It needs no expertise in sociology to determine that the family is in trouble. It seems now as though the ‘intact’ family (parents, a male and a female, with the requisite chromosomes, married but once and still together, along with their children) is the exception and not the norm.
The same is becoming true even for families within the Church. What was once a problem ‘out there’ is now an extensive problem for Catholics also, and has been for some time.
Hence, Pope Francis decided to call an Extraordinary Synod on the Family, whose official title is “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” begins in Rome on October 5th and continues until October 19th. The overall purpose of the Synod is to formulate a pastoral response, rooted in the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, to the complex situation of the family in today’s troubled world. The topics to be discussed, especially how they impact families, are varied indeed: Divorced and remarried Catholics, those ‘waiting’ for annulments, single mothers, cohabitation outside of marriage, teen mothers, the children of same-sex couples, promoting monogamy in polygamous cultures, the plight of poverty, migration, abuse within familes, consumerism and individualism, and so on.
On the positive side, for the Church always emphasizes the positive, is the need to proclaim the beauty of the family, the importance of the vocation of marriage and of bringing children into the world, and, in the end, reinvigorating the family as a resource, indeed, perhaps the primary resource for the evangelization of the world in the 21st century and beyond. As the Church’s social documents say quite clearly, the family is original, fundamental and irreplaceable cell of society. Without the family, there is no society, just a group of individuals out to get all they can in Hobbesian fashion, red in tooth and claw (see the sequel to Mad Max, Road Warrior, for a vivid visual image of such a ‘society’).
Thus, those within the Church have a special and unique obligation to live out family life to the fullest. In today’s world, that requires faith and hope in an unusual degree; dedicating one’s life to another person irrevocably, and bringing children into this troubled world, are not easy decisions. But embarking upon such a path, with its encumbent responsibilities, also brings great joy. We must be a people of hope, and live always not just for the present, but the future.
We cannot allow the family to remolded into the a priori assumptions of various ideologies, feminist, homosexual, permissive, polygamous, all of which have no basis in nature.
Thus, we are asked to pray for the discernment of the Holy Father and the Bishops as they discuss these issues, and, eventually formulate a pastoral solution and practise to allow families, as Pope Saint John Paul II declared to ‘become what they are’. The prayer below is the one found at the end of the document outlining the plan of the Synod, Instrumentum Laboris, itself a very useful further read. We could pray this daily, to invoke the intercession of the Holy Family, as a type and model for all familes: (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20140626_instrumentum-laboris-familia_en.html)
(I am also indebted to the Catholic News Agency for its summary of the aims of the Synod).
Holy Family of Nazareth, intercede for us!
October 7th, 2014
Our Lady of the Rosary