One of the topics addressed at the October 2014 Synod of Bishops on, “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” was the need for a new way of communicating Church teaching about marriage in contemporary society, using positive, elevating language that invites.
As the synod’s final report stated this need will not be solved by merely presenting a set of rules.
“Marriage,” the report emphasized, “is not a ‘yoke,’ but a ‘school of humanity’ (Guadium et Spes, 52), a model where God’s deeper purpose for our lives is revealed.”
Today, we must reach people in fresh, new ways that address the real, concrete circumstances of their lives.
First, how do we deal with the widespread reality of broken families – people who are separated, divorced, or divorced and remarried – as well as single-parent families? The words of Pope Francis are especially effective in these situations, as the report stated: The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into the “art of accompaniment,” the pope said, “which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.”
Entering into pastoral dialogue with persons in broken families is needed, the report noted, to discern “a constructive response, seeking to transform” these challenges “into opportunities that can lead to the fullness of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.”
Another powerful form of communication is the joyous witness of Christian couples. One such couple, Jeff and Alice Heinzen of Wisconsin, in testimony before the synod, said that in “the age of the diminished family structure,” many young people “do not see the witness of married love” that they experienced” with their own parents. “We must develop more robust and creative methods,” they said, “to share the fundamental truth that marriage is a divine gift from God, rather than merely a man-made institution.” This will require us “to examine the methods by which we teach our children” about sexuality and the “vocation of marriage” and to include marriage in all programs that speak of the call by God to serve.
The “Word of God,” is also a critical “source of life and spirituality for the family,” as the synod noted. All pastoral work on behalf of the family must allow people to be “interiorly fashioned and formed” through the “prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture.”
In addition, films and images of beauty often touch people “in a place where maybe words don’t touch them,” according to Helen Alvare, professor of law at George Mason University and communications liaison for the November 2014 Humanum Colloquium, also held at the Vatican. The group focused on new ways speaking old truths. One theme was the beauty of self-gift – “of unselfishness, of avoiding ego, of gift, of service, of sacrifice,” she said.
In short, communicating about marriage should not be passive, flat, and rule-based. It should reflect the immense power and love of our Creator, and the fulfillment of the human heart and soul that a successful, Christian marriage achieves.
“Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives,” Pope Francis, in his EncyclicalLumen Fidei, wrote. “It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love.” It is a question of allowing people to experience that the Gospel of the Family is a joy that “fills hearts and lives,” because in Christ we are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1).
In summary, methods recommended by the synod and others to strengthen communications about marriage include:
- Constructive language that invites and inspires the vocation of marriage as a powerful sign of Christ’s presence and a school for spiritual growth.
- Renewal in the training of priests and other pastoral workers with a greater involvement of families.
- Enabling couples in troubled marriages to count on the assistance and guidance of the Church.
- Joyful witness of authentic love by families.
- Attention to the Word of God through scriptural readings.
- Images through art and film of the beauty of marriage.
- Preparation for marriage in the course of Christian Initiation.
Communicating about marriage will be further addressed in the October 2015 Ordinary Synod on the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world. Topics relating to the importance of family life will also be addressed at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015.