As I mentioned in my post earlier today, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz—the newly elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—did a wide-ranging interview with CWR that appeared in our July 2011 issue of the printed magazine. Below are a few more excerpts from that interview; read the whole thing here.
On same-sex marriage:
Archbishop Kurtz: Bishops, the Church, and society in general need to understand the public nature of marriage. Aspects of marriage are personal and private, but it is also public, because it affects society as a whole.
Many people assume that marriage is a right that the state can simply create. That is a dangerous direction in which to go. The majority of voters cannot create whatever rights they want. Marriage is a gift given to us by God and defined by him. We, as Catholics, must not be afraid to say so publicly.
We need to be forthright in speaking about the importance of defending and protecting the gift of marriage within our Church and society. We need to be able to speak forthrightly to our people on the importance of marriage, and make it clear that our respect for the individual should not be at the expense of marriage itself. …
What advice do you offer those who worry about the decline of marriage in our society?
Archbishop Kurtz: First, that we can make a difference. One of the first recipes for success in any venture is the commitment that somehow, by our faithful witness and work, we can help shape positive things in our lives and within the lives of others. That is empowered by the grace of Christ.
If we don’t have that conviction, then we become victims of what I call self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. There are some who throw up their hands and say that a deterioration of laws that protect marriage is inevitable. They will be inevitable if we ourselves do not have faithful witness. And that faithful witness needs to reach out in love to every human person. God has a plan for everyone. And ultimately we need to be helping everyone recognize that plan. In the case of a married couple, that plan is intimately linked with their sacrificial and generous love for each other and overflowing to their children.
And you encourage your priests to speak up on this subject?
Archbishop Kurtz: Yes, when we preach about it, we must not be afraid to be ambassadors of that witness. Sometimes we don’t tell the stories of faithful love that have always shaped and inspired us. I would not be a priest had it not been for the chance [I had] to read the lives of the saints and be motivated by the great adventure of following Christ and with Christ’s grace of living a sacrificial life.
Everyone knows someone who has been an inspiration. At confirmations, I talk with young people about who they choose as their sponsors and why. It’s enlightening to the sponsors to see how much these young people have noticed their faithful witness.
The community needs to be involved in the preparation of couples who are getting married. This includes supporting couples who choose not to live together before their marriages, and to help them prepare, which might include having them make an engaged encounter weekend.
Once a couple is married, we must look for ways to enrich them. Many married couples have said that once they were married, their parishes treated them like completed projects. But that’s obviously not true. In many professions, people look for continuing education opportunities to enrich their careers. We must find ways to enrich marriages, helping couples to be faithful in their married love.
On vocations to the priesthood and religious life:
How can we encourage more young people to pursue to vocations to the priesthood and religious life?
Archbishop Kurtz: First, we can have confidence that Christ is calling, and help others to hear and respond to this call. When we survey our newly ordained priests, 90 percent say they entered the seminary because of a conversation they had with a senior priest. When we survey our priests, however, only 30 percent report that they have ever invited a young man to consider the priesthood. If I were in sales, I’d say we have a great opportunity here.
I encourage pastors to identify those who may have a calling to the priesthood and to make an invitation. That is a way we can let Christ act through us.
The support of family is also important. Many priests and seminarians will tell you that the support of their own families often grew as they went through the seminary. That happened with me. My mom was happy I entered the seminary, but my dad was not. But, over time, he became my biggest supporter. I encourage families to see priesthood and religious life as a great gift, and support their members who are answering the call.
We’re on an upswing for vocations in the Archdiocese of Louisville. This year, I’ll ordain two priests. And, God willing, three next year. For our size [200,000 Catholics], we’re headed in a good direction.
We’ll also accept five or six into the seminary this year. When I was young, I was told that when I prayed, I should be specific. I’m asking Christ to give us 25 to 30 seminarians. This September, we should have more than 20.
Read the full interview here.