On Oct. 5, the opening day of the 2015 Synod on the Family, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest — who is the synod’s relator general — gave an introductory speech to the synod fathers. Drawing from the working document for the synod as well as recent magisterial documents, Cardinal Erdo surveyed the work the assembly is called to do. He examined current challenges to the family and marriage, the vocation of the family, and the family’s mission today. The full text of his prepared remarks were published in Italian on the Vatican’s website. Please find below CNA’s English translation of the entirety of his remarks:
Most eminent and excellent synod fathers,
dear brothers and sisters,
Jesus Christ is our master, our Lord, and the Good Shepherd. When, according to the evangelist Mark, he saw a great crowd, he had compassion on them: “and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). In this regard, Pope Francis has indicated the method and the program which in certain ways we too should follow in our work: “…to see, to have compassion, to teach. We can call them the verbs of the Shepherd … The first and second, to see and to have compassion, are always found together in the attitude of Jesus: in fact his gaze is not the gaze of a sociologist or a photojournalist, for he always gazes with “the eyes of the heart” … From this tenderness is born Jesus’ wish to nourish the crowd with the bread of his Word, that is, to teach the Word of God to the people. Jesus sees, Jesus has compassion, Jesus teaches us.” (Pope Francis, Angelus, July 19, 2015). This vision corresponds with the three great themes of the instrumentum laboris, the fruit of an intense, collegial path. Without being able to mention in this introductory relation all the important themes which have emerged in the discussion and the document of the last synod, and since then, we try then to follow in particular only the principal themes.
I. Listening to the challenges to the family
I.1 The social-cultural context
In its first part, the instrumentum laboris speaks of a listening which is nothing more than “seeing”, an acknowledgement of the challenges currently facing the family. There seem to be in the world, in external circumstances, and in the discussions or in the mentality of peoples, at least two great sorts of problems. The first is traditional, seemingly constant, but which assumes in our globalized world new dimensions and new, unexpected consequences. These are the effects of climate and environmental change, and those of social injustice, of violence, of war, which push millions of persons to leave their homeland and try to survive in other parts of the world. If we look, for example, at the thousands of immigrants and refugees arriving daily in Europe, we see immediately that the vast majority is composed of rather young men, though they arrive, sometimes, with their women and children. Already from this picture it is evident that the migratory movement is disintegrating families, or at least makes it difficult to form them. In many parts of the world, young parents leave their home and their children to seek work abroad.
In not a few parts of the world persons work for a salary so low that it permits them to survive to continue to work, but it does not make it feasible to care for a family. In this context one cannot forget that commercial enterprises, too, have a responsibility in this situation.
It also happens that to ensure the so-called mobility of the “workforce”, entire families have to transfer to other cities or regions, ever lacerating the human and social structures of family, friends, and neighbors, school and work mates. So all this great mobility seems to be one of the factors which drive persons to individualistic attitudes and tendencies.
So the industrialization which began the 19th century, has arrived today to all parts of the world. The typical form of labor becomes one of dependence. The employee, working outside of his family, is payed for what he does outside his family, while the most precious work done inside the family community, such as the education of children and care of the sick and elderly at home, are but rarely recognized and aided by society. As Pope Francis has said: “We experience the shortcomings of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores its elderly. And the elderly are a wealth not to be ignored.” (General Audience, March 4, 2015)
I. 2 Anthropological change: fleeing from institutions
In the more wealth regions of the world, there is another elementary phenomenon, not independent of the first, and present now in other parts of the world, that is the so called “anthropological change”, which runs the risk of becoming an “anthropological reductionism.” (Pope Francis, address to participants in a seminar on his proposal for a “more inclusive economy”, July 12, 2014) The person, in seeking his freedom, often tries to be independent of any link, at times even of religion, which constitutes a link with God, or of social links, especially those which relate to the institutional form of life. The life of society, in fact, especially of those called ‘developed’, risks being ‘suffocated’ by bureaucratic formalism. A phenomenon which does not follow necessarily only from the complexity of economic and social structures or the complexity of scientific conquest, but which seems also to have another source – a change of attitude. If we do not have the confidence to know objective truth and objective values which are based on reality, then we risk looking for the guidelines of our social comportment on the basis of purely formal criteria, such as majority votes, independent of content, or the formality of proceedings, at various organizations, as the only justification for a choice. This phenomenon can push legislators to multiply juridical norms, and even to control information, for fear that otherwise there will not be a voluntary observance of laws, which can only come from a moral conviction, by a common, objective knowledge of reality. From this picture comes a notable alienation, which explains the instinctive flight of many people from institutional forms. So it seems we can explain the growth in the number of couples cohabiting seemingly stably, but without contracting any kind of marriage, neither religious nor civil. In certain countries the high percentage of this kind of choice shows a correlation with a high percentage of those who do not wish to bury their parents with any ceremony. Where the law allows it, they prefer to bring home their ashes, or to spread them without any formality. It is clear, here, that the fundamental escape from institutions also affects some forms of live which have per se a communitarian and institutional aspect. Marriage and family are not only for isolated individuals; rather, they transmit values, and offer a possibility of development to the human person, which is irreplaceable.
