A forum of Catholic Thought


Cardinal O'Malley's keynote to the World Meeting of Families

Help us expand our reach! Please share this article on social media

Submit a Letter to the Editor
Cardinal Sean P.

Following is the prepared text of Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley's keynote address delivered at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, Sept. 25. Cardinal O'Malley spoke following the keynote of Pastor Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif.

Yesterday, speaking to Congress, our Holy Father underscored the importance of the Family for our human society and said that the family has before been so threatened. I just want to begin by thanking all of you for your participation in this Conference on the Family. Many of you are involved in marriage preparation, pro-life activities and marriage enrichment. Thank you for all you do to strengthen the Family!

Pastor Rick Warren has given us a beautiful reflection. It has been a steak dinner, a filet mignon. Now I am supposed to give you a hamburger, or maybe a slider, a very small hamburger. The Holy Father invites us to live the joy of the Gospel and so become missionary disciples. Beauty and joy are the most powerful tools we have to evangelize. So together we want to dream of a world where the beauty of family life attracts people to make a gift of themselves in marriage, to build a domestic church that will contribute to a civilization of love.

When I was Bishop in the West Indies, we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of a wonderful married couple in the parish. After 50 years of marriage they were still so much in love and they radiated a spirit of joy and enthusiasm that was truly inspiring to the entire parish. We were celebrating the anniversary with a Mass and the renewal of their vows. Before the celebration I was talking to Alfonso about his long and successful marriage. I asked him what the key was to the success. He said, "Bishop, when my wife and I were married we decided that all decisions would be made in a scientific fashion and hence avoid unnecessary arguments." I said, "How did you do that?" He said, "It was very simple. We agreed that I would make all the big decisions and my wife would make all the little decisions." "And how has that worked out for you?", I asked. Alfonso said, "It has worked very well, but you know, Father, there haven't been any big decisions yet."

In reality, the big decision is to love. As Pope Benedict said in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "we have come to believe in God's love; in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life."

Yes, the fundamental decision of our life is to love God, who first loved us, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In God's plan, the family is to be a school of love, where we learn to make a gift of ourselves to the Lord and to others, like Jesus' sacrificial love on the cross, which is the source of our life as disciples. The decision to love is born out of an encounter with the living God, whose love is fundamental for our lives and raises important questions about who God is and who we are.

Years ago when I was teaching Spanish literature, I always liked to talk about a novel called Marianela, written by the Spanish author Perez Galdos. The story is about a young woman in a village in Spain who has a great capacity for friendship, goodness and love. Marianela has a boyfriend whose name is Pablo; he happens to be blind. Marianela cooks for Pablo, reads to him, washes his clothes, takes long walks with him and is his constant companion. One day Pablo is sent off to the big city by his family, to see doctors there who cure him of his blindness. Now he returns to his village, and for the first time in his life he sees the young woman who loves him more than anyone else in the world ever could or ever would.

But now that Pablo can see, he realizes that there are other young women in the village who are prettier than Marianela, and he goes off and marries ones of them. The irony of the story, of course, is that when Pablo was blind, he could see. He could see the goodness, the beauty, the love of Marianela. But when he could see with his eyes, he could only see what was on the surface, he could only see appearances. And appearances often deceive. We need to be able to see the world through God's eyes, to see what is really real, what is really beautiful, to see what is really important. It is the vision of faith that allows us to make the right decisions, decisions about life, about our vocation, our mission, our response to God's love. As Pope Francis says in Evangelli Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, "for if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?" Pope Francis makes it very clear that our call to discipleship is a call to be missionary disciples.

We are faithful to our mission as Christ's family only by inviting others to be a part of that mission and by helping families "become what they are". In God's plan, families are

missionaries. They pass on the faith to new generations and share with their new members the treasures and legacies that they have received. Marriage in God's plan is a sanctuary of life, and the family is a community of love.

That is a very important part of the Gospel message, of the good news that we must live and proclaim. As Pope Paul VI said, "the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes an evangelizer of many other families."

We are all privileged to have known such families as described by Pope Paul VI. One such family that made a profound impression on me as a young seminarian was the Gauchat family. Bill and Dorothy were dear friends of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement. The Gauchats had six children of their own, but also, on the farm where they lived in Avon, Ohio, they took in dozens of severely handicapped children whose parent were unable or unwilling to care for them. Bill and Dorothy taught their own children how to love and care for these needy children who became their brothers and sisters. It was truly a labor of love. I will never forget the impact it made on me the first time I visited their home and saw those terribly deformed children receiving so much love in that family, indeed the children elicited that love and were themselves a blessing and a grace.

Being a family in God's family is to be a community of love where people learn to make a gift of themselves to God and to others. Those beautiful families change the course of history. They open the door that allows God's light to enter our world, and their witness helps others to be open to life.

When I was in the seminary, our Provincial, Father Victor, wrote a letter to Rome in which he said that the Capuchin's mission in Puerto Rico was flourishing and that our Province was prepared to take on a second mission. He said that he wanted the most difficult mission in the world. The response was lightning quick, saying that we should open a mission in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. When the first friars landed there they reported back that the natives, on seeing an airplane for the first time, asked whether the plane was a male or a female. They said, "If it is a female, we want an egg."

