Synod of Bishops on the Family
The Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops takes place from 4 – 25 October 2015. Its theme is “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.” Bishop Peter Doyle, Northampton, is Chair of the Bishops’ Committee for Marriage and Family Life and will attend alongside Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference.
After the Family Synod’s Closing Mass in Rome, two Synod Fathers from England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop Peter Doyle, spoke to media professionals at a press conference held in the Vatican to discuss the Synod’s final document and what comes next.
Technical Note: The press conference lasts just over 40 minutes. The room is large so there is an echo. The questions were picked up on the mic but not recorded separately so journalists’ questions are a little difficult to hear.
Pope Francis: homily at closing Mass for Synod Assembly
Pope Francis delivered the homily at Mass being offered on Sunday morning, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, to mark the close of the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, who have been gathered in Rome for the past three weeks to reflect on and discuss the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.
Below, please find the official English translation of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks
Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Holy Mass for the Closing of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly
of the Synod of Bishops
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 25 October 2015
The three Readings for this Sunday show us God’s compassion, his fatherhood, definitively revealed in Jesus.
In the midst of a national disaster, the people deported by their enemies, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims that “the Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel” (31:7). Why did he save them? Because he is their Father (cf. v. 9); and as a Father, he takes care of his children and accompanies them on the way, sustaining “the blind and the lame, the women with child and those in labour” (31:8). His fatherhood opens up for them a path forward, a way of consolation after so many tears and great sadness. If the people remain faithful, if they persevere in their search for God even in a foreign land, God will change their captivity into freedom, their solitude into communion: what the people sow today in tears, they will reap tomorrow in joy (cf. Ps 125:6).
We too have expressed, with the Psalm, the joy which is the fruit of the Lord’s salvation: “our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy” (v. 2). A believer is someone who has experienced God’s salvific action in his life. We pastors have experienced what it means to sow with difficulty, at times in tears, and to rejoice for the grace of a harvest which is beyond our strength and capacity.
The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews shows us Jesus’ compassion. He also “is beset with weakness” (5:2), so that he can feel compassion for those in ignorance and error. Jesus is the great high priest, holy and innocent, but also the high priest who has taken on our weakness and been tempted like us in all things, save sin (cf. 4:15). For this reason he is the mediator of the new and definitive covenant which brings us salvation.
Today’s Gospel is directly linked to the First Reading: as the people of Israel were freed thanks to God’s fatherhood, so too Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 52). It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how he has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.
There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks his disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel. First they say to him: “Take heart!”, which literally means “have faith, strong courage!”. Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations. The second expression is “Rise!”, as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom he took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!
There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. The Gospel shows at least two of them. None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.
There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (cf. v. 52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus. Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.
Pope Francis addresses Synod of Bishops at conclusion
24 October 2015:
All 94 points received the required two-thirds majority vote.
General Secretary of the Synod, Cardinal Lorenzo , thanked the Holy Father and all the Synod Fathers as well as the auditors, experts, support personnel and the media.
Pope Francis then delivered his closing address. He too begun by thanking all those involved in Synod. The Holy Father said now that the Synod has come to an end he asks “What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?” He said that the Synod was not about settling issues but attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two thousand year history. The Pope said that it was about interpreting reality through God’s eyes.
He said that it was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness. The Holy Father said that it was about trying to “broaden horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints”. He went on to say that in the course of the Synod different viewpoints were freely expressed – he added “and at times, unfortunately, not entirely in well-meaning ways” – that led to a rich and lively dialogue “[offering] a vivid image of the Church which does not simply ‘rubberstamp’, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to freshly parched hearts.”
He said that the Synod had heard what is normal for one bishop is not for another, what is considered a violation of a right in once society is an evident and inviolable rule in another,” depending on contexts. He said that at the conclusion of Vatican II the Church spoke about inculturation as the “intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures.” He said that inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity “since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.”
The Holy Father said that without falling into relativism or demonising others the Synod sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckonings and desires.
Quoting Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said “Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message”. The Holy Father said that many of the delegates felt the working of the Holy Spirit who is “the real protagonist and guide of the Synod.” To conclude the Synod, he said, is to “return to our true ‘journeying together’ in bringing to every part of the world, every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!”
Below, please find the official English translation of the Holy Father’s address:
Dear Beatitudes, Eminences and Excellencies, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like first of all to thank the Lord, who has guided our synodal process in these years by his Holy Spirit, whose support is never lacking to the Church.
My heartfelt thanks go to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, its Under-Secretary, and, together with them, the Relator, Cardinal Peter Erdő, and the Special Secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the Delegate Presidents, the writers, consultors and translators, and all those who have worked tirelessly and with total dedication to the Church: My deepest thanks!
I likewise thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors and Assessors, parish priests and families, for your active and fruitful participation.
And I thank all those unnamed men and women who contributed generously to the labours of this Synod by quietly working behind the scenes.
Be assured of my prayers, that the Lord will reward all of you with his abundant gifts of grace!
As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?
Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.
Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.
It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.
It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.
It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.
It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.
It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.
It was also about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.
It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.
It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.
In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts. (1)
And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and each general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied. (2) The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”. (3) Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures. (4)
We have seen, also by the richness of our diversity, that the same challenge is ever before us: that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.
And without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonizing others, we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that “all be saved” (cf. 1 Tm 2:4). In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy which the Church is called to celebrated.
The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:37-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).
In this sense, the necessary human repentance, works and efforts take on a deeper meaning, not as the price of that salvation freely won for us by Christ on the cross, but as a response to the One who loved us first and saved us at the cost of his innocent blood, while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5:6).
The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).