In all the crises of instiutions and of institutional forms for human relations, and not only in the sphere of marriage and the family, though there in a special way, there is manifest the internal tension of the human person and the question of what is the human being. Already, linguistic expression and speech involve an institutional element in communication. Using words with precise content, we come more easily to abstraction and logical reasoning, which relieve the single person of having to create always new ways of communicating. Following customs and institutional forms of society are easier and more secure ways of comporting oneself in many of life’s situations. Institutions, in general, seem to be ‘checks’ which facilitate, and lighten, interpersonal relationships. Even unwritten norms of social comportment have a similar function. One can communicate the ideal of just comportment by giving an example, a story told or represented in a film, but one can also express it in a verbally conceived norm – in a law. Jesus Christ was the greatest of communicators, the living Word of God, who was able to relate the parables and then to say “go and do likewise”, but was also able to speak as the Lawgiver.
Current anthropological change touches on the deepest layers of the human being. It comes in among planning the smallest details of a wedding, providing everything – the music, the menu, the tablecloths. You see young engaged couples totally preoccupied with these details, while at the same time neglecting the true significance of marriage.
In this ‘magnetic field’ of the necessity and the apparent inaccessibility of many institutional forms, is located the issue of the law, as well as those of marriage and the family. Before this current, and truly new situation, it seems providential that this present synodal assembly is dedicated to this theme. Let us then deal with the ambit of this synod, as Pope Francis has indicated: “… to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves” (Instrumentum laboris 3).
I. 3 Institutional instability
In addition to the flight from institutions, there is growing institutional instability which is manifest also in the high rate of divorce. That people are getting married at a later age, and youths’ fear in assuming the responsibility of definitive commitments such as marriage and family, are seen in this context. Indeed, if one’s sole objective is to feel good in the moment, then neither the past nor the future have any importance; indeed there appears a certain general fear of the future, for one might not feel good anymore then. Thus it seems too perilous to make a definitive choice regarding career and family. It so happens that many do not even feel their own responsibility, either for the present or the future.
I. 4 Individualism and subjectivism
Thus, as Pope Francis reiterated in his discourse at Strasbourg: “Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights – I am tempted to say individualistic; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a ‘monad’ (μονας), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding ‘monads’. The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of rights. As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself.”
“I believe, therefore, that it is vital to develop a culture of human rights which wisely links the individual, or better, the personal aspect, to that of the common good, of the ‘all of us’ made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society.” (Pope Francis, Address to the European Parliament, Nov. 25, 2014)
Therefore the current tendency to pass off those things which are simply desires, often selfish ones, as true and proper rights, while denying the basic objective of all law, must be avoided.
“An aspect of great importance for our responsibility is the need to rethink the orientation of world systems through an ecological culture … which includes not only an environmental dimension but also those of society and economics, which allow sustainable development and a culture of creation” (Instrumentum laboris 16). It is in the light of our relationship with the Creator that we find the fullness of our responsibility and vocation.