Oftentimes because of our technological superiority we delude ourselves into thinking we are better and smarter than people from the developing world. That is far from the truth. This was brought home to me in a very dramatic way when our first group of missionaries to New Guinea shared an extraordinary story about a group of natives who had become Catholics in our mission. One day they traveled far from their village and happened upon a group of natives from a distant part of the island. They discovered that these people were also Christians, but were Lutherans. They returned to our mission and told the friars how disappointed they were to learn that Jesus' disciples were not united.

They were scandalized to realize that such divisions existed. The friars were embarrassed and ashamed. When they told us of this incident we too felt embarrassed that we are so complacent and indifferent to the scandal of division among Christ's followers. These primitive natives immediately saw the tragedy and contradiction of this situation. Christ longed for unity and fraternity among his disciples, and we have come to accept division as normal, unremarkable, inevitable. We have so much to learn from those simple natives who grasp the meaning of the Gospel and reject the notion of disunity.

At the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and gave us the New Commandment: to love one another as He loves us. He prays: "Father, that all might be one as you and I are one so that the world will believe that you sent me." If the world does not believe, in part it is because we are not united.

I am so pleased that Pastor Rick is with us for this conference. This is a witness of unity so important in today's world as we strive to proclaim the Gospel of Life, the need to protect every human being, from the first moment of conception until natural death, and to defend the family as the sanctuary of life, and marriage as a sacred contract described on the first pages of the Bible as a man who leaves his own to be joined as one flesh to his wife. It is a great consolation to stand on this stage with a fellow Christian who is committed to the teaching of the Gospel. We are truly blessed by his witness and his friendship.

If Father Provincial wrote today asking for the most difficult mission, we might not have been sent to Papua New Guinea, but to the United States and other places in the Western

world where de-Christianization is gaining ground. These are the new mission territories for the Church.

We need to find new ways of bringing the Gospel to the contemporary world, of proclaiming Christ anew and of implanting the faith. Our task is to turn consumers into disciples and disciple-makers. We need to prepare men and women who witness to the faith, and not send people into the witness protection program.

We need to equip our people to be disciples. They need to know the truths of our faith, but they also need to know how to live those truths. The way most of us become real Christians is by looking over someone else's shoulder, emulating an admired older member of our family or parish, saying yes and taking up a way of life that was made real and accessible through the witness of someone else. We learn to be disciples the way we learn to speak a language, by living in a community that speaks that language.

We live in a world obsessed by celebrities, a world where all too often celebrities have replaced heroes and heroines. Often times these celebrities, for all their good looks and talents in singing, acting or sports, lead lives that are superficial, self-absorbed and chaotic. In contrast, the Church has always held up for us the lives of the Saints as examples of the universal call to holiness. The Saints model for us the struggle to overcome human weakness and sinfulness and embrace God's will in our lives.

In the four Gospels there is a contrast between what we might designate the crowd and the community. The crowd is a collection of individuals, motivated by self-interest, thrown together by circumstances and often unfeeling and indifferent. In the Gospel we read of the beggar Bartimeaus, or the vertically challenged Internal Revenue Service chief, Zacchaeus, who tried to draw near to Jesus, but the crowd pushed them away. As a child, my favorite Gospel story was the episode where the crowd is so great that they cannot get the paralytic man into Peter's house, to get the man to Jesus. The man's friends take him to the roof, open an area there and lower him with ropes right in

front of Jesus, who then cures him. I often thought, "Wow! I would like to have friends like that". And I would hope to be a friend like that.

Yes, in the Gospels the crowd is always pushing people away from the Lord and the community is ever helping people to draw near. Our task is to change the crowd into a community. That is what evangelization is about, and it must begin in our families, transforming a collection of individuals into a community, a domestic church, where we pray together, share our faith, know how to forgive and show unconditional love.

Too often the subluminal message of the helicoptering parent is, "if you excel in everything, then you will deserve my love." In families we learn to forgive, to share, to nurture. We need to gather around the family table to have time together. We also need to gather around the Eucharistic table. At the table and the altar we learn our own identity and find the strength to truly be who we are and to make a gift of ourselves.

Pope Francis, in his latest encyclical, Laudato Si, urges us to care for our common home and to take care of the gifts, to be protectors of the gifts. He so often urges us to take care of each other. That is why we are here, we are here to build a civilization of love, to be that field hospital that makes present the merciful love of Christ.

We are on this earth with a mission to take care of each other, to build a civilization of love. Today we find inspiration in so many faith filled men and women who have gone before us. Now let us recommit ourselves to the mission, the task of being missionary disciples, passing on the treasure of our faith to the generations to come. May be we be as generous, as faithful and as successful as those who have gone before us.

- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, OFM Cap. Is Archbishop of Boston

Help us expand our reach! Please share this article on social media

Submit a Letter to the Editor

Recent articles in the Spirituality section