Editor’s note: Msgr. Laughlin, the administrator for the Diocese of Charleston, is writing a series of letters — on conscience, love, marriage and family life — for South Carolina Catholics.
To all priests, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Charleston:
On Feb. 14, the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius — and St. Valentine’s Day — we may reflect on the fact that the vast majority of Catholics will not be called to evangelize large populations as St. Paul did, or as Sts. Cyril and Methodius did for all the Slav nations, or as even St. Valentine did for all true lovers of all times and places.
Rather, most of us are called to witness Christ’s good news in the holy state of matrimony, in our marriages and in our family lives. It is right at home and in our own family life that God’s very great gift to us of conscience comes in for its most frequent, challenging and telling use — to instruct us and to help us make our decisions either to our spiritual salvation or to our very great peril. If only we allow conscience to do its proper work, “evangelization begins at home.”
The sacred Scriptures, sacred tradition and the magisterial teachings of our bishops reveal the very rich teachings of Jesus Christ on matters of love, marriage and family life. Sadly, we have too often been poor witnesses to Jesus’ authentic teachings and may have instead even counter-evangelized on what is most important to us — true love. Jesus’ own teaching about the sanctity of marriage is the most telling example.
Marriage is central to society and to Christianity. It is the vocational sacrament lived out by the vast majority of Christians — husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, in answer to Jesus’ call to “come follow me.” It is only in a sacramental marriage that husband and wife bind themselves in total self donation to each other so that the two become one flesh. It is this unreserved donation of self, one to another, that results in the procreation of another person. It is in living this covenant, witnessed and bound by God, that we as mere mortals most fully participate in and reflect the life of the Trinity itself and the creative presence of God.
It is in light of this sublime reality that a life lived in contradiction to God’s plan for marriage, or according to our own definition of married love, has such dire consequences upon our individual lives, our family, our culture and the church. Adultery, fornication, divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, pornography and homosexual unions are all ways in which man seeks to redefine marriage according to his own terms, according to the flesh. This is not new. Jesus preached against it two millennia ago. St. Paul likewise warned his followers of a malformed understanding of married love and exhorted the Ephesians to live lives of self-sacrificing love.
We are still called today to be authentic followers and witnesses to Jesus Christ. Yet we cannot be if we fail to follow him in this most fundamental vocation. In other words, we can only reflect Jesus to our family and society if we live a life in imitation of his life and his teachings.
On this day when our culture celebrates a superficial understanding of love, as followers of Jesus we are called to witness to a deeper reality, a supernatural reality that gives true meaning to love. I humbly invite all Catholics to come to a deeper understanding of married love through study of sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church; to seek God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of penance for sins against this vocation of love; and to re-order your lives according to his holy plan.
I call upon pastors of souls to be faithful to God and their people by authentically passing on all of the church’s teachings on human sexuality in order to help form the consciences of men, women and children to be authentic witnesses to Jesus and experience the joy of following him.
We may surely depend upon the intercessions of St. Paul, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and St. Valentine as well, for God to give us the graces we need in order to faithfully live out his Son’s revelation to us of the Gospel as it applies to our loves, our marriages and our family lives.