Blessed Paul VI expressed this eloquently: “”We can imagine, then, that each of our sins, our attempts to turn our back on God, kindles in him a more intense flame of love, a desire to bring us back to himself and to his saving plan… God, in Christ, shows himself to be infinitely good… God is good. Not only in himself; God is – let us say it with tears – good for us. He loves us, he seeks us out, he thinks of us, he knows us, he touches our hearts us and he waits for us. He will be – so to say – delighted on the day when we return and say: ‘Lord, in your goodness, forgive me. Thus our repentance becomes God’s joy”. (5)
Saint John Paul II also stated that: “the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy… and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser”. (6)
Benedict XVI, too, said: “Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God… May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for mankind. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth, or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10)”. (7)
In light of all this, and thanks to this time of grace which the Church has experienced in discussing the family, we feel mutually enriched. Many of us have felt the working of the Holy Spirit who is the real protagonist and guide of the Synod. For all of us, the word “family” has a new resonance, so much so that the word itself already evokes the richness of the family’s vocation and the significance of the labours of the Synod. (8)
In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true “journeying together” in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!
(1) Cf. Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina on the Centenary of its Faculty of Theology, 3 March 2015.
(2) Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della Sessione plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, LDC, Leumann, 1981; SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Gaudium et Spes, 44.
(3) Final Relatio (7 December 1985), L’Osservatore Romano, 10 December 1985, 7.
(4) “In virtue of her pastoral mission, the Church must remain ever attentive to historical changes and to the development of new ways of thinking. Not, of course, to submit to them, but rather to surmount obstacles standing in the way of accepting her counsels and directives” (Interview with Cardinal Georges Cottier, in La Civiltà Cattolica 3963-3964, 8 August 2015, p. 272).
(5) Homily, 23 June 1968: Insegnamenti VI (1968), 1177-1178.
(6) Dives in Misericordia, 13. He also said: “In the paschal mystery… God appears to us as he is: a tender-hearted Father, who does not give up in the face of his childrens’ ingratitude and is always ready to forgive (JOHN PAUL II, Regina Coeli, 23 April 1995: Insegnamenti XVIII, 1 , 1035). So too he described resistance to mercy: “The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness…” (Dives in Misericordia [30 November 1980] 2).
(7) Regina Coeli, 30 March 2008: Insegnamenti IV, 1 (2008), 489-490. Speaking of the power of mercy, he stated: “it is mercy that sets a limit to evil. In it is expressed God’s special nature – his holiness, the power of truth and of love” (Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 15 April 2007: Insegnamenti III, 1 , 667).
(8) An acrostic look at the word “family” [Italian: “famiglia”] can help us summarize the Church’s mission as the task of: Forming new generations to experience love seriously, not as an individualistic search for a pleasure then to be discarded, and to believe once again in true, fruitful and lasting love as the sole way of emerging from ourselves and being open to others, leaving loneliness behind, living according to God’s will, finding fulfilment, realizing that marriage is “an experience which reveals God’s love, defending the sacredness of life, every life, defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously” (Homily for the Opening Mass of the Synod, 4 October 2015: L’Osservatore Romano, 5-6 October 2015, p. 7) and, furthermore, enhancing marriage preparation as a means of providing a deeper understanding of the Christian meaning of the sacrament of Matrimony; Approaching others, since a Church closed in on herself is a dead Church, while a Church which does leave her own precincts behind in order to seek, embrace and lead others to Christ is a Church which betrays her very mission and calling; Manifesting and bringing God’s mercy to families in need; to the abandoned, to the neglected elderly, to children pained by the separation of their parents, to poor families struggling to survive, to sinners knocking on our doors and those who are far away, to the differently able, to all those hurting in soul and body, and to couples torn by grief, sickness, death or persecution; Illuminating consciences often assailed by harmful and subtle dynamics which even attempt to replace God the Creator, dynamics which must be unmasked and resisted in full respect for the dignity of each person; Gaining and humbly rebuilding trust in the Church, which has been gravely weakened as a result of the conduct and sins of her children – sadly, the counter-witness of scandals committed in the Church by some clerics have damaged her credibility and obscured the brightness of her saving message; Labouring intensely to sustain and encourage those many strong and faithful families which, in the midst of their daily struggles, continue to give a great witness of fidelity to the Church’s teachings and the Lord’s commandments; Inventing renewed programmes of pastoral care for the family based on the Gospel and respectful of cultural differences, pastoral care which is capable of communicating the Good News in an attractive and positive manner and helping banish from young hearts the fear of making definitive commitments, pastoral care which is particularly attentive to children, who are the real victims of broken families, pastoral care which is innovative and provides a suitable preparation for the sacrament of Matrimony, rather than so many programmes which seem more of a formality than training for a lifelong commitment; Aiming to love unconditionally all families, particularly those experiencing difficulties, since no family should feel alone or excluded from the Church’s loving embrace, and the real scandal is a fear of love and of showing that love concretely.
Cardinal: Time to discuss the Family Synod’s final document
The bishops will present a final document to Pope Francis. At the current time, the Synod Fathers are discussing the document ahead of presenting it to the Holy Father.
Cardinal Nichols also talks about last weekend’s canonisation Mass that saw the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux – Louis and Zelie Martin – made saints.
The Family Synod concludes on 25 October.
Duration: 4m 11s
Cardinal: Bishops bringing their work together at the Family Synod
Cardinal Vincent Nichols has sent through an audio report from the Vatican, 20 October, giving us an update on the Bishops Synod on the Family that is steadily bringing its work together to present to the Pope.
Cardinal Nichols spoke to us at the end of the small group sessions – one of which he has been moderating – and this afternoon, the Synod Fathers will hear reports from those 13 different language groups.
The Cardinal gives us a timeline for the rest of the week. On Thursday, a first draft of a summary document of the Synod’s work – the Relatio Finalis – will be circulated to attendees. Suggestions can then be offered and a final version will be produced on Saturday and a vote will take place.
The Relatio Finalis will then be offered to Pope Francis.
Bishop Peter Doyle’s update:
Synod Father Bishop Peter Doyle joins us over the phone for a Family Synod update as the second week concludes.
Today delegates have heard contributions from leaders from other Christian confessions and Bishop Doyle also talks about the family realities shared by men and women from places like communist-era Romania, modern-day Iraq and Nigeria.
Cardinal Nichols: Halftime report on the Family Synod: 15 October 2015
It’s the halfway stage of the Bishops’ Synod on the Family taking place in Rome from 4 – 25 October.
