by Archbishop George Stack
Pope Francis continues to challenge and teach both members of the Church and all people of goodwill as to the dignity of the human person. Amongst the many topics he has addressed during his Pontificate, the nature, purpose and value of human life, the meaning of sacrificial love and the internal and external threats to human development and holiness are the most significant. That is why he has summoned two synod meetings on the topic of Marriage and Family Life. The first synod took place last year and the second is scheduled for this coming October in Rome. Marriage and Family Life form the bedrock of society and of the Church.
The theme of this year’s synod meeting is ‘The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World’. The questionnaire and discussion document circulated worldwide last year was an invitation to the whole Church to reflect prayerfully on the joys and hopes as well as the challenges of being committed to another in the Sacramental Bond of Marriage. From the example of the self sacrificing love of Jesus we draw the lesson which lies at the heart of marriage. From that love comes the life and nurture of a new family. Little wonder one of the loveliest titles of the Family is the ‘Domestic Church’.
Take the two words of the title of October’s synod – ‘Family’ and ‘Contemporary’. Speaking of the Family Pope Francis says:
“The perfect family does not exist, nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife, and let’s not talk about the perfect mother in law! It’s just us sinners” A healthy family life requires frequent use of the three phrases:” May I? Thank you, and I’m sorry” and “never, never, never end the day without making peace”.
(Meeting with engaged couples, February 2014)
Reflecting on Contemporary Society, the Pope said:
“Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste’. If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal. When the stock market drops 10 points in some cities, it constitutes a tragedy. Someone who dies is not news, but lowering income by 10 points is a tragedy! In this way, people are thrown aside as if they were trash.
(General Audience, June 2013)
The Holy Father has asked a time of “true spiritual discernment” during the months of preparation for the Synod in October. In order to help in this discernment, the Bishops of England and Wales have issued Reflection Documents for the clergy and for the laity of each Diocese, asking them to reflect on the teaching of the Church concerning Marriage and Family Life. The role of the clergy, the Diocesan Family Life Commission and Marriage Care in the work of preparing couples for marriage as well as the parenting programs run by the Diocese of Cardiff as well as engaging the wider parish are all ongoing and valuable means of contributing to this discernment. Questions and points for discussion in preparation for the synod will be distributed during Lent inviting both individuals and groups to make a contribution to the preparation for the synod.
The Bishops ask the clergy to consider:
- How important do we see good preparation for marriage today?
- How can couples meaningfully engage in preparation for the lifelong relationship, which is marriage?
- How to relate and guide couples seeking marriage who are already living together and may already have families?
- How to exercise pastoral care for those who are divorced and remarried, often with second families?
These are just some of the realities of the contemporary world, together with the major implications of family breakdown and the perplexing problems, which arise.
Writing in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) Pope John Paul II said:
“The church can never renounce the “principle of truth and consistency, whereby she does not agree to call good evil and evil good”; she must always be careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick. (95)
Other topics are contained in the discussion document issued by the Bishops entitled “The Call, the Mission and the Journey”. The life journey of each person is reflected in that title, as is the nature and purpose of Marriage and Family Life. The life experience of each one contains a promise, hope and experience which can be of value to all. That is why during Lent this year the Diocesan Family Life Commission will circulate that document in parishes and schools with an invitation to reflect on it individually as well as in groups. The formal and informal responses to the discussion points, the scripture readings, Church teaching and personal experience will all be valuable in collating the Diocesan contribution to the agenda for the synod. Joining together and sharing in prayerful and practical ways will, in itself, help to build up a deeper understanding of vocation of Marriage and Family Life.
The “Credo” of Marriage and Family Life printed below will also be published during Lent as a single prayer card either for personal reflection or communal sharing. Each one of the statements contain the teaching of the different aspects of the Church’s teaching and understanding of the vocation of marriage. Although these may not be the words people use in living and understanding their commitment to marriage and family life, the fact that so many live out the ideals in practice is a reflection of the unconditional love which Jesus showed when he gave his life “…. that they might have life to the full”.(John 10:10)
Further information can be found on the following website: