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Pope Francis Offers Vigorous Defense of Sacramental Marriage

Alberto Pizzoli

Tells Schoenstatt group that marriage is seen as a “social event,” underappreciated as sacrament

Today, marriage is more of a social event than a sacrament. That’s what Pope Francis told nearly 8,000 members of the International Schoenstatt Movement in a private audience on October 25, 2014, as part of the movement’s 100th Anniversary celebration.

The Schoenstatt Movement, founded in Schoenstatt (Vallendar) Germany on October 18, 1914, by Fr. Joseph Kentenich, has as its charism the renewal of the Church and world, particularly through the support and formation of families and youth. After a three-day celebration in Schoenstatt, Germany, October 16-19, the movement members made a pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate with the Holy Father and present to him their gifts and abilities for his work in leading the Church.

The audience, which took place in the Paul VI Hall, was arranged as a family-like Q&A between the Holy Father and representatives of Schoenstatt. One of the questions included a request for his advice as to how to better accompany those who still feel unwelcome in the Church and how to better accompany young couples and families so that they can become “an irresistible and living proposition to those seeking a way to fulfillment.” In this regard, the Schoenstatt Family assured Pope Francis that he can count on them to “walk along this path that was started in the Synod [to rebuild the family].”  

To this, Pope Francis responded that there is a very sad, painful thing, “That the family is hit, that the family is knocked and that the family is debased as [how can this be] a way of association … Can everything be called a family? How many families are divided, how many marriages are broken, how much relativism there is in the concept of the Sacrament of Marriage. At present, from a sociological point of view and from the point of view of human values, as well as, in fact, of the Catholic Sacrament, of the Christian Sacrament, there is a crisis of the family, a crisis because it is hit from all sides and left very wounded!”

The solution, Pope Francis said, is to clearly declare the principles of marriage and to let others know that what they’re proposing is not a marriage. “What they are proposing is not marriage, it is an association, but it is not marriage! It is necessary to say things very clearly and we must say this! The pastoral helps, but in this alone it is necessary that it be ‘person to person.’ Therefore support, and this also means to expend time. The great teacher of expending time is Jesus! He expended time to support, to have consciences mature, to heal wounds, to teach. To support is to journey together.”

He went on to explain that accompaniment means to “make a way together” and that the sacrament of matrimony has been devaluated and reduced from a sacrament to a rite. It is more a social matter than a religious one.

He then expressed his sadness over the vast number of couples he’s met who cohabitate because they think they can’t afford a wedding. “When you ask them, why don’t you get married? You are just being together but not married. And they say, well, we have no money, we cannot make a party. So the social makes the most important part and not the sacrament,” he said.

The Holy Father gave the example of priests in Buenos Aires who would encourage couples to have a civil marriage and later that same day, a sacramental one in the church. While the motivation – to help them to have a sacramental marriage – is good, its long-term effects are bad.

“You can’t prepare couples for matrimony with two encounters. That you cannot do. That is really a sin of omission from the part of the pastor, especially because we want to save families,” he said. “So, the sacrament and accompaniment has to go much, much, further. And it has to be person to person to prepare them, to talk to them, to tell them what they are supposed to do because many do not know what they do. They just marry, and they marry without really knowing what it means, the conditions, they don’t know what they promise. They say ‘yes, yes, everything is okay’ but they aren’t conscious what it really means.”

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