Here is a reflection on the synod of bishops on the family by the vice president of the US bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Houston.
The reflection was published Oct. 21, just after the Oct. 5-19 synod concluded.
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The Holy Father recently opened a first Synod on the Family, a kind of overture to the major Synod on the Family to be convened in October 2015.
Although the press has reported more on debate and polemics relative to a few issues that are a part of the discussions, particularly the question of the admission of some divorced and remarried persons after a period of penance to the reception of Holy Communion, the main thrust of the preparatory document for this mini-synod is about the importance of the family for the culture at large and for the Church herself.
From the beginnings of the Faith in the early Church and the texts of the New Testament through the teaching of the Faith in the Church and in the lived richness of family life — and its difficulties and challenges — throughout history, the great beauty and power of marriage and the family has shown its truth and needs to be celebrated now.
There is no doubt about the stresses which afflict our families and the Sacrament of Marriage in the last 50 years. Great grace and virtuous determination is required to sustain the commitments of the marriage covenant and the raising of children in our world. In more developed countries the issues are frequently reduced to a distorted sense of personal freedom and an attitude of “it’s all about me.”
In other countries the sheer economic poverty and exploitation of persons are other factors that destabilize marriage and family life. Also, despite the increase in “information” through the social media, there has been a great lack in the formation of people in the Faith about the content and meaning of the Sacrament of Marriage and the Family. The consultations we did this past year in our own Archdiocese in response to a survey sent by the Vatican verified that many of the issues and problems identified about stresses on the family do indeed occur here; this local Church is a mini United Nations and we all experience here in miniature the problems throughout the world. But that is not the whole story.
The preparatory document of the present mini-synod goes to great lengths to show the great accomplishments of the family today and the deep theological continuities of the Sacrament of Marriage and family life amidst the sometimes bewildering changes in the history of the Faith in these last 2,000 years.
There are many strong families today who live positively and also fight against the tide of distortions of marriage and family life quite vigorously. I must salute them and thank them for the great hope they bring to the Church and the world.
They are a genuine leaven. It takes great patience and insight to see the good fruit they are bearing for the life of our Faith.
Such families are also quiet models for those couples and families who are experiencing or have experienced great upheavals in their marriages and families. If a loving and stable family can bring consolation and encouragement to just one other family the effect on the Church and the world is tremendous. May I add that this is true of children and young people as well as true of adults and spouses.
The Letter to the Ephesians is an inspired text of Scripture that already recognized the nuptial or married love between man and woman as “the great mystery,” that is, the human reality that makes present in the world the love of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). In the treatment on family life that follows St. Paul offers a beautiful description of the meaning of the person and the spouse as a gift to the other.
He calls it self-sacrificing love. It is not purely an ideal, it is a reality. Given (to us) the limiting circumstances of Greek Roman family arrangements of the time, it is still remarkable to hear the words of mutual respect and sacrifice as the core of marriage and the raising of a family uttered by St. Paul so early in the days of Christianity, when the Faith seemed so small and the numbers of Christians so minimal.
What a powerful resource and basis his understanding of “mystery” and “Sacrament” was to become in the unpacking of the Faith for us, as we confront anew in each age incredible challenges that appear to sap the strength or evaporate any substantial meaning to marriage.
The intimate communion of life and love willed by our Creator for marriage and family is never easy and will most probably always be subject to various assaults, ridicule and misleading interpretations. But good families themselves, however small or great their numbers, give us a greater glimpse of God’s creative wisdom, the mercy and love of Christ Jesus, and the unmistakable presence of the Holy Spirit in our families.
Pope Francis has invited the whole Church to spend these 2 years in prayer and contemplation, in discussion and action, on the meaning of the family. He asks us to engage in this process without rancor and with a spirit of listening to one another. This assists the teaching office of the Church in its deliberations about recommendations for the up building of family life within the Church; that will have a genuine effect on the world.
Beyond the process of deliberation, what really counts is our own seeking of God’s grace and good human advice so as to live the rich mystery of marriage and the family. It is my hope that this will be the norm and practice of this Archdiocese in the days ahead.
I recently (October 4) had the privilege as vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of speaking with the Pope along with the president of our conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. At the end of our 45 minute discussion, the Holy Father told us to please ask the people of our country to pray for him since the Office of Peter is upheld by the prayers of all the faithful. Amen! I ask you to pray daily for our Holy Father!
Published by the Texas Catholic Conference: