ATLANTA — “Sexuality, Marriage and Family in the Third Millennium” was a topic of hope for the 500 participants at Family Honor’s second national conference. They heard about the awesome possibilities for a society that follows God’s plan for human love. The conference, held July 23-24 at the Sheraton Hotel Airport, was organized by Family Honor in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Charleston. Each speaker at the event applied the insights of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” showing how it was relevant to each vocation and state of life.
“We leave this conference with hope and confidence because we know we are not alone,” said Lisa Sbillane, a participant from Suwanee. “As parents we are glad to have the resources at Family Honor and the ‘Theology of the Body’ to help us communicate the church’s teachings to our children.”
Bishop Victor Galeone of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., led the weekend talks by sharing some of the tragic symptoms of a culture in which the family has been fractured and human sexuality misused.
Although the task may be daunting, he believes people can restore society through education and example. Bishop Galeone led the session called “The Role of the Family and the Sacrament of Marriage as the Foundation for Christ’s Church.” He quoted from Pope John Paul II: “Christian families exist to form a communion of persons in love. As such, the Church and the family are each in its own way living representations of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.”
“Jesus challenged his disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” Bishop Galeone said. “Namely, he wants us to be thermostats, regulating the moral temperature of our culture. Instead, most of us are only thermometers, registering the values of a decadent society.”
The next two talks were given by Christopher West, a popular speaker at the first conference. He said that people today are desperately looking for love and many are so starved for it that they are willing to “eat out of a dumpster” to try and satisfy the hunger.
West suggested that the hungry be invited to the spiritual banquet that provides authentic love that is forever, fruitful, free and faithful.
True love speaks a language that says, “I long for your good. I will sacrifice everything to uphold your goodness,” West said.
The opposite of this philosophy is to see another person as an object, and to use that person for personal pleasure, he explained.
Another popular voice for chastity for over ten years has been Mary Beth Bonacci. She spoke on chastity’s application to single adults.
Bonacci provided a possible spiritual reason for the growing single lifestyle that she does not believe to be part of God’s original plan. She thinks that many singles are called to the vocations of marriage or consecrated life, but sin has reduced the pool of available spouses and the ability to make a permanent gift of self.
David Morrison, author of “Beyond Gay,” gave his perception of what the church gets right about same-sex attraction and what it could do better.
Morrison said that what the church teaches about homosexuality, contraception, chastity, and sexual sins can be hard for someone to understand until he or she is living in Christ.
He expressed gratitude that the Catholic Church takes a realistic approach about temptation, teaching the importance of the body and recognizing that people can choose vice or virtue.
“It is very dehumanizing to make us like beasts and say we have no choice [but to act out our urges],” he said.
The author believes that the church could reach out more to those with same-sex attraction. He encourages priests to speak against sexual sins because, if done lovingly, it can “show you are approachable on the subject.”
Dr. Dawn Reeler, a family practice doctor from Zimbabwe, gave the banquet address.
Reeler, who is also a third order Franciscan, shared her reflections as a doctor in a war-torn country plagued with AIDs and as a lay celibate who has responded to her vocation.
“You cannot fall into a vocation because it is a strong calling from God into relationship, a calling to love the Lord through whatever community that one is attached to … in the body he has given you,” she said.
She described the discerning process as similar to a train station with two main trains: one is the marriage train and one is the celibacy train.
“God is calling us to one or the other,” Reeler said. “Everyone wants to get on the marriage train even though some of them have first-class tickets to the celibacy train.”
Because of their dislike for the celibate life and inability to find a spouse, some people will settle for anything, even sin, to avoid that calling, Reeler reflected. She expressed gratitude for her life as a lay celibate.
As a doctor, Reeler described herself as the privileged companion for those on the journey of appreciating the goodness of the body. She has found that the first recognition usually comes during serious illness or approaching death.
“At this time they are finally thankful for having life, finally thankful to their bodies for carrying their souls through this privileged life on earth,” recalled Reeler.
The collaborative effort and location of the conference allowed for new offerings such as daily Mass, reconciliation, workshops, eucharistic adoration, musical entertainment, continuing education credit from the Atlanta Archdiocese, and more exhibit tables than were possible at the previous event held two years ago in Charleston.
“We believe this conference has achieved our goals of helping individuals and families better understand the church’s beautiful, hope-filled teaching in the areas of sexuality, marriage and family,” said Brenda Cerkez, executive director of Family Honor.
Bishop Robert J. Baker from the Diocese of Charleston praised the lay organization for bringing the message of the virtue of chastity into the home.
“We also think that this special event has been yet another significant turning point in bringing Family Honor’s family-centered vision for programs and training to more people across the U.S. and beyond,” he said. He gave special recognition to Cerkez and others who have supported their important and growing mission, which is based in Columbia, S.C.
Using the biblical words of Mordecai to Queen Esther during despairing times, Bishop Galeone charged participants to “bring our fellow citizens and even fellow Catholics back to the basics.”
Who knows,” he said, “perhaps you and I have been placed where we are for just such a time as this.”
Tapes and CDs of the conference are available by calling Our Father’s Will at (866) 333-6392. For more information on Family Honor call (803) 929-0858 or visit the Web site at www.familyhonor.org.