“The family is under attack and we must take action to defend it” was the ringing theme at Christendom College’s 18th Annual Summer Institute on Marriage and the Family attended by 350 people at its Front Royal, Virginia campus on July 21. Speakers at the daylong conference included Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Bishop Robert Morlino, Sen. Rick Santorum, Timothy O’Donnell and Mary Stanford. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Thomas Welsh.
Franciscan Friar of the Renewal and EWTN personality Fr. Benedict Groeschel started the day discussing marriage and its enemies.
“I am sorry to tell you that there are in public in this country a number of Catholic priests who are not on our side. And it’s disgraceful,” he said. “Know where your enemies are and know where your friends are. As Cardinal Newman says, ‘Don’t worry about the enemies of the Church outside the Church, worry about the enemies of the Church inside the Church.’ And I want to state that categorically they are enemies of the Church and I will happily take-them-on on television anytime.”
In his closing remarks he told the audience to have courage in the years ahead. “In the history of this world and until the end of time there will never be a Golden Age. There will be nice times and bad times. We live at a pivotal time to keep the faith and true ideas of Christendom alive. And where do you begin? In family life—in marriage.”
Acclaimed professor of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body Mary Stanford discussed authority in marriage. She said that our modern culture has a misconception of what marriage is.
“Our modern age operates as though the family were a collection of people whose communal life mirrors the dynamic of a small business,” she said. “Given the prevailing cultural materialism the objective of the so-called family is best characterized as one fulfilling materiel needs.”
We need to realize that marriage has been redeemed and raised to a new level. St. Paul’s charge for husbands to love their wives and for wives to be submissive to their husbands is full of wisdom, she said. “Today’s feminist ideology, which identifies any difference with inequality, completely disregards the words of St. Paul as being culturally conditioned by the dominating-male and servile-female notion of antiquity.”
A husband’s authority—headship—is not even possible without a free and gracious reception on the part of his wife, explained Stanford. “Indeed, a husband needs to be allowed—freed—enabled—to be head. A man’s headship is a free gift from wife to husband for the sake of all. A father is called to self-sacrifice to the point of death for his beloved ones. Like Christ, he is not a tyrant, but a lover. He does not exercise authority by taking, but by giving.”
Concluding Stanford stated, “There will be no authentic equality between spouses, no true flourishing of the persons in the family and no embodiment of the domestic church without self-sacrificing love and generous acceptance on the part of man and wife. The asymmetry—or better the complimentary difference—between man and woman is placed at the foundation of family life precisely because it is life-giving—physically and spiritually.”
Following Stanford’s talk, conference attendees filled Christ the King Chapel where retired Bishop Thomas Welsh of Allentown, Pennsylvania celebrated a votive Mass for the family.
“The idea of covenant helps us to recall the original covenant that was with God and mankind, and so the marriage covenant should remind us that God is very much a part of this agreement,” Bishop Welsh said in his homily.
“We need Jesus at our weddings today,” he continued. “We very much need Mary too. At so many weddings these days the priest is afraid to be looking down at the bride because of the way she is undressed. The Blessed Mother’s presence is very important to us to stem the tide of pre-marital sex and cohabitation before marriage. We need Jesus and Mary, not just at the wedding, but also in the marriage.”
Following the Mass and a break for lunch, College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell spoke on the family as a Domestic Church. “There is no doubt that the family, as we know it, is under attack. Everyone has an obligation to prayerfully read Familiaris Consortio, such an important and beautiful Church document on marriage and the family.
“In the first world today there has been almost a total failure in communicating the saving truths found in Church teachings about the family,” O’Donnell said. “And this has been a failure not so much in the family, but a failure on the part of the institutional Church to communicate effectively and faithfully Papal and Conciliar teachings.”
He continued. “Divorce remains today a hidden evil that few want to speak of because so many have been wounded by it, but we are not telling the whole truth about men and women if we do not speak about this. Divorce was regarded as a scandal because it implied that Christ could be separated from His Church. A merely natural love will not keep marriages together today. Couples need to frequent the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.”
O’Donnell highlighted many of the attacks that the family is under today. “Feminism in its militant form is essentially demonic,” he said, “because it tears apart and rends asunder what God meant to be joined together.
“These days there’s more devotion to Lost, 24, or American Idol than there is to the family rosary,” he lamented.
Concluding O’Donnell challenged the audience, “If we as a Church in this country do not speak clearly and emphasize the centrality of marriage—this great sacrament—who will?”
Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin took the stage discussing marriage and the natural law. “Whether you are a Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, agnostic or atheist, one is bound by the natural law because one is human. Natural law simply states God’s plan for the way human beings should live out their own humanness.”
Long-time defender of marriage Bishop Morlino stated that simply through the rational study of the way God made human beings one can know that marriage is a one-flesh union—husband and wife—male and female—lifelong, with openness to children. “That’s all it can be,” he said. “And no one needs to be religious in order to understand that. It’s just the way it is.
“If we can prove that God exists by reason alone then we have every right to call upon civil authorities to promote the opportunity for prayer in public schools,” he continued. “We have every right to ask public authorities to favor religion, because humans are made for the truth that God exists.”
Quoting St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, Bishop Morlino concluded with a charge to his listeners, “‘The just man will live by faith, but if he draw back, I take no pleasure in him.’ We are not among those who draw back and perish, we are among those who have faith and live. That’s our commission for the days ahead—in our own homes and marriages, but especially in the political sphere, which is the arena in which this battle is to be fought and in the end has to be won.”
Providing a unique political perspective, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) spoke of the importance of the family in keeping America’s founding values and vision strong.
“The family is under attack,” he said. “No fault divorce laws increase the divorce rate in states by 10-80%; the government does have a role to play. The policies of the left do make a difference. Government support of unmarried single mothers has had a huge impact as well as other programs that make fathers less of a necessity and more of an option for the raising of children and the establishment of families.”
Speaking passionately about the decay of the family in America and across the world, Santorum said that the licentiousness of our culture is eroding the family. “The government has a role to play and society has a role to play, and so far we have sat on the sidelines, choosing to side with free speech as opposed to the rights of families to be protected from harmful speech.
“Self-giving is at the heart of marriage and parenting. It’s also at the heart of the American experiment, because sacrificial love is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is, of course, the foundation of the American vision.”
In his final remarks Santorum encouraged the audience to engage the surrounding culture in order to change it. “We need to have a much more conscious effort to get more people of faith—people who believe in the traditional values of America—to get involved in the culture, in every aspect, from journalism to film to music. As Catholics we are really pathetic at this. We need to engage.”
All talks are available for purchase from National Media Services (540-635-4181). Next year’s Summer Institute has not been scheduled yet, but look to this website in the future for more information.