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The Sanctuary of Love


Archbishop Charles J. Chaput OFM Cap. heads the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado. In November 1999 he delivered an address to a conference on family life, organised by the Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia. The following appeared as an article in The Catholic World Report of January 2000. It was adapted from that address.


LET ME BEGIN with a few reflections on what we mean by the word "sanctuary." One of the images which came to mind when I was preparing these thoughts is the place where I play racquetball. It is called the Cherry Street Sporting Club. But within the club, there is another place called "The Sanctuary Spa." At that spa, the proprietors describe sanctuary as a place to escape from the world into relaxation - a place to focus on yourself and your own well-being. It suggests a kind of luxury. Actually, this "sanctuary" is a place where people get their nails done; the manicures and massages make the clients feel relaxed and beautiful.

Now there is nothing wrong with being relaxed or beautiful or both, but it is important for us to see that the idea of "sanctuary" we are now discussing is a very different kind of thing. The sanctuary of the womb, where a child grows and develops, is a good image. The sanctuary of the church, where God dwells in the Eucharist, is another good image. The church as political sanctuary in the Middle Ages is another good image. So too the family is a special place where God is encountered, a place where life is encouraged and nourished, and grows. This is a place where life is protected from the dangers of an aggressive and violent world around us.

Just as Christians do not spend their whole lives in the sanctuary of the church, family members cannot spend their whole lives in the sanctuary of the family. They need to have a passion for Jesus Christ - an urgent desire to spread the Gospel and share their Catholic faith. They need to have a missionary zeal for the family, for changing the world, for building the kind of environment that makes real family life possible.

And so, with that in mind, let us plunge into the topic at hand.


The Meaning of Words

Our theme is: "The family as a sanctuary of love." This is a simple phrase, using simple words. And that makes sense. All truth is finally very simple - and also very rich in meaning. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has revisited the theme of marriage and the family again and again in his homilies on the theology of the body, in his apostolic exhortation 'On the Family', and in his 1994 'Letter to Families.'

So in a way, everything we need to know about love, marriage and the family has already been preached. And yet, when we look around us, it becomes clear that the world obviously is not listening. In fact the world seems to have no interest in listening. The question is: Why?
I think we can start looking for an answer to that question in language itself. Too many of us have lost our moral and sacramental vocabulary, and I think I can prove it. The world and the Church use a lot of the same words. But they no longer mean the same thing. Let's take an example, the word "love." Love for a Christian is rooted in the notion of sacrifice, and sacrifice embodies the mystery of salvation. God sacrifices for us, and then invites us to sacrifice for one another. So love for a Christian may or may not involve sex, but it always involves self-sacrifice.

Let me offer another example. How many people understand what a vocation is? When the Church speaks of "vocation," she means the "calling out" of each human person - to accomplish a unique task preordained by God in the co-redemption of the world. Every human being has a vocation. God created each individual person with a specific purpose in mind. The greatest satisfaction for a Christian is discovering and pursuing the purpose for which God created him. The idea of vocation implies that there is a design for your life. It also implies a Designer, since Somebody greater than you and I must create us for the task we are meant to accomplish. Since the world around us does not often reflect on "God," it rarely even uses the word "vocation." When it does, the word "vocation" is really used as just another word for a skill or profession. The "vocational" high schools in the United States certainly do not exist to help young people figure out the larger meaning of life. They are there to teach basic employment skills - such as how to be a good auto- mechanic.

This big difference in the way different people use the same words grows even bigger when it comes to a topic like marriage. Marriage is a vocation. When speaking of marriage, we Christians mean a lifelong, loving, self-sacrificing, sacramental covenant between a man and a woman. Please take note of that language. This is not an "agreement," but a covenant. There is an important difference. Agreements can be passing. A covenant is forever; it cannot be revoked or dissolved. The marriage covenant is ordered towards procreation and mutual holiness. And within it, God plays a very active role as an equal partner - in fact, more than equal partner - of the husband and wife.

Now, every one of these qualities of marriage - expressed in words like lifelong, loving, self-sacrificing and sacramental - causes discomfort to the modern mind. For many of our young people, change and choice have become a kind of idolatry. Permanence seems stodgy, and sexual roles have become confused.

Homosexual persons now routinely argue for equal status before the law - not just for themselves as children of God (which is justified) but also for their relationships (which is not). Sacrament and mystery have been squeezed aside by technology and materialism. The legal contract has replaced the human covenant. Children are often talked about like products, and even liabilities. Fertility is treated as if it were a disease to be controlled. And the very idea of holiness can be made to seem like a kind of pious delusion. After all, how can holiness - the presence of something "other than" humanity, subsisting without humanity - really be taken seriously when our culture doubts the existence of anything outside the tangible world?

Let me offer another example: Think about the word "God." Christians believe in a loving, personal, approachable Creator who knows each one of us by name, and who seeks our eternal happiness. Much of the world around us does not share this belief. For the modern mind, God -when He seems credible at all - is little more than an impersonal consciousness, without any real impact on the life of human beings.
The trouble is that, without a personal, living God, there can not be a loving plan to creation. For the Christian, all created things have meaning. Love implies a lover and a beloved. They are part of a symphony that gives glory to the Lord of love and life. So when God, the source and sinews of creation, is cut out, the harmony falls apart.

Ours is a curious time. At the heart of much of today's social and natural science is a deep sadness. This flows from our inability, apart from God, to find meaning in all the knowledge we accumulate. Facts do not really mean much, unless we have the key to unlock what they mean. As a species, we now double our total knowledge every couple of decades. We are drowning in facts and data, and yet we're still desperately thirsty for meaning.


The Disintegration of Family Life

Many readers may remember the U.S. presidential campaign of 1992, which marked the beginning of the Clinton era. During that campaign, the incumbent US vice president, Dan Quayle, made 'family values' a personal crusade. He argued that the traditional family was under attack; that we needed to protect its privileged role in our culture in order to restore our civic virtue; and that if we failed to defend the family, contempt for human dignity would continue to grow.

As a result of this campaign, Dan Quayle became the target of almost universal media sarcasm. He and his running mate, President George Bush, were later defeated in the election. But I like to think that Dan Quayle had the last laugh when he read an article which appeared in a prestigious U.S. magazine just five months after the election.

In April 1993, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, writing for the Atlantic Monthly published a cover story entitled " Dan Quayle was right." In it, using the same social-science methods that are so often manipulated by enemies of the family, she demonstrated that alternatives to the traditional, intact, two-parent family simply do not work.

Not only do those alternatives to the traditional family fail to provide stability within the home, but they also have a fatal effect on society as a whole. In fact, 'diverse models' of the family - which in practice means single parent and stepparent households, and now also same-sex couples as heads of households - clearly weaken society.

Studies show that children in single-parent families are six times more likely to be poor, and they stay poor longer, than their counterparts who grow up with a mother who is married to their father. The children of single-parent households are two to three times more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems. They are more likely to fail in the classroom; to drop out of school completely; to become pregnant as teenagers; to abuse drugs; and run afoul of the law.

These children of single-parent households are also at much higher risk for physical and sexual abuse. Children from disrupted families have a harder time achieving intimacy in their relationships, forming stable marriages, and holding steady employment. In other words, contrary to the North American mythology of the last 30 years, divorce is a disaster for children. They just don't 'bounce back' from it.

This trauma is deep and long lasting. And it shows itself in a great variety of ways. Whitehead quotes family researcher Judith Wallerstein as stressing that "Parent-child relationships are permanently altered by divorce in ways that our society has not anticipated." Not only do children experience a loss of parental attention at the onset of divorce, but they also soon learn that at every stage of their development, their parents are not available in the ways that are urgently needed.

Now multiply the suffering of these children by tens of millions, and you have a portrait of the social fabric of the United States today. Eighty percent of black children in a city like Baltimore are now born out of wedlock. Illegitimacy and divorce rates are extremely serious - as are gang violence, domestic abuse, and the traffic in illegal drugs.

