As Archbishop Bruno Forte explained, "addressing the challenges of contemporary family life "is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, which have in any case been clarified by the Magisterium recently . the invitation deriving from this for all the Church is to listen to the problems and expectations of many families today, manifesting her closeness and credibly proposing God\'s mercy and the beauty of responding to His call".
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - On November 5, 2013, a press Conference was held in the Press Office of the Holy See. Three representatives chosen by the Pope to lead the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled to be held from October 5- 19, 2014, presented preparatory documents. They included a textual summary of the teaching of the Church on marriage and the family.
They also included a questionnaire/assessment tool which caused quite a stir in some Media reports. It is being reported as a survey on the modern family - which it is - but with an implication in many Press reports that it is somehow intended to change the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and the family. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Because this Extraordinary Synod is specifically tasked with addressing the theme "The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization", the preparation requires knowledge of the myriad of challenges facing the Church in her mission of defending marriage and the family, sharing the Good news on Marriage and the Family with the contemporary age, and caring for those who need the healing and saving love of God to meet them in the struggles they face. This is an age which has veered away from the path of freedom and flourishing found in marriage and the family as instituted by God. This is a new missionary age.
The Church exists to evangelize, lead men and women to Jesus Christ and foster holiness and conversion of life. The Church is called to lead men and women to true freedom, elevate human culture. The Church provides pastoral care and the sacraments to the members of the Body of Christ. She does this in the midst of the real world which God still loves. One of the Bishops, Lorenzo Baldisseri, noted, "It is evident that the social and spiritual crisis of today's world has an impact on family life and creates a situation of genuine pastoral urgency, which justifies the convocation of an Extraordinary General Assembly."
The questions and requests for information from the Church throughout the world is not some novel notion. Rather, it is an assessment tool. They are regularly used in Church work. It poses questions which will provide a backdrop for the participants to discern a proper pastoral plan for the Church as she continues in her universal mission as it is applied to marriage and the family. The Church is using the resources of the age to enable the Synod Fathers to address the real challenges the Church faces by having the information which will help in their deliberations, prayer and decisions.
NEWS FLASH: The Vatican Extraordinary Synod on the Family Will Reaffirm Church Teaching on Marriage and the Family. The Synod is not going to change unchangeable teaching. Rather, it seeks to find the most effective ways to offer this wonderful teaching afresh as the path to recovery, healing and freedom for the contemporary age which desperately needs to hear it. It will also enable the Synod Fathers to plan for and marshal the resources needed to do what the Church does, continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
As Archbishop Bruno Forte explained, "addressing the challenges of contemporary family life "is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, which have in any case been clarified by the Magisterium recently . the invitation deriving from this for all the Church is to listen to the problems and expectations of many families today, manifesting her closeness and credibly proposing God's mercy and the beauty of responding to His call".
Yet, a secular Press, understandably intrigued and encouraged by the pastoral approach of Pope Francis, is once again listening to voices, both outside and within the Church, which seek to paint this Synod as some vehicle for changing the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning marriage and the family. Not only is the speculation wrong; it fails to understand that the teaching of the Catholic Church on the Nature of Marriage - and the family and society founded upon it - is revealed by the Natural Moral Law and confirmed and completed by Revelation. It cannot be changed because it is objectively true.
Rather than being some kind of throwback to past, the Catholic Church boldly proclaims that her teaching on the dignity of marriage - and the family and society founded upon it - is the path to true and authentic progress, for every nation and every culture.
The questions are not some veiled effort to ascertain whether these teachings need to be "updated" by popular consensus. Rather, they will help the Church, as mother and teacher, to assess the needs of her global flock. Also, to evaluate how she can most effectively proclaim her saving and liberating message to a contemporary age in need of the message of true liberation which she offers in the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In addition, they will help the Synod fathers evaluate the best approach to engaging in the New Evangelization of the Faithful on the truth about marriage and the family. The purpose is to discern the resources necessary to re-catechize the faithful so that they can be better equipped to live the Christian life, as expressed with its full beauty within the domestic church of the Christian family, in a way which leads to freedom and flourishing and holds out a life preserver to an age lost in a sea of ideologies which lead to despair.
If the reporters who quickly issued some of the stories which are filled with inane quotes from dissident groups within the Catholic fold such as Dignity USA would have just taken the time to read the full text of the Preparatory document released at the Press Conference, they would have quickly seen that the teaching of the Church is not up for grabs.
