Thursday, September 3, 2015

Choosing Wholeness, Abundant Life, and Enduring Happiness

Just in time for this month's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, Image Books has released a book-length interview of Bishop Jean Laffitte, the current secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family. It's the Council's task to organize the World Meeting of Families every three years. This year is the first time it will be held in the United States.

The book highlights the richness of family life well-lived, as hinted at by its title, The Choice of the Family: A Call to Wholeness, Abundant Life, and Enduring Happiness. In its format, it resembles previous best-selling full-length interviews of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, including Light of the World and others.

Although the interview was conducted in 2011, the issues of love, family, and sexuality are perennial ones. The lengthy opening remarks by Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Archbishop Charles Chaput, a popular conservative Catholic voice, increase the book's appeal to American Catholics today.

Bishop Laffitte touches on all the hot-button issues of cohabitation, sexuality, adultery, divorce and remarriage, and the right of the Church to make its voice heard in the public square. But he also offers advice, rich with years of experience, about fostering a love of God in individuals, engaged couples, families, and young children. The key to opening people's hearts is that "the priest must have an interest in their happiness," says Bishop Laffitte.

Marriage preparation has an essential role to play in forming strong families, and the bishop provides helpful insights to priests and anyone else involved in this ministry. Fully aware of the challenges, he is not a man with his head stuck in the clouds. "Many people demand the sacrament of marriage from the Church while totally misunderstanding what the sacrament signifies.  ...We need to be aware," he cautions. We must reawaken the desire and the hope for permanence and indissolubility that "is demanded by the nature of love," he adds. When we give love as a gift, we give it totally and forever. Anything less is merely a loan, unworthy of the name of love.

In marriage preparation, instructors can discover what the couple's expectations are of marriage and perhaps help them to see their future more realistically. It will not be all good or all bad. When the bad times come, spouses need to forgive each other, reconcile with each other, and realize that the suffering will pass -- what Bishop Laffitte calls "an ordinary practice of reconciliation."

Despite the importance of this type of common sense advice, marriage preparation operates on more than a psychological or social level -- it must be a spiritual event, according to the bishop. If a marriage minister does not "introduce the engaged couple into an experience of prayer, I do not know where they are headed! I find it insane that people are prepared over the course of months for the sacrament of marriage and ... nobody invites them to pray," he says.

Marriage itself is also a spiritual event. It is a privileged path to encounter divine love through the transforming power of human love. And God does not offer anyone a love that is second-best. Marriage ministers can communicate that beautiful truth to the couples they counsel while preparing them for the sacrament of Matrimony. As Bishop Laffitte states movingly, "The fianc├ęs must feel loved and be led to Christ. There is then an opening of the heart that takes place, and then there can be space for the grace of Christ. We have to believe it."

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