Somebody asked me recently if I knew I was going to Fatima on the feast day of patron saint of travellers. Without giving it much thought and suspecting that it may be the feast day of St Christopher, I said I didn’t. I was reminded that 11th November is the feast day of St Martin of Tours (the place where he was from!)
My dear brothers and sisters,
On this Remembrance Sunday we recall the great crises faced by generations before us in the conflicts of the past century. Last month, Pope Francis invited bishops from around the world to meet with him in Rome to address what we might call a crisis of our time: the crisis of the family. This is experienced in some parts of the world in poverty, war or persecution; but in western countries like our own, it is a crisis most often caused by ideologies opposed to the sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage and the family.
The Catholic Church has long opposed these mentalities and the devastation they have wrought on individuals, societies and especially among the young and most vulnerable. Pope Francis recently declared that the “Christian family and marriage are under great attack,” due, he said, to the growing relativism regarding the very concept of marriage (Address to the Schoenstatt Movement, 27th October 2014). God’s plan of marriage, which is written into human nature and raised by Christ to be a Sacrament, is being replaced by the idea that we can each make our own truth according to our own ideas and desires (cf. Gaudium et Spes 47).
The first Christians required great courage to overcome and transform a vast, pagan world whose ideas about marriage and sexual morality were not unlike those which prevail in our own culture. Today we need this same, supernatural, courage to give witness to all the Church believes and teaches about marriage, the family and human sexuality. The Synod of Bishops, gathered around Pope Francis, met precisely to consider how “the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family” (Final Synod Report, October 2014).
Yet, I am conscious that there have been many reports since the Synod suggesting the Church is about to change her constant teaching. Cardinal Nichols, who attended the Synod, wrote on his return that it is simply not true that this meeting was ever about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality (Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop of Westminster, October 2014). The bishops considered the challenges being faced by families across the world. They sought a “pastoral response” which offers, in Pope Francis’ words, answers “to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.” The Church, he added, always seeks “to receive the needy, the penitent and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect!” Pope Francis insisted that we must not only welcome those who are lost amid this crisis, we must be ready to go out and find them!
The Church offers the truth she has received from Christ her Lord, not with hostility towards those who have taken a wrong path, but with the greatest love and concern for every person. The Church on earth is made up of sinners called to become saints; our practice of frequent Confession is, indeed, a constant reminder that every one of us is called along this path! It would be the ultimate failure in pastoral care or charity, to mislead people by encouraging them to remain in sin, or fail to call them to repentance and renewal (cf Lumen Gentium 8). Pope Francis describes such an approach as “deceptive mercy,” a false mercy which bandages wounds but fails to heal them.
Today I want to dispel any misleading impression that the Church will abandon her witness to the truth and change her teaching in the face of hostile trends in public opinion or the destructive ideologies of our time. Pope Francis spoke of this as: “the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.”
Pope Francis has set before us the example of Saint John Paul II whom he named “the Pope of the family”; and of Pope Paul VI whom, at the end of the Synod, he declared among the Blessed, not least for his sometimes lonely witness to the truth. In the crisis we face today, let us look to the great inheritance of their teaching. May their courage and prayer inspire us to seek a greater faithfulness and a deeper understanding of what Christ and His Church truly teach about marriage, the family and human sexuality. At the end of the Synod, Pope Francis asked: “please do not forget to pray for me!” On this Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, which celebrates our unity in faith and love with the Holy See of Rome, may we never fail to pray for our Holy Father as he confirms us in faith amid all the passing crises of time (Luke 22:32).
With my blessing,