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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

Synod on the Family: A Word of Hope

Fri, 10 Oct 2014 12:45:00 +0000 Posted in

At the Synod on the family, the first great lecture to position of Cardinal Peter Erdo, General Rapporteur (October 6, 2014), offered orientations on the basis of the work done so far. These orientations are full of light and hope.

The tone of his intervention was marked by two points that he emphasized at the beginning. First of all, echoing the exhortation of Pope Francis, Cardinal Erdo said: "The fundamental goal of the proposal about the family must be"the joy of the Gospel". And, according to the Second Vatican Council, joy is linked to hope and mercy (cf. GS 1; see also Evangelii gaudium, 119, 98). Secondly, the affirmation that "today's family is not only the object of evangelization, but also the primary subject in the advertisement of the good news of Christ to the world"; for "even the most serious family problems must be seen as a 'sign of the times' to be discerned in the light of the Gospel, to be read with the eyes and heart of Christ".

Following the order of the document of work (Instrumentum laboris), the Hungarian Cardinal traced some brushstrokes on the cultural context of our days: "We live in a culture of the audiovisual, of feelings, of emotional experiences, of symbols". Together with this, he highlights the prevailing strong individualism, which leads to perceive life from the "feeling good" or "being good" oneself; before this supreme value of the momentary welfare, commitments and social relationships appear as obstacles. In the same perspective, the rejection of institutions is understood, because they are associated with formalisms, obligations and bureaucracy.

In this status, "we need the strength of the Holy Spirit to find the ways of truth in charity, the answers that express justice and at the same time mercy, because they are inseparable". Certainly - continues the Cardinal Rapporteur - we must not forget the obligations that derive from marriage, "but we must see them as demands of the gift, which the gift itself makes possible". As Francis says, what should concern us most in a holy way is that so many Christians live far from Jesus Christ and the Church and without meaning for their lives (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The Gospel is joyful news that must be presented as light and remedy. With this goal, "without diminishing the truth, it is necessary to propose it, putting ourselves in the place of those who find it more difficult to recognize it as such and to live it". And for this we need prayer.

Precisely because of the individualistic environment that surrounds us, the family must present itself as"an authentic school of humanity, sociability, ecclesiality and holiness". As the document of work notes, many young people are experiencing a new desire for the family. As the document speaker points out, "the family is almost the last welcoming human reality in a world determined almost exclusively by finance and technology".

The challenge of the family educational calls for "firmness and clarity" - he continues - especially in accompanying the engaged couple "towards a clear awareness of what marriage is in the Creator's plan, as a covenant that always has sacramental dignity among the baptized"; and which involves the family mission statement to transmit the faith and bear witness to it before others.

In the face of the internal and external difficulties that the family is going through, the Church feels the urgency of evangelizing the family through a advertisement that recovers with simplicity what is essential: the value of personal relationships, sensitivity towards the poorest, the ability to use responsibly the means of communication and new technologies, respecting the dignity of persons, especially the weakest and most defenseless, who pay the highest price of loneliness and marginalization.

In the face of difficult pastoral situations, we are told that it is urgent "to allow these people to heal their wounds, to be healed and to walk again together with the whole ecclesial community". Besides underlining the value of the indissolubility of marriage, founded on the original project of the Creator, and the sacramental dignity it has among the baptized (as a sign of the love between Christ and the Church), it is "necessary to reflect on the best way to accompany people who find themselves in such situations, so that they do not feel excluded from the life of the Church".

"Finally," Cardinal Erdo proposes, "it is necessary to identify suitable forms and languages to announce that all are and continue to be children, loved by God the Father and by the mother Church.

To this purpose it is worth mentioning some of the communications of the Synod Fathers who wondered, for example, to what extent expressions that are used to describe certain behaviors, such as "contraceptive mentality" or "intrinsic disorder", are the best ones to start with in the attempt to fraternally attract these people, wounded by life and by their own conduct; for these words - although in themselves they express nothing but a sad reality - can be interpreted or heard as more or less personal attacks, or disqualifying approaches, since they emphasize the negative without appreciating the pain that these positions may entail.

The purpose of the Synod - the Pope has repeatedly stressed this - is not to change doctrine but to promote mercy, since the Church is "the place of gratuitous mercy, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel"(Evangelii Gaudium, 114). framework And the Cardinal notes that mercy is important for a proper interpretation of how ecclesial action should be: "Naturally (mercy) does not eliminate truth and does not relativize it, but leads to a correct interpretation of it in the hierarchy of truths (cf. Unitatis redintegratio 11, Evangelii gaudium, 36-37). Nor does it eliminate the demand for justice".

Someone could answer this: above all, it is necessary to make them understand the true values of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. The problem is that, for various reasons (cultural, moral, etc.) many people do not grasp these values or are incapable of grasping them. It is precisely here that the challenge we face today arises: how to show the beauty -which is associated with truth and goodness- of the Christian project of the family.

 Today we see that many marriages are not valid because they have excluded indissolubility or openness to children, and in this way they have also excluded faith and the will to want to do what the Church does. On the other hand, individualism, already mentioned, leads to focus on the possibility of having children or not, according to one's own desires and expectations, apart from what can be the common good for the Church and the world. This, says the Cardinal, is often reflected in real family tragedies, which hide "a desperate loneliness, a cry of suffering that no one has been able to hear". Therefore, he insists, we must recover the social and ecclesial dimension of marriage and the family: the sense of solidarity that counteracts the privatization of affection, the detachment from moral norms and institutions, the fragility of family bonds and the emptying of their very meaning.

If in traditional societies the social dimension of marriage could lead to a suffocating community control, it is necessary to find the middle ground, for the person is always both an individual and a social person. This is so, and Christian couples must learn to love one another in a new way, in and from the love of God and neighbor. This - as experience dictates - requires a careful Education of affectivity and sexuality with the financial aid of the witness of many Christian couples and families. Indeed, and this was also emphasized at the Synod: the puritanical treatment that governed consideration of sexuality in recent centuries has now been replaced by an exaltation of sexuality outside marriage that makes it difficult to fully understand marital sexuality as a true good, to the point that it is really a path to sanctification.

 Today, the speaker points out, it is necessary to take into account the way in which these realities are presented in the media, a way that is totally alien to the personalistic vision that characterizes the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent magisterium of the Church, including Paul VI's Humanae vitae. He also sees the need to follow the path of the "law of gradualness"; for man as a historical being "...knows, loves and fulfills the moral good according to stages of growth"(Familiaris consortio, n. 34). This means to educate and form in these realities little by little, to give time to the persons, so that they become position of what is more valuable and they go on living it.

On final, this is the horizon of the synod and its main lines: horizon of joy and solidarity, attractive force of the authentic beauty that brings the message of the Gospel, doctrine and mercy, newness in the continuity of Christian truth, which is the fullness of the human and counts with time and history.

This is how the Hungarian Cardinal summarizes the challenge of the Synod, and it is worth taking the entire paragraph: "to succeed in proposing anew to today's world, in certain aspects so similar to that of the early Church, the attractiveness of the Christian message regarding marriage and the family, underlining the joy they give, but at the same time giving true and charitable responses (cf. Eph 4:15) to the many problems that especially today touch the existence of the family. Emphasizing that authentic moral freedom does not consist in doing what one feels, does not live by emotions alone, but is realized only by acquiring the true good".

More specifically, he concludes, "we are asked first of all to stand by our sisters and brothers in the spirit of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37): to be attentive to their lives, in particular to be close to those whom life has 'wounded' and who are waiting for a word of hope, which we know that only Christ can give us (cf. Jn 6:68)."

Let us continue on this journey we are making together (synod), of prayer and support for the Synod on the Family.