Defending and Evangelizing the Family in the Modern World

Participant in Vatican Gathering Speaks on Threats to the Family and Upcoming Synod

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Saint Peter’s Square was filled with children and their parents over the weekend to celebrate the conclusion of this year’s plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which explored the theme: “Family: Live the Joy of Faith”

Participants in this year’s gathering, which coinicided with the family event for the Year of Faith, received a special task from Pope Francis: to create a document that will be of service to the bishops during next year’s synod on marriage and the family.

The Synod, which will examine the theme, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of the Evangelization” will take place 5-18 October, 2014.

This year’s assembly also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights of the Family, a document presented to the Holy See on 22 October, 1983.

One of the English-speaking participants in this year’s plenary assembly was Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

In an interview with ZENIT, he addressed the aim of the assembly, as well as some of the threats to the family in today’s culture.

ZENIT: What was the aim of this assembly, in addition to the task of assembling a document for the upcoming synod?

O’Donnell: The other focal point, which was the original topic of concern, was the Charter rights of the family. This was a document that the Pontifical Council issued some years ago, and it did have an impact. Given the challenges that we’re seeing today, however, to marriage, and to family… [we ought to be] really looking at how we can get this document, effectively, in the hands of governments and leadership so they recognize that the State cannot encroach in these areas: marriage and the family existed prior to the State. In fact, the nation, as Leo XIII used to say, is actually made up of families. Family is the basic, fundamental community, and therefore has rights that no State can take away.

ZENIT: Could you speak about some of the threats against the family, especially in today’s world?

O’Donnell: There are certain challenges that have really happened in our modern world where there are so many attacks upon marriage. [One example is] no fault divorce. So many countries in the modern, affluent West have no fault divorce, and no longer see divorce as a problem. Yet, there seems to be more and more statistical data that shows children are severely damaged by divorce. Many times these studies are done by people who did not intend that to be the outcome, but by looking at the impact, they see that children have been horribly devastated by this. [From these studies, it also] seems very clear that a child needs a mother and a father.

We have also downgraded the male role. We have this situation now where women are using artificial insemination and conceiving a child. A lot of these children, as they come of age, really are angry, and are not doing well emotionally… You have a woman, who wants to conceive a child, but she wants to have a biological relationship with her child, and yet the child is denied a biological relationship with the father, because you can’t look up and find out who your dad is. There’s this inner contradiction that I think has caused a lot of confusion.

A lot of these types of questions and challenges that we’re finding in Europe and the United States are things that need to be looked at, [such as] the importance of the role of a father. We’re finding this even sociologically, with the increase of violent crimes that we’re seeing, the number of young men in our prisons, and the incredibly high percentage of those who had no father in the home. We’re finding now that when we don’t follow God’s plan, given in creation, there’s a price to pay.

Even more importantly, the Church’ witness to the beauty of the sacrament, and Christ’s love for the Church, are symbolized in this marriage. This is why the Church has to maintain the indissolubility of marriage, and why we cannot say divorce is okay.

ZENIT: During the assembly, were there any concrete solutions proposed?

O’Donnell: [For one thing,] Humanae Vitae has been completely neglected, and there does not seem to be much of a pastoral plan to implement that. But when you implement the unitive and procreative aspect of marriage, you cause a revolution, and we’re seeing the fruit of that revolution. [Often times it was thought that] we can separate the procreative from the unitive, but when you lose the procreative dimension, the unitive begins to crumble too. People are turned into objects. Women can be turned into objects: men can be turned into objects. And this union becomes broken. I think a deep catechesis of the Church’s teaching, particularly as it’s found in Humanae Vitae, will be very important.

We also need to recogne that we’re in a new pastoral situation. There needs to be not only pre-Cana, but possibly something after marriage, when problems begin to emerge: another session on how to live together, how to work out differences, how to communicate, on a basic psychological level.

Even more importantly: we often say we need to catechize couples, but in many instances, the problem is not catechesis. The problem is evangelization. These people don’t know Jesus. They do not have a relationship with Christ at all. So if you start giving catechesis, it doesn’t mean anything to [them].

There needs to be a more radical approach to bring Christ and his saving truth, and his love, to people a lot earlier in life, emphasizing that Christianity is not just a moral code. It’s about a relationship with a person. The moral code only makes sense within the context of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I think this is one of the insights that Pope Francis has – of course, Benedict said something similar, as did John Paul II – but I think this is something we need to bring back to the fore. 

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Ann Schneible

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