Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Archbishop Martin speaks about marriage

It's been awhile since I have mentioned how much I admire Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland. I admire him for many reasons, among which are his forthright dealing with the grave Church abuse crisis in Ireland, not playing politics or mincing words, even when it comes to his fellow bishops, the result of which is that he will probably never be created a cardinal (even the Franciscan papacy can only handle so much truth), his call to people with no faith to act according to their own consciences when it comes to baptizing their children, publicly teaching that Christianity is not a tribal phenomenon, quite the opposite, and certainly for establishing the permanent diaconate on the Emerald Isle in aid of healing and rebuilding the Church there (let's not forget St Patrick himself was the son of a deacon). There are many reasons he was highly favored by Pope St John Paul the Great, who called him from the Holy See's diplomatic service to go home to Ireland precisely to help rebuild the Church in his native land. His intervention at Extraordinary Synod also serves to demonstrate why I hold him in such high regard.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

Before writing about his intervention I must state that it has become obvious to me in the lead up to the Synod and now that it has begun that the idea and/or reality of a man and a woman married for life, whether Catholic, Christian, Jewish, non-religious, etc., has truly become a sign of contradiction. The mere mention of such an audacity sends many flying off on the nearest tangent: What about those who are divorced? What about those divorced and remarried? What about these people? What about those people? It often seems to me that for many a man and a woman married for life bear no consideration whatsoever, their very existence is a cause for offense. All this before addressing those with enough audacious hope to conceive, bear, and raise more than one or two children. I believe that at a very deep level, this unhealthy societal shift constitutes the very reason for this year's and next year's Synods.

My sentiments partially arise from reading about Archbishop Martin's intervention, in which he took up precisely that thread, albeit in a gentler, more melodic tone and tenor. In his remarks to the Synod, His Excellency noted that the sacrament of marriage is a gift given for the building up of the Church in holiness. Due to its sacramental nature, marriage has as special status in the Church. He cited the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: "Christian married couples help one another to attain holiness in their married life" (par 11). Given this, in my view, it stands to reason that because of its sacramental character, the witness of couples living out their vocation is vital for both strengthening and communicating a deep understanding of the Church. After all, the sacramental sign of marriage points to the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Designating the family as the domestic Church is no mere attempt to engage in sentimentalism, it is a reality. Part of the failure to hand on the faith to younger generations is due to the disintegration of the family and, even when it comes to intact families, not living our Catholic faith in our homes.

As the Zenit summary of Archbishop Martin's remarks put it: "The authentic living out of the married vocation, sanctified by a sacrament, can become in a unique way a true theological source. Familiaris Consortio spoke of the law of graduality rather a graduality of the law. There is still difficulty in accepting the significance of human endeavour which fails to reach the high ideals but is part of the struggle for perfection. None of us would be capable of living the teaching of our calling in the Church without the help of the mercy of God."

Prior to these remarks, Archbishop Martin shared another deep insight concerning marriage, when he pointed out, again, according to the summary of his intervention, that "many men and women, without making explicit reference to the teaching of the Church, actually live out the value of marital fidelity day-by-day, at times heroically." In a direct quote he said, "They would hardly recognise their own experience in the way we present the ideals of married life. Indeed many in genuine humility would probably feel that they are living a life which is distant from the ideal of marriage as presented by Church teaching." He called for "a theological language of listening" to married couples, pointing out that "To many the language of the Church appears to be a disincarnated language of telling people what to do, a 'one way dialogue.' I am in no way saying that the Church is not called to teach. I am not saying that experience on its own determines teaching or the authentic interpretation of teaching. What I am saying is that the lived experience and struggle of spouses can help find more effective ways of expression of the fundamental elements of Church teaching."

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