I have two questions for you: does God send us out—I mean you, the laypeople—to evangelize the culture? And if so, what does that look like day to day? The answer to the first question is yes, God sends everyone out from their comfortable homes on Christian mission. Many ignore this call, but in fact no Catholic is exempt from the task of evangelization. In the first reading Amos complains about this. “I was no prophet,” he tells the court prophet Amaziah, who resents Amos’ interference. “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores” (a tree surgeon). It was the Lord who said to me ‘go, prophesy to the people of Israel.” Why? Because the professional prophets, like Amaziah, were not doing their job. Israel had run off the rails, and if the professional clergy would not fix the problem God would send tree surgeons if necessary.
Our Leaders are Confused
Today, if I may say so, many of our leaders, in both church and state, are confused. In both the federal government and in the churches, leaders are bickering and taking opposite positions on our founding documents—the Bible and the US Constitution. One Catholic bishop says divorce is permitted and another says marriage is for life. One supreme court justice says our constitution gives doctors a right to kill an unborn child, or an emotionally fragile patient (what we call “assisted suicide”) and another supreme court justice says the opposite. The confusion is most painful when it comes from Rome itself, the center of Church unity, or from Washington itself, the center of national unity.
God has given us a natural law, written on the human heart. To end our painful confusion, we need prophets, both priests and laypeople, to point out this natural law. Who will say “marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman made for babies”? Who will say “it is wrong to kill an unborn child”? Who will say “right religion is good for America”? Who will say, to the bishops of Germany and to the Pope if necessary, that they should not bless same sex unions, but rather give real Christian support to those who are confused about their sexuality?
The Christian Family
We are all afraid and unsure what to say when we hear falsehoods in politics, the media, and among our own friends. We need the support of a community to speak the truth, and to find a way to convert hearts rather than just angrily condemn error. How does God send the laity out, two by two, as prophets? By means of marriage. Marriage is your two by two mission. Marriage is not private but a public institution at the service of the common good. Marriage – the lifelong bonding of a man and a woman, open to the transmission of new life—is the most fundamental community of both church and state. When you mess with marriage and family life, you jeopardize the entire human community.
It is impossible to do the work of God alone. Priests—even secular priests—need to live in community, not only working together, but living, praying, and recreating together. For most of us, marriage is how we evangelize. It is our great mission of building community, of training ourselves and our children in patience, thoughtfulness, and sacrifice. The future of humanity passes by way of the family, as St. John Paul famously wrote in his great document on the family, Familiaris consortio of 1981. I just came back from three days at the Napa Conference, an annual gathering of church leaders from around the country. The theme this year was marriage as the most basic tool of evangelization. There is great hope for marriage, and for the Gospel. The church is not dead yet. Of the 700 inspired and inspiring participants at that gathering, less than 60 were clergy. The vast majority were laypeople, married people. I wish you could have heard Dr. Scott Hahn’s powerful testimony, both from Scripture and his own life. “Imagine if one generation of Catholics in this country lived their vocation to marriage faithfully, how this nation would be transformed!” Scott and Kimberly Hahn, with their eight children and 15 grandchildren, will celebrate 39 years of marriage next month. God has blessed them in their struggles to learn selflessness themselves, and to witness to the joy of surrendering to Jesus for others. May we all believe in the Way of the Lord Jesus through families like theirs.