During this morning’s General Congregation the various small groups presented to the Synod Fathers the result of their reflections on the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris.
Almost all the groups agreed on the need for the final document of the Synod to use the language of biblical theology and, as affirmed by the French group B, to be clear and simple, avoiding ambiguity and misunderstandings that may impair understanding of the mission and the vocation of the family in the Church and in the world. It will be necessary to take into account the fragility and the suffering of the family, without overstating the current situation, as these problems have always existed. The emphasis on this dimension leads the group to stress that the Church accompanies all her children, and must proclaim the Gospel and its call to conversion.
The English group B comments that the final document should illustrate how divine pedagogy for marriage and the family has accompanied the entire history of salvation and continues right until our day. “We propose … [beginning] with Genesis, which already provide a definition of marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman, so total and intimate that because of it a man must leave his father and mother in order to be united with his wife. This account of the creation of marriage presents also the three basic characteristics of marriage, as it was in the beginning – monogamy, permanence, and equality of the sexes. … But the divine pedagogy of salvation history concerning marriage and the family reached its climax with the Son of God’s entry in human history”. The group acknowledges that “It is only through reflection on the divine pedagogy that we will understand our ministry as mirroring God’s patience and mercy. The divine plan continues even in our time. It is the divine pedagogy which provides content and tone for the teaching of the Church”. With regard to the difficult situations to be examined in the third part, the group emphasises that “we should always remember that God never gives up on his mercy. It is mercy which reveals God’s true face. God’s mercy reaches out to all of us, especially to those who suffer, those who are weak, and those who fail”.
The French group, whose rapporteur is Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille, France, also speaks about divine pedagogy, and proposes “emphasising the many encounters between Jesus and families” throughout the Gospels, reaffirming that “divine pedagogy acts in all biblical revelation and must continue to be experienced by the Church, following families in their joys and sorrows”. Another observation of this group, that resonates widely, is that the Relatio should express a broader conceptual unity and not speak about indissolubility as if it were its only concern. “Fidelity and indissolubility should be referred to as a gift and call, rather than in the legal terms of duty; they should not be perceived as superimposed on commitment, but rather as deeply integrated into the language of love and within its theological dimension. Marriage should be considered as a call to love and communion”.
The Spanish group recommends that emphasis be placed on gradualness and processuality in understanding the process by which God communicates the grace of the Covenant, educating by taking into account each person, progressively, in their community, correcting, accompanying and forgiving. As part of divine pedagogy, processuality is also present in Tradition and in the Aparecida document, notes the rapporteur Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan. “There are expressions that render marriage and the family absolute, while Jesus relativises them in the Kingdom of God. There are encounters between Jesus and specific persons in specific contexts, but it emphasis should be given to those that occur in the context of the family: Lazarus and his family, Peter and his famiyl … Jesus always opens doors. God’s faithfulness is expressed in the sacrament of marriage, but in a human way: ‘quidquid recipitur, ad modum recipientis recipitur’. The indissoluble fidelity of marriage is a mystery that includes fragility. We have a theology of the family and the marriage, but more closely linked to morality. The Magisterium should present the Gospel of the family in an organic and integrated from. Following the thesis of the ‘semina Verbi’, the many positive values in other types of families cannot be overlooked”.
Several groups attribute great importance to the preparation of young couples for marriage and the need to support them on their journey. While the French group B notes a significant reduction in marriages in European capitals, the Latin American Cardinal Lacunza, who clarifies that “when talking about young people and marriage, it is done from the perspective of fear, which is not enough, it is an anthropological question: they live in the moment, ‘for ever’ does not fit in with their way of thinking”. Perhaps we could speak about informality: perhaps we have surrounded marriage with so many formalities that do not fit into the minds of young people who often identify formality with hypocrisy. Moreover, to say that they are afraid or do not dare would contradict the experience of many young people who accept the risk of volunteer work or risk for political or other struggles”.
The French group B also reports that the members have voted unanimously in favour of the proposal that “the proclamation of the Gospel of the family today demands a magisterial intervention to simplify and render more coherent the current canonical theological doctrine on marriage”, and that it must support the definition of the family “as a subject of pastoral action”.
In this regard, the French group, whose rapporteur is Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Canada, notes that “shared pastoral experiences lead us to see that in the Church, speaking about families means speaking about a human reality that is inscribed in time and in space. … Every famliy has its genealogy that entrenches it in a history and a culture. … This complexity is the place and the occasion for the manifestation of the mystery and the mercy of God. We wish to express our hope that the Synod will open up a period of patient seeking by theologians and pastors with the intention of establishing the correct directions for family pastoral ministry, translating the horizon of the family to a horizon of communion. We are less in need of adaptations of universal discipline than a solid basis for reflection and pastoral commitment”.
The concept of family as mission is also recurrent. The Italian group C speaks about the “evangelising value of marriage and the family” and calls for a “new style of closeness to families on the part of the Church, a contagious closeness, a strong and demanding tenderness”. The members insist that “the Christian community should be a family of families, measuring its pastoral action according to the style of the family and transmitting in this way a humanising force to the life of the world, to overcome the tendency towards individualism”.
“The Synod Fathers have found it very useful to refer to Pope Francis’ catechesis on the need to harmonise an appreciation of the sacramentality of marriage and attention to its creaturely dimension”, write the members of the Italian group A, who also call for the text of the Instrumentum Laboris to be completed with the addition of the spiritual and pneumatological dimension, open to the sensibility of the Eastern tradition. Translated into a more concrete proposal, this makes more explicit the primacy of grace, the recognition of sin and the need to inspire conversion. Grace does not act only at the time of the celebration of the sacrament but rather throughout life, as it is a permanent sacrament like the Eucharist”.
Cardinal Coleridge, of the English group C, comments on “the need to explore further the possibility of couples who are civilly married or cohabiting beginning a journey towards sacramental marriage and being encouraged and accompanied on that journey”, and in the English group D, a number of bishops emphasised that the document should explore further the role of women, recalling that many suffer abuse by their husbands. “We need to be realistic about marital problems rather than simply encouraging people to stay together”, the text affirms. In the same group, another prelate remarks that “exemplary families are sometimes difficult for people in painful circumstances to see as positive”. Some bishops suggest that the text present the canonical reasons for separation of spouses and reasons for seeking an annulment.
Another common concept is the vocation to family life and family spirituality, and therefore the English group A, whose rapporteur is Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, suggests a consideration of best practices, “which would show families how to more fully and faithfully live out their vocation”. These would include receiving the Word of God in the family, family catechesis and the explicit encouragement of the use of para-liturgical prayers and rituals within the family setting.
Cardinal Coleridge’s group also suggests that the final document present a series of clear initiatives or strategies to help families and to support those in difficulty, in harmony with the essentially practical nature of this second Synod on the family.
The English group A notes that “in the past, the Holy Father often used the final approved texts as a basis for an Apostolic Exhortation and we spoke of the fruitfulness of this approach. However, we recognise the limitations of a document that will be approved at the conclusion of this Synod. Though every effort should be made to provide for streamlined, attractive language, a primary concern was the clarity of well-grounded explanations of Church teaching on marriage and the family”.
Again considering the final document, the Spanish group B considers the approach of the Synod. “The doctrine is known”, its members write, “but the needs of reality and the new emphases of theological reflection must be taken into account in order to truly make a meaningful contribution. More explicit reference is suggested to texts from both the Old and New Testaments (God’s nuptial love for His people), as well as the rich post-conciliar Magisterium on the family”.
The Italian group B comments on the need for a magisterial document: “given that the Synod is not able to respond to the need to reorder in a complete and exhaustive document the complex and diversified doctrine on marriage and the family, it is necessary, on the one hand, to require a magisterial document that responds to this need, and on the other, to consider the pastoral aspects relevant to the issue. In this respect, the Fathers express the need to consider the mission specific to pastoral mediation in the transmission of doctrine”.