Pope Francis told bishops Sunday that a widespread consumerism and desire to follow new fads has rendered youth fearful of commitments, and said that as pastors they must encourage youth to be brave in going against the tide.
He began his speech, however, with an impromptu reflection on the clergy sex abuse crisis, mentioning that he had met earlier with victims and their families. He said the victims “have become true heralds of hope and mercy. In humility, we owe each of them and their families an immense debt of gratitude … they made the light of christ shine on something so awful: the sexual abuse of minors.”
“I say this now because I just met with some victims of sexual abuse, and at that time I heard how they’re being helped in a special way here in this archdiocese, by Archbishop Chaput, and I thought it was the right thing to do, to tell you where I was this morning.”
The Pope then continued with his prepared remarks, noting his joy at being able to reflect together with fellow bishops: “I am happy to be able to share these moments of pastoral reflection with you, amid the joyful celebrations for the World Meeting of Families,” he said Sept. 27 at the chapel of Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
“To Congress a couple days ago, I said we are living in a culture that pushes young people not to form families: some because they don’t have the material resources to realize a wedding, or a life together. But others just choose this because they think they’re better off this way – but that’s the temptation, to not lay a foundation, to not have a family. As pastors, we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are!”
“We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.”
Francis’ comments on his last day in the U.S. were addressed to bishops participating in the World Meeting of Families.
After spending three days in Cuba, the Pope arrived to Washington D.C. Sept. 23, where he met with president Barack Obama and addressed a joint-meeting of U.S. Congress. He then moved onto New York, where he spoke to the United Nations and met with school children in Harlem.
He met with the bishops before celebrating Mass to close the World Meeting of Families, and will board a plane to Rome later this evening.
In his speech to the bishops, Pope Francis said that despite current challenges, the family shouldn’t be viewed primarily as a cause for concern, but rather “the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation.”
A key pastoral concern amid the constant changes of our time is to recognize the gift of the family, and be aware that both gratitude and appreciation ought to prevail over worries or complaints.
The family, he said, “is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be.”
However, the Pope noted that Christians are not immune to the changes of our time, and because of that “the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now juridical – effects on family bonds” shouldn’t be disregarded.
While until recently the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were a shared notion seen as interrelated and mutually supportive, “this is no longer the case,” Francis observed.
Using the example of neighborhood stores and large supermarkets, the Pope said that formerly the situation was like the local stores, which had everything needed for both personal and family life, even if it wasn’t “cleverly displayed.”
“Business was done on the basis of trust, people knew one another, they were all neighbors. They trusted one another. They built up trust,” he said, noting that later the big supermarkets sprang up with large spaces and an endless selection of merchandise.
“The world seems to have become one of these great supermarkets; our culture has become more and more competitive. Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships,” Francis said.
In a culture that seems to encourage people not to trust, the most important thing now appears to be following the latest trend, even in terms of religion, he continued.
Consumerism now determines what is important, he said. “Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships,” adding that “joy is not something that can be ‘consumed’.”
Social bonds, the Pope observed, have become a mere means for satisfying one’s own needs, rather than focusing on the other person, their lives, and their stories.
“This causes great harm,” he said, and diagnosed “a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness” as the root cause of many contemporary problems.
“Running after the latest fad, accumulating ‘friends’ on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.”
However, Pope Francis said that youth shouldn’t be condemned or pegged with blame for living and growing up in this type of society.
“Should they hear their pastors saying that ‘it was all better back then,’ ‘the world is falling apart and if things go on this way, who knows where we will end up?’” he asked.
“No, I do not think that this is the way,” he said, explaining that as shepherds, it is their responsibility to “seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time.”
As bishops, they must look at things “realistically, with the eyes of one who feels called to action, to pastoral conversion. The world today demands this conversion on our part.”
Rather than viewing the current situation as a mere indifference or “pure and simple selfishness” regarding marriage and the family, many youth have “have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence” inside a culture of discouragement, the Pope observed.
Francis explained that youth “are paralyzed when they encounter the beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges which faith sets before them,” and often put off marriage in order to wait for ideal conditions, “when everything can be perfect.”
“Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full. For knowledge of life’s true pleasures only comes as the fruit of a long-term, generous investment of our intelligence, enthusiasm and passion.”
He added, off-the-cuff, that “In Buenos Aires many of the women were complaining, saying, ‘I have a son who’s 30, 34, and he won’t get married. I don’t know what to do!’ I would tell them, ‘Well, quit ironing his shirts!’”
“We need to give to the young people enthusiasm,” he told the bishops, “so they will take this worthwhile risk. Here too, we bishops need parrhesia!”
After giving a mock conversation between a bishop and a young person about “Why don’t you get married?” he said that bishops must “accompany them, and help them to mature, to make this decision to get married.”
Returning to his prepared remarks, the Pope said that “A Christianity which does little in practice, while incessantly explaining its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle.”
Rather, in a culture where concern for oneself is the overriding trend, it’s the pastor’s job to show that the “the Gospel of the family” is truly good news.
“We are not speaking about some romantic dream,” he said, adding that “the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”
Pastors must watch over the dreams, lives and growth of his flock, Francis said, explaining that this isn’t done by talking, but guiding. “Only one capable of standing in the midst of the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment.”
He stressed the importance of prayer in the life of a pastor, and questioned whether or not they are prepared to “waste time” with families, uplifting them in time of discouragement.
The Pope gave an extended and impromptu reflection on the office of bishops: “pray, and announce the Gospel – this always drew my attention about the beginning of the Church, because the widows and the orphans were not well taken care of, and the apostles couldn’t handle them. And so they came up with the office of deacons, to deal with them! And the Holy Spirit inspired them, ‘you have to build up deacons’, and when Peter announces this decision, he says, ‘now, we have chosen seven of you to be deacons, to take care of these problems, these situations.’”
From this institution of the diaconate, he said, the bishops are freed to pray. “From this we can expect two things: prayer, and preaching … What is the primary job of a bishop? To pray. To pray. The second task of a bishop, that goes with the first, is preaching. [Preaching] helps us. Dogmatic definitions help us – if not, you have to deal with Cardinal Mueller! But this helps us. It gives the definition of a bishop, and what his role is. He is a shepherd – he needs to shepherd, and proclaim, and take care of the sheep. To do that, he needs to pray and to preach. If there’s time, he can get to the rest of what he needs to do.”
Returning to his prepared remarks he said that “By our own humble Christian apprenticeship in the familial virtues of God’s people, we will become more and more like fathers and mothers, and less like people who have simply learned to live without a family.”
“Our ideal is not to live without love!” he said, explaining that a good pastor renounces the love of a family “in order to focus all his energies, and the grace of his particular vocation, on the evangelical blessing of the love of men and women who carry forward God’s plan of creation, beginning with those who are lost, abandoned, wounded, broken, downtrodden and deprived of their dignity.”
Jesus is the model for the mission of a pastor, who is called to imitate the Son’s love for the Father, he said, adding that “only God can authorize this, not our own presumption!”
Ministry must first of all deepen the bond between the Church and the family, the Pope said, otherwise “it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”
Pope Francis closed by praying for a renewed closeness between the family and the Church.
The family, he said, “is our ally, our window to the world, and the evidence of an irrevocable blessing of God destined for all the children who in every age are born into this difficult yet beautiful creation which God has asked us to serve!”