Pope Francis hosted an extraordinary global marriage conference

There was little media coverage. Where did the Francis Effect go?

He’s not sounding the progressive notes liberals thought they’d been hearing from him and some Church hierarchy lately. Just after the Bishops’ Synod on the Family recently stirred so much controversy over the issue of same sex marriage, Francis boldly declared marriage is a sacramental union of man and woman and anything else is “an association.” It got attention in Christian media, but little to none elsewhere.

The movement to redefine marriage unquestionably has enjoyed dominance in the prevailing culture, which has helped that movement shape public opinion through media, politics, the entertainment culture, academia and other ways. The movement has been unified, successful and powerful, while the other side largely has not. Until now.

Yes, the massive March for Marriage in Paris held twice within months last year, with one in the US soon after, and dedicated organizations tirelessly working to engage the marriage debate and build a marriage culture, have made a difference in many ways. But they haven’t had the cohesive and powerful effect the movement to redefine marriage has in recent years. One event may not change that, but it could be a major tipping point. Could this have been the event?

It was the high level conference the Vatican hosted this past week that unified some of the world’s greatest scholars, intellectuals and religious leaders for a unique focus on marriage. Pope Francis opened it with sharp remarks about dysfunction in modern culture and its impact on individuals and families on the most fundamental levels.

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

It was inspirational, to say the least. Read Maggie Gallagher:

For the Vatican it was a truly unusual event, with people from every part of the globe and nearly every major faith tradition — Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Jains, Mormons and Muslims, not to mention Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists, pouring into Rome to share their faith traditions’ insights into the meaning of this thing called sex…

Something happened at this colloquium, something I would not say was talked about, so much as on display, something deeply foundational and mostly missing in modern discourse on the family, including (perhaps especially) much rational Catholic discourse — something that cannot be explained but only experienced by the hungry human heart.

The closest words we have are so mocked and ridiculed as to be reduced in their capacity to carry the meaning: purity? chastity?

There is something men and women can be together but only when we recognize our difference as deeply precious and meaningful, for in it lies the capacity of the lover and the beloved to influence one another. I mean in particular the special power of women for men to symbolize and therefore incarnate, a world outside that which every teenage boy enters adult life experiencing: the deep power of lust. Can sexual desire ever be something other than this relentless urge to use, to possess, to enjoy, to discard, to delight in degradation that is so evident all around us?

I heard an echo of it in what prominent evangelicals were trying to put into words…

Like famous Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren.

“To redefine marriage would destroy the picture that God intends for marriage to portray, and we cannot cave on this issue,” Warren said. “It’s a picture of Christ and his Church.”

“What are we going to do about this?” he said, according to a report from Christian Today. “The Church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high.”

He continued:

“A lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right…just because it’s popular,” said Warren. “Truth is truth.”

Addressing the issue of remaining steadfast in the face of today’s culture, Warren told those meeting at the Vatican that “the only way to always be relevant, is to be eternal.”

He said it’s not necessary even to be on the right side of culture, but rather it’s just important to be on the right side, and he said it is time for the Church to be a “proponent of what’s right.”

“The Church must remain strong in its values, and continue to uphold the traditional teaching of marriage and the male-female relationship, despite cultural pressures,” Warren stressed. “It should lead the crowd, not follow it.”

Participants report that several addresses brought the crowd to its feet, for sustained ovations in some cases. Such was the case (as Michael Cook noted) with Lord Jonathan Sacks. His speech was more of an eloquent oration, profoundly stirring listeners to their core.

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.

It was utter poetry.

Maggie Gallagher tried to find words to convey what it did and meant to be there at this extraordinary time.

At the end of this extraordinary three days Archbishop Chaput took the microphone to invite us to the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “I’ve been a bishop for 26 years, a priest for more than 40 years, and this was the most interesting colloquium I’ve been to in my life,” he said.

That says a lot, coming from Archbishop Chaput, who has not only attended but addressed countless fascinating, important, critical conferences on urgent issues of our times.

Gallagher continues:

The conference ended not with a statement but with a promise: A movie will be made to express our deepest affirmations. Jacqueline Rivers and Reverend Gene Rivers read from the script for the story, the story of our lives:

For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate. . . . This we affirm.

After that, we all stood and applauded for what seemed like ten minutes, reluctant to leave, reluctant to have it end, which of course it should not, because now our task is to find new ways to go forth and carry on the great human story of the generations.

The colloquium wrapped with great warmth, a determined sense of purpose, and the Affirmation Carolyn Moynihan shared here. It was more the end of the beginning.

Let Robin Williams memorials bring relief from suffering

How fitting a legacy that would be for a genius at comic relief.

This is the third time in recent weeks that I’ve been startled by a confrontation with depression, mental illness, or emotional distress that wrought  havoc or brought death before such suffering could be successfully treated. And those were only three high profile cases that are emblematic of countless others, especially people on the margins of society with no one particularly paying attention to them.

With no other thread than that, here are my encounters, and each one had impact.

The July 7th issue of ESPN magazine featured an article titled ‘The Pursuit of Radical Acceptance.’ It was about Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and his struggle with ‘borderline personality disorder’, a mental health condition so little understood or talked about that Marshall made it his mission to “make an off-limits subject commonplace.”

He’s reaching out to players who might need help, teaming with mental health organizations through his charity and raising awareness and cash for early-detection programs.

“Where we are now is where the HIV community was 25 years ago,” he says. “We can raise all the money in the world, but people might not go get help. They’re still going to see it as a taboo topic. So it’s important for us to get the conversation started.”

Mental health issues can’t be taboo. They still are though, which is why so much of the population, including high profile celebrities, suffer in silence or within a small circle of closest family and friends. This must change.