In addition to these individualistic and anti-institutional tendencies, one can observe the phenomenon of confounding or rendering uncertain the continues of such fundamental institutions as marriage and the family. This also contributes to the growth of individualism, which ultimately results in both cause and effect.
I. 5 Biological and cultural aspects
With the development of the natural sciences, new possibilities have appeared regarding the biological relationship between persons and cultures. Consumer society has separated sexuality and procreation. This too is one of the causes of the falling birth rate. It stems at time from poverty, and in other cases from the difficulty of having to assume responsibility.
While in developing countries the exploitation of women and the violence done to their bodies and the tiring tasks imposed on them, even during pregnancy, are oftentimes compounded by abortion and forced sterilization, not to mention the extreme negative consequences of practices connected with procreation (for example, a womb ‘for rent’ or the marketing of embryonic gametes). In advanced countries, the desire for a child at any cost “has not resulted in happier and stronger family relationships.” (Instrumentum laboris 30) All things considered the so-called bio-technological revolution has introduced new possibilities for the manipulation of the generative act “… making it independent of the sexual relationship between man and woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples.” (Instrumentum laboris 34)
Immaturity and affective fragility are of great relevance here. First of all it is forgotten that these are the effects of a true lack of effective and affective education among families, in that parents do not have time for their children, or are divorced and the children are not able to see the example of adults, and are confronted only with the comportment of their peers. So the affective maturity remains held back and is not given permission to develop. Of prime importance in this context is pornography and the commercialization of the body, helped by a distorted use of the internet. Do not forget, however, that this more of a consequence than a cause of the current situation. Thus the crisis of couples destabilizes the family and weakens family links between generations. (cf Instrumentum laboris 33)
“Finally, there are theories according to which personal identity and emotional intimacy ought to be radically detached from the biological difference between male and female. At the same time, however, some want to recognize the stable character of a couple’s relationship apart from sexual difference, and place it on the same level as the marital relationship, which is intrinsically connected to the roles of a father and a mother and determined on the biological basis of child-bearing. The resulting confusion relegates the special bond between biological difference, reproduction and human identity to an individualistic choice. ‘The removal of difference […] creates a problem, not a solution.’” (Instrumentum laboris 8)
II. The discernment of the family vocation
II. 1 Family and the divine pedagogy
The gaze of Jesus is that of mercy, of the mercy which is based on truth. Jesus’ teaching on marriage and family are from creation (cf Mt 19:3). The life of the human being and of humanity is part of a great project: that of God the creator. As in all aspects of life, we find our wholeness and our felicity if we can insert ourselves freely and consciously into this great project full of wisdom and love. If we seek the truth about marriage and family, according to the best of our natural capacities, and if we listen to the teachings of Jesus Christ, then we grasp it in all its fullness and all its holiness. So resplendent are marriage and family in their beauty, that Saint Paul said this is a great mystery which manifests the love of Christ for the Church (cf Eph 5:32). This beauty is not simply the meaning of something that attracts without interest, it does not have merely an aesthetic value, but is found to be a true and profound, objective interest in human existence, a true way to felicity, which in turn makes of sacramental marriage a means of sanctification and a font of grace.
“The truth [as the Council teaches] is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. […] Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et spes 22). So we must understand, using a Christocentric key, also the rich and varied natural characteristics of marriage (cf Instrumentum laboris 40).
II. 2 Jesus and the family: the gift and task of indissolubility
“Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman, though saying to the Pharisees that ‘for your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’ (Mt 19: 8). The indissolubility of marriage (‘what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ Mt 19:6), is to be understood not as a ‘yoke’ imposed on persons but as a ‘gift’ to a husband and wife united in marriage. Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana and he announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation that restores the original divine plan (Mt 19:3). At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and with the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11). By looking at the sinner with love, Jesus leads the person to repentance and conversion (‘Go and sin no more’), which is the basis for forgiveness.” (Instrumentum laboris 41)
This project of God for marriage and the family offers the possibility of fullness for the life of the person, relevant still today, despite the difficulties encountered in maintaining commitments forever. The virtues of marital and family life are, for example: “… respect and mutual trust; mutual acceptance and gratitude; and patience and forgiveness” (Instrumentum laboris 43).
