Christ shapes us as He wills. The first reading today, Jeremiah 18: 1-6, is really a reflection of the first few words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God.” To acknowledge the potter is to acknowledge the clay, and to believe in God is to declare that we are, in fact, not God. I grew deeper in my vocation through my love of mathematics. Math was my favorite subject in school, and it was through the study of math that I came to a deeper worship of God, because, you know, the more advanced you go in math, the more abstract it becomes, and when you talk, for example, about the concept of infinity, that’s not so far from the concept of eternity. And when you study laws of the universe like two parallel lines that never intersect, you start wondering, “Well, who set up that law, and why can’t we change it?” And you come to realize that there is an intelligence inscribed in the universe that goes beyond any authority or intelligence that we have.
The potter shapes the clay. Not only did He make the universe and all the laws that govern it, but He made a few other things as well, didn’t He? Like human life. Like marriage. Like family. And freedom, four realities that are under more attack today than at any other time, and that tower above every other moral challenge we have, and that inform in so many ways the challenge we have all taken up to transform the world in Christ, to spread and defend the Catholic faith.
What does the Church teach about life, about marriage, about family, about freedom? Well, when we begin to articulate these things, when we begin to defend these truths, what do we ultimately say? We’re saying, “The potter made the clay the way He saw fit, and it’s not up to us to change it. It’s not up to us to re-define it, to re-define the meaning of human life as if we could ever say that a human being is not a human person. You know, that’s the fundamental question behind the abortion debate, the euthanasia debate, and in fact every bioethical question. Why is the underlying question “Can a human being ever not be a human person?” And the answer to that is “No.” There is no such thing as a human being who is not a human person.
You have Roe vs. Wade, which in an arrogant attempt to replace God, the courts said that the unborn are not persons. And when it comes to marriage and the family, it is, in some way, a perverse tribute to human creativity. You see the ways that today, those on the other side of the Gospel are re-defining gender, marriage, and family. Brothers and sisters, at the root of our teaching is the fact that this is something created by God. The potter has made this the way that he has seen fit, and the way that he has seen fit, by the way, is the way that best reflects who He is. It’s not arbitrary, even on God’s part. It’s not arbitrary as to what marriage and family are, and He has made them in a way that reflects Himself, and so we, humble recipients of what He has given us, find the strength and the courage to proclaim it.
When St. John Paul the Second was canonized not that many weeks ago, Pope Francis declared him the "Pope of the Family," and as we see in his teachings, and as we see in his life, and as we see in the integral connection between family and life, that means also that he is the "Pope of Life." As a matter of fact, early next year, we will be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of what he considered one of his most important encyclicals, The Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae. It’s a marvelous time to go back to that document and to reread it, and to utilize it more than ever before. The Pope of the Family. God prepares the leaders we need at any point in time to best lead the challenges of that time.
Now, as you know, we are entering into a period – we are already in the midst of it – this year and next, when the Church is placing special emphasis on the Family, and with it, of course, the theme of life. And it really provides for us who are involved in Catholic marketing, for us who are involved in the creative proclamation of the Faith, the themes that the Church is giving us for the next year and a half provide us a beautiful wellspring for our own creativity in conveying these themes and building on these themes.
Let me trace it for you just briefly. This October, we will have a worldwide, extraordinary synod of bishops, and this meeting of bishops in Rome will concentrate on the following theme: pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization. Pastoral challenges of the family. How do we minister to the family? How do we uphold them? How do we enable them to grow in love for one another and for God according to His plan? How do we heal their wounds? There is nothing, brothers and sisters, that wounds the family more extensively and more radically than the evil of abortion. Nothing. And those wounds are intergenerational, and those wounds are of a nature that we haven’t even begun to fully understand. Think, for example, and not to go into this at length, but what does it do to a young person growing up in the family, and when he or she realizes that it’s okay to kill a child in the womb, and then he or she realizes that, “Oh, I used to be in the womb.” They put two and two together, and they realize, “I could have been killed. It would have been legal, and it would have been up to my parents, and nobody would have a legal right to stop them.” You know what? When I was in the womb, I know I was protected by the law. But to think that I wasn’t? That’s downright scary. And it’s scary to so many of our young people today, and that is causing a wound. It’s causing a wound in now they relate now to their parents, because the court tried to play God as it attempted to make the parents God. Actually, the mother. And that, brothers and sisters, destroys family life, and trust, and love. Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization. What does that mean? Well, it’s very simple. How can you proclaim that marriage and the family are a symbol of the living God, three persons pouring themselves out in love for one another that leads to life? How can the Church, furthermore, proclaim that the destiny of the human person is to sit on the throne with Christ? How can we believe and proclaim these things when, within the sanctuary of the family, that very life destined for the throne is instead being thrown in the garbage? Can’t do it. Cannot proclaim the gospel credibly without eradicating that evil, without standing up so firmly against it. There is no distinction between proclaiming the gospel and defending life and family. No distinction. And brothers and sisters, it flows so automatically from even saying those first four words of the Creed: “I believe in God.”
So this theme is given to us for this October’s synod, and then we lead into next year, and of course, in September of 2015, the world meeting of families will occur in Philadelphia, and this is an event the Church has been conducting for the last twenty years, actually, and in fact, when I worked in Rome, I was helping plan the second one of these kinds of gatherings with St. John Paul in Rio, and this is now the eighth world gathering of families. The theme is so beautiful. Here’s what the theme is: love is our mission, the family fully alive. Put that in your creative juices and see what comes out. This is why this is so exciting, because the Church gives us these themes, and there will be a lot of pastoral and educational materials developing these themes, but you know what the Church really does? The Church throws out these themes among the faithful, and says, “You know what? We are all the Church. Take it, digest it, build on it, re-propose it, and you – all of you here in this room – are specially equipped to do that.” We are reaching so many people with all kinds of writing and websites and products and artwork and music. And the Church is saying, “Now is the time. Take these things and run with them. Don’t sit back and wait for some document to come out, you write the document. Don’t sit back and wait to hear a sermon explaining it or a book – you write the book. You proclaim the message. What a beautiful theme. Love is our mission, the family fully alive. It’s not static. It’s certainly not dead.
And then, right after that meeting in Philadelphia, another synod of bishops – now, this is highly unusual. I’m not sure if it’s happened before. Two world synod of bishops to years in a row on the same theme? The Church is trying to say something here. The Church is trying to sound the alarm that there is an emergency going on here, an emergency about which the very survival of civilization is at stake. And the particular theme of the 2015 synod if you haven’t heard this one yet, wait until you hear this, and consider the theological depth of this theme: Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family. Mystery, of course the same word as ‘sacrament.’ Something that is visible, that you can understand, but that contains and points to much more than what is visible and what you can understand. That’s mystery and vocation. In other words, there’s somebody calling, and the first call He gives is to make us, and therefore it goes back to today’s first reading. The potter has fashioned the clay, and when we look at how the clay is fashioned, we are learning something about much more than the clay. We are learning about Him. So family reflects this total self-giving that we are now again to enact and touch in the Eucharist, the Lord pouring out His Blood for us.
This is why we go forward with confidence, because we as the Church are, like Fulton Sheen said, as the world is tearing up the photos of what it means to be human, as the world, we can say, is tearing up the photos of what it means that human life is sacred, that marriage is between one man and one woman, that the family is that sacred sanctuary of life and communion of persons that symbolizes the Trinity Itself, as the world tears up the photos of what all this means, the Church is keeping the negatives. Of course, these days, younger folks don’t know what negatives are. Take the iPhone, you’ve got the picture right away and you don’t need negatives. We can explain it to them later, right? The point is isn’t that true? And it is the Church, ultimately, that reminds humanity of what it periodically forgets, and we have a terrible habit of forgetting. You know what it takes to remember? It takes blood. Do this in remembrance of me. We hear those words with blood in front of our eyes, because it’s the blood of the Lord that reminds us of and conveys His love. It’s the blood of the Lord that makes that love effective in the world, and that teaches us how we are to live. We’re not just called to speak up for the unborn, or defend the unborn, we’re called to give our lives. To speak up for the Lord, to defend the gospel is to give our lives. It’s nothing less than that.
And hence we go back to this beautiful relic, which we will have a chance to venerate later, which was presented to me by a long time personal aid and secretary of John Paul the Second throughout his pontificate, and he said this blood was taken on the very day that the Pope died. A piece of his vestment was dipped in the blood, and that’s what we’ll see, a relic. The Cardinal said this: blood is always a symbol of love, and let this relic always be a sign of our love for God’s people, especially for the children yet unborn.
And so we ask the intercession of St. John Paul the Second, we ask the intercession of St. Ignatius of Loyola who’s feast we celebrate, we ask the intercession of all the saints that as we engage in this beautiful season of focus on family life, we will use every ounce of our energy, every ounce of our creativity, every ounce of our courage, and that we will unite as never before, joining hands across the ministry, across the organizations, across the businesses. We must unite more strongly than ever before and combine our strength, because civilization itself is at stake here. This is not just an important issue, this is everything. We unite in this great moment, knowing that God would never have put us here if He didn’t give us every tool we needed to be successful.
Let me finish with this: Mother Teresa is often quoted with saying, “We’re not called to be successful but faithful.” What she was trying to say was that if we fail, we must not be discouraged, because if we know we were faithful in trying, we still have our union with God, which, ultimately, brings us eternal life. She was not trying to say, “Don’t bother about trying to succeed.” Her words are balanced, if you will, by those of another saint, who was also her friend, John Paul the Second. Remember what he said just over twenty years ago now at World Youth Day in Denver on the feast of the Assumption, “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life,” and I come to you today with the blood of this saint, and with that same exhortation, adding one more thing: we will succeed. We will. Let us prepare for an even more intense battle in the years immediately ahead of us. Brothers and sisters, let us prepare for victory, because we are going to live through this, we are going to see our way through this dark chapter in the history of our country and of our world, and we will celebrate the victory for life, marriage, family, and freedom, because Jesus Christ is risen, He is with us, and it is He who is proclaiming Hid gospel and spreading His grace through each and every one of us in this room, and through our faithful “yes” to Him.
God bless you.