Over the years, I recall several cases of prominent professionals whose grown children had ended their own lives, and couldn’t imagine the dreadful horror of such an experience nor how one could live through it. Once you’re a parent, you just know that’s the worse thing that could happen. And it happens to anyone, even the unlikeliest of people and families.

Like beloved Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, American’s Pastor as many people see him, who couldn’t save the life of his own son. I encountered that story again over the weekend in a poignant interview with Raymond Arroyo in ‘The World Over’ on the EWTN network. It covered Pastor Warren’s initiative, ‘A Gathering On Mental Health and the Church’, and the tragic event that inspired him to focus on the issue of mental health, the death of his own son. It’s heart wrenching beyond words to see these parents go out publicly trying to save others from such unspeakable tragedy.

But the hope of saving them is greater if they can be reached, and going back to Brandon Marshall’s point of his mission, mental health is still a taboo subject, so people won’t talk about it the way they will about any range of other health issues for which there’s a support community and charitable organizations championing the cause. Again, that must change.

Now, for the third time in as many weeks, the tragedy of mental despair unresolved and maybe largely unaddressed has hit us all, like a sucker punch that knocked the wind out of everyone. New media preempted coverage of the crisis in Iraq, the Israel-Hamas war, the brink of war between Russia and Ukraine, and other major breaking and developing news stories, for blanket coverage of the suicide of Robin Williams. How terribly tragic.

The articles and television videos and remembrances are so vast, let them celebrate this one man’s life and life’s work that elevated the hearts and minds and spirits of countless people while his own were sinking into darkness. Here are only a couple I’d like to point out.

Friend Elizabeth Scalia posted this on the ‘Murderous Mendacity of Depression.”

Depression is a hissing false witness. It lies and tells someone there is no hope; it lies and declares, “you’re a fraud”; it lies when it warns you to hide your feelings, because people won’t love you if they know how terrified and alone and desperate you feel; it lies and sneers that you’re weak — that you can just snap out of it, anytime, if you really want to; it croons the lie that love is not real, and hope is for suckers; it whispers the most insidious of lies: that your pain will never ebb, cannot be transcended, and has no value at all.

After a while, the pain begins to feel like all you are and all there is: a worthless, pointless void. And when your life becomes just pain-without-end, suffering-without-meaning, tomorrow seems like less a promise than a prison.

When depression wins, it is such a damned tragedy, no matter whether it has carried off a big rich somebody, or an ordinary nobody, because it is the victory of an incessant liar.

Biblically, that refers to ‘the Accuser, who stands night and day accusing incessantly until you hear and start believing that voice, which is the voice of a liar. Who doesn’t hear that voice? But who has moral and mental and spiritual support behind them and who doesn’t? That’s so key to making this a subject and condition to talk about in the mainstream public discussion of health.

My friend Kathryn Lopez posted this poignant piece on her blog, refreshingly innocent and yet deeply knowing about the human condition.

What if every person of faith who ever laughed at a Robin Williams joke, prayed for him? And every day it happened? Could this be a new way for us to live?

On Sunday night I turned on Dead Poets Society, the 1989 movie where Robin Williams, teaching his students poetry, famously encourages them to give a nod to Walt Whitman and go ahead and address him as “O Captain, my Captain.”

I remember watching Dead Poets Society when it first came out and being so taken with the pain of a young man who lost all hope.

Young men, we pray, grow up to be men. And even then … the burdens of pain may grow, despite success.

God help them, God heal them from the pain of what they believe about themselves.

We see talent, they can’t see past fear.

Sunday night, I had turned on the TV to see if anyone was doing anything different given the Christian extermination — and then-some — in Iraq. Not really. So after a quick journey into the center of the Teen Choice Awards, I stopped inside a classroom with Robin Williams, a movie I hadn’t seen in years. The daughter of teachers -– and a schoolgirl who quite liked being a student — I remembered how grateful I was a teacher was portrayed in a good light.

I didn’t watch much of Dead Poets Society Sunday night but I felt prompted to pray for Robin Williams Sunday night. Perhaps simply in thanksgiving. Perhaps because we are — all the baptized — are the body of Christ, and I was called to hear a cry for help from a brother.

Perhaps because he needed prayers and God wanted me receptive to this, interceding for his pain. God looks out for His Creation and relies on His adopted sons and daughters to do the work of His graces, living sacramental lives as the Body of Christ.

I only prayed briefly for him.

What a world it might be if, every time someone made us laugh or otherwise entertained or informed us, we prayed for him? What if we always prayed in thanksgiving and with the knowledge that we don’t know what lies beneath? Anyone who followed Williams’ career knew he had his struggles. We often don’t know. But it’s so often there — no matter how clever or talented. We’re only human.

We must pray. And be alert — looking and listening for opportunities and promptings. Our lives must be ones of prayer and we must set aside time and plead with God on behalf of those who suffer most. In front of us and a world away.

To say “we must pray” is so counter-cultural, and yet Kathryn Lopez is an editor-at-large of a national secular news organization out of DC and New York who regularly blends the secular and the sacred, faith and life, God and man, applying eternal truths to cultural relativism. She does it so well.

One of the Patheos bloggers posted an interesting piece on the saints who suffered from depression.

With this topic very much in the news today, it seems a good time to remember that even the holiest of people have suffered from periods of despair.

It’s a comfort of sorts, a relief for those willing to engage it, and a resource for hope.

Pray if you will or don’t if you won’t. Kathryn Lopez and Deadon Kandra  just make a suggestion and a very good one for those who see the merit and the power of prayer. God only knows what a difference it may have made for Robin Williams.

And all the other individuals out there whose names we don’t know who are suffering as he did. God willing, it may save their lives.