This month, the 8th World Meeting of Families will take place in Philladelphia, USA. The World Meeting of Families is an international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration. The theme of this meeting is Love is our Mission- The Family Fully Alive. The meeting will end with the Festival of Families and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
To prepare for the event, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family have created a preparatory catechesis on family life. Each chapter ends with questions for discussion. Below, I share my answers.
Chapter 3: The Meaning of Human Sexuality
a) Why do Catholics enjoy and value the physical, tangible world so much? Think of anything beautiful, such as nature, bodies, food or art – why are these things so important in Catholic tradition?
Creation is a reflection of God’s glory. The catechesis reminds us that “the natural physical world bursts with spiritual goodness” and that the Catholic faith is a “physical” religion- the bible begins in a garden and ends in a feast.
A magnificent sunset, a delicate flower, a beautiful smile are all daily reminders of our maker. “In the sacraments, material things are consecrated and made visible signs of grace” (WMF catechesis). Water, bread, wine, the touch of hands are ways by which God’s presence becomes real.
b) What is the purpose of creation? Is the physical world a blank slate, which we’re free to rule and exploit to our own desires?
Creation is an overflowing of God’s love who made us to share in the eternal exchange of the divine love of the Trinity. We are stewards of creation. In performing our role, we practice the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
Due to original sin and concupiscence, we sometimes, like the bad stewards in the bible, exploit creation. Part of creation is the ecology of humanity itself. As part of God’s creation our bodies have innate dignity. “We do not always love as we ought, but God’s pattern of love protects us and calls us back to our true natures” (WMF Catechesis).
c)Things like rest, food, pleasure, and beauty are attractive. But sometimes we have deeply felt desires and appetites beyond what is good for us. How do we know when a desire is legitimate and good? How can we cherish and enjoy creation and our bodies in daily life?
Media and marketing are permeated by “selfism”. The slogan, “because I’m worth it”, is a succinct summary of the attitude that pervades our “me” culture. This outlook can conflict with the Christian, who makes a sacrifice of himself to help and love his neighbour. Therefore it can be difficult to discern what is genuinely legitimate and good, when our culture is telling us the opposite, to “treat yourself” and that “you can have it all”.
Aristotle said that the best activities are the most useless. In contrast, when it comes to our relationships, when we desire someone lustfully, we are looking at them in a utilitarian way. We use the person for our own gain, a means to an end, treating them as an object, rather than seeing them as person with dignity, deserving of reverence and respect.
We don’t know when a desire is legitimate and good. Because of our fallen nature, we justify our behaviour, and even make virtues of vices. We need to reject the selfish temptations that the culture proposes.
There is a joy and serenity in enjoying the things of this world without being consumed by them. We need to keep our gazes and hearts fixed on God. We receive grace through the sacraments and cultivate a personal relationship with God. Through knowing Him, we discern the ways of virtues and with His grace, we have the strength to follow His ways.
d) Why do you think Catholic practice traditionally includes feasting and fasting? Celibacy and marriage?
In Matthew’s gospel, a follower of John asks Jesus why the Pharisees fast, but Jesus’ disciples feast. Jesus replies that the bridegroom’s attendants cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, but that a time will come when he will be taken away from them and they will fast (Matthew 9:15-16). The Church, “in the course of the year… unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord” (CCC 1194). The celebration of the liturgical year requires fasting and feasting, as we remember Jesus’ life. It was, and still is for some Catholics, tradition to fast on Fridays, the day Jesus died, and all Catholics celebrate his resurrection on Sunday.
In celibacy and marriage, we can live out our God-given masculinity or femininity in generous, self-giving ways. “Both ways of living look to God’s covenant and receive the fact of being created as male and female as occasions of joy … The discipline we impose on our love… honors and reveals the true meaning of love, created in the image and likeness of God”(WMF Catechesis).