The point should be abundantly clear. In countries like the United States - and perhaps in Canada as well - we have become confused about the real nature of the family. We are also confused about freedom. Freedom, to be authentic, must always be rooted in responsibility. Instead, we have turned the quest for 'freedom' into a kind of worship of personal licence, in which each person defines truth for himself, and no higher authority is allowed to interfere with our personal satisfaction.

As a result, we are straying farther and farther away from the type of a community that builds, and lives, a common moral culture. Instead, we are becoming a collection of individual consumers, competing for our share of material goods, defined by our appetites and possessions - but ignorant about the real nature of human dignity, which is transcendent, rooted in God, and eternal.

For more than two centuries, the United States has been a model of liberty for the whole world. And as a child of the United States, I take very great pride in my country's founding principles. But I am afraid something has gone deeply wrong with the American social fabric today, and instead of addressing it and attempting to heal it, we exalt and export it.

Let me offer a concrete example of what I mean. I really believe that at the heart of the population control policies advanced by my country, you will find two basic impulses, selfishness and fear. We are hungry to protect our material comforts, and we are afraid that people of the developing world will take them away from us. So rather than share what we have, we seek to reduce the number of those with whom we might have to share. Any Christian will immediately see how destructive to the family both of these impulses - fear and selfishness - are. The family, by its very structure, is a rejection of fear and an expression of hope. It is the embodiment of selfless love. Its natural fertility brings the future into human flesh. The family is the engine of life and the doorway by which God enters into humanity.

It is interesting to note that so many of this century's "big" ideologies, from Marxism and Leninism to certain kinds of feminism, mistrust the family and seek to limit and control its scope - to break it down, even when the practical results of that breakdown are so obviously damaging to society as a whole. There is a reason for their hostility. The family is a competing source of identity and meaning. It demands unselfishness; it teaches community; it inculcates higher values, which claim the moral authority to order our material appetites. So the family undermines the power of ideology. And so, in the developing world, good families are the single most important strongholds of resistance to the industrialised nations' culture of death, embodied by the crusade for zero population growth and the policies of forced population control.

The bishops of Latin America, several years ago, correctly identified population control as "contraceptive imperialism." Population control is the worst kind of hypocrisy, because it pretends to offer freedom while it robs the emerging world of its birthright. It preaches development while it steals the future - which for every culture resides in its children. It claims to empower women while really just making them barren. And in doing so, it smothers the family before it can grow, or even begin.

Today, the vocation of marriage is a call to both loving resistance and missionary zeal: resistance to the culture of death, and zeal to spread the truth about the nature of the human person, which is fully revealed only in Jesus Christ.


More than a Social Institution

It is very easy, really, to argue that the Church must be right about marriage and the family; because much of the modern world is so obviously wrong. As we have just seen, the world has indicted itself with its own statistics.

But there is much more to Christian marriage and the Christian family and their opposition to the culture of death. Christian marriage is an echo, in human flesh, of the love within the Trinity itself. That love is active; it creates new life; it thereby renews humanity and the face of the entire earth.

Every moment of every day, a mother and father are teaching, guiding and sanctifying each other and their children, while witnessing about their love to the world beyond their home. The structure of marriage - if lived fruitfully and faithfully - naturally points them outward toward the world, as well as inward toward one another and their children. Remember what St. Augustine said: " To be faithful in little things is a big thing." Simply by living their vocation, a husband and wife become the most important living cell of society. Marriage is the foundation and guarantee of the family. And the family is the foundation and guarantee of society.

The family, as nothing else - not government, not technology, not shared economic interests - will serve as a cornerstone of community. This is why Pope John Paul II writes, in his 'Letter to Families': No human society can run the risk of permissiveness on fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family. Such moral permissiveness [can only] damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people.

It is within the intimate, personal community of the family that a son knows he is loved and has value. In observing her parents, a daughter first learns basic values - such as loyalty, honesty, and selfless concern for others - which build up the character of the wider society. Truth is always most persuasive, not when we read about it in a book or hear about it in a classroom, but when we see it, firsthand, incarnated in the actions of our parents.