II. 3 The family, image of the Trinity
Marriage and the family express in a special way that the human being is create in the image and likeness of God. In this context, Pope Francis recalled that: “… man alone is not the image of God nor is woman alone the image of God, but man and woman as a couple are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God.” (General Audience, April 15, 2015). The complementary nature, in fact, of the unitive and procreative character in marriage is written into the divine plan in creation. (cf Instrumentum laboris 45).
Family and marriage have been redeemed by Christ (cf Eph 5:21-32), restored to the image of the Most Holy Trinity, the mystery from which comes every true love. This implies at the same time that they are, for the baptized, a gift and a special commitment.
II. 4 The family in the Magisterium of the Church
The Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance of the promotion of the dignity of marriage and of the family (cf Gaudium et spes 47-52), reiterating the fact that marriage is a community of life and love (cf GS 48). True love in fact is not reduced to some elements of the relationship but implies a mutual gift of self (cf GS 49). Thus the sexual and affective dimensions are built up during daily life. In the Creator the human couple is already a bearer of the divine blessing. In fact, in Genesis we read that: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” (Gen 1:27-28). In the incarnation, then, God assumes human love, purifies it and brings it to fulfillment and gives to the spouses, with his Spirit, bestowed already in the sacrament of Baptism, the capacity to realize it fully and through his grace, to build up the Body of Christ and to be a domestic Church (cf Lumen gentium 11; Instrumentum laboris 47).
II.5 The missionary dimension of the Family
The missionary dimension of the family is rooted in the sacrament of Baptism and is realized within the Christian community. The Christian family, a domestic Church based on the sacramental marriage of two Christians, by its nature tends to diffuse its faith by sharing it with others. The Christian family, in fact, are called to witness to the Gospel either by its life according to the Gospel itself, or by a missionary proclamation. Spouses mutually reinforce their faith and transmit it to their children, but the children, moreover, together with the other family members, are also called to share their faith. In the family you can experience who the spouses in their mutual love, reinforced bu the spirit of Christ, live their call to holiness. So the family constitutes, as Saint John Paul II said in Familiaris consortio, the way of the Church (cf FC 13). It is in this framework that the teaching of Blessed Paul VI fits, which highlights the intimate relationship between conjugal love and the generation of life (cf Humanae vitae). This truth seems to be particularly important today, when there are so many technical possibilities for separating procreation from conjugal love. The love lived in marriage and the family is the principle of life in society, as recalled by Benedict XVI in his encylical Caritas in veritate (n. 44). The family, in fact, is the place where a person learns to experience the common good (cf Instrumentum laboris 50). The teaching of the Popes deepens also the spiritual dimension of family life, beginning from the rediscovery of family prayer and listening in common to the Word of God. Equally fundamental is the rediscovery of Sunday as a sign of the profound rootedness of the family in the ecclesial reality. The spirituality of the family must be nourished by strong experiences of faith, in particular by participation in the Eucharist. (cf Instrumentum laboris 51; LG 11). Above all in the Sunday Eucharist, the Christian family announces that great and definitive family to which we are all called in eternal life.
Pope Francis in his encyclical Lumen Fidei spoke of family ties and the faith, saying: “Faith is no refuge … but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness” (LF, 53).
The reciprocal gift constitutive of marriage, rooted for Christians in the grace of Baptism, stabilizes the fundamental alliance of each person with Christ in the Church. The engaged promise a total gift, fidelity, and openness to life, recognized as the constitutive elements of marriage and gifts given them by God, taking seriously their commitment in his name and before the Church. In sacramental marriage God consecrates the love of spouses and confirms indissolubility, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to life (cf Instrumentum laboris 54).
II. 6 The indissolubility of marriage and the joy of living together
The teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage was very demanding, to the point of provoking a certain confusion among his own disciples (cf Mt 19:10). The Gospels and Saint Paul confirm equally that the repudiation of one’s wife, practiced first among the people of Israel, does not render possible a new marriage for either party. This affirmation, so unusual and so demanding, has continued through the course of centuries in the disciplinary tradition of the Church, constituting an element still to the point which draws people back to Christianity, a disciplinary question that matters nearly as much as monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage (cf Mt 19:1-10; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-16).