We’ve been getting regular reports from the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
In this update, over the phone from Rome, the Cardinal describes the first two weeks of discussions as a “rich and satisfying process” but explains how participants at the Synod were working to balance the understand of the Church as both ‘teacher’ and ‘mother’.
Mercy, love, justice and truth are at the heart of what’s being discussed – especially when talking about the most difficult family situations.
Cardinal Nichols discusses the theological “fresh ground” being explored by Pope Francis and challenges the perception that the Synod is divided but acknowledges the challenges and tensions of the process.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols speaks to journalists at the Family Synod Press Conference held on 14 October 2015
Here’s an English language edit of a media conference held in Rome today, 14 October 2015, at the Holy See’s press office.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, a Synod Father and small group moderator, gave an update on the Family Synod, now well into its second week, and took questions from the assembled journalists.
You can watch the full one-hour press conference below.
Intervention Bishop Peter Doyle: Bishop has “learned the importance of listening to families
Here is Bishop Peter Doyle’s first Family Synod intervention recalling his experiences of family life in his own family context and in 37 years of parish ministry. He describes how his eyes have been opened to the “messiness of family life and the sheer business of coping”.
Cognomen: DOYLE Nomen: PETER
Officium: BISHOP OF NORTHAMPTON
Loqui postulat de quaestione: Living as a Family
Pars: II No: 43
Holy Father, dear Brothers and Sisters,
Being part of my own family and ministering to families in the parish for 37 years I thought that I knew something about family life. But, since becoming chair of the Marriage and Family Life Committee for England and Wales, my eyes have been opened a little to the messiness of family life and the sheer business of coping (24/7 – rather like being a Synod Father!). And I have learned the importance of listening to families.
My predecessor and the Marriage and Family Life Project Office listened to families in 2004 and were guided by them to focus on family-friendly parishes, family spirituality and family-faith transmission. We call this work Celebrating Family: Blessed, Broken, Living Love because we heard that all families, whatever their size, shape, structure or life stage, experience God’s blessing in their lives; all families at some time, in some way, also experience brokenness – which, as a sign of contradiction, can also sometimes be part of the way God blesses them. We came to appreciate that every family strives to protect their love for one another, through thick and thin, in blessing and brokenness. So let us rejoice and be glad, for this is what God – and we as bishops – hope for them.
So much of what we bishops tend to worry about is simply symptomatic of the way life is today. Our families are called to live in the world with all its difficulties, strains and stresses. Our role is to strengthen them, to help them see Christ in their lives, to know him more fully and to respond to his loving invitation to life in the kingdom, through, in and with the world. A rule of thumb when parenting is that behaviour that is noticed tends to increase – so wise parents don’t encourage misbehaviour by paying attention to it, they pay positive attention to good behaviour. Perhaps it would be good for us bishops to focus on parents, parents who are the ministers of the domestic church. Let us be wise parents too.
Do our own words and actions always give a true witness, a true account of the Gospel?
Our flock sometimes finds it hard to reconcile Church teaching with Christ’s commandment to love. Their own moral judgment is jarred by what they perceive as an over-emphasis (in their view) on form rather than substance. Another rule of thumb when parenting: children need both soft-love and firm-love, but loving parents rarely exclude their errant children from the family table. They love them above all else, and know the family table to be the natural place of reconciliation and renewal. Can we be loving parents too? Above all, can we reflect on God’s parental love which is not authoritarian, not permissive but authoritative, the God of compassion and love, the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who kept the door open.
Bishop of Northampton
Chair, Project Office for Marriage and Family Life
Reflections from the Small Groups on the second part of the Instrumentum laboris at the Family Synod
14 October 2015
The Synod of the family continues and this morning, 14 October, we see the the second set of reports from the working groups that came together earlier in the week to reflect on the second part of theInstrumentum Laboris, in light of the contributions made in classroom during the debate held in the previous General Congregations.
Below you will find the text of the reports made by the four English speaking Small Groups from the second working session:
Moderator: Card. George Pell
Relator: S.E. Mons. Joseph Kurtz
In Jesus, the fulfilment of God’s revelation, the family uncovers its calling within the universal call to holiness. For the disciple of Jesus, every vocation calls the person and the community in two distinct and complementary dimensions. We are called to communion and we are called for mission. We see this in the call of the 12 Apostles. They are called to be friends of Jesus and sent out to preach. The same is true of those disciples who are called to family life. Our group reflected on this gift and vocation, and on prayer and discernment as means to foster it.
While the sense of the word “vocation” is clear when applied to the priesthood, more clarity is needed when we talk about the phrase “vocation to the married life.” We must recognize that the family itself also has a vocation.
Seen through the lens of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the text would benefit from a more abundant use of Sacred Scripture, notably Luke Chapters 1 and 2, as well as examples from the Old Testament. So many Old Testament couples, such as those from the Book of Tobit, responded beautifully to the vocation to marriage and family life.
The Church’s vision of the vocation of the family captures the beauty of God’s self-giving love. Considerable attention was given to locating a firm theological base for the Divine Pedagogy, flowing from the outpouring of love from the Trinity. At the core of the family is the original act of creation, the redemption by Jesus Christ and the orientation to eternal life.
The priority of listening to the Word of God and following Jesus opens up the good news for the family, which leads to a life of joy as well as an ever-deepening conversion from selfishness and sin.
The baptismal identity of every Christian matures in the seedbed of the family, which is often the first and primary evangelizer in which one discerns a vocation to a particular state in life. In this Year of Consecrated Life, we give special thanks for the gift of men and women in religious life and their families.
The final document would benefit from a consideration of “best practices,” which would show families how to more fully and faithfully live out their vocation. At the heart of such “best practices” is the receiving of the Word of God in the family. We make special mention of the great strides within the Church over the past 50 years in which study and reflection on Sacred Scripture has been integrated into the lives of families. While much remains to be done, such progress needs to be acknowledged. These “best practices” should also address proper catechesis and prayer and worship, including prayer within each family. Such a call would wisely and explicitly encourage the use of para-liturgical prayers and rituals within the setting of the family.
