Some episcopal conferences argue that the reason for much resistance to the Church’s teaching on moral issues related to the family is a want of an authentic Christian experience, namely, an encounter with Christ on a personal and communal level, for which no doctrinal presentation, no matter how accurate, can substitute.
In this regard, some responses point to the insufficiency of pastoral activity which is concerned only with dispensing the sacraments without a truly engaging Christian experience. Moreover, a vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations.
The responses are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices, because it is conditioned by uncertainty and transiency, a veritable “liquid society” and one with a “throw away” mentality and one seeking “immediate gratification”; and, finally, values reinforced by the so-called “culture of waste” and a “culture of the moment,” as frequently noted by Pope Francis.
Instrumentum Laboris for Synod on the Family, 15
Reflection – There is certainly much to ponder here in this one paragraph. It actually strikes very close to my heart—I would say, quite simply, that it is the whole raison d’être of the Madonna House apostolate to provide exactly that “authentic Christian experience… encounter with Christ on a personal and communal level” that the Instrumentum identifies as at the core of so much of the resistance to the Church’s teachings on the moral life, the lack of which leaves us vulnerable to all the secular ideologies and superficial pursuits of worldly life.
It is indeed a fact that you cannot possibly understand much at all about the Christian moral law without this grounding in Christian experience. In past eras, religious practice was far more common and (I believe) people did thus tend to have more actual faith. But it is also a fact that the Church spoke much more about hell and damnation and God’s judgment, and there was an element of fear that came into things. People were ‘scared straight’, and the proof of that is that, as soon as the fear of hell receded into insignificance, people just started doing whatever they pleased. A morality coming out of authentic Christian love and faith and prayer does not require someone standing over us with a big stick labeled ‘Hell’ to get us to comply.
Even if we wanted to go back to that kind of Church culture (I most sincerely don’t), we cannot. Instead, we have to go forward in finding ways to foster real faith and real love, and patiently continue to explain how these realities do indeed have moral implications.
This was the insight what Catherine Doherty came to in the 1940s. She had been laboring hard against social injustice, indifference to the poor, and racism in Toronto, New York, and Chicago. She had seen a great deal of man’s inhumanity to man, in Russia in the revolution, in Spain in its civil war, in Germany and Poland in the outbreak of World War II. But it was her experience of it in the wealthy, peaceful, and ‘Christian’ lands of Canada and the United States that shook her to the core.
Her conclusion was that the deepest poverty in the modern world was that people did not know God. They knew about Him, they knew His rules, but they did not know Him. And her radical decision in 1947 to move out of the cities and into the wilderness of Ontario, to establish what was then called a ‘rural settlement house’ came out of that apprehension of cosmic poverty, the greatest deprivation a human being can have, which is to not know the very source and highest goal of being, the deepest love there is, the entire meaning and purpose of life—God revealed in Jesus Christ.
And that is, fundamentally, the mission of Madonna House over these past 70 years or so, to create a place where people can come to know the love of God. Someone sent me this link yesterday, a testimony from a former MH guest, that shows exactly what I’m talking about (the MH part starts around the 30 minute point).
It was Catherine’s spiritual genius, which she bequeathed to us by ceaseless teaching and preaching of it, that the only way to bring people into this experience of God’s love is by loving whoever is next to you at any given moment. That is the new evangelization to which we here have given our lives.
And it is so much more than merely ‘and that’s how we get people to get in line with the rules.’ That’s not what it’s about. It’s about being a living flame of love in the world, willing to be wholly consumed by the love of God and ready, eager even, to do whatever God asks of us for his glory and the casting of his fire upon the earth.