Marriage and family safeguard our most basic sense of community, because within the family, the child grows up in a web of intimately connected rights and responsibilities vis-`-vis other people. It also protects our individual identity, because it surrounds the child with a mantle of privacy and personal devotion. It is interesting that most of the laws surrounding marriage in our culture were developed precisely to protect family members from the selfishness and lack of love so common in wider society. The family is the human person's single most important sanctuary from mistaken models of love, wrong notions of sexual relationships and destructive ideas about self-fulfilment. All these painful things, if they are left unchecked, can be centrifugal forces, pulling families apart.

Love is the counter-force. Love is the glue both for family and society. This is why the family must be a "sanctuary of love." We most easily understand love when we, ourselves, are the fruit of our parents' tenderness. We most easily believe in fidelity when we see it modelled by our fathers and our mothers. Love lived is the unanswerable argument for God, and also for the value of the human heart.

The gift of children is an essential part of the Christian reflection on marriage. Marriage is transformed and fulfilled when spouses co-operate with God in the creation of new human life. A husband and wife are completed by sharing in God's procreative transmission of life to their children, who are new and unique images of God. This is why the Church resists population control by contraception and abortion so forcefully.

God uses conjugal love to personalise His creation. And in co-operating with God's plan, a couple discovers the real meaning of their marriage. That is why the argument that contraceptive love can be "unitive" and "integrating" for spouses is simply wrong. Think about it: What kind of fulfilment or perfection can come from a couple "disinviting" God from the love which He, Himself established for them?
The nature of the human condition is that we are always either growing or dying. We must choose life or death. There is no middle ground. In Deuteronomy, God says to His people, " I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life then, that you and your descendants may live."

Contraception is an act of refusing life, and deliberately excluding new life is a choice for the culture of death. In contrast, every marriage, which makes an act of trust in God and remains open to children is a powerful choice for life. And it is to the glory of the Church that, in the face of all the hostility of the modern world, she keeps the words of the Creator - choose life - alive in humanity's heart and conscience.


Called to Holiness

Every vocation is a call to holiness. Marriage and family are perhaps the greatest example of that call. But what exactly does holiness mean? In everyday language, we use the words 'good' and 'holy' almost interchangeably. Holy people are, of course, also good people. But the two words really do not mean the same thing.

"Holy" comes from the Hebrew word 'kadosh'., which means 'other than.' God is holy because He is 'other than' us. His ways are not the ways of the world. This is why St. Paul tells us, in his Epistle to the Romans, "Do not be conformed to the world." Pope John Paul II used the same Scripture passage - "Do not be conformed to the world" - as a foundation stone for 'Veritatis Splendor', his great encyclical on the nature of truth.

This brings us back to the ideas of loving resistance and missionary zeal. While we should never be conformed to the world, neither do we have a licence to condemn it, or withdraw from it. "Family as sanctuary" does not mean "family as fortified enclave." We cannot convert the world unless we engage it. We cannot be leaven if we remove ourselves from the recipe.

"Family as sanctuary" means family as source of refreshment, encouragement, renewal, formation and strength for our mission to the world. God put us here to actively help Him complete His work of redemption - because He loves the world. That is why He sent His Son to die for the world. As we struggle and pray for God's holiness in our personal lives, so too we must work to draw the entire world, and all of creation, into that holiness along with us.

This balancing act of 'love for the world' and 'resistance to its ways,' can be a difficult one. It will never be accomplished until we offer much better programs of marriage preparation to our young people than we have offered in the recent past. Here in North America, far too many Catholic young people marry with good intentions and even a healthy love for God and the Church. But they do not really understand the sacramental nature of marriage expressed in the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, and they do not see the larger purpose or ecclesial dimension of their covenant. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks about marriage as a sacrament of Christ, a mystery - that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church.