We also addressed questions related to methodology. In the past, the Holy Father often used the final approved texts as a basis for an Apostolic Exhortation and we spoke of the fruitfulness of this approach. However, we recognize the limitations of a document that will be approved at the conclusion of this Synod. Though every effort should be made to provide for streamlined, attractive language, a primary concern was the clarity of well-grounded explanations of Church teaching on marriage and the family.
With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we give thanks for the vocation of the family – a call to communion with Him and with each other and a call for mission in the world.
Moderator: Card. Vincent Nichols
Relator: S.E. Mons. Diarmuid Martin
The group took an innovative approach in its examination of Part II. We recognize the centrality of this part to the entire reflection of the Synod. In addition to examining the Instrumentum Laboris paragraph by paragraph, the group sought first to identify a number of the basic themes of the Church’s wisdom on marriage and the family which we feel ought to be given prominence in the final document. A renewed and deeper reflection on the theology of marriage should be one of the fruits of the Synod.
These themes included: The Divine Pedagogy, the Word of God in the Family, Indissolubility and Faithfulness, The Family and the Church, Mercy and Brokenness. The group proposed individual modi to some paragraphs, but above all it sought to reorder the succession of paragraphs in order to restore the natural flow of the paragraphs of the Relatio Synodi.
The group strongly recommends that the entire Part II should be introduced by a much more detailed reflection on the Family and Divine Pedagogy. This reflection would constitute a new paragraph 37.
The reflection should illustrate how the Divine Pedagogy for marriage and the family has accompanied the entire history of salvation and continues right until our day. We propose that the paragraph begin with Genesis, which already provide a definition of marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman, so total and intimate that because of it a man must leave his father and mother in order to be united with his wife. This account of the creation of marriage presents also the three basic characteristics of marriage, as it was in the beginning – monogamy, permanence, and equality of the sexes.
However, as sin entered the history of humanity it brought with it the reversal of these basic characteristics. Polygamy, divorce, and submission of the wife to her husband became not just common place, but were even institutionalized in sectors of Jewish society. Through the prophets God constantly called for a change from this situation of sin and for the re-establishment of the original dignity of marriage, which was to come with Jesus Christ. The prophet Hosea found union and love between husband and wife as an appropriate paradigm to illustrate God’s love for his people.
The Song of Songs gave a unique reflection on human love as a dialogue between two lovers praising each other, yearning for each other, and rejoicing in sexual intimacy.
But the Divine pedagogy of salvation history concerning marriage and the family reached its climax with the Son of God’s entry in human history, as Jesus Christ was born into a human family. It was considered inappropriate for a Rabbi to speak with a woman yet Jesus dared to speak to a woman, who was a Samaritan – an “excommunicated” and a renowned sinner – something even more scandalous. To a woman who was brought before him prior to her being stoned for the fact that she had committed adultery, he said: “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He dirtied his hands through work, but not with stones to throw at others.
The group presents this elaborated text recognizing that it is lengthy and new, and may not seem in line with the Synod methodology. Why do we do this? It is only through reflection on the Divine Pedagogy that we will understand our ministry as mirroring God’s patience and mercy. The Divine Plan continues even in our time. It is the Divine Pedagogy which provides content and tone for the teaching of the Church. It is the Divine Pedagogy which today continues the constant call of conversion, healing, and mercy to families as they struggle to realize their God-given vocation.
The group set out, then, to apply such a pedagogy into our search for a language accessible to the men and women of our times. We propose alongside the term “indissolubility” to use a language which is less legal, and which shows better the mystery of God’s love speaking of marriage as a grace, a blessing, and a lifelong covenant of love.
We recalled the testimony of couples who live a fully Christian marriage as a lifelong covenant of love, its permanence unto death being a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people. Indeed we can say that God recognizes the image of Himself in the faithfulness of his spouses and confirms with his blessing this fruit of his grace.
The deepest meaning of the indissolubility of marriage, is then, the affirmation and protection of these beautiful and positive qualities that sustain marriage and family life, most especially in times of turbulence and conflict. The Church, therefore, looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus especially to his faithful love in the darkness of the cross.
A stress on the divine pedagogy would also focus on the centrality of the Word of God in the theology of marriage, in the pastoral care of the family, and in family piety. The Christian community welcomes the Word of God especially when proclaimed at the Sunday Liturgy. Thus a goal for every couple and family would be to worship together faithfully at Mass every Sunday.
Married couples and families also encounter the Word of God in the array of devotions and celebrations that are part of our Catholic heritage. Such piety includes approaching together the sacrament of reconciliation, common prayer and reading of the Scriptures, and other encounters with God’s word in catechesis and prayer. It was stressed that Catholic schools are an extension of parish and family catechesis. The Synod should encourage parents to seek out these schools as a uniquely compelling way to enhance and deepen the religious education which begins in the family.
All of us need God’s mercy. In many societies today there is a sense of self-sufficiency, whereby people feel that they have no need of mercy and no awareness of their own sinfulness. At times this is due to an inadequate catechesis on sin, not recognizing sin as a wounding of our relationship with God and with each other, a wound which can be healed only through the saving power of God’s mercy.
On the other hand there can be a tendency for us to put human limits on God’s mercy.
The group felt a strong need for a deeper reflection on the relationship between mercy and justice, particularly as it is presented in Misericordiae Vultus.
As we move on towards our reflection on the difficult situations to be examined in Part III, we should always remember that God never gives up on his mercy. It is mercy which reveals God’s true face. God’s mercy reaches out to all of us, especially to those who suffer, those who are weak, and those who fail. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel… My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hs 11:8-9) As Pope Francis stresses in Misericordiae Vultus, God’s anger lasts for a moment, but his mercy lasts forever.
Moderator: S.E. Mons. Eamon Martin
Relator: S.E. Mons. Mark Coleridge
After the travails of the first week, we decided to adopt a different approach to Part II of the Instrumentum Laboris and moved through it more briskly than we did through Part I. As our sense of the task has clarified, our modus procedendi has matured, and this is encouraging as we begin work on the long and complex Part III.
I now present the issues from Part II which were central to the group’s discussion:
- The need to speak a heartfelt word of appreciation and encouragement to couples who, by God’s grace, are living their Christian marriage as a genuine vocation, since this is a unique service to the Church and the world.
