The following article was first printed on Catholic News Agency about the Opening Mass at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.
By: Natalie Plumb
The debate about the nature of marriage is rapidly unfolding. On the state level, this debate continues to garner attention from our religious and political leaders, same-sex marriage advocates, parents, professors and students.
On Sept. 10, in Washington, D.C. – a city that will continue to be the center of a political debate on the issue – a group of students began graduate degree programs that offer a specific concentration on the study of marriage and the family, in a hope to offer informed voices to the debate. In a countercultural turn, these students will be rigorously engaging in studies that support and promote the Catholic understanding of marriage – a union between one man and one woman for their good and the good of their children.
Nearly 80 students, professors, seminarians, priests, vocalists and laypersons gathered to celebrate the Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, presided by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. The Institute “provide[s] a comprehensive understanding of marriage and family faithful to Catholic magisterial tradition.” Students examine marriage in its authentic form by studying theology, biotechnology, psychology, sociology and by engaging contemporary challenges to Christian ethics.
At just 26 years of age, Caitlin Williams is a second-year Ph.D. student at the John Paul II Institute, who says she is driven by the challenge young Catholics face in witnessing to authentic marriage.
“The response of the whole world to the heart of the Church laid bare…it motivates me to study, to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise find Her,” Williams said.
Graduate student and priest Fr. Anthony Craig calls our time the time to “enact the great New Evangelization that the Catholic Church’s last three pontiffs have discussed.”
Marriage and the family are integral to this New Evangelization and the renewal of a culture that strengthens marriage and nourishes the family. Pope Francis himself will attest to this on September 14, when he will publically witness the marriage of 20 couples in Rome. He is following the example of St. John Paul II, who was the last pontiff to do so in 1994.
With a small student body – last year’s class graduated 28 – the odds would appear against students like Fr. Craig. But he said that the Lord works through small factions, which we know through Church history; the Church itself began with only 12 apostles.
“He can work with a small number of people,” Fr. Craig said. “In a like manner, the Lord will enact something great to witness to the truth that actually holds us.”
Given the challenges these students will face in a culture that desires to redefine marriage and the family, often in order to cater to the desire of adults over children, Bishop Loverde offered a few words of encouragement during his homily at the Institute’s Opening Mass, which was a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.
“We are to evangelize, and to do that precisely by proclaiming the authentic meaning of marriage,” Bishop Loverde said, adding that we can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Let us beseech Him, to thirst for God, as did our patron, our beloved, St. John Paul II.”