This teaching of Christ regarding marriage is truly Good News and is a source of joy, as it is the full realization of the human person and of his vocation to gratuitous personal relationships, to giving himself, to be fully accepted (cf Instrumentum laboris 55).
II. 7 The project of the Creator and natural marriage
The Church, it should be remembered, has always recognized the existence of true, natural marriage between two unbaptized persons. Since the beginning of humanity such an alliance between a man and a woman has corresponded to the creative plan of God, and was blessed (Gen 1:27-28). So, among true marriages, even today there are in the world many natural marriages, and other marriages sacramental, contracted between the baptized, which involves a special grace (cf Instrumentum laboris 57). “The seriousness of adhering to this divine plan and the courage required to witness to it is especially to be esteemed in these times” (Instrumentum laboris 57).
II. 8 Mercy for wounded families: mission of the Church
In virtue of the sacrament of marriage the Christian family becomes a good for the Church, but its insertion into the ecclesial context is always good for the family being helped at the spiritual and communitarian levels despite difficulties, and helps to guard the marital union and to discern any respective obligations or eventual shortcoming.
The organic insertion of marriage and the family among Christians in the reality of the Church, requires also that the Church community pay realistic and merciful attention to the faithful who cohabit or who live in civil marriage only, because they do not feel prepared to celebrate the sacrament, given the difficulties that such as choice to result in today. If the community can prove to show itself welcoming to these persons, in the varied situations of life, and presents articulately the truth about marriage, it will help these faithful to arrive at a decision for sacramental marriage.
II. 9 Mercy and truth revealed
From this intimate connection between the sacrament of marriage and the reality of the Church it follows that the Church community has a vocation to help even those Catholic couples and families who find themselves in crisis. It has a duty to care for all those who cohabit or are in marital or family situations which cannot become a valid marriage, much less a sacramental one. “Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion. Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion (cf John 8:1-11)” (Instrumentum laboris 67).
III. The mission of the family today
III. 1 The family and evangelization
Among the practical consequences and tasks regarding the mission, some require the Church’s commitment to families, others regard the family itself, and others require the concerted efforts of both.
Marriage preparation, which often engages the attention of engaged person at the exterior and emotional level, should be enriched by placing a proper accent on the spiritual and ecclesial character of marriage. In pastoral preparation for marriage we have to go deeply into the aspects underlining the essential properties of marriage at the natural and supernatural levels. It is extremely useful to have the joyous participation of the Christian community which welcomes the new family, which is to be a living member of the ecclesial family (cf instrumentum laboris 73; 103). Thus it is very useful for Catholic families to be involved in the preparation of engaged couples. The newlyweds can come to know a community of true friends, and from these encounters there can be born human relationships of enrichment, support, and help in difficult situations or in problems within the couple. Belonging to such a group, the faith of the couple can mature, especially if these communities of family meet regularly, read Sacred Scripture, pray together, and cultivate their faith in the light of the teaching of the Church, especially through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Beside all this, and as its ‘fruit’, there is accomplished a mutual help in daily problems which are part of the life of every family. The formation of such groups of families seems to be a sign of the times. They often arise within new communities or ecclesial movements, but are also often rooted in the parish. It seems an urgent and fascinating task to form such communities, and promote them among all the dioceses.
It will often be good to animate these groups with the presence of a priest or a pastoral worker who is well prepared (cf Instrumentum laboris 75).
At both the level of small communities and of parish ministry and the mass media there is needed a “… conversion of language that it might prove to be effectively meaningful” (Instrumentum laboris 77-78). This constitutes a challenge for bishops, priests, and other ministers of the Word and requires, or may require, new forms of catechesis and testimony, in full fidelity to the truth revealed by Christ. If we speak from the depths of our heart, if we never tire of being accountable to ourselves and our faith, then we can turn to others with conviction and courage. If we speak frankly to others about what we believe, we don’t need to be afraid of being misunderstood, because we, too, are children of our time. While not everyone will accept what we announce, they will at least understand the proposal. This is confirmed especially by the experience of missionaries in large cities.
