“We still have a lot of work to do.” This was the hopeful response I got from a Catholic priest when we discussed his reaction to the recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute on October 4th. The poll asked the following question: “Would you support or oppose a law in your state that would allow same-sex couples to get married?” Among Catholics who attend Mass about once a week 53 percent said they would support it. Though the poll did not ask any questions about contraception the director of the institute, Maurice Carroll, made this assertion in the official press release, “American Catholics liked what they heard when Pope Francis said the Church should stop talking so much about issues like gay marriage, abortion and contraception.”
Did the pope actually say “the Church should stop talking so much” about these issues? In the interview published in America Magazine on September 30th Pope Francis actually said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.” The context is “the proposal of the Gospel… it is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” The key for properly understanding the pope’s point are the words ‘only’ and ‘context.’ ‘Only’ does not mean “stop talking so much,” rather it means talking about lots of others things as well as these issues. ‘Context’ requires that when we speak about the meaning of marriage, life-issues, chastity, etc. we must always point to the reason for living these realities, which for the Christian, is our relationship with Jesus Christ.
For those who have followed similar polls in past decades the results are not news. Many Catholics do not seem to believe what the Church believes or at the very least they don’t have the words to express the truth about marriage, chastity, etc. The same questions seem to be repeated year after year by the media, commentators, perhaps even our friends and family. Questions like, why do some Catholics insist on talking about marriage and sexuality so much? Or, can’t they just talk about Jesus and love in some kind of “just be nice to everyone” way? Our answer according to Pope Francis is quite simple; we will continue to talk about these things, but in the proper context.
There is a growing sense in our society that gender is irrelevant to the definition and meaning of marriage. To talk about this among friends or relatives may result in a negative reaction leading to an argument and hurt feelings. In other circles – work, your parish, or neighbors – the reaction could be even more hostile. Bring up the subjects of contraception or abortion in polite company and see what happens; probably not a reasonable conversation informed by facts. Often the most difficult part of speaking up for what we believe is that we can’t find the right words to explain what we know to be true. This may lead us to be misunderstood and, when faced with accusations of intolerance, meanness, or ignorance, we are tempted to back-down or accept false qualifications placed on what we have said. We may even avoid talking about these things in polite company. The result, many of the people we know may have no one who will ever explain to them the truth about marriage, family and sexuality.
Clearly the faithful need help in responding to these issues. We need clear and simple language that is both true to Christ’s teachings and understandable by those with whom we speak. The diocese is offering a free, one-day workshop on Saturday, October 26, to help the faithful have the proper language and approach to these issues. I will be presenting with Fr. Bryce Sibley, who holds a licentiate degree in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome.
The workshop, Contemporary Problems Related to Marriage, will be held at St. Therese Parish in Parkville. There is one thing I guarantee, we will be talking about Jesus and the Gospel in a way that provides those who attend with concrete and vital ways to explain marriage, even to those who favor same-sex marriage.
If you plan to attend this free workshop and would like to order a box lunch ($8.50) please contact Jerri (816) 714-2308.
Please note that this workshop has been approved by Bishop Finn to enable attendees to be eligible for receiving a plenary indulgence under the normal conditions as part of the Year of Faith.
Dino Durando is Director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.