The Relatio Ante Disceptationem (report before discussion), highlighting key areas on which bishops from around the world should focus while gathered at the synod of bishops, recognizes that in the face of many contemporary difficulties, there is a need for mercy.
The Report Prior to Discussion presented this morning by Cardinal Peter Erdö, relator general, introduces the work of the synod, emphasizing the main points in relation to which the discussion of the assembly should develop.
A new element with this synod: the report of this Synod Assembly already includes the Synod Fathers’ written discourses, sent in advance to the Secretariat General of the Synod, with the aim of responding better to the collegial sense of the Assembly.
How Family Should Be Regarded
First and foremost, Cardinal Erdo’s report encourages the family to be regarded with hope and mercy, whose value and beauty, in spite of many difficulties, should be proclaimed.
Suggesting that many wrongly view life as a project, which can go “off course,” he counters it is, instead, a series of moments, in which “stable commitment appears formidable” for humanity, now rendered fragile by individualism.
But it is precisely here, faced with these “signs of the times,” that the Gospel of the family offers itself as a remedy, a “true medicine” that is to be proposed by “placing oneself in the corner of those who find it more difficult to recognize and live it.”
No “Doom” and “Surrender”
Since there exists “a clear and broadly shared heritage of faith” within the Church, there is not “doom and surrender” within it.
For example, ideological theories such as gender theory or the equality of homosexual unions with marriage between a man and a woman do not find consensus among the majority of Catholics, while marriage and the family are still largely understood as a “patrimony” for humanity, to be protected, promoted and defended. Certainly, among believers doctrine is often little known or practiced, but this does not mean that it is under discussion.
This is particularly relevant in relation to the indissolubility of marriage and its sacramental nature among baptized persons. The indissolubility of marriage is not called into question.
On the other hand, it is uncontested and for the greater part observed also in the pastoral practice of the Church with those whose marriages have failed and who seek a new beginning. Therefore, not doctrinal, but rather practical questions – inseparable from the truths of faith – are in discussion in this Synod, of an exquisitely pastoral nature.
Greater Formation Needed for the Engaged
This leads to the need for greater formation, above all for engaged couples, so that they are clearly aware both of the sacramental dignity of marriage, based on “uniqueness, fidelity and fruitfulness,” and of its nature as “in institution in society”.
Despite the family being threatened by “disrupting factors” such as divorce, abortion, violence, poverty, abuse, the “nightmare” of precariousness and the imbalance caused by migration, it remains a “school of humanity.” He explains that the family is “almost the last welcoming human reality in a world determined near exclusively by finance and technology” and suggests “a new culture of the family can be the starting point for a renewed human civilization.”
In Difficult Marital Circumstances:
Turning later to those who live in difficult marital conditions, Cardinal Erdo highlights that the Church is the “House of the Father.”
In relation to these people, a “renewed and adequate action of family pastoral” is necessary, in particular to enable them to feel loved by God and the ecclesial community, from a merciful perspective that does not, however, cancel out “truth and justice.”
“Consequently, mercy does not take away the commitments which arise from the demands of the marriage bond,” the report explains, adding, “They will continue to exist even when human love is weakened or has ceased. This means that, in the case of a (consummated) sacramental marriage, after a divorce, a second marriage recognized by the Church is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.”
With many diverse situations, such as divorces, civil marriages, cohabitation, Cardinal Erdo highlighted the need for “clear guidelines” so that the pastors of local communities may offer practical help to couples in difficulty, avoiding improvisation and “do it yourself” pastoral care.
Turning to divorced and civilly remarried persons, he highlights that it would be misleading to concentrate only on the question of receiving sacraments. Instead, it is important to look at the broader context of preparation for marriage and support, pastoral rather than bureaucratic, for couples, which is needed to help them understand the reasons for the failure of their first union and to identify the causes for nullity.
“As regards the divorced who are civilly married, many have said that the distinction needs to be made between the one who is guilty for the break-up of the marriage and the innocent party,” the report notes, adding, “The Church’s pastoral care should extend to each of them in a particular way.”
Cardinal Erdo also addresses the “divorce mentality,” that’s prevalence is not so surprising given how little people know about the sacrament of marriage.
The Gospel of Life
Finally, in the last part of the document, Cardinal Erdo focuses on the Gospel of life: existence is from conception to natural death.
“Openness to life is an essential part and intrinsic need of conjugal love, while nowadays, especially in the West, there are those who choose not to have children and those who would have them at any cost.”
In both cases, he notes, “the possibility of procreating a child is reduced to one’s ability of self-determination. … Welcoming life, assuming responsibility in procreating life and the care required are possible only if the family is not conceived as an isolated unit but an active part in a network of relationships.”
Stressing the importance of accompanying and supporting families in their everyday journey, he says, “Family tragedies are often the result of desperation, loneliness and a painful cry which no one knew how to discern”.
In order to overcome any “privatization of love” which empties the family of meaning and instead entrusts it to individual choice, it is therefore important to rediscover a sense of widespread and concrete solidarity,.
To achieve this, it is necessary to create, on an institutional level, conditions which are favorable to welcoming a child and for caring for the elderly as social assets to be protected and promoted.
Moreover, the Church should devote herself in a special way to education in love and sexuality, explaining its value and avoiding banalization and superficiality.
The challenge for this Synod, concludes Cardinal Erdo, is to try to bring to today’s world, while taking into account the complexity of society, “the attractiveness of the Christian message” about marriage and the family and giving answers that are true and full of charity”, because “the world needs Christ.”
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