My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
In the final article of my three-part series on the preparatory document on the Synod of the Family, Part III is entitled: “An Openness to Life and Parental Responsibility in Upbringing.” It can be seen that the difficulty and thorny issues facing the family, and in fact individuals today, for the Synod are directly brought into the process of evaluation and consideration.
The pastoral challenges concerning the openness to life are truly at the heart of the issues for families today. The publication of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in many ways was prophetic. Even in its promulgation, the Holy Father knew that it would cause intense negative outcry because, as he said, “But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a sign of contradiction.” The difficulties in the document “Humanae Vitae” reveals “the agonizing situations of people today when faced with the subjects of love, the generation of life, the reciprocity between man and woman, and fatherhood and motherhood.”
One of the questions asked in the initial interrogatory was, “Do couples know and accept the Magisterium of the Church regarding the openness of life?” In two senses, the positive aspects are unknown, while the negative aspects seem to be known and characterized as an “intrusion in the intimate life of the couple and an encroachment on the autonomy of conscience.”
Responsible parenthood clearly is part of teaching, but in what way can couples achieve responsible parenthood? Many couples choose a method of birth control but do not see it as a true method of planning a family and responsible parenthood. Again the terms “natural” and “unnatural” contraceptive methods is a constant problem, whereas natural methods are synonymous in the minds of most people as being ineffective and impractical. Again, our choice of words must be careful regarding two new methods, which are abortive and non-abortive.
The Church must become a matter that is truly human and understands the arduous real-life situations of people and treat them with care and genuine respect. Some of the causes of difficulty in accepting the teaching of the Church come from the wide gap between the Church’s teaching and the civil education and societal values that people absorb. Understanding Christian anthropology is critical. But in a world where a contraceptive mentality is held, as well as a pervasive gender ideology, the Christian anthropology is hard to understand. A gender ideology means that the body and the difference between the sexes is replaced with an idea of gender orientation to the point of subverting sexual identity. This obviously is also at the heart of the problem with the culture’s understanding of homosexual relationships.
The antidote, as proposed in the working document, is “the decisive human experience of love, discovering the intrinsic value of the difference that marks human life and its fruitfulness.” There are various pastoral considerations that must be revisited in light of “Humanae Vitae” and the current situation, namely in sacramental practice when couples are influenced by secularization and generally do not consider the use of contraceptives to be a sin. With those who know it to be sinful, pastoral solicitude has already been suggested in “Humanae Vitae” and must be exercised. In general, the response of episcopal conferences to the questionnaire pointed out the connection between openness to life and social suitability issues. The Synod has the challenge that it must be “of assistance in rediscovering the deep anthropological meaning of the moral character of conjugal life, which [is] beyond every type of moralism.”
The Church and the family face the challenge of the upbringing of children in the family today. The “upbringing of children must be totally integrated” in the family and should not be dependent on cultural morass, but rather clearly on the teachings of the faith. Pope Francis, in “Lumen Fidei” says, “Parents are called, as Saint Augustine once said, “not only to bring children into the world but also to bring them to God, so that through baptism they can be reborn as children of God and receive the gift of faith.” The transmission of faith and Christian initiation are the responsibilities of parents, as well as the continuing catechesis. In our own Diocese in our response to the Synod questionnaire, we stated our own efforts to bring to catechesis at least 70,000 children whom we know have been baptized as Catholics but are not being catechized. Christian education in difficult family situations deserves the same concern and care for those who are in regular or traditional marriages. The Catholic faith continues to be professed by many people, but the number of children born and raised in regular families is in sharp decline. This exasperates this situation and will demand greater efforts in the future. For example, children born to persons of the same sex or adopted by them, and single-parent households are also a concern.
The catechesis prior to the sacraments is imperative today, especially for in those irregular situations. The pastoral challenge is convincing these couples who may wish the sacraments for their children but are unwilling to participate in catechesis for themselves as families. This problem seems to be universal. In general, the Synod document reminds us that, “Receiving them with a basic attitude of respect, a friendly disposition and a willingness to listen to their human and spiritual needs creates a proper and beneficial atmosphere for communicating the Gospel message.” Pastoral charity must be exercised in all situations, since it is clear “that children or young people are not to blame for the choices of the living situations of their parents.”
Concerning the questions on the administration of baptism and confirmation and parental involvement is critical if the family will be the means of the New Evangelization. We must evangelize families in whatever situation they find themselves, whenever the Church has contact with them. The request for pastoral guidelines in dealing with difficult situations such as these has been a request from many responding from episcopal conferences. This will be one of the challenges for the Synod itself.
Truly, the Synod on the Family has put out into the deep with many, many difficult situations demanding consummate pastoral care and a new imaginative approach. The document concludes by saying, “The Church must come to some idea of how to respond to the new demands in the People of God” in three areas. First, “how the Gospel of the Family can be preached in the present-day; how the Church’s pastoral care programme for the family might better respond to the new challenges today; how to assist parents in developing a mentality of openness to life and in upbringing their children.”
The Instrumentum Laboris can be found on the Vatican website: http://www.vatican.va under the “Roman Curia” and then “Synod of Bishops.”