"No family drops down from heaven fully formed"
Bishop Michael Smith encourages parishioners in Mullingar to read the Pope’s much anticipated letter on marriage and family life.
This letter is the Holy Father’s response to the recent Synods in Rome on marriage and family life. You may recall that we held a parish consultation in February 2015 ahead of the Synod last October.
The Pope points out that “no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need to grow and mature in the ability to love”.
Some will be disappointed as they will say that the Pope did not seem to change doctrine and others will say that it was clear from the outset that the Pope cannot change doctrine. Pope Francis realises that we do not live in a world where everything is simply black and white, where all that is needed is either to repeat doctrinal formulations or to set these doctrines aside and be “pastoral”.
Pope Francis does not set out to change doctrine. He recognises, however, the difficulties we have in understanding the teaching of Jesus in our current cultures. He admits that: “We find it difficult to present marriage as a more dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment rather than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”
He notes that “many people feel that the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family does not reflect clearly the preaching and attitudes of Jesus”. One of the problems is that we too live in a world where we judge things in black and white. We would like the Pope to say a simple yes or no on subjects which are much more complex than we wish to admit.
In the document Pope Francis takes up an earlier comment stressing that: “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity, but to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with sincere heart. They way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the outskirts of life”.
The document addresses at length what is required for a real renewal of pastoral care within the Church. He stresses the role of the parish as being the primary place where that renewal should take place. This is perhaps the biggest practical challenge that we face in the Irish Church. The parish cannot simply outsource to agencies the task of marriage preparation and that of accompanying couples along the path of their lives.
A leading role in this parish based-renewal must be taken by families themselves. That is something which springs from the nature of the Sacrament of Marriage. He notes that in the replies given in the worldwide consultation it became clear that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families and that the experience of the broad oriental tradition of married clergy could also be drawn upon. He stresses that “the presence of lay people, families and especially women in priestly formation promotes an appreciation of the diversity and complementarity of the different vocation in the Church”.