Beyond the joyous announcement of the Gospel, and within the context of announcing the good news of the family, it is necessary also to help those living in problematic and difficult situations to discern their living conditions in the light of the gospel. This discernment must not be content with subjective criteria, as a test for justification, but must bring together mercy with justice. The project of God in marriage and family is the way to happiness for the human being. In this work of announcing, the pastors of the Church, particularly where other worldviews or religions are present, should know such ways to conceive of and implement marriage and family to illuminate them with the light of the Gospel.
III. 2 Family, formation, and public institutions
In the preparation of both clergy and pastoral workers, and in their continuing formation, we must bear in mind that fact that their affective and psychological maturation is indispensable for the pastoral accompaniment of families. Diocesan offices and other structures for the family should collaborate in this regard.
“Given that the family is “the first and vital cell of society” (Apostolicam actuositatem, 11), the family ought to rediscover its vocation of involvement in all aspects of living in society. Essentially, families, in gathering together, need to find ways to interact with public, economic and cultural institutions so they can build a more just society” (Instrumentum laboris 91). Collaboration with public institutions is desired for the interest of the family. Yet in many countries and many institutions the official concept of the family is “…not in keeping with the Christian view or the sense of the family based on nature” (Instrumentum laboris 91). This mode of thinking influences the mentality of not a few Christians. Family associations and Catholic movements ought to work together to assert the real instances of the family in society (cf instrumentum laboris 91).
“Christians ought to engage directly in the socio-political life by actively participating in the decision-process and introducing the Church’s social doctrine into discussions with institutions. This commitment would foster the development of appropriate programs to assist young people and needy families at risk of social isolation and exclusion” (Instrumentum laboris 92).
Christians ought to try to create economic structures to support those families who are particularly affected by poverty, unemployment, job insecurity, lack of social and health care, or who are victims of usury. All of the Church community should try to assist those families who are victims of war and persecution.
III. 3 Family, accompaniment, and ecclesial integration
The mission of the Church is delicate and demanding regarding those who live in problematic marital or family situations. First are those who could be married in the Church but who are content with a civil marriage or simple cohabitation. If their attitude comes from a lack of faith or religious interest, it is truly a missionary situation. When, however, they have some relationship with the Church community, frequenting perhaps parish groups or ecclesial movements, a way is opened for their approach of sacramental marriage. The dynamics of pastoral relationships on a personal level can provide a solid basis for a sound teaching method which might foster the gradual opening of minds and hearts to the fullness of God’s plan (cf Instrumentum laboris 103).
Regarding the separated and the divorced who have not remarried, the community of the Church can help those who live these situations in a path of pardon and possibly of reconciliation, and can help the children who are victims of these situations and may encourage those left alone after such a failure, to persevere in faith and in the Christian life and also “to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life” (Instrumentum laboris 118).
It is important to have, at least at the diocesan level, listening centers which can in part help in moments of crisis, but also afterwards (cf Instrumentum laboris 117). Another kind of counseling, equally important, is offered to the divorced to help to clarify the possible invalidity of their failed marriage, as is previewed in the motu proprio Mitis Iudex.
Regarding the divorced-and-civilly-remarried, a merciful, pastoral accompaniment is only right – an accompaniment, however, which leaves no doubt about the truth of the indissolubility of marriage taught by Jesus Christ himself. The mercy of God offers to sinners pardon, but demands conversion. The sin in this case does not lie first and foremost in whatever comportment which may have led to the breakup of the first marriage. With regard to that failure it is possible that both parties were equally culpable, although very often both are to some extent responsible. It is therefore not the failure of the first marriage, but cohabiting in the second relationship that impedes access to the Eucharist. “Many parties request that the attention to and the accompaniment of persons who are divorced and civilly remarried take into account the diversity of situations and be geared towards a greater integration of them into the life of the Christian community” (Instrumentum laboris 121). What impedes some aspects of full integration does not consist in an arbitrary prohibition; it is rather an intrinsic demand of varied situations and relationships, in the context of ecclesial witness. All this requires, however, a profound reflection.
