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Family challenges leave couples reluctant to marry

By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 February, 2015

kevin doranMarried life makes an important contribution to the well-being of the family, of the Church and of society as a whole, Bishop Kevin Doran affirmed in an address on ‘The Synod on the Family and its Implications for our Understanding of Marriage’ on Monday night.

Speaking in Holy Trinity Parish in Donaghmede, the Bishop who is a member of the Bishops Council for Marriage and the Family, warned that the family faces significant challenges today and not just from proposed changes in the law or the constitution.

Recalling last October’s Synod in Rome on the family, he said that “While the focus of public debate about the synod was on the high-profile issues of ‘gay-marriage’ and whether or not people who had divorced and remarried could receive Holy Communion, these are clearly not the only challenges facing the family and they are not the only focus of the Synod,” he said.

The Bishop of Elphin, who is a former priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, said the Second Vatican Council asked the Church to “read the signs of the times” and he suggested that the Church needs to consider what are the specific challenges facing marriage and the family today.

Referring to the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in the autumn, he explained in his talk in Donaghmede that this second stage of the process will work from