Yesterday, the Synod on the Family began in Rome with a selection of Bishops from around the world to discuss the pastoral nature of the family in the 21st century. In my many years as a Catholic, I never seen a Synod gather the attention like this one has gathered. Beginning last year with the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, and now the current one, being held from October 4-25, 2015, it is my thoughts that we must pray, and pray hard, for the Bishops of this Synod that they remain faithful to the doctrines of the Catholic Church when it comes to marriage, divorce, and same-sex unions. The Devil is working overtime and seems to be forcing the hand of some in the hierarchy to make changes to teachings they cannot change.
During the next three weeks, our Bishops need our prayers and support. We especially need to pray for those Bishops that think the Church must align with the secular culture, such as many of the German Bishops. It seems to be that many of them have lost their way and are being influenced by a culture that wants to destroy the traditional family of man and woman.
As Catholic men and women, we combat this secular culture with evangelization, catechesis, and charity. If you have not read Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation, Into the Breach, which was published this past week, I would highly encourage you to read it as soon as possible. Although it was written to men, women should read it as well as they can share in assisting the men in their life to accomplish the goals set out by Bishop Olmsted.
For today’s “Mondays with Mary,” I would like to share with you the very prophetic words of Pope St. John Paul II. The reason why I am focusing on these words today specifically is because they mention the challenges facing Christian families, but also because the prayer that he speaks of is prayer rooted in the Marian devotion. These words come from his Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America (The Church in America), a document that was produced from the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, which was held in the Vatican from November 16 to December 12, 1997.
This document, written only 16 years ago, should be a reminder that even then the Bishops of the Americas and the Holy Father himself saw the great dangers that were occurring in the world to the traditional family at the time, and seem to be even greater today. The emphasized words below are mine. Facing the challenges of Christian families, The Great Polish Pope says,
“God the Creator, by forming the first man and woman and commanding them to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:28), definitively established the family. In this sanctuary life is born and is welcomed as God’s gift. The word of God, faithfully read in the family, gradually builds it up as a domestic church and makes it fruitful in human and Christian virtues; it is there that the source of vocations is to be found. Marian devotion, nourished by prayer, will keep families united and prayerful with Mary, like the disciples of Jesus before Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14)”. Many insidious forces are endangering the solidity of the institution of the family in most countries of America, and these represent so many challenges for Christians. Among them we should mention the increase in divorce, the spread of abortion, infanticide and the contraceptive mentality. Faced with this situation, we need to reaffirm “that the foundation of human life is the conjugal relationship between husband and wife, a relationship which, between Christians, is sacramental”.
Hence there is urgent need of a broad catechetical effort regarding the Christian ideal of conjugal communion and family life, including a spirituality of fatherhood and motherhood. Greater pastoral attention must be given to the role of men as husbands and fathers, as well as to the responsibility which they share with their wives for their marriage, the family and the raising of their children. Also required is a serious preparation of young people for marriage, one which clearly presents Catholic teaching on this sacrament at the theological, anthropological and spiritual levels. On a continent like America, characterized by significant population growth, there needs to be a constant increase of pastoral initiatives directed to families.
In order to be a true “domestic church” the Christian family needs to be a setting in which parents hand down the faith, since they are “for their children, by word and example, the first heralds of the faith”. Families should not fail to set time aside for prayer, in which spouses are united with each other and with their children. There is a need to encourage shared spiritual moments such as participating in the Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, daily prayer in the family and practical signs of charity. This will strengthen fidelity in marriage and unity in families. In such a family setting it will not be difficult for children to discover a vocation of service in the community and the Church, and to learn, especially by seeing the example of their parents, that family life is a way to realize the universal call to holiness.
The one thing that stands out for me is that a lot of what the Holy Father suggests in these three paragraphs is currently happening in the dioceses around the world. Although more is always needed, there is good fruit being produced, especially when it comes to the sacramental prep in marriage as well as helping men understand their role as men in the Church (see Bishop Olmsted’s letter). In my diocese and at my parish, we are doing what Pope St. John Paul II asked for in this document when it comes to marriage preparation, encouraging men to be active in the Church, and strengthening marriages and families.
Let us pray this week through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the entire Holy Family that dioceses in the Universal Church will heed this call by the Great Pope St. John Paul II to enrich Christian families through evangelization and catechesis. Let us also pray for Pope Francis and the Bishops of the Synod on the Family that they will stand firm with the doctrines of the Church, established by Jesus Christ, that teach about marriage and family. Mary, Jesus, and Joseph…Pray for Us. Amen.
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