With respect to a way of penance, this expression is used in diverse ways (cf Instrumentum laboris 122-123). These ways need to be deepened and specified. It can be understood in the sense of St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio (cf n. 84) and referred to those who are divorced-and-remarried, who because of the needs of their children cannot interrupt their common life, but who can practice continence by the strength of grace, living their relationship of mutual help and friendship. These faithful will also have access to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, avoiding the provocation of scandal (cf Instrumentum laboris 119). This possibility is far from being physicalist and does not reduce marriage to the exercise of sexuality, but recognizing its nature and purpose, is applied coherently in the life of the human person.
“In order to deepen in the objective situation of sin and moral culpability, the Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the reception of Eucharistic Communion on the part of divorced and remarried faithful by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Sept. 14, 1994) (should) be taken into consideration as well as the Declaration on the admissibility to Holy Communion of the divorced and remarried by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (June 24, 2000),” (IL 123), as also said in the Post-synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis by Benedict XVI.
The integration of the divorced and remarried in the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist, as already suggested in Familiaris consortio 84.
In the traditional practice of the Latin Church the penitential path could have signified for those who were not ready to change their living conditions, but who tried to communicate the desire for conversion, that confessors could hear their confession, giving them good advice and proposing penitential exercises, in order to direct them to conversion, but without giving them the absolution which was possible only for those who actually intended to change their lives (cf RI 5 in VI; F. A. Febeus, S. I., De regulisiuris canonici Liber unicus, Venetiis 1735, pp. 91-92).
True marriages among Christians of different confessions and those celebrated with the dispensation of the impediment from the disparity of worship, between a Catholic and a non-baptized individual, they are valid marriages, but present some pastoral challenges. “Consequently, dealing constructively with differences regarding the faith would necessitate paying particular attention to people who are actually living in these marriages and not simply to couples during the period of preparation before the wedding” (Instrumentum Laboris 127).
For what regards the reference to the pastoral practices of the Orthodox Churches, this cannot be properly evaluated using only the conceptual apparatus developed in the West in the second Millennium. It should be kept in mind (that there are) great institutional differences regarding the tribunals of the Church, as well as the special respect for the legislation of the States, which at times can become critical, if the laws of the State are detached from the truth of marriage according to the design of the Creator.
On the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulty of certain divorced and civilly remarried, it must be kept in mind that fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be linked to the practical recognition of the goodness of concrete situations that are opposite and therefore irreconcilable. Between true and false, between good and evil, in fact, there is no graduality, even if some forms of cohabitation bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not imply that they can be presented as good. However, that the objective truth of the moral good and the subjective responsibility of single persons stand out. There may be a difference between the disorder, ie. the objective sin, and the concrete sin realized in particular conduct that also implies, but not only, the subjective element. “The imputability and responsibility of an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, duress, violence, fear, habits, inordinate attachments and by other psychological or even social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1735). This means that in objective truth good and evil are not given gradually (gradualness of the law), while at the subjective level the law of graduality can take place, and therefore the education of conscience and in the same sense of responsibility. The human act, in fact, is good when it is in every aspect (ex integra causa).
Both in the last synodal assembly and during the preparation of the present general assembly the question of pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies was treated. Even if the problem doesn’t directly affect the reality of the family, situations arise when such behavior influences the life of the family. In every case the Church teaches that “’There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity.’ Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4, Instrumentum Laboris 130).
It reiterates that every person must be respected in their dignity independently of their sexual orientation. It would be desirable that dioceses devote special attention in their pastoral programs to the accompaniment of families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves (Instrumentum Laboris 131). Instead, “Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: it is equally unacceptable for international organizations to link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws that establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex” (Instrumentum Laboris 132).
III. 4 Family, generativity, education
Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of conjugal love. The generation of life, therefore, cannot be reduced to a variable of the plan of the couple or individual. The individualistic vision of procreation can contribute to the sharp fall in the birth rate, weakening the social fabric, undermining the relationship between generations and rendering the future more uncertain (cf Instrumentum Laboris 133).
