In remarks on ABC News’ “This Week” on March 31, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan was asked how the Church could better reach out to same-sex couples who want to marry. 

“We haven’t been too good at that,” he said. “We got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. Sometimes there is a disconnect — between what they’re going through and what Jesus and his Church is teaching. And that’s a challenge for us.” 

It’s our challenge, with God’s help, to unite the two approaches to the Faith: To teach both with compassion and a firm conviction.

A challenge it most definitely is.  

Laughter fills the courtroom when the concept of marriage between one man and one woman is mentioned. After attending a March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., during Holy Week, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist blogged about the pain she’d felt when she was labeled a “hater” by a young gay man. The word “bigot” is a common title for defenders of traditional marriage.  

How does the Church defend itself? How does it act pastorally while still upholding what it knows to be true? 

The Church and its faithful have to walk a delicate line between upholding the truth and making sure it’s effective at the local level. Liturgical purists call for adherence to rules and rubrics, saying they’re in place for a reason, based on thousands of years of tradition and study. It’s important to them, and they’re right.  

Pope Francis
Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 3. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Those in the “trenches” of day-to-day ministry need to express the love of God in an accessible way. In order to be effective, they need to be a welcoming light of Christ to all who approach the Church. It’s important to them, and they’re right. 

It’s the brain and the heart; the head and the hands. But, as parts of the same Body of Christ, these two shouldn’t be at odds.  

Pope Francis, in his three weeks as pontiff, has shown himself to have a big heart. After washing the feet of juvenile detainees on Holy Thursday, he told them: 

“This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.” 

This is a pope who has lived in the trenches. His actions and words are based on years of ministerial experience. He’s living out a radical type of love, one propelled by his heart. His actions are physical examples of the Church’s “coming out of herself” — a concept then-Cardinal Bergoglio told his fellow prelates in a pre-conclave speech that the next pope needed to embrace.  

But that’s not to say the “head” of the Church should be ignored, or that Pope Francis is acting on emotion alone. The Church’s 2,000 years of teaching, history and tradition are profound. Its careful reasoning on marriage, life, liturgy and protection of the family are solid and need to be upheld.  

It’s our challenge, with God’s help, to unite the two approaches to the Faith: To teach both with compassion and a firm conviction. We must take the time to relate to those in the pews. And we must take the time to appreciate the full, deeply rooted teachings and traditions of the Church. We have to emulate the example of a loving parent — one who, while carefully outlining right and wrong, embraces his or her child with both arms. We have to be well-educated and well-formed in order to speak with both wisdom and love. 

It’s not easy. But when the head and the heart unite, the body as a whole becomes stronger. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor