Just days before the opening of the Synod on the family, Pope Francis this morning called his brother bishops to strengthen the alliance between Church and family, warning the prelates that if this covenant isn’t strengthened, “by our own fault,” the family will grow “irremediably distant” from God’s “joyful good news.”
At various times during his 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States that ends today, the Pontiff has emphasized the importance of the traditional family. Today’s address was among the clearest of his statements, as he noted the “unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now, unfortunately juridical – effects on family bonds.”
“Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This,” he said, “is no longer the case.”
But despite that, the Pope spoke of the family not as foremost “a cause for concern,” but “rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation.”
“The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation,” he said, “which God blessed on the last day with a family.”
The Holy Father spoke in his native Spanish, offering an analysis of the culture and what is causing young people to avoid forming families.
He suggested the analogy of the corner store of times past versus the supermarkets of today, and said that “the world seems to have become one of these great supermarkets […] There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be to follow the latest trend or activity. This is even true of religion. Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.'”
The resulting culture does great harm, the Pope said, suggesting that “at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness.”
There is a running after “likes” and “followers” he said, using the English terms, and a “limitless effort to feel recognized.”
Yet, should today’s young people be blamed for growing up in this society, he asked. “Should they hear their pastors saying that ‘it was all better back then.'”
Poking fun at himself, saying that a certain Argentinean is always speaking along these lines, the Pope chided, “No, I do not think that this is the way.”
“As shepherds following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, we are asked to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time,” he said.
He called the bishops to a “pastoral conversion,” and reminded that no one can be excluded from the joy of the Gospel.
Moreover, he continued, this culture is more than indifference to marriage and family, or pure selfishness.
The Pope suggested that instead, young people are victims of an unconscious fearfulness, that paralyzes them before the most “beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges.”
“As pastors,” he exhorted, “we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are! We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.”
There is need for a “holy parrhesia,” he said. “We have to make young people excited about taking this risk, because this is a risk for fecundity and life.”
Transforming the world
Echoing what he said in his final discourse in Cuba, Francis emphasized that the future of society depends on the family.
“A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news,’” he said, “in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”
And to proclaim this good news, the Successor of Peter said, bishops must accompany their flocks, offering guidance that is “not the result of talking but of shepherding.”
“Only one capable of standing ‘in the midst of’ the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment.”
“We might well ask whether in our pastoral ministry we are ready to ‘waste’ time with families,” he said. “Whether we are ready to be present to them, sharing their difficulties and joys.”
“Our ministry,” the Pope reflected, “needs to deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. I emphasize this: deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”
But if we succeed, the Pope said, “then even a Samaritan woman with five ‘non-husbands’ will discover that she is capable of giving witness. And for every rich young man who with sadness feels that he has to calmly keep considering the matter, an older publican will come down from the tree and give fourfold to the poor, to whom, before that moment, he had never even given a thought.”
“Brothers, may God give us the gift of this new proximity between the family and the Church. The family needs it. The Church needs it. And we pastors need it,” Francis declared. “The family is our ally, our window to the world, and the evidence of an irrevocable blessing of God destined for all the children who in every age are born into this difficult yet beautiful creation which God has asked us to serve!”
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