May 19, 2019

Family: A Gift of Sanctifying Grace

The family is in the eye of a menacing storm. But it is a storm limited to our secularized western world. If we were to assign to children in Asia or Africa the task of drawing the picture of a family, you could bet that all children would draw the picture of a traditional family. This should not surprise anyone who looks with detached objectivity at what is going on in our western world. The reason is as old as the world itself. It is the way nature operates to preserve the human species. It is also the imprint left in our bodies and souls by our Creator God, who made us either male or female and told us to be fertile and to multiply.

The fury to redefine the concept of family and of marriage is the continuation of the war on religious freedom started by secularists a few decades ago. It is mostly directed at the Catholic Church, which is seen as the last bulwark of morality based on natural law and on the Gospel. Their effort is gaining seemingly unstoppable momentum, not only because, according to their ideology, the individual self has taken the place of any deity and held solely to an ever-changing, loose standard of vague morality, but also because religions have been dismissed en masse after being identified with the barbaric excesses of their respective zealots and fundamentalists. The only acceptable rule seems to be political correctness while any dissent, such as diversity of thought, is swiftly crushed with accusations of bigotry and hate speech.

We believers are confused because we feel hurt by the untrue charge of resorting to hate speech whenever we mention the tenets of God’s revelation about Christian morality. We know that we are called to love everyone as a child of God, and yet we are not respected. Instead, we are labeled homophobic. Wounded by these false accusations, we are at a loss about reconciling equal protection under the law applied fairly to anyone regardless of their sexual orientation with Catholic doctrine. A sense of fairness is deeply imbedded also in the American soul, ours included.

Hence, we turn to Jesus who assures us that the truth will set us free. The truth about family the way God intended it to be from the onset of humankind’s history is readily available to us as preserved and interpreted by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Surprisingly, what God reveals about salvation is framed within the context of marriage and family life. In the Old Testament, Yahweh God introduces Himself in the natural relationships found in any traditional family. He is husband/father while Israel is wife/mother with a progeny as numerous as the sand by the seashore. In the New Testament the same concept is predicated of Jesus Christ as divine Groom and the Church as His Bride with all those born of water and the Spirit as children.

This habitually overlooked sublime reality is the reason why it is impossible for true Catholics to regard family as anything other than what He intended it to be, with a man and a woman, a father and a mother. A marriage celebration for Catholics is much more than any other marriage ceremony; it is a Sacrament, a gift of sanctifying grace instituted by Jesus Himself. Every couple married in a Catholic Church is called to become a most eloquent sign of the unfailing love of the Groom (Jesus) for his Bride (Church, all of us) and vice versa. Regardless of what the US Supreme Court may rule on this matter, regardless of how many Americans may want to redefine marriage to include two men or two women or any other possible variation thereof, they have no power whatsoever to change the understanding, the meaning, and the substance of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. For the Church, it is unthinkable to place this Sacrament at the same level as any other marriage ceremony.

Adherence to the teaching authority of the Church (Magisterium) enables us to understand that in a true family as designed by God, children have a right to a father and a mother. God reveals to us that children are a gift from Him (see Psalm 127) to a family with a father and a mother. Consequently, children seen as precious gifts from God have not only the right to their father/mother, but are also endowed with sublime human dignity. Such dignity would be otherwise taken from them if they are conceived in any other way than through the conjugal act of their parents. This view of children necessitates the right of children to be adopted only by traditional families.

As every Catholic should know, Pope Francis has intentionally placed traditional family at the center of the concerns and cares of the Church. Hence last year’s Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops all the way to the this year’s Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October will apply all the energies, enlightenment, acumens and efforts of her best minds to “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.”

In the history of the Catholic Church, very few issues have been given the attention, the scrutiny, the time and the coverage which is being given to the family.

Many Catholics, as well as agnostics and people who are otherwise indifferent to any religious subject, have given Pope Francis a superstar status because they all sense that he is the right man for these trying times for the Church. One of the undisputed reasons for his popularity, bordering on idolatry, must be his humility and his insistence on reassuring everyone that the true face of the Church is the face of compassion and tenderness which she has inherited from her divine Groom.

This is a most welcomed change of perception which restores harmony between tenets of the truth and the compassion and tenderness needed by a humanity that is woefully wounded and hurting.

In his divinely inspired insight, Pope Francis has quickly realized that the family is the arena where compassion and tenderness have to coincide with the firmness of Jesus’ teachings.

The challenge is twofold: to prove to a skeptic and rudderless world that sound religion is rational, reasonable and able to reach solutions that are positive and constructive. The other challenge is to be as clear and as firm as Christ Jesus was whenever seeking out sinners to heal them and to make them face the reality and consequences of their sins, urging them, therefore, to a radical change of life with a call filled with genuine compassion. She [the woman caught in adultery] replied, “No one, sir.”Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” John 8:11

What does the Lord expect of us concerning the vocation and the mission of the family? The Lord has promised to Simon Peter and his successors that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church built of the rock of his faith.

Pope Francis has received the same guarantee as he has accepted this twofold challenge. He asks all of us to have firm belief in the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer.

If we are bold in professing and living out our faith, even in this crucial issue of the family, the Lord will help the Pope and the bishops to come up with more compassionate pastoral solutions that remain faithful to Catholic doctrine while bringing the healing power of our most merciful Lord to those who live together without a committed covenant or live in broken or unconventional family situations.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin