The Synod of Bishops, gathered around the Holy Father, turned its thoughts to all the families of the world, each with its joys, difficulties and hopes. In a special way, the Assembly felt a duty to give thanks to the Lord for the generosity and faithfulness of so many Christian families in responding to their vocation and mission, which they fulfill with joy and faith, even when living as a family requires facing obstacles, misunderstandings and suffering.
The entire Church and this Synod express to these families our appreciation, gratitude and encouragement. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates the unending feast in the days of man.
It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all. Within the family are joys and trials, deep love and relationships which, at times, can be wounded. The family is uniquely important to the Church and in these times, when all believers are invited to think of others rather than themselves, the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization.
Think of the witness of so many families that fulfill their Christian mission. At the Extraordinary General Assembly of October, , the Bishop of Rome called upon the Synod of Bishops to reflect upon the critical and invaluable reality of the family, a reflection which will then be pursued in greater depth at its Ordinary General Assembly scheduled to take place in October, , as well as during the full year between the two synodal events.
With these words in mind, we have gathered together the results of our reflections and our discussions in the following three parts: We turn our thoughts to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, close and distant relatives and the bonds between two families forged by marriage. Anthropological and cultural changes in our times influence all aspects of life and require an analytic and diversified approach.
The positive aspects are first to be highlighted, namely, a greater freedom of expression and a better recognition of the rights of women and children, at least in some parts of the world.
On the other hand, equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by a troubling individualism which deforms family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading, in some cases, to the idea that a person is formed according to his own desires, which are considered absolute. Added to this is the crisis of faith, witnessed among a great many Catholics, which oftentimes underlies the crisis in marriage and the family.
There is also a general feeling of powerlessness in the face of socio-cultural realities that oftentimes end in crushing families. Such is the case in increasing instances of poverty and unemployment in the workplace, which at times is a real nightmare or in overwhelming financial difficulties, which discourage the young from marrying. Families often feel abandoned by the disinterest and lack of attention by institutions. The negative impact on the organization of society is clear, as seen in the demographic crisis, in the difficulty of raising children, in a hesitancy to welcome new life and in considering the presence of older persons as a burden.
The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family. Some cultural and religious contexts pose particular challenges. In countries where Catholicism is the minority, many mixed and interreligious marriages take place, all with their inherent difficulties in terms of jurisprudence, Baptism, the upbringing of children and the mutual respect with regards to difference in faith.
In these marriages there can be a danger of relativism or indifference; but there can also be the possibility of fostering the spirit of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in a living together of diverse communities in the same place. In many places, and not only in the West, there has been a widespread increase in the practice of cohabitation before marriage or simply cohabitating with no intention of a legally binding relationship. In addition to this, there is often civil legislation which compromises marriage and the family.
Because of secularization in many parts of the world, the reference to God is greatly diminished and the faith is no longer shared socially.
Especially in some countries, a great number of children are born outside marriage, many of whom subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in a blended or reconstituted family. Divorces are increasing, many times taking place solely because of economic reasons. Oftentimes, children are a source of contention between parents and become the real victims of family break-ups.
Fathers who are often absent from their families not simply for economic reasons need to assume more clearly their responsibility for children and the family. The dignity of women still needs to be defended and promoted. In fact, in many places today, simply being a woman is a source of discrimination and the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than esteemed. Not to be overlooked is the increasing violence against women, where they become victims, unfortunately, often within families and as a result of the serious and widespread practice of genital mutilation in some cultures.
The sexual exploitation of children is still another scandalous and perverse reality in present-day society. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times to be faced and understood in terms of its onerous consequences to family life.
The Importance of Affectivity in Life 8. Faced with the aforementioned social situation, people in many parts of the world are feeling a great need to take care of themselves, to know themselves better, to live in greater harmony with their emotions and feelings and to seek affective relationships of quality in the best manner possible. These proper aspirations can lead to a desire to put greater effort into building relationships of self-giving and creative reciprocity, which are empowering and supportive like those within a family.
The challenge for the Church is to assist couples in their emotive maturation and affective development through fostering dialogue, virtue and trust in the merciful love of God. The full commitment required in marriage can be a strong antidote to the temptation of a selfish individualism. Indeed, nowadays the question of affective fragility is a pressing one; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution.
In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future.
The development of bio-technology has also had a major impact on the birthrate. In this regard, the Church is conscious of the need to offer a word of truth and hope, which is based that man comes from God, and that, consequently, a reflection of capable of reframing the great questions about the meaning of human existence can be responsive to humanity's most profound expectations.
The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that characterizes human existence, even in these times of individualism and hedonism. People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life.
We need to know how to support them in their searching and to encourage them in their hunger for God and their wish to feel fully part of the Church, also including those who have experienced failure or find themselves in a variety of situations. The Christian message always contains in itself the reality and the dynamic of mercy and truth that meet in Christ.
Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God. Since the order of creation is determined by its orientation towards Christ, a distinction needs to be made without separating the various levels through which God communicates to humanity the grace of the covenant.
In creation, because all things were made through Christ and for him cf. In fact, Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana and he announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation that restores the original divine plan Mt At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman Jn 4: The words of eternal life, which Jesus gave to his disciples, included the teaching on marriage and the family.
In the beginning, there is the original family, when God the Creator instituted the first marriage between Adam and Eve as the solid foundation of the family. God not only created human beings male and female Gen 1: This union was wounded by sin and became the historical form of marriage among the People of God, for which Moses granted the possibility of issuing a bill of divorce cf.
This was the principal practice in the time of Jesus. Jesus, who reconciled all things in himself, restored marriage and the family to their original form Mk Marriage and the family have been redeemed by Christ Eph 5: The spousal covenant, originating in creation and revealed in the history of salvation, receives its full meaning in Christ and his Church. Through his Church, Christ bestows on marriage and the family the grace necessary to witness to the love of God and to live the life of communion.
The Gospel of the Family spans the history of the world from the creation of man in the image and likeness of God cf.
One of the highest expressions of this teaching was proposed by the Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which devotes an entire chapter to promoting the dignity of marriage and the family cf. Gaudium et Spes, This document defined marriage as a community of life and love cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48 , placing love at the center of the family and manifesting, at the same time, the truth of this love in counter distinction to the various forms of reductionism present in contemporary culture.
Furthermore, Gaudium et Spes, 48, emphasizes the grounding of the spouses in Christ. In the Incarnation, he assumes human love, purifies it and brings it to fulfillment and gives to the spouses, with his Spirit, the capacity to live that love, permeating every part of their lives of faith, hope and charity.
In this way, the bride and groom are, so to speak, consecrated and, through his grace, they build up the Body of Christ and are a domestic church cf. Deus Caritas Est, 2. Moreover, in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he emphasizes the importance of love as the principle of life in society cf.
Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. Mutual self-giving in the Sacrament of Marriage is grounded in the grace of Baptism, which establishes the foundational covenant of every person with Christ in the Church. So, in faith it is possible to assume the goods of marriage as commitments which are more sustainable through the help of the grace of the Sacrament.
God consecrates the love of husband and wife and confirms its indissolubility, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to life. Therefore, the Church looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus.
From the same perspective, in keeping with the teaching of the Apostle who said that the whole of creation was planned in Christ and for him cf. Nostra Aetate, 2 and cultures, despite their limitations and shortcomings cf. The presence of the seeds of the Word in these cultures cf. Ad Gentes, 11 could even be applied, in some ways, to marriage and the family in so many non-Christian societies and individuals.
Valid elements, therefore, exist in some forms outside of Christian marriage — based, however, on a stable and true relationship of a man and a woman — which, in any case, we maintain are oriented towards Christian marriage. With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer.
In fact, they witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of a marriage which is indissoluble and faithful forever, while always remaining faithful to each other. The Gospel of the Family also nourishes the seeds which are still waiting to grow; and serves as the basis for caring for those trees which have withered and must not be neglected. The Church, a sure teacher and caring mother, recognizes that the only marriage bond for those who are baptized is sacramental and any breach of it is against the will of God.
At the same time, the Church is conscious of the weakness of many of her children who are struggling in their journey of faith. Looking to Christ, whose light illumines every person cf. The Church looks with concern at the distrust of many young people in relation to a commitment in marriage and suffers at the haste with which many of the faithful decide to put an end to the obligation they assumed and to take on another.
These lay faithful, who are members of the Church, need pastoral attention that is merciful and encouraging and that adequately distinguishes situations. Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church.
In this regard, a new aspect of family ministry is requiring attention today — the reality of civil marriages between a man and woman, traditional marriages and, taking into consideration the differences involved, even cohabitation.
When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. Very often, on the other hand, a couple lives together not in view of a possible future marriage but without any intention of a legally binding relationship.