- The need to develop for couples and families catechetical programmes that are attuned to different cultures, to revise them periodically and to adapt National Catechetical Directories in the light of these where applicable.
- The need to develop resources in the vital area of family prayer, understood in both formal and less formal ways, both liturgically and devotionally. These resources would again have to be culturally sensitive.
- The need to explore further the possibility of couples who are civilly married or cohabiting beginning a journey towards sacramental marriage and being encouraged and accompanied on that journey.
- The need to present the indissolubility of marriage as a gift from God rather than a burden and to find a more positive way of speaking about it, so that people can fully appreciate the gift. This relates to the larger question of language, as the Synod looks to shape a language which, in the words of the Instrumentum Laboris, is “symbolic”, “experiential”, “meaningful”, “clear”, “inviting”, “open”, “joyful”, “optimistic” and “hopeful”.
- There is a need to draw more deeply and richly from the Scripture, not just in citing biblical texts but in presenting the Bible as a matrix for Christian married and family life. As at Vatican II, the Bible would be a prime resource for the shaping of a new language to speak of marriage and the family; and the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini could serve as a resource for practical suggestions.
- In speaking of the joy of marriage and family life, there is a need to speak also of the life of sacrifice and even the suffering which this involves and so to set joy within its proper context of the Paschal Mystery.
- The need to see more clearly how the Church through the ages has come to a deeper understanding and surer presentation of the teaching on marriage and the family which has its roots in Christ himself. The teaching has been constant, but the articulation of it and the practice based upon that articulation have not been.
- The need for a more nuanced understanding of why young people these days decide not to marry or to delay marriage, often for a long time. The Instrumentum Laboris presents fear as the dominant motive. But it is also true that young people at times do not see the point of marriage or regard it as a purely personal or private matter which makes a public ceremony irrelevant to them. They are also affected in many ways by a culture of options which baulks at closing doors, and they prefer to test a relationship before making any final commitment. Powerful economic factors can also have their effect. We need to beware of a too simplistic reading of a complex phenomenon.
- One thing which the Synod might consider producing is a list of practical initiatives or strategies to support families and to help those that are in trouble. This would be something concrete and would be in keeping with the essentially practical character of this second Synod on marriage and the family.
On many of these points there was consensus, on others there was wide if not universal agreement, and on a few there was significant disagreement.
A great richness and challenge of our discussions continues to be the different modulations of marriage and the family in the various cultures represented in the group. There are certainly points of convergence, arising from our shared sense of God’s plan which is inscribed in creation and which comes to its fullness in Christ crucified and risen, as proclaimed by the Church. But the different ways in which that mystery takes flesh in different parts of the world make it challenging to balance the local and the universal. That remains an overarching task of this Synod.
Moderator: Card. Thomas Collins
Relator: S.E. Mons. Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Members of English circle D reviewed Section II far more quickly than Section I. The material was simpler. So was working together and offering commentary and modi.
On the family and divine pedagogy, members thought the text’s reflections on the reading of Scripture should be strengthened. They stressed that as we listen to God’s word, we need to encounter it in the context of the Church, sacred tradition and the teaching authority of bishops. Many customs of reading Scripture already exist in the various cultures of our English-speaking group. Some should be incorporated into the text. Several group members promoted Lectio Divina, even when read within an inter-faith context. Others thought the Lectio Divina process too complex for people of today. Some bishops felt that we need to better understand the relationship between the newness of the Christian sacrament of matrimony and the natural structure of marriage built into God’s plan from the start. The natural marriage of our original parents had its own order of grace.
The Instrumentum Laboris nowhere defines marriage. This is a serious defect. It causes ambiguity throughout the text. Most bishops agreed that the document should add the definition of marriage from Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 48, as a correction. (The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.[GS 48])
Taken as a whole, the text has many good insights on marriage. But the Catholic doctrine on marriage stretches over too many paragraphs. It needs to be brought together in a more concise, compelling way. One person felt the text’s grasp of Scripture could be improved by embracing newer scholarship. The person worried that many of us were reading Scripture in too fundamentalist a manner, and other ways of interpreting Scripture might be more fruitful. Others disagreed and thought that the understanding of Scripture in the text was adequate.
Some said the text needs to frame the notion of “indissolubility” more positively, rather than treating it as a burden. Others saw a danger in referring to Catholic teaching as simply an “ideal” to be pursued and honored but not practical for the living of daily life. They described this as an approach that implies that only the “pure” can live the Gospel, but not ordinary people. Some stressed that we should always speak of virtues, not just values. They are not the same thing.
In the material on family and God’s salvific plan, the text lacks grounding in the Book of Tobit and the Song of Songs, which is vital to the Scriptural presentation of marriage. Bishops voiced concern that the document seems to present Mosaic divorce as one of the stages of God’s plan, yet we know that divorce is never part of God’s will for humanity, but was a consequence of original sin.
In several of the document’s confusing passages, a better translation of the Italian text led to clarity. Several bishops focused on the notion of “seeds of the Word” or “seeds of the Logos” in the world around us. In the tradition of the Church, this reflection – which dates back to Justin Martyr — has always focused on cultural issues rather than on people’s personal lives. The text tends to treat irregular relationships as somehow also containing “seeds of the Word.” Some bishops felt this was inappropriate and misleading.
Some discussion ensued about the meaning of arranged marriages, where this practice still commonly occurs. Such marriages are sometimes seen as lacking the agreement of the persons being married. But what the practice more typically means is that whole families get involved in the entire process of marriage and family life. Various cultures believe that “families marry one another,” not just the individuals making marital promises. Some bishops saw this as a rich concept. It should be better appreciated.
Various bishops questioned the use of the expression “The Gospel of Family.” What does it actually mean? The text offers no answers. The expression comes from St. Pope John Paul’s Letter to Families 1994, number 23.
Regarding No. 48 of the text, much discussion took place on the various forms of witness that families might give in living out their communion as a domestic church. Along with the ones listed in the document, the following were suggested:
The witness of holiness in prayer.
The witness of not being self-referential.
The witness of being sensitive to environmental issues.
The witness of simply living together in charity, in shared, everyday life.
