England, the Pope, and Marriage

Interview With Westminster Diocese Pastoral Affairs Director

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By Genevieve Pollock

LONDON, AUG. 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- England, the destination of Benedict XVI's Sept. 16-19 trip, is the geopolitical epicenter of the culture of death, says Edmund Adamus, but it is also the "Dowry of Mary."

Adamus, director of Pastoral Affairs for the Diocese of Westminster, explained to ZENIT how England's unique Christian heritage and its present vanguard anti-Catholic culture make it a highly significant place for the Pope's upcoming visit.

Adamus noted that marriage has been a focal point in both the original evangelization of the nation and the present cultural wars.

Thus, he has been actively working to promote the Church's teaching on marriage through initiatives such as a nationwide tour of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe surrounding the Papal visit, a Mass to honor some 600 married couples, the creation of a natural fertility awareness resource, and an annual lecture series on the theology of the body.

This year's lecture will take place Sept. 14 to lead into Benedict XVI's visit by featuring Brian Gail, author of "Fatherless," who give an address titled "In the Service of Women -- Men Are Called to Greatness."

In this interview with ZENIT, Adamus spoke about the state of the Church and marriages in the United Kingdom, the hopes of local Catholics for the Papal visit, and the role of England in evangelizing the greater global culture.

ZENIT: What is the environment like as England prepares for Benedict XVI's visit?

Adamus: If one was to accept what one sees and hears in the mainstream media, you would imagine that the Holy Father is about to step into a vortex of controversy and belligerent attitudes against him personally.

There's no doubting that there is an aggressive anti-Catholic bias toward the Church and the Pontiff here, but by and large many people appreciate and value the witness of the Holy Father on fundamental moral issues (though they rarely find a voice) and more recently on pressing social issues triggered by the era of austerity threatened by the new Coalition Government.

On the whole I think many people, especially Catholics, of which a recent survey shows there are more than were imagined, anticipate the Papal visit with hope and expectation that his presence and words will be a "kindly light" (to borrow Cardinal Newman's words) in a time of shadows especially threatening to the fundamental cell of society -- the family -- and the rights of parents.

ZENIT: Could you say something about what you are hoping for as a result of the Papal visit?

Adamus: I personally hope for a fresh sense of purpose and clarity about what we as Catholics understand in terms of mission, for the authentic dignity of the person.

I hope that this real, very real and personal love of Christ for each member of British society is somehow manifested in a better understanding in the wider public's perception of who the Church is (as the Mystical Body of Christ) rather than what it is politically (as a hierarchical institution).

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that there are not more than 200 people in the whole nation who really hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Catholic Church teaches.

I pray that Pope Benedict's visit will do something miraculously significant to address this level of false perception.

ZENIT: What role do you see England playing in the more global scene of evangelizing the culture?

Adamus: The media focus on the Pope, his message and the Catholic Church becomes frenetic for the people of a nation where he visits.

Great Britain is no different, but there is a certain frisson about the nature of the attention the visit will generate in the media here and in the public consciousness.

Why? Because whether we like it or not as British citizens and residents of this country -- and whether we are even prepared as Catholics to accept this reality and all it implies -- the fact is that historically, and continuing right now, Britain, and in particular London, has been and is the geopolitical epicenter of the culture of death.

Our laws and lawmakers for over 50 years or more have been the most permissively anti-life and progressively anti-family and marriage, in essence one of the most anti-Catholic landscapes culturally speaking than even those places where Catholics suffer open persecution.

England itself nevertheless has a unique Christian heritage: St. Augustine, the apostle to the English appointed by Pope Gregory, defied the temptation to despair of ever converting the pagan Britons by reminding the degenerate race of the beauty, truth and dignity of marriage.

St. Bede's chronicle of English Christianity recounts this strategy, and, as he put it, "England recovered."

England is also the "Dowry of Mary," an ancient title going back to the 14th century and even further in the spiritual language of the people.

This title signified the fact that from the earliest times English Catholic Christians revered the person of the Mother of Christ with such a singular and wholehearted devotion that the very nation itself was attributed with having a supernatural role (metaphorically-speaking) in the "marriage" between the Holy Spirit and his spouse -- the Virgin of Nazareth.

That is to say, English Christianity, in the plan of God, has a unique role to play in being a secure foundation (like a dowry in a marriage) to the work of redemption and salvation history globally.

England was the first Christian nation to bestow upon the Church the formal solemnizing of marriages, which found expression in the Sarum Rite of Marriage.

Here in this ancient rite the words "and with my body I thee worship" (still used by our Anglican brethren) became, if you like, in medieval times onwards the primordial theology of the body.

For if spouses are called by God to honor one another bodily, then it is certain that our utmost respect for the presence of the divine in the physicality of all of us is beyond question, since all of us by virtue of baptism are as men married to the Church and as women wedded to Christ the Bridegroom.

