On October 2014, bishops from different parts of the world gathered for an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis last October 8, 2013 to discuss topics related to the family and evangelization. Subsequent communications announced that the Extraordinary General Assembly would be followed by an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on October 2015, on the same topics. A month previous to this 2015 Synod of bishops, the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family will host the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia where tens of thousands of people from across the globe are expected to gather with Pope Francis.
A few months before these events, a new threat to the family came out as the US Supreme Court redefined marriage across the United States by approving and recognizing homosexual unions, or “same-sex marriage” as many call it, under the 14th amendment of the US constitution, as a constitutional right.
After another crisis attacking marriage and family one might ask: how will the synod of bishops and this meeting of families on September address the attacks on marriage and family of this era? How should we Catholics face these challenges at the moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way deform it?
The upcoming Synod of Bishops and the World Meeting of Families should lift our gaze up because, yes, we can still hope for families. The Church, aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the People of God ((John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 3.)).
As a response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision on marriage, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), encouraged Catholics to move forward with faith, hope and love. These words should illuminate the path as we walk toward this year’s two ecclesial events focused on family.
Moving forward with faith
Despite the disappointing decision of the Supreme Court to change what marriage is, we Catholics should be firm on holding faith in the unchanging truth about marriage: a covenant “by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life [that] is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” ((Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601.)). Marriage comes from the loving hand of God, who fashioned both male and female in the divine image (see Gen 1:27). This truth is rooted in the unchangeable nature of the human person enlightened by the person of Christ, the perfect man ((See Gaudium et spes 22.)), and confirmed by divine revelation. Marriage between one man and one woman is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the basic unit of the society. It is truly a school of deeper humanity. Therefore, it is important to understand what marriage means in order to understand what family is and vice versa. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Familiaris Consortio, reminds us that the role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are ((John Paul II, op. cit, 17)). This dignity and responsibility of the family starts in accepting what marriage really is – a bond between a man and a woman ordered towards procreation.
[pullquote]Aware of this, the Church proclaims tirelessly and with profound conviction the “Gospel of the family”: that marriage cannot only be considered as a cultural tradition or a social obligation but rather a vocation coming from the Divine. It is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God ((Ibid, 13.)). Marriage has always been and will always be as God defines it. When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and the basic institution of the human community is weakened.[/pullquote]
Witnesses of hope
What can we hope for families after all these threats and challenges? To what hope are we called to be witnesses? We are called to be witnesses of the hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good ((Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, http://usccb.org/news/2015/15-103.cfm)). While it is true that marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will, it is also true that there are several marriages that strive to let the “Gospel of the family” shine in them to be witnesses of lives faithful to the sacrament of matrimony.
It is a gift of God that for this coming Synod of Bishops the Church will elevate to sainthood the couple Bl. Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of the great St. Therese of the Child Jesus, doctor of the Church and patron saint of the missions. The canonization of this blessed couple gives us a true hope that marriage between a man and a woman is an authentic path to holiness and that it is still valid today. This hope should propel us forward, trusting that the mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity of faithful married couples like Bl. Louis and Zelie may nurture those that are yet to mature and care for those who wish to neglect the sanctity in marriage.
Persevering in love
As we face greater pressure to silence our faith, we are called to persevere in love. Christian love, in search for the common good seeks to respect freedom. But nowadays, there is a corruption of the idea of freedom, and consequently misconception of love. Freedom sought in legalizing “same-sex marriage” is conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, or for one’s own selfish well-being. Love and freedom is manifested in authentic human relationships.
[pullquote]Going back to the document, Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II reminds us once more that God is love and in creating the human race in His own image and keeping it in existence, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation of love and communion ((John Paul II, op. cit, 11)). We are called to testify not only the faith and the hope of the Gospel but also of the love that God has established in every man’s heart. The love between husband and wife is the foundation and soul of the community, of marriage, and of the family.[/pullquote]
The love that we are called to live among the family is also an invitation to reconciliation, to love all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions ((Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, op. cit.)). Our hope rooted in faith must be a joyful testimony of the true “Gospel of the family” founded in love. To live love means to proclaim through words and deeds, to say no to sin, to correct what is wrong and to forgive as we are forgiven.
The upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family and the World Meeting of Families are signs of the time that show us the enduring importance of the family – yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Like other sacraments, matrimony is a memorial of the great works of God, bearing witness to them before a married couple – one man and one woman – and their children. While the “attacks” on the Church and on the family may continue, we must continue to shape our lives according to the truth, move forward with faith, hope and love, for these three persist; but the greatest of them all is love ((1 Cor 13:13)). And this love is our mission: the family fully alive ((Theme of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.)).
© 2015 – Nelson Jose Villamor para el Centro de Estudios Católicos – CEC