Bishops felt that these actions should be seen as the fruit of baptism and confirmation.
Some in our group spoke about the need for the text to list devotions that both enhance and express family life and spirituality. The rosary was central to the discussion; so was the importance of parents reading Scripture to children, and siblings reading Scripture together. Bishops stressed the value of families attending Sunday Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations together, and were surprised the text didn’t focus on this in greater detail. Some suggested that various practices of popular piety be listed as concrete expressions of family devotions.
Various bishops noted the importance of women in the life of the Church and the need to focus more attention on giving them appropriate leadership roles. Some felt the document should be more
sensitive to women abused by their husbands or within their families, and who therefore carry extra burdens. One person felt that exemplary families are sometimes difficult for people in painful circumstances to see as positive. Exemplary families may intimidate them rather than helping them to see the possibility of living that way themselves.
Bishops said the text should present the canonical reasons for separation of spouses and reasons for seeking an annulment. We need to be realistic about marital problems rather than simply encouraging people to stay together. Again, violence against women was a key part of the discussion.
One of the bishops emphasized that priests are not trained to be marriage counselors. If they present themselves as such, they risk legal problems for their local Churches. Priests should move away from marriage counseling and do clearly defined spiritual guidance instead.
On the question of why young people fear to marry, many bishops observed that young people are afraid to fail in any area of life. Youth ministry in parishes and dioceses should help young couples understand the value of marriage. We need to focus on Pope John Paul’s exhortation not to be afraid and also to be aware that in the Gospel, Jesus took care of a young married couple whose marriage celebration was about to run out of wine. The Lord will always take care of young couples who trust in him in the way.
Circle D accepted this report unanimously. Our group is marked by great diversity and many different perspectives – 29 persons, 21 of them bishops, coming from 20 countries. Bishops made many suggestions for changes in the text. They will bring these forward in the various modi.
09 October 2015:
Reflections from the Small Groups on the first part of the Instrumentum laboris at the Family Synod
This Morning the Bishops of the XIV General Assembly of the Synod came together to reflect on the introduction and the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris, in light of the contributions made in the courtroom during the debate held in the first three general congregations.
Below you will find the text of the Reports made by the four English speaking Small Groups, from the first working session:
Moderator: Card. George Pell
Relator: S.E. Mons. Joseph Kurtz
In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, we find the source of hope for the family in thecontemporary world. Thus confidence in Him is to be the first and last word of the synod. It is with eyes fixed on Jesus that we begin.
The message of the synod must announce the Good News of Jesus Christ clearly and attractively. Thus we recommend the words of Pope Francis who vividly engaged families at the Saturday Vigil for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with the invitation: “So great was (God’s) love, that He began to walk with humanity, with His people, until the right moment came, and He made the highest expression of love – His own Son. And where did He send his son – to a palace? To a city? No.He sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family. And He could do this, because it was a family that had a truly open heart!”
We discussed a proper methodology, which needs to make reference to Sacred Scripture and Tradition throughout this document as we read the signs of our times in light of the Gospel.
A great concern relates to the overly bleak description of the contemporary scene. More attention needs to be given to theological reflection on the faithful, loving married couple and family, who, so often heroically, live an authentic witness to the grace of the family. Expanding the words to explain the “Good News regarding the family”, we sought to speak less of “crisis” and more of “lights and shadows.”
We spoke of the vitality of many families who witness to the beauty of their family life and inspire others in their commitment to family life. Yet we also spoke of the many illusions in our contemporary world that sadly lead to a radical isolation. So too we spoke of the struggles and challenges, which are part of the shadows. How important it is to recognize and give support to these families and the power of their lived witness.
Another concern was an overly Euro-centric or Western mindset in the current wording. Rather we are called to a cultural tone that is global and that is open to the richness and real experiences of families today, invarious nations and continents.
Great attention was given to the family who migrates, calling forth special generosity of communities of faith and governments to welcome the gifts of these families.
We also highlighted the attention given to persons with disabilities and special needs and their families. Of special note was the care with which both the gifts and the struggles were presented. The richness of this section might serve as a helpful paradigm for the treatment of other topics in this document.
Also deserving of special mention is the role of public policy to foster family life in a way that truly honors the natural right of families to make decisions in a way that promotes the common good.
In summary, while the challenges are only too obvious, so too must we hold up the strengths and seeds of renewal already present so families might be active agents of the Good News of Jesus.
Aware that the grace of Christ will be taken up in the areas of this document devoted to the vocation and mission of the family, we urge synod delegates to announce the hope held out by Jesus as the first and last word of this synod. In Christ is our confidence.
Moderator: Card. Vincent Nichols
Relator: S.E. Mons. Diarmuid Martin
The group recognized that the purpose of part I was not simply to repeat the analysis of last year’s Synod. It was felt, however, that the analysis of the difficulties which the family faces was too negative.
We look at what emerged in the reflection of the Church over the last year and what we have experienced in our own local churches. We tried to look in the light of faith at how millions of families truly try day by day to realize what Pope Francis called “God’s dream for his beloved creation.”
We witness every day families who try to make God’s dream their dream; to find happiness sharing their loving journey and seeing their love realized in the children they bear and guiding their children, especially their adolescent children into the mystery of marital love.
The group stressed that the extended family is so often the ordinary means by which men and women are accompanied through every stage of life. The love and support given by and received in so many families on the pilgrimage of life is an expression of the love that God has for his pilgrim people.
Despite the challenges that the family face in every culture, families with the assistance of divine grace do find within them the strength to carry out their vocation to love, to strengthen social bonds, and to care for wider society, especially for the most vulnerable. The group feels that the Synod should express strong appreciation to such families.
The place of part one is to listen and observe the factual situation of families. The group felt strongly, however, that for the Christian such an analysis should always look through the eyes of faith and not remain simply sociological analysis. More scriptural references would help to understand the nature of God’s dream that families are called to make their own and to realize that in the difficulties of life they can place their trust in a God who neither disappoints nor abandons anyone.
It was noted that alongside the socio-cultural challenges that families face, we should also openly recognize the inadequacy of the pastoral support that families receive from the Church on their itinerary of faith.