We should therefore continue to make known the documents of the Magisterium of the Church which promote the culture of life in front of the increasingly widespread culture of death. Pastoral activity on behalf of the family should involve more Catholic bio-medical specialists in preparing couples for marriage and in accompanying married people (cf Instrumentum Laboris 134).
“Every effort should be made to establish a dialogue with international bodies and policy makers in order to promote respect for human life, from conception to natural death. In this regard, special care needs to be given to families with disabled children” (Instrumentum Laboris 135).
III. 5 Generative responsibility
For what regards generative responsibility: “…needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human love is to be lived fully. This serves as the basis for an appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation, which allow a couple to live, in a harmonious and conscious manner, the loving communication between husband and wife in all its aspects along with their responsibility at procreating life. In this regard, we should return to the message of the encyclical Humanae vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births. The adoption of children, orphans and the abandoned and accepting them as one’s own is a specific form of the family apostolate (cf. AA 11), and has oftentimes been called for and encouraged by the Magisterium (cf. FC 41; Evangelium Vitae, 93)” (Instrumentum Laboris 136). It’s necessary to offer guiding paths which nurture conjugal life and the importance of the laity, which provide an accompaniment made with living witness (cf Instrumentum Laboris 139).
III. 6 Human Life, an Intangible Mystery
“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading” (Evangelii gaudium 53). “In this regard, the task of the family, supported by everyone in society, is to welcome an unborn human life and take care of human life in its final stage” (Instrumentum Laboris 140).
Regarding the drama of abortion the Church reaffirms the inviolable character of human life. She offers advice to pregnant women, sustains teen mothers, assists abandoned children and is a companion for those who have suffered abortion and become conscious of their mistake. Equally the Church reaffirms the right to natural death, at the same time avoiding both aggressive treatment and euthanasia (cf Instrumentum Laboris 141). Death, in reality, is not a private and individual fact. The human person is not and should not feel isolated in the moment of suffering and death. In the world today, when families have become small and at times isolated and broken or headed by a single parent, their ability to care for their for their members has diminished, including the elderly, disabled and dying. Besides the great public social systems, often of the state, they (families) have great difficulties working, also due to the aging of society and the advancement of an exclusive market logic that considers social expenditures as factors which diminish competitiveness. In this context the Church is confronting a double challenge. On one part through her institutions and voluntary services seeking to make up for the deficiencies of the state welfare system and on the other hand the inability of families seeking to strengthen the human side of that service, offering more material aid, as well as human and spiritual support. Values which cannot be quantified with money.
III. 7 The challenge of education and the role of the family in evangelization
A special challenge the family must confront is that of education and evangelization. Parents are and remain the first ones responsible for the human and religious education of their children. All the crisis which threaten or weaken the family, however, impede the development of this task. However, many places “are witnessing a progressive weakening in the role of parents in upbringing, because of an invasive presence of the media in the family as well as the tendency to delegate this task to other entities. This requires that the Church encourage and support families in their vigilant and responsible supervision in a school’s academic and formative programs which affect their children” (Instrumentum Laboris 144).
In all this educative activity families can receive essential help from other families, especially from the community of Christian families, who seem to assume ever more certain important tasks of the Church, constituting a form of fundamental apostolate of the laity. In the context institutional crisis, they (laity) represent the community element in a providential way for single families and for the Church.
Listening to the Word of God, our response must give sincere and fraternal attention to the needs of our contemporaries, in order to transmit to them the liberating truth and being witnesses of the greatest mercy.
To face the challenge of the family today the Church must therefore convert and become more alive, more personal, more communitarian even at the parochial and small community levels. A certain reawakening seems to already be taking place in many places. So that this is more general and increasingly deeper, we ask for the light of the Holy Spirit, who indicates to us the concrete steps to make.
In this way the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world, which is the theme of the current synod, appears in a serene and concrete light which makes us grow in hope and courage in the mercy of God. That mercy for which Pope Francis wanted to dedicate an extraordinary Jubilee. Let us thank the Holy Father for this choice of hope and entrust our work to the Holy Family of Nazareth.