By Matt Keppel
Two weekends ago, I had the immense blessing to be in Philadelphia to witness the beautiful representative of the Catholic Church that is Pope Francis. The conference that he was attending, and closing, was on the family and the life of the family within the Church. Following the World Meeting of Families, he is going to follow up his historic visit to the United States with the Synod on the Family. So, it would seem that family is significant on Francis’s list. After listening to him multiple times this weekend, I can attest to what he believes about the life of the family: love.
Just as Francis has been clear about some issues regarding families, he has been interestingly vague on others. On nearly every street corner in Philadelphia the throngs of people were confronted by men, young and old, asking us (mostly men, really) to sign a petition intended for Pope Francis that he might make a definitive statement about marriage being between a man and a woman. And yet, at the World Meeting of Families what did he tell us about families? That they are called to love the members within them; children are valuable to us because they are our future; our grandparents are our familial memory; and the love of the family should be lived out to bring love and joy to our communities. Many of us standing there were shocked. Francis finished his Saturday evening address without addressing what so many people had hoped he would: same-sex unions.
For those who were soliciting signatures, I must say, that your efforts are all for naught. I do not expect that Pope Francis will say anything at all against, or in favor of, same-sex marriage. Over the next couple of days, weeks, months, or even years it is likely that he says nothing at all and remains coy on the subject. If he were to say something definitive on marriage being unique to a man and woman, it would have been this weekend, and it would have been an instant crowd-pleaser to the million plus people gathered in the City of Brotherly Love last weekend. Yet, as various families were paraded in front of the Supreme Pontiff, Francis remained silent on the topic most talked about in the United States this year. So, what does it mean? It’s a contentious topic, and the Church is famous for taking time to consider the wisdom in any major decision. If we believe that changes come through the movement of the Holy Spirit, then we must also be willing to be patient as we listen to the Spirit. This topic, especially, requires patience.
What Pope Francis will do is something far more powerful and lasting than to make a definitive statement on marriage. He will continue to establish the intrinsic value of the human person. It doesn’t matter who they are: immigrants, prisoners, laity, religious, slaves, or free. The wisdom of Pope Francis is showing the world that what a family looks like doesn’t matter nearly as much as how we love those within our families, and how that love is lived out to those around us.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Church isn’t going to fall apart. Our world is not at an end. Most of all, God won’t stop loving us. Instead of worrying about how same-sex relationships may or may not be wrong, spend some time listening to what the Pope is saying: love one another. He doesn’t mince words, nor does he waste them: love one another as God loves us; and live as stewards of the earth, that is, caretakers of the world rather than owners of it. This is our job, our calling, deigned unto by God long before Cardinal Bergoglio took on the name “Francis.” This is our mission to those whom we consider family, however that may be.