Summer is a wonderful occasion for us to spend more time with our families. With schools out of session and the opportunity for vacation, we have the ability to relax and be with our families perhaps more than other times of the year. Our families are the center of our lives and are a reflection of the very life of God Himself. He created us in His image and likeness to live as a family. He created man and woman so they could give themselves to each other in a unique bond of love through which new life can come into the world. Just as God exists as a Trinity of Persons in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so the family reflects His communion of love through which true joy exists.
This fall will bring with it an important event in the life of the Church. Pope Francis has called for an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to reflect upon the priority of family life both within the life of the Church and society. The Synod will reflect upon the family in a particular way in regard to the many pastoral challenges which it faces today. This Extraordinary Synod will be followed a year later by an Ordinary Assembly which will also have the family as its theme. In a letter to families on the Feast of the Presentation this year, Pope Francis asked, "May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel."
In preparation for this important Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October, the Vatican conducted a general consultation on the matter of marriage and family life throughout the world. Our Diocese of Palm Beach participated in this consultation which was made available to all on our Diocesan website. I was very pleased that a good number of responses were received to this consultation which were thoughtful and thorough. These responses came from those who obviously have a great concern for the matter of family life and the challenges that face it today. The responses were compiled and summarized and then sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to be forwarded to the Vatican in preparation for the Synod.
As you may be aware, the working document (instrumentum laboris) to be used at the Synod was recently prepared and published by the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. The document represents the spectrum of consultation which took place throughout the world by all members of the Church which is to be reflected upon at the Synod and will ultimately lead to an exhortation from Pope Francis himself. The working document expresses well the Church’s teaching on the matter of marriage, family life, children, sexuality and the many challenges which face us today. It does not in any way propose a changing of Church teaching in order to accommodate the challenges before us but rather encourages a discussion as to how these challenges can be met and the teaching of the Church properly understood. The working document very well appreciates the struggles that the family and all men and women are facing today. I would strongly recommend a reading of the document which can be obtained from our Diocesan website. While there are many media reports in regard to the document, there are misunderstandings which are being presented in its regard. The best way to understand the document is to go to it itself.
Pope Francis has made marriage and family life one of the priorities of his ministry. He has done this, not only by calling for the Extraordinary Synod and its follow-up, but also in his constant teaching and emphasis upon marriage and family life. From his visit to Rio de Janerio for World Youth Day last year right up until the present, family life has remained a constant emphasis. In Rio de Janeiro he emphatically stated, "It is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church." Most recently, while participating in the National Convention of the Renewal in the Holy Spirit in Rome at the beginning of June, Pope Francis emphasized, "Families are the domestic Church, where Jesus grows; He grows in the love of spouses, He grows in the lives of children. That is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it, to make sure that there is no love there. ... May the Lord bless families and strengthen them in this time of crisis when the devil is seeking to destroy them." It is obvious that the Holy Father's words underlie his thinking in regard to the discussions of the Synod.
I have always been so impressed with the quality of family life within our Diocese. It is a joy to experience strong families in our parishes and in so many other situations. However, we face the many challenges in regard to family life that are present everywhere. We have among us families and young people who are struggling in many ways and also struggling with opinions and attitudes contrary to what family life is all about. We must continue to do all we can to devote ourselves to our own families and to understand better the importance and nature of family life. As the summer offers us the opportunity to spend more time with our families, so may the upcoming Extraordinary Synod be an occasion to help us better understand the nature of the gift to family which is the reflection of God Himself.
The following prayer from Pope Francis is encouraged for the work of the Synod:
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust. Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches. Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division: may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty and God's plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer! Amen."
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 11, 2014