The importance of Marriage and families

The Church is once again asking us to do some soul searching, most specifically when it comes to Marriage and families. Back in October of 2014 the Synod of Bishops met for two weeks to discuss the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. They listened to testimony from representatives of families, and discussed the input from a broad consultation of clergy and laity from around the world. The result of this listening is that the synod will once again meet this year in October and will draft a strategy to address the deep concerns of the family.

The family is important; we all know this. It is the primary unit of community in the world and is central to the mission of evangelization. As the Church has watched succeeding generations of families drift away, someone (Pope Francis) finally is asking if there is something the Church should be doing differently? Once again the Vatican is seeking our input on how the Church can help families grow in faith. Pope Francis means business, for the questions come with the admonishment, “Do not respond with doctrine!”

One of the great insights that came from the 2014 synod is that “the desire to form a family is planted by the Creator in the heart of every person, especially among young people, including those in family situations which do not correspond to the Christian vision.” What a remarkable statement, for it reverses the process of evangelization and asks, what can we see within Marriage that already reflects God’s grace? The 2014 synod’s final report (Lineamenta) advises the Church to find a way to journey with people from where they are: “People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life. We need to know how to support them in their searching and to encourage them in their hunger for God and their wish to feel really part of the Church, also those who have experienced failure or find themselves in a variety of situations.” 

The questions that will help the synod Fathers prepare for the 2015 synod are now being disseminated among the dioceses of the world. They hope to get as much of a response from the People of God as is possible. The underlying premise is that there are many examples of families in the world that live out the ideal of Marriage, demonstrated by their loving commitment, longevity, and openness to life. Most of these people may never have heard of the Church’s documents on Marriage and family that have been promulgated throughout centuries and papacies. People do not need to read Caritas in Veritate to know that love is the foundation on which life is built. They do not have to read Instrumentum Laboris to know that it is within the family that one first experiences the common good. These documents reflect the reality of human experience; they don’t dictate it.

The Church is asking important questions, and the answers may be written on the parchment of family life: “What is being done to demonstrate the greatness and beauty of the gift of indissolubility so as to prompt a desire to live it and strengthen it more and more?” Ask the elderly man who visits his wife in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home what indissolubility means. Or interview one of the couples that come to the Anniversary Mass to have their 60-year marriage blessed by the bishop. The Church asks, “What Marriage and family values can be seen to be realized in the life of young people and married couples?” Ask this of the couple whose spouse has been laid off and they tighten their belts and make adjustments so that they can feed their children, pay their mortgage, and weather the storm that is blowing through their Marriage. 

The task before the Church is not teaching about Marriage and family, but journeying with families from where they are to where God wants them to go. This is where the practical solutions need to be focused. “How is the teaching from Scripture utilized in pastoral activity on behalf of families? How can people be helped to understand that a relationship with God can assist couples in overcoming the inherent weaknesses in Marriage?” 

The synod is asking that the Church think outside the box and find creative ways to reveal to our families what God has already written on their hearts. After all is studied and discussed, the Church may discover that the solution is simpler than they thought. We have been throwing doctrine and canons at the problems for years, perhaps now it is time to unearth the potential of the Church’s beautiful tradition of prayer. “The Book of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” reveals that the Church always knew that life is complex. The Book of Prayers gathers up the mess and places it into the light of God’s mercy. Here is where we can begin to show families that the Church is there for the entire journey.

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

Individuals who would like to share input can visit http://goo.gl/forms/Tsmebnz2K8 and then submit the form. The responses go directly to Claire McManus and are anonymous. Responses must be submitted by March 13, 2015.

For the link to the report from the 2014 Synod on Family which is the source of these questions, visit http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20141018_relatio-synodi-familia_en.html.

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