So, I set forth below some excerpts from the document which was released to the members of the press. First, I offer an excerpt from the beginning of the question section:
The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod, whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral challenges facing the family today.
1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church's Magisterium
a) Describe how the Catholic Church's teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church's teaching on family life?
b) In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?
c) How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?
d) To what extent - and what aspects in particular - is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church's teaching on the family?
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practising Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?...
Next, I offer an excerpt from the text itself below to demonstrate the orthodox and clear affirmation of the teaching of the Catholic Church on Marriage and the Family:
The Plan of God, Creator and Redeemer
The beauty of the biblical message on the family has its roots in the creation of man and woman, both made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:24-31; 2:4-25). Bound together by an indissoluble sacramental bond, those who are married experience the beauty of love, fatherhood, motherhood, and the supreme dignity of participating in this way in the creative work of God.
In the gift of the fruit of their union, they assume the responsibility of raising and educating other persons for the future of humankind. Through procreation, man and woman fulfil in faith the vocation of being God's collaborators in the protection of creation and the growth of the human family.
Blessed Pope John Paul II commented on this aspect in Familiaris consortio: "God created man in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26, 27): calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love. God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion (Gaudium et spes, 12). Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being"(FC, 11).
The plan of God the creator, which was disrupted by original sin (cf. Gen 3:1-24), has revealed itself throughout history in the events of the chosen people up to the fullness of time, when, with the incarnation of the Son of God, not only was the divine will for salvation confirmed, but also the redemption offering the grace to follow this same will.
The Son of God, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) in the womb of the Virgin Mother, lived and grew up in the family of Nazareth and participated at the wedding at Cana, where he added importance to the festivities with the first of his "signs" (cf. Jn 2:1-11). In joy, he welcomed his reception in the families of his disciples (cf. Mk 1:29-31; 2:13-17) and consoled the bereaved family of his friends in Bethany (cf. Lk 10:38- 42; Jn 11:1-44 ).
Jesus Christ restored the beauty of matrimony, proposing once again the one plan of God which was abandoned because of the hardness of the human heart, even within the tradition of the people of Israel (cf. Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mk 10:1-12; Lk 16:18). Returning to the beginning, Jesus taught the unity and faithfulness of the husband and wife, refuting the practice of repudiation and adultery.
Precisely through the extraordinary beauty of human love - already celebrated in a heightened manner inspired by the Song of Songs, and the bond of marriage called for and defended by the prophets like Hosea (cf. Hosea 1:2, 3.3) and Malachi (cf. Mal 2:13-16) - , Jesus affirmed the original dignity of the married love of man and woman.
The Church's Teaching on the Family
Even in the early Christian community the family appeared as the "domestic church" (cf. CCC, 1655): In the so-called "family canons" of the Apostolic letters of the New Testament, the great family of the ancient world is identified as the place of a profound solidarity between husbands and wives, between parents and children, and between the wealthy and the poor (cf. Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 2:8-15; Titus 2:1-10; 1 Pt 2:13-3:7; cf. also the Letter to Philemon). In particular, the Letter to the Ephesians recognized the nuptial love between man and woman as "the great mystery", making present in the world the love of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32 ).
.The Catechism of the Catholic Church gathers together the fundamental aspects of this teaching: "The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament [cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et spes, 48; Code of Canon Law, 1055, 1]"(CCC 1660).
The doctrine presented in the Catechism touches on both theological principles and moral behaviours, developed under two separate headings: The Sacrament of Matrimony (nos. 1601-1658) and The Sixth Commandment (nos. 2331-2391). An attentive reading of these sections of the Catechism provides an updated understanding of the doctrine of faith, which supports the Church's work in the face of modern-day challenges.
The Church's pastoral ministry finds inspiration in the truth of marriage viewed as part of the plan of God, who created man and woman and, in the fullness of time, revealed in Jesus the completeness of spousal love elevated to the level of sacrament. Christian marriage founded on consensus is also endowed with its own effects such as the goods and duties of the spouses. At the same time, marriage is not immune from the effects of sin (cf. Gen 3:1-24), which can cause deep wounds and even abuses to the dignity of the sacrament.
The recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen fidei, speaks of the family in the context of a reflection on how faith reveals "just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst" (LF, 50). "The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God's own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator's goodness, wisdom and loving plan.
"Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love" (LF, 52). "Faith is no refuge for the faint-hearted, 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).
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