Perhaps you’ve noticed that some reporters describe the disagreement between Catholic leaders as between those who want to keep the status quo on marriage and family and those who want merciful and compassionate change.
What nonsense. What political spin.
Many of us dubbed “conservative,” who supposedly peddle a “closed system of theology,” and allegedly confuse the “gospel with a penal code” certainly don’t want the status quo. We believe in change.
In the book “The Gospel of the Family,” the authors, Father Juan Jose Pérez-Soba and Dr. Stephan Kampowski, underscore the transformative power of the gospel on marriage and family life. They want a full engagement of the gospel’s power, which they believe hasn’t been happening in the Catholic Church. That’s hardly status quo. As Cardinal George Pell writes in his foreword, the Church must provide “lifeboats for those who have been shipwrecked by divorce” but the Church must also direct people to a safe port, not toward the rocks or the marshes. And the Church should provide leadership and good maps to reduce the number of shipwrecks to begin with. Again, no status quo.
It’s not a matter of staying the course; it’s a matter of helping people get on the right course.
Like so many others labeled “conservative,” I want change, not the status quo. But not just any change. Not change that makes things worse. Not change that compromises the full truth of marriage and family. Not change that undercuts rather than strengthens discipleship. Not change that seems like a throwback to bad, failed ideas of the 1970s-1990s, ideas that helped create the problem, and which are only now beginning to be exorcised from Church structures and programs.
The change many of us want is the change of a deep implementation of Pope St. John Paul II‘s teaching on marriage and family life. We want Evangelical Catholicism. We would like to see a profound imbibing of the vision of Pope St. John Paul II and a soul-searching acknowledgment by pastoral leadership that for much of the last three decades, Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching and insights as presented in Familiaris Consortio and the Theology of the Body have been minimized, ignored, and even opposed by many Church leaders.
Many of us remember how some leaders opposed or dragged their feet on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A universal catechism, we were told, was impossible today. They fought to limit laity’s access to the Catechism. Some still do. They opposed John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor and they supported dissent in moral theology. Is it surprising they also fought John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and family?
Are we really supposed to believe this teaching has been thoroughly implemented and the present situation represents its failure? The truth is otherwise.
I want change. I want to see all the youth and young adult ministry efforts, all Catholic schools, all marriage prep programs, and all adult faith formation programs to make Familiaris Consortio and the Theology of the Body’s vision their own. How about enthusiastic, creative, and winsome presentations of that vision of human sexuality, marriage, and family life backed with the full force of Catholic energies, using all the resources of media and messaging?
It’s begun, of course — the past 10 years have seen a significant improvement, especially from lay initiatives and grassroots efforts. But there’s so much more to do. Now is not the time to talk as if we need less rather than more Evangelical Catholicism. Now is not the time to turn the clock back to 1982 and stand athwart the gift of St. John Paul II’s teaching, the very pope whom Pope Francis canonized alongside another papal trailblazer, Pope St. John XXIII.
For decades, some Church officials sent mixed messages to young people, to those preparing for marriage, and to married couples about whether the Church really believes what she says. We haven’t collectively directed our creative energies into converting and forming our people. We shouldn’t pretend as if we have. Indeed, in some cases, in the name of being “pastoral”, some leaders formed young people with a vision contrary to the faith. Now we look up and wonder why the world’s problems with sexuality, gender, and marriage and family life so deeply affect the Church.
We need a renewed missionary effort here. How about a, well, New Evangelization? I’m not talking simply about teaching the truth — although that’s crucial. While things have begun to turn around, we have had far too little systematic and engaging teaching in so much of parish life. New resources are available, but we have a long way to go.
No, when I speak of evangelization I mean evangelizing for serious discipleship and doing so in the context of the Gospel of the Family — the good news of what life in Christ says about the family. Catechesis assumes and implies conversion. Conversion is bound up with evangelization. Far from being contrary to mercy, it is, as St. John Paul II, the Pope of Divine Mercy, taught, at the very heart of the Gospel. If we want to live the Gospel of Mercy, then we must convert the family.
Hasn’t the New Evangelization been launched? In some places, yes. To some degree, certainly. In recent times, more so. Yet not so much on matters of chastity, marriage, and family life. That’s a revolution poised to happen. There have been pioneers and early adopters leading the way.
Yet many people on the front lines of Catholic cultural engagement, evangelization, and faith formation will tell you they’ve often been thwarted by the very people in the Church they should expect to be allies. They will tell you the issues raised by Cardinal Kasper’s proposal extend well beyond the very limited question of how we handle divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. They will tell you that however “moderate” Cardinal Kasper’s proposals may appear, there is a cadre of people ready to push them well beyond “raising questions” and “voicing concerns.” The New Evangelists of the JP2 Generation will tell you that with all due respect to Cardinal Walter Kasper, he isn’t the only one who can speak about the situation “on the ground.” The JP2 Generation’s Evangelists are also part of God’s people. They operate every day in various pastoral capacities, situations, and apostolates. And their sensus fidei differs greatly from Cardinal Kasper’s.
It’s time to move forward in mercy and truth. It’s time to do what Jesus commanded when he came preaching the Kingdom: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Repent for our past shortcoming of not fully embracing the message of St. John Paul II. And believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ can transform our lives, our families, and our witness to the world.
Let’s move forward toward the Full Gospel of the Family, not a truncated, cherry-picked Gospel of the parts we like, the parts that make it easier for us to go along to get along in the controverted areas of sexuality, marriage, and family life. Let’s keep the hard sayings of the Gospel as well as the comforting passages. By all means, let’s show the love of Christ to those who suffer. What else can we do? But let’s not think we can improve on Jesus’ message with supposedly pastoral shortcuts that undermine the full and transformative truth of the gospel.
When it comes to Church reform of marriage and family life, I am no “conservative.” I reject the label. I am an enthusiastic, positive, committed disciple who wants change — metanoia. That change comes from embracing the Full Gospel of the Family.
Mark Brumley is president of Ignatius Press, one of the nation’s largest Catholic publishers and distributors of videos and music, and the primary English-language publisher of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s writings.