Many of our families are of mixed confession or religion, but in all we learned an ability to pray and to reflect upon how the family is central to the transmission of faith in a multiplicity of situations. An analysis based on the light of faith is far from an analysis which avoids facing reality. If anything, such an analysis can focus on questions of marginalization, which easily escape from the mindset of the dominant culture in many of our societies.
An analysis based on the light of faith can lead to a deeper discernment of how families suffer marginalization and forms of poverty, which go beyond economic poverty to include the social, cultural, and spiritual. It was noted that among the groups who experience such exclusion, one should not overlook families who are discriminated against or marginalized because of their belief in Jesus Christ.
The language of Scripture can be closer to the realities of the daily experience of families and can become a bridge between faith and life. The group felt that the language of the final document should be a more simple language, accessible to families, showing also that the Synod Fathers had listened to and heard their contribution and comments to the synodal process. The situations in which families strive to live out their vocation are varied. It would be impossible to encapsulate all these situations in a single document.
Each local Church should try to identify the particular situations of family marginalization in their own society.
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Social policy should have a priority concern for its effects on families. Good social policy should begin with an indication of where the social peripheries of each community lie, rather than from a simple economic analysis. Such discernment of the reality of marginalization should also be a dominant characteristic of the pastoral care of the Church for families. Social problems like inadequate housing, unemployment, migration, drug abuse, the cost of rearing children all have the family as primary victim.
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In looking at the challenges facing particular groups, the group proposed a broad rewriting of paragraphs under the title of The Family on the Pilgrimage of Life. Young people live in an oversexualized culture. They need to be educated to a culture of self-giving, which is the basis of the self-donation of conjugal love. Young people need to develop the ability to live in harmony with emotions and feelings, and to seek mature affective, mature relations with others. This can be an antidote to selfishness and isolation, which often lead young people to a lack of meaning in their lives and even to despair, self-harm, and suicide.
Generosity and hope are at the root of a culture of life. Life in the womb is threatened by the widespread practice of abortion and infanticide.
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The culture of life should also embrace the elderly and those with special needs, where very often support only comes from the extended family. Many families testify to the fresh vision of life that comes when one of its members has such special needs. The experience in our group was that of pastors who share a firm conviction that the future of Church and society passes through the family.
It was stressed that politics and policies may attempt to change structures, but politics alone do not change hearts. We can only give thanks to God for our Christian families who through their love and self-giving, however imperfect, open their hearts to the healing love of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We owe a great debt to these families who in immense ways support and challenge our ministry as pastors. The Catholic Church presents a fascinating interplay of diversity and unity.
In that sense, our journey through the week has been deeply Catholic, deeply ecclesial. We have spoken in different ways of our different experiences of marriage and the family; yet a profound sense of why they matter has emerged. The sense of diversity led us to ask if this or that analysis or argument would be best dealt with at the local or regional level rather than at the global level. There was decentralizing tendency in much of our discussion; yet paradoxically this did not undermine our sense of unity in the task.
We spent considerable time discussing the ordering of the Instrumentum Laboris , beginning as it does with an analysis of the current situation of families before proceeding to reflect on the vocation and mission of the family. It was noted that the structure of the working document moved in the direction of See - Judge — Act, which seemed us sound because — at least in theory — it allowed us to be in touch with the family as it really is rather than with the family as we might wish it to be.
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This led in turn to a larger consideration of the engagement of the Gospel and culture, the Church and history. Nor does the Church inhabit a world outside human cultures; the Church shapes cultures and cultures shape the Church. In considering marriage and the family here and now, we were conscious of the need to address the facts of history and the realities of cultures —with both the eyes of faith and the heart of God. That is what it has meant for us to read the signs of the times. Through this week, we have been somewhat uncertain about the task presented to us, as we worked our way through the Instrumentum Laboris , at times falling into the trap of rewriting or into discussions that were more semantic than substantial.
The going was very slow indeed at times, and we are left wondering how on earth we will manage to make our way paragraph by paragraph through the entire document before the end of the Synod. If the task itself has been unclear in this new Synod format, so too has been our method of working. We have had to shape the method as we have moved through the week, and this has challenged the resourcefulness and tactical sense of the Moderator, to say nothing of the patience of the group members. At times our work has seemed more muddled than methodical; but our hope is that focus, if not perfect clarity, will emerge as the Synod unfolds and we become more assured about both task and method.
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We have spent considerable time discussing language in a way that looks beyond semantic quibbling. There are again many different kinds of Catholic families. We felt that it may be a good thing if they were given a rest and if we chose instead to use a language which was more accessible to those unfamiliar with our particular speak. In general and especially when speaking of marriage and the family, it was felt that we needed to beware of a kind of Church speak of which we are barely conscious. The Instrumentum Laboris has a more than its share of it, and it would be good if the final document moved in a different and fresher direction.
Like Vatican II, this Synod needs to be a language-event, which is more than cosmetic. We need to speak of marriage and the family in new ways, which has implications on both the macro and micro level, as it does on both the local and universal level. Part of the newness, we felt, needs to be a less negative reading of history, culture and the situation of the family at this time.
True, there are negative forces at work at this time in history and in the various cultures of the world; but that is far from the full story. If it were the full story, all the Church could do would be to condemn. There are also forces which are positive, even luminous, and these need to be identified, since there may well be the signs of God in history. It is also true that marriage and the family are under new kinds of pressure, but this again is far from the full story.
Many young people still want to marry, and there are still remarkable families, many of them Christian, heroically so at times. To see and speak positively of things is not to indulge in a kind of denial. It is rather to see with the eye of God, the God who still looks on all that he has created and still finds it good.
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