This fall, Pope Francis will be meeting in synod with bishops from around the world to discuss marriage and family. It seems that this will be a time to zero in on certain issues which will then seek some resolution when the next synod takes place in the fall of 2015.
In preparation for these two gatherings, the Holy Father sought out the views of the 5,000 bishops from around the world. Requiring a quick turnaround, our diocesan committee on marriage and family assembled many views into a lengthy report which I submitted in December almost unchanged. Now, we bishops have received the Instrumentum Laboris containing 159 articles, which will be the basis for the synodal discussions this fall.
The text begins with a summary of biblical and Church teachings on marriage and family and how well they are known by our people today. One key problem is that the Church’s understanding of the Natural Law as the permanent truth written in our very humanity has come to be held by many as whatever comes naturally to people, that is, what they become comfortable with. It is no longer seen as a permanent truth. We need to do a better job of demonstrating that truth is not what I define to be the truth, but what is given to us by God and is thus permanent.
Another section deals with the family as essential to the Church (it is the domestic church) and to our world (it is the primordial human society). We need better instruction on how crucial the family is, especially in preparing the next generation for its role in both Church and world.
The text discusses a number of issues facing families today: relationships, communication, break-ups, violence and abuse, media overload, lack of work, migration, poverty and individualism. The Church must help families facing these problems and address those which confront our teachings: cohabitation, over-romanticism, lack of permanent commitment, divorce and remarriage and the reception of sacraments.
In these and many other matters, the Church needs to improve her pastoral care, including remote and immediate preparation for marriage and outreach and welcoming for those in challenging circumstances.
The text also will call on the synodal bishops to discuss the issue of same-sex attraction and the pastoral implication of civil unions, same-sex marriage, and the raising of children without a father and mother.
Concerning the issue of contraception, there is a clear lack of understanding of Church teaching, especially about the nature of the human person, created in the image of God, and the need to promote a mentality of an openness to life.
Finally, the Church needs to be of more assistance to parents in the upbringing of their children, especially in the faith. The role of catechesis and Catholic schools is highlighted in the text, particularly to help parents in “irregular” situations to embrace the truth of the Gospel as embodied in Church teachings.
In summary, the text concludes: “To come to some idea of how to respond to the new demands in the People of God, the following three main areas are under discussion in the Church: how the Gospel of the Family can be preached in the present-day; how the Church’s pastoral care program for the family might better respond to the new challenges today; how to assist parents in developing a mentality of openness to life and in upbringing their children” (#158).
“The love of God shines in a particular way in the Holy Family of Nazareth, the sure point of reference and comfort for every family. The Holy Family, the beacon of true love, is to be contemplated in every family situation so as to draw light, strength, and consolation” (#159).
Let us, then, my sisters and brothers, pray for many blessings on those gathering in synod in Rome this fall and in 2015, and for families and married couples especially during this coming Year for Marriage and Family.
Bishop Earl Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing