The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World

The 14th Ordinary Synod of Bishops wrapped up its work on Saturday, 24 October. Aside from the 279 prelates and priests, 17 married couples and 17 individuals (13 women) were invited, as well as 90 experts, contributors, and delegates from other Christian churches.

Established on 15 September 1965 by Bl Paul VI, the Synod serves as a consultative body that suggests what pastoral direction to take. The resulting report of the Synod called the Relatio Synodi is presented to the Holy Father who decides what to do, taking the report into account. Usually, the Pontiff releases a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.

The Relatio Synodi submitted to the Holy Father contained 94 points. Most points were almost unanimously approved, with the exception of three which barely passed: paragraphs 84, 85 and 86. These points dealt with the case of the divorced and remarried.

In both opening and closing sessions, Pope Francis spoke about the love between man and woman, and the unity and indissolubility of marriage. In his closing remarks, the Holy Father also quoted Bl Paul VI, St John Paul II, and Benedict XVI to emphasize continuity in Church teaching. At the end of this discourse, the Pontiff’s text carried a footnote. Curiously enough, that footnote seems to point out how Francis wishes to steer the Church. The Holy Father, using the acronym FAMIGLIA (Italian for “family”), spelled out those points as follows:

Forming new generations to experience love seriously, not as an individualistic search for a pleasure then to be discarded, and to believe once again in true, fruitful and lasting love as the sole way of emerging from ourselves and being open to others, leaving loneliness behind, living according to God’s will, finding fulfilment, realizing that marriage is ‘an experience which reveals God’s love, defending the sacredness of life, every life, defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously’ (Homily, Synod Opening Mass) and, furthermore, enhancing marriage preparation as a means of providing a deeper understanding of the Christian meaning of the sacrament of Matrimony;

Approaching others, since a Church closed in on herself is a dead Church, while a Church which does leave her own precincts behind in order to seek, embrace and lead others to Christ is a Church which betrays her very mission and calling;

Manifesting and bringing God’s mercy to families in need; to the abandoned, to the neglected elderly, to children pained by the separation of their parents, to poor families struggling to survive, to sinners knocking on our doors and those who are far away, to the differently able, to all those hurting in soul and body, and to couples torn by grief, sickness, death or persecution;

Illuminating consciences often assailed by harmful and subtle dynamics which even attempt to replace God the Creator, dynamics which must be unmasked and resisted in full respect for the dignity of each person; Gaining and humbly rebuilding trust in the Church, which has been gravely weakened as a result of the conduct and sins of her children – sadly, the counter-witness of scandals committed in the Church by some clerics have damaged her credibility and obscured the brightness of her saving message;

Labouring intensely to sustain and encourage those many strong and faithful families which, in the midst of their daily struggles, continue to give a great witness of fidelity to the Church’s teachings and the Lord’s commandments;

Inventing renewed programmes of pastoral care for the family based on the Gospel and respectful of cultural differences, pastoral care which is capable of communicating the Good News in an attractive and positive manner and helping banish from young hearts the fear of making definitive commitments, pastoral care which is particularly attentive to children, who are the real victims of broken families, pastoral care which is innovative and provides a suitable preparation for the sacrament of Matrimony, rather than so many programmes which seem more of a formality than training for a lifelong commitment;

Aiming to love unconditionally all families, particularly those experiencing difficulties, since no family should feel alone or excluded from the Church’s loving embrace, and the real scandal is a fear of love and of showing that love concretely.”

Words redolent of the prophet: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice” (Ezekiel 34: 15-16).

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