Analysis of the situation of the family should recognize how, with the help of grace, families who are far from perfect, living in an imperfect world do actually realize their vocation, even though they may fail along their journey. As members of the group we shared a reflection, each of us on the experience of our own family. What emerged was far from a stereotype of an “ideal family,” but rather a collage of families different in their social, ethnic, and religious background. Amid many difficulties our families gave us the gift of love and the gift of faith; in our families we discovered a sense of self-worth and dedication. Many of our families are of mixed confession or religion, but in all we learned an ability to pray and to reflect upon how the family is central to the transmission of faith in a multiplicity of situations.
An analysis based on the light of faith is far from an analysis which avoids facing reality. If anything, such an analysis can focus on questions of marginalization, which easily escape from the mindset of the dominant culture in many of our societies. An analysis based on the light of faith can lead to a deeper discernment of how families suffer marginalization and forms of poverty, which go beyond economic poverty to include the social, cultural, and spiritual.
Such discernment should help us to identify groups in our world of those who find themselves in a situation similar to that of Jesus and his parents, for whom there was “no place at the inn.”
It was noted that among the groups who experience such exclusion, one should not overlook families who are discriminated against or marginalized because of their belief in Jesus Christ.
The language of Scripture can be closer to the realities of the daily experience of families and can become a bridge between faith and life. The group felt that the language of the final document should be a more simple language, accessible to families, showing also that the Synod Fathers had listened to and heard their contribution and comments to the synodal process.
The situations in which families strive to live out their vocation are varied. It would be impossible to encapsulate all these situations in a single document. Each local Church should try to identify the particular situations of family marginalization in their own society.
Social policy should have a priority concern for its effects on families. Good social policy should begin with an indication of where the social peripheries of each community lie, rather than from a simple economic analysis. Such discernment of the reality of marginalization should also be a dominant characteristic of the pastoral care of the Church for families.
Social problems like inadequate housing, unemployment, migration, drug abuse, the cost of rearing children all have the family as primary victim.
In looking at the challenges facing particular groups, the group proposed a broad rewriting of paragraphs 17-30 under the title of The Family on the Pilgrimage of Life.
Young people live in an oversexualized culture. They need to be educated to a culture of self-giving, which is the basis of the self-donation of conjugal love.
Young people need to develop the ability to live in harmony with emotions and feelings, and to seek mature affective, mature relations with others. This can be an antidote to selfishness and isolation, which often lead young people to a lack of meaning in their lives and even to despair, self-harm, and suicide.
Generosity and hope are at the root of a culture of life. Life in the womb is threatened by the widespread practice of abortion and infanticide. The culture of life should also embrace the elderly and those with special needs, where very often support only comes from the extended family. Many families testify to the fresh vision of life that comes when one of its members has such special needs.
The experience in our group was that of pastors who share a firm conviction that the future of Church and society passes through the family. It was stressed that politics and policies may attempt to change structures, but politics alone do not change hearts.
The humanization of society and our future will depend on how was as a community realize God’s dream for his beloved creation. We can only give thanks to God for our Christian families who through their love and self-giving, however imperfect, open their hearts to the healing love of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
We owe a great debt to these families who in immense ways support and challenge our ministry as pastors.
Moderator: S.E. Mons. Eamon Martin
Relator: S.E. Mons. Mark Coleridge
The Catholic Church presents a fascinating interplay of diversity and unity. In that sense, our journey through the week has been deeply Catholic, deeply ecclesial. We have spoken in different ways of our different experiences of marriage and the family; yet a profound sense of why they matter has emerged. The sense of diversity led us to ask if this or that analysis or argument would be best dealt with at the local or regional level rather than at the global level. There was decentralizing tendency in much of our discussion; yet paradoxically this did not undermine our sense of unity in the task.
We spent considerable time discussing the ordering of the Instrumentum Laboris, beginning as it does with an analysis of the current situation of families before proceeding to reflect on the vocation and mission of the family. It was noted that the structure of the working document moved in the direction of See – Judge – Act, which seemed us sound because – at least in theory – it allowed us to be in touch with the family as it really is rather than with the family as we might wish it to be. In speaking of “the family”, we were conscious of the danger of lapsing into an idealized, removed and disembodied sense of family, which may have its own beauty and internal coherence but which can end up inhabiting a somewhat bloodless world rather that the real world of families in all their variety and complexity.
This led in turn to a larger consideration of the engagement of the Gospel and culture, the Church and history. The Church does not inhabit a world out of time, as the Second Vatican Council, “the Council of history”, recognized. Nor does the Church inhabit a world outside human cultures; the Church shapes cultures and cultures shape the Church. In considering marriage and the family here and now, we were conscious of the need to address the facts of history and the realities of cultures –with both the eyes of faith and the heart of God. That is what it has meant for us to read the signs of the times.
Through this week, we have been somewhat uncertain about the task presented to us, as we worked our way through the Instrumentum Laboris, at times falling into the trap of rewriting or into discussions that were more semantic than substantial. The going was very slow indeed at times, and we are left wondering how on earth we will manage to make our way paragraph by paragraph through the entire document before the end of the Synod. If the task itself has been unclear in this new Synod format, so too has been our method of working. We have had to shape the method as we have moved through the week, and this has challenged the resourcefulness and tactical sense of the Moderator, to say nothing of the patience of the group members. At times our work has seemed more muddled than methodical; but our hope is that focus, if not perfect clarity, will emerge as the Synod unfolds and we become more assured about both task and method.
We have spent considerable time discussing language in a way that looks beyond semantic quibbling. For instance, we had a lengthy discussion about what we meant by “the family”, which is nothing if not basic to this Synod. Some thought it would make more sense to talk of “families”, given the many different kinds of families we now see. Others preferred to think specifically of “the Catholic family”, but there was no perfect consensus on what that might mean. There are again many different kinds of Catholic families. In the end, we settled for a very general definition of “the family” as the unique form of human community based upon and flowing from the marriage of a man and a woman, linking this to a sense of God’s plan as attested to in Scripture.
