score one for planning.

On to the first set of questions and answers! Notes in brackets are mine.

The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium

a.k.a. How People Know What the Church Teaches about the Family and What People Do About It

Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar [post-Vatican II] Magisterium is understood by people today? [That’s not actually a question.] What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?

Most people know about the Church’s teaching on the value of the family only through homilies on the Feast of the Holy Family, in marriage preparation programs from the last few decades, or by seeking out information on their own. Very few people seek out info on their own, and even marriage prep can miss the opportunity for catechesis about family in particular (versus the married couple on their own). I read Gaudium et spes, and I couldn’t tell you what it says about family off the top of my head. I would say that most people just know that married couples are supposed to stick together for life and that children are supposed to be a good thing.

In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

Many people reject the Church’s teachings outright because the media, the world, and even extended families make it seem impossible. Struggling parents often don’t have friends or family members to serve as role models giving them hope, advice, and prayer. They can feel pressure to be “done” having children, to live “childfree,” to use contraception, or to be sterilized. Unhappy spouses can be talked into divorce even when reconciliation is possible. Parents are convinced that “the kids are all right.” Catholics who do not attend Mass don’t hear any voices speaking the Church’s truth even if they know what the truth is.

How widespread is the Church’s teaching in pastoral programs at the national, diocesan, and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?

Catechesis on the family is usually limited to discussions of the sacrament of marriage. Family activities are increasing, but there is still much separation of age groups (i.e. parents don’t usually learn right alongside their children, or even at the same time if not in the same place). National websites such as For Your Marriage are great but not widely accessed. I don’t know of any specific resources for families in the Diocese of Austin except the Counseling Services (through Catholic Charities).

To what extent—and what aspects in particular—is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected, and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?

Outside of the church, the definition of “family” has changed. It no longer centers around a married man and woman and their children, with or without extended relatives. It is believed that a free, total, faithful, and fruitful marriage is wishful thinking at best and impossible at worst. Marriage is no longer needed for sexual activity, shared home life, or raising children. Family can be whatever you define it to be, which makes the word carry little meaning. Marriage is no longer seen as something that should last a lifetime or is even able to last a lifetime. Children are seen as a nice addition to marriage, but not “too soon” and not more than two or three. Celebrities and other media figures don’t support the Church’s vision of marriage and family. Those who try to follow the Church are ridiculed, sometimes by their own friends or families. It is very difficult to be faithful to the Church’s vision of family even if you know what it is.

That’s it for the first section. What do you think? How do you know what the Church teaches about family? What parts of our culture make Catholic family life difficult? Pope Francis asked for your opinion, too!

Pope Francis Asked for My Opinion!

That title is truth. Pope Francis asked for my opinion!

I didn’t give it to him, though.

Why? It’s not because I was too overwhelmed by his holiness (lowercase as in a characteristic, not capitalized as in a form of address). It’s not because I don’t have an opinion on the issue. It’s not even because I didn’t start formulating an answer.

I didn’t give him my opinion because I forgot he asked for it until it was too late.


As is being noted by secular and Catholic media outlets alike, Pope Francis has called for an extraordinary synod of bishops. This is kind of like having an intervention for the world. The topic is the “Pastoral Challenge to the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” which is excellent because the family as a concept is in sore shape these days. In common terms, it’s a big meeting (a synod) on marriage and the family. There will be an ordinary synod later, but the extraordinary one starts on October 5. As part of the preparation for this synod, Pope Francis asked each bishop to conduct a survey of his parishioners for their opinions about the topics that the synod will cover.

God bless Bishop Joe for trying. He is a fine bishop, and he actually asked all the parishioners in the diocese to offer their opinions. He even collected them with SurveyMonkey: a clear step up from the old-school parish registration card. The publicity just wasn’t great. The only mention I saw was in the diocesan e-newsletter, the E-Pistle, which you have to opt into receiving (as you should). Even the board of Austin CNM only got wind of it a few days before the submission deadline in April, and with the particular administration of the survey, that just wasn’t enough time. I heard about it right away and was very excited, but I spent my time elsewhere and only got to composing my answers the night before the deadline. Then I almost fell asleep typing and decided my energy was better spent going to bed.

So everything I said was true: Pope Francis asked for my opinion, and I didn’t give it to him. But I wish I had.

Conveniently, I have a blog! I occasionally even have readers (thanks, guys!), but I blog for the sake of my own memory, too. This provides the perfect opportunity to remedy my egregious error.

This post is the beginning and anchor for a series about my opinions on the ways that the message of the Church about marriage and family life reaches (or doesn’t reach) the people, those in the Church and those outside her. To my knowledge, this is the first time the people have been asked to offer their opinions to the pope, at least in the modern era. I doubt mine will ever make it up to Pope Francis because this is not the usual channel, but I will at least get to express myself. At the same time, I can share the questions from the survey, and you can figure out what you think, too.

Tune back tomorrow for the first installment: whether I think people know what the Church and the Bible say about the family.

Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

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