Last month Pope Francis seemed to shock the world by marrying 20 couples in a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica. Aside from the fact that Popes don’t get the opportunity to preside at weddings all that often, what provided the real shock value was that amongst the couples, some had cohabited, one had a child out of wedlock, and another had a previous marriage annulled.
Some of the hundreds of headlines read, “Pope’s Marriage Celebrations Hint at Coming Changes for the Church”, “Pope Francis Spent His Sunday Marrying Dirty Cohabiters and Other Sinners,” and “Pope Breaks Taboo by Marrying Cohabiting Couples.”
I realize, of course, that editors and news producers love to create a stir, but when you digest the actual reports, it becomes clear that there is real ignorance around what the Catholic Church is actually on about. There was a false assumption by the media that the ceremony was a sign that Francis is about to dismantle the “Vatican rules” about marriage.
One report boldly stated that by his actions the Pope had “redefined” Catholic doctrine. Another report felt the need to actually clarify that the Pope didn’t marry any homosexual couples in the ceremony, however hinting that this may be the beginning of some openness towards that. The general theme was that because the Pope married people who the media deemed as sinners, 2000 years of Christian understanding on the nature of marriage and sexuality was somehow up for grabs.
The Pope and the ceremony did not redefine anything, least of all any doctrine. The ceremony certainly included a mix of couples including some very active in their faith and others who in the past were less so. Unlike the media, the Church does not look to people and define them as ‘sinners,’ she states what sin is, but never attempts to read the heart of an individual and cast judgement: that is generally left to God.
What we saw was the same spectrum of couples that are married in churches every day across the world. The truth is that not every couple who stand before a priest to get married are saints; in fact I guarantee you that none of them are. But that’s the whole point of marriage. The sacrament exists so that couples mutually sanctify one another through their life together. Every married couple should go to their deathbed as saints but there is no obligation to be ‘canonizable’ at the start. Each of the couples who the Pope married were prepared by their local parish priest and were ready and willing to embrace marriage.
It amuses me how the media seems to forget that the Church has to take its lead from Jesus Christ, and what did he do? He ate with public sinners, and he got the same sort of publicity back in his day. And to the criticisms he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The secular press – which incidentally believes in nothing anyway – stands around self-righteously pointing out the faults of others and fails to see that the actions of this Pope (and every Pope before him) are in imitation of their leader Jesus Christ, calling all people from death to life, from sin to sanctity. The media speaks ignorantly about doctrine having no idea that doctrine is just the end result of following the example of Jesus.
It is worth recalling the story of Christ when he came across the woman caught in adultery. She was about to be stoned to death for her sin but he challenged those who were without sin themselves to cast the first stone. Everyone walked away. Christ did not condemn the woman but he did importantly tell her to go and ‘sin no more.’
The Church does the same thing today and on every day. She reaches out to those who have fallen, helps them stand back up and encourages them to strive to be all they are called to be.
The secular media, on the other hand, dismisses the spiritual nature of the human person, laughs at the concept of sin, but is first in line to point out that the Pope married couples who were not perfect, as if this is some sort of scandal. By their actions, however, the media only demonstrates once again their own foolishness compared to the rich mercy of Christianity, which invites all people, no matter who they are or how far they have fallen, to stand up, look towards the light and continue on the journey towards perfection.
If you are married, you may wish to share with our readers the way in which your own marriage has been a source of sanctification for you and your spouse.
Copyright 2014, Bernard Toutounji