We also considered certain phrases which have become commonplace in Church documents, among them “the Gospel of the family” and “the domestic Church”. These were vivid and illuminating formulations when they first appeared, but in the meantime they have become clichés, which are less clear in their meaning than they are usually assumed to be. We felt that it may be a good thing if they were given a rest and if we chose instead to use a language which was more accessible to those unfamiliar with our particular speak. In general and especially when speaking of marriage and the family, it was felt that we needed to beware of a kind of Church speak of which we are barely conscious. The Instrumentum Laboris has a more than its share of it, and it would be good if the final document moved in a different and fresher direction. Like Vatican II, this Synod needs to be a language-event, which is more than cosmetic. We need to speak of marriage and the family in new ways, which has implications on both the macro and micro level, as it does on both the local and universal level.
Part of the newness, we felt, needs to be a less negative reading of history, culture and the situation of the family at this time. True, there are negative forces at work at this time in history and in the various cultures of the world; but that is far from the full story. If it were the full story, all the Church could do would be to condemn. There are also forces which are positive, even luminous, and these need to be identified, since there may well be the signs of God in history. It is also true that marriage and the family are under new kinds of pressure, but this again is far from the full story. Many young people still want to marry, and there are still remarkable families, many of them Christian, heroically so at times. To see and speak positively of things is not to indulge in a kind of denial. It is rather to see with the eye of God, the God who still looks on all that he has created and still finds it good.
To address the many issues that we have discussed will take more than the first week or even the three weeks of the Synod. A longer journey stretches before us, just as an earlier journey has led us to this point – not just from late 2013 when Pope Francis announced the journey of the two Synods but from the Second Vatican Council and all that led to it. It has taken patience to work our way through this first week of the Synod, and it will take even more patience for us to follow the path ahead. But, as the Holy Father has reminded us in Evangelii Gaudium, “time is greater than space”. The patience which is not anxious about imperfect process and which is prepared to wait on God will untie the knots, even those we have struck in the early days of the Synod.
Moderator: Card. Thomas Collins
Relator: S.E. Mons. Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Those of us taking part in Circle D are grateful to Pope Francis for calling for this synod, and we are honored to be part of the process. We also want to express our gratitude for the hard work embodied in the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). We suggest that the document should start just as we begin any celebration of the Mass – with a kind of Confiteor, putting ourselves in the midst of the failures of the members of the Church, rather than judging them from the outside. We need to acknowledge and ask forgiveness for our own mistakes as pastors, especially those that have undermined family life.
We had two general observations:
First, while various elements of the IL are admirable, we found much of the text to be flawed or inadequate, especially in its theology, clarity, trust in the power of grace, its use of Scripture and its tendency to see the world through overwhelmingly Western eyes. Second, we felt limited in our ability to respond by not knowing clearly who the audience of the document is. In other words, are we writing to the Holy Father, to families of the Church, or to the world?
Most of our group felt the IL should begin with hope rather than failures because a great many people already do successfully live the Gospel’s good news about marriage. Our group expressed concern that readers will simply ignore the document if it begins with a litany of negatives and social problems rather than a biblical vision of joy and confidence in the Word of God regarding the family. The huge cloud of challenges pervading the first section of the text unintentionally creates a sense of pastoral despair.
Several group members felt that Section II should precede Section I. Others supported the current arrangement of the text. A shared concern was that most people won’t read a dense or lengthy document. This makes the IL’s opening section vitally important; it needs to inspire as well as inform. Additionally — recalling the work of Aparecida — members stressed that the focus of the text should be on Jesus, through whom we describe and interpret the world’s present situation. We should always begin with Jesus.
If marriage is a vocation, which we believe it is, we can’t promote vocations by talking first about its problems.
As the Trinity is the source of reality, and because all communities originate in the community of the Trinity, some thought that the Trinity should be the document’s starting point.
Members noted that in his letters, St. Paul would often write a prologue of praise to people whose sins he would then critique. This was a common style in his epistles, and effective.
Our group thought there were a number of elements missing from the text: a serious reflection on gender ideology, more reflection on pastoral care for the differently-abled, the role of fathers and men as well as the role of women, and a deeper treatment of the destructive nature of pornography and other misuses of electronic technology.
Members criticized many of the paragraphs in the first section. Some thought the presentation was chaotic, without inherent logic. Sentences seemed to be tossed together without any organic connection to one another.
Some thought the text worked well because the family today does, in fact, face serious problems. That’s why we’re here at the synod: to deal with those problems; and people who suffer want to see their reality touched by what we say. So it’s important to speak in a way that will draw people’s attention.
Still others thought that the text lacked anything that would attract people. If the document is destined to the general public, they felt that stories from family life, or the lives of the saints along with illustrations, should be included to make the material more compelling. They stressed the need to review the language of the document and ensure that it appeals to both men and women, leaving no one out.
Members worried that the English translation may not be faithful to the official Italian text. Others complained that many of the document’s statements were too general and not specific enough. Still others felt the text had many inaccurate generalizations, was verbose and repetitive.
Members said that some of the sections seemed narrow in scope and excessively inspired by West European and North American concerns, rather than a true presentation of the global situation. Some of the members thought that terms like “developing nations” and “advanced countries” were condescending and inappropriate for a Church document. Others thought that the language of the text was too careful and politically correct, and because of that, the content was unclear and sometimes incoherent. Wonderfully good points were made in some paragraphs, but they were addressed too briefly and in a poorly developed manner. They seemed to be simply pulled together and listed, rather than presented logically.
Overall, members felt that Pope Francis and the people of the Church deserve a better text, one in which ideas are not lost in the confusion. Our group suggests that the text should be turned over to a single editor for clarification and refinement. The current material is obviously the work of a committee. Because of that, it lacks beauty, clarity and force.
Finally, members felt strongly that even in difficult situations, we need to underline the fact that many Christian families serve as a counter-witness to negative trends in the world by the way they faithfully live the Catholic vision of marriage and the family. These families need to be recognized, honored and encouraged by the document. Thus the first section of the IL text, which is about “observing” the facts, ought to highlight the good as well as the bad and the tragic. Heroic holiness is not a rare ideal and not merely “possible,” but common and lived vigorously in much of the world.