We need to see in the love of a husband for his wife, and a wife for her husband, a sign f Christ's love for us, an unselfish self-giving love. Our young people need to understand the excitement, joy and adventure of this sacrament; to be challenged to love as Christ did; to trust in an unpredictable future out of love for God and their spouses. They have to see love within marriage and family as an adventure, as a participation in the mystery of Christ's love for the Church. The fact that they too often do not see these things is a very serious judgement upon all of us as parents, as teachers, as pastors, and as bishops. We have been responsible for their souls. But I doubt that many of them even know what a covenant is.

More especially, too many of our young people are not ready for the cross. They do not understand its importance, in every vocation, including marriage. And so when suffering and sacrifice come they do not see these things, as an opportunity to grow in grace or to witness the spirit of Christ to others; they see these things as a sign of failure. Too many of our married young people simply give up.

More than 50 percent of all new marriages in the United States now end in divorce. For reasons we have already seen, this is a disaster for our culture. But even more alarming is the fact that Catholics, who are called to be a leaven in society, have exactly the same divorce rate. The one very revealing exception to this trend is that Catholics who practice natural family planning (NFP) have much lower divorce rates.
In my years as a priest, I have seen again and again that the human heart is made for the truth. People are hungry for the truth, and they will choose the truth, if it is presented clearly and with conviction. But too often we treat our faith like a 'compartment' of our life, rather than its organising and animating passion.

We could survive as lukewarm Christians when the Church was part of society's 'establishment,' and religion was seen as a praiseworthy social habit. But those days are long past, and God has given our generation a very different environment. The world culture that is taking shape around us today will not be a friend of the Gospel - at least not for a very long time. The religion of modern, secular society is the practical atheism of technology. It is aggressive, confident and intolerant. We see all of these qualities in the spirit of recent international conferences such as the ones held in the 1990s in Cairo and in Beijing.

Therein lies the need for every Christian marriage to be engaged in missionary outreach. We do our best preaching, of course, by example. A married couple who model a love for Jesus Christ within their family - who pray and worship together with their children, and read the Scriptures - become a beacon for other couples. At the same time, however, our families absolutely do need to recover an outward-looking zeal about family life itself, about spreading the Gospel, teaching the faith, and doing good apostolic works. St. Matthew's Gospel tells us: "Go, make disciples of all nations." It does not add ".unless you're married." The Epistle of St. James tells us that faith without works is a dead faith. It does not add, "unless you have children."

In my home state of Colorado, entire families of Seventh Day Adventists or Jehova's witnesses often go from door to door in a neighbourhood, recruiting for their churches. The doctrines of these groups are really very confused, and their tactics can certainly be frustrating. But I admire the zeal these people show in spreading what they mistake for the truth. And I often ask myself: How would our Catholic families compare to them, in their zeal for the Gospel?

So here is my final thought:

Today, at the turn of the century, no Catholic family can afford to be a "sanctuary" in the sense of digging its own little foxhole. God does not call us to burrow in and wait for the rapture. Our God is the God of life, abundance, deliverance and joy. And we are His missionaries - by nature and by mandate. No Catholic family can afford to be lukewarm about the Church as the new millennium arrives. No culture is so traditionally "Christian" that it has heard enough about Jesus Christ; no culture is safe from the unbelief and contempt for human dignity which mark our age.

Catholic families will either passionately live and joyfully spread their Catholic faith, or they will soon find that they have no Catholic faith left to share. But of course God will not let that happen. We are part of His solution.





GRANT US, Father a spirit of wisdom and insight, so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called.

Let peace and harmony reign among all the dwellers on the earth.

To those who exercise the ministry of authority in the service of their brothers, send a spirit of wisdom and humility.

May all those consecrated to you together devote themselves to constant prayer.

Grant us, O God, to fill up in our own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for his Church.

To our families and benefactors grant the blessing of everlasting life.

Be ever mindful of your mercy, exalt the lowly; fill the hungry with good things.

Both in life and death, let us be yours, O Lord.

Free the world from its slavery to corruption, to share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.





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