Above the main door of Westminster Catholic Cathedral of the Most Precious Blood, there is a mosaic dedicated to the triumphant reigning Christ. He is flanked by his mother and foster father, Mary and Joseph, who in turn are next to St. Peter and St. Edward the Confessor.

Peter and Edward kneel before this scene. Both of them in their symbolic roles: one as visible head of the Church, the other as king, who personifies the realm of England. They kneel before the triptych of the Holy Family.

I pray that the Papal visit will inspire all here, both Church and state, to interiorly kneel before that inestimable icon of the Trinity: marriage and the family.

ZENIT: The lecture that you have planned as a lead-in to the Papal visit focuses primarily on the identity and role of men and women, particularly the former. Why is it important to highlight this theme at this time?

Adamus: There is a fundamental truth underpinning John Paul II's adequate anthropology -- one might call it theology of the body in shorthand. It goes something like: the calling of every man is the dignity of every woman; the vocation of every woman is the integrity of every man.

In other words -- beset as we have been over many decades but more recently since the global onset of gender theory -- more and more people are beginning to realize that the feminization of masculinity and the laddish culture that haunts the development of young girls and women is not providing the answers to life's deepest questions.

John Paul II, as we know, in his catechesis invites us to 'go back to the beginning' to seek in the truth of the order of creation, something of what we dare to say is the "Divine imagination."

That dream of God the Father Creator is that his daughters and sons in all relationships, but especially the marital, sexual one, be infused with the serenity and tranquility of our first parents.

This is not just being open to life in procreation, but respecting the expression of God's life in each other -- seeing one another with the eyes of God himself.

The interior gaze, as John Paul II called it, is crucial to male-female relating, especially for men because our DNA means that we are wired to remember the beauty and goodness of what we see and look upon first before we are captivated by what we hear, sense or feel.

So it is incumbent upon men to rejoice in this very masculine charism to see in women their intrinsic worth and beauty, precisely because they are women and no other reason.

Thereby in small actions and greater ones they exhibit countercultural signals against the selfish, hedonistic wasteland that is the objectification of women for sexual gratification.

Britain in particular, with its ever-increasing commercialization of sex, not to mention its permissive laws advancing the "gay" agenda, is such a wasteland.

The evil of pornography is something that must be addressed urgently, pastorally here, as elsewhere, as its levels of use by men and women is slowly being accepted as normative.  

In short it is incumbent upon men, in paying due honor and respect to all women in all circumstances (especially our wives and daughters if we are married and are blessed with them), and thus we as men grow towards the fullness of our manhood in Christ, we become heroes, and we become of great service of the feminine.

ZENIT: How has the lecture series and the teaching of the theology of the body in general helped in your work with marriage preparation and enhancement?

Adamus: It has enabled me (at least once a year) to draw significant attention to how great the need is to skillfully integrate an authentic reading of the theology of the body into all catechesis, but most especially that concerning the formation we give engaged couples, those already married and indeed those whose marriages are in difficulty.

I think one of the most underappreciated pieces of recent Papal teaching on this was that of paragraph 27 of "Sacramentum Caritatis" in 2007:

"Given the complex cultural context which the Church today encounters in many countries, the Synod also recommended devoting maximum pastoral attention to training couples preparing for marriage. [...] The good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage and from the family founded upon marriage is so great as to call for full pastoral commitment to this particular area. Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself."

The lecture series in which we have been honored with some highly distinguished theologians in the field of marriage and family has enabled my work to stay focused on what I consider to be the optimum standard for marriage preparation set out by John Paul II himself when he said:

"Continue to place strong emphasis on marriage as a Christian vocation to which couples are called and to give them the means to live it fully through marital preparation programs which are serious in purpose, excellent in content, sufficient in length and obligatory in nature."

In my experience there is not enough marriage preparation complying with this standard.

God willing, the current nationwide survey of marriage preparation being conducted on behalf of the bishops will challenge this along with a forthcoming vademecum on the subject from the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Its urgency cannot be overstated.

ZENIT: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing marriages today?

Adamus: Some of the greatest challenges are those false 'fruits' of cohabitation.

There is a mountain of evidence now pointing to the massive risks to future marriages preceded by cohabitation.

Multiple sexual partners before and outside of marriage, facilitated as it were by contraception and abortion, is having massive, long-term, damaging effects on the human capacity (designed by the Creator) to bond permanently.

This poses enormous challenges to spouses to sustain emotional, psychological, and sexual bonding.

The rising levels of sub-fertility and chronic infertility due to long-term use of hormonal contraception is a key factor to address, because the pain of being childless can put such a huge strain on a marriage.

This is why it is so important to empower couples with a sense of matrimonial sacramentality, to help them understand that the grace of the sacrament is always at work particularly when they are open to life.

We want them to have that "Cana" mentality if you like, where the "water" of their conviction to get married is transformed in to the "wine" of their lifelong certitude of being one in Christ.

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On the Net:

Westminster Diocese Pastoral Affairs: http://www.rcdow.org.uk/pastoralaffairs/

Papal U.K. visit: http://thepapalvisit.org.uk/