Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.
Nearly three years ago, Pope Francis told bishops around the world that “never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family… been more urgent and necessary.”
No one can deny that the Holy Father was right. In our modern culture, family life is in a particular and urgent kind of crisis. Since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, the family has been relentlessly assaulted by a pervasive contraceptive mentality, by widespread divorce, by increasingly ubiquitous pornography, and by the radical redefinition of marriage itself. Families face challenges their ancestors rarely did, and they seem to be assaulted by the “culture of death” constantly.
In 2013, Pope Francis called for two meetings of bishops from around the world—an Extraordinary and Ordinary Synod—as forums for discussion and discernment about how the Church can call families to conversion and support them in the Christian life.
The pope began those conversations with a worldwide consultation. He asked every diocese in the world to reach out to lay people—to mothers and fathers, sons and daughters—and ask for their insights, their advice, their concerns, and their hopes. In 2014, the Church conducted another consultation. In the Diocese of Lincoln, hundreds of Catholics participated in these consultations. I was moved by the thoughtful reflections of our lay faithful and by the generosity with which they shared themselves and their points of view.
Last week, Pope Francis published Amoris Laetita, a letter to families around the world, encouraging them to experience the “joy of love,” and to live as active, faithful, and generous disciples of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis writes that, “the Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” He means that joyful families enliven the entire Church, generation after generation, by witnessing to the fidelity of Jesus Christ. I have experienced families witnessing to the joy of love. I have seen parents who generously support and guide and form their children. And I have seen children who reflect the best of their parents, and the truth of the Gospel. I know that those families—so present in our diocese—can give entire parishes and communities the gift of Christian joy.
Pope Francis’ letter recognizes that many families live without joy. Many families suffer, often in isolation, and often without hope. He reminds us of the basic Christian vocation to proclaim Christ to those without hope, and to “accompany” those who are suffering. Amoris Laetitia encourages the whole Church to support the vocation to family life, especially among families living without joy.
In a particular way, the pope calls bishops to teach, and encourage, and assist families in the path of Christian holiness. Pope Francis calls me to accompany families through they joys and the hardships of their lives.
Since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, I have received many questions about its content and meaning. Pope Francis also calls bishops to offer help to Catholics trying to understand and interpret the teachings of the Church.
In response to Amoris Laetitia, and to the spirit of consultation from which it began, I would like to hear from the families in the Diocese of Lincoln. I would like to hear from active Catholics in our diocese. I would also like to hear from Catholics who do not practice the faith and from non-Catholic families as well. I would like to hear your needs and questions, so that I can offer insight into the Gospel’s teachings. And I would like to hear your questions about the issues Pope Francis raises in Amoris Laetitia, so that I can initiate a conversation about them in the Diocese of Lincoln.
The Diocese of Lincoln has set up a page on its website: lincolndiocese.org/AL where each of you can offer your thoughts, your questions, and your concerns. I encourage you to share them, and to share this site with your friends and families.
I will not be able to respond personally to each participant, but as questions and comments are received, I will pray about the best way to respond to them with guidance from the Church’s teaching.
Amoris Laetitia says that “dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life.” I pray that your opinions and questions on the needs of the family in the life of the Church will allow us to continue a dialogue, speaking ‘heart to heart,’ as we seek guidance, wisdom, and truth from the heart of the Church, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ himself.