A recent piece in The New York Times asked the provocative question, “What is a Catholic Family?” Today, Bondings 2.0 samples a few reflections on Catholic families, and we hope our readers will continue the discussion ‘Comments’ section below by sharing a bit about what “family” means to you.
The original esssay by Peter Manseau was published in mid-October, during the Synod, and it includes historical background on just how greatly Catholic understandings of marriage and family life have changed over the centuries. He writes the synod’s discussions are “an indication that the idea of family is again evolving in Rome.” What does he mean by ‘again’?
Manseau reminds Catholics that, in the church’s earliest days, marriage was second to celibacy for it was “full of situations regarded as unpleasant by the saintly.” This mentality is pervasive up through the Second Vatican Council, and unofficialy today. In the 16th century’s Council of Trent, the participants noted the “pastoral issues” of their time such as kidnapped brides, and priests who were marrying. Of this, Manseau writes:
“In every instance, the question of who might constitute a family was a matter of how far those involved fell short of an unattainable ideal.
“Which is perhaps not so far from the supposedly ‘wounded’ and ‘irregular’ families that are largely the focus of the synod’s report…the synod’s bishops have not opened a big tent welcoming all those mentioned to fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church, and indeed they are unlikely to do so.
“Yet even quibbling over words of qualified welcome, they have reminded the faithful that their church has developed over time through conflict and contradiction, and may again.”
Manseau concludes with an allusion to the Holy Family–” a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God”–and he asks two questions: “What family is not wounded?” and “Was any family ever more irregular than that?”
In an essay for the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety explores one Catholic family’s struggle to welcome and to love their lesbian daughter and sister, Anne Marie DeMent. Tenety opens her piece on the 30-year-old from Maryland by writing:
“It’s hard to come out as gay…It is even harder when your parents are profoundly committed conservative Catholics, your brother is a prominent priest who represents traditional church views on Fox News, and you were raised to believe that everything the church teaches is true.”
DeMent came out to a highly conservative Catholic family, a family that her brother, celebrity priest Fr. Jonathan Morris, called an “idyllic Catholic family.” Her parents did not respond well, nor did extended relatives who used pastorally damaging language. Yet, she found her wife, Katie, to be “life-giving” and the two were married four years ago after DeMent recognized the Catholic Church was wrong on homosexuality and marriage equality.
Her family, however, has not fully evolved. Her mother, Sharon Morris, says “We’re trying to figure out what love is…We wanted to live our whole life for God.” DeMent’s parents and brother skipped the wedding, though a few siblings were present, and since then the couple has not been welcomed to Christmas.
The arrival of Pope Francis changed some of DeMent’s relationships, healed divisions between siblings, and even led to a softening tone from her brother, Fr. Morris, in his public appearances. As for her mother’s journey:
“When people try to remind Sharon Morris that the Catholic Church ‘loves the sinner but not the sin,’ she says: ‘It goes through me, because I think, “You don’t know my daughter. Do you know your own sin?” ‘ “
“Talking about gays as if ‘they’re a different creature…affects me differently now…That’s why I consider this [experience] a great grace.’ “
DeMent acknowledges the struggle, but continues to press on in relating to her conservative Catholic family. She offers these inspiring words, perhaps the most Christian quote in the article:
” ‘I truly do not want to strong-arm or persuade my siblings or my parents to at any point go against their conscience in trying to accept me. And vice versa…I don’t want to move away from my personal conscience or what I think is right just in order to have this relationship…
” ‘That’s where, for me, my fundamental call for life is to pursue that. To pursue the good, to pursue love. When it hurts, to be able to look at my sister and understand that we might have these differences but that our learning to love each other is what lasts, is what is everlasting. . . . We’re called to a radical trust in love, a radical trust in each other, as our way forward.’ “
Indeed, growing up in my own family, it was a most radical love which held us together in diversity and even stark differences. When asking what makes a Catholic family, I fathom the answer is something involving trust, love, and care. And I know DeMent and I are not the only ones who share this experience of love.
So what do you think? What makes a Catholic family? How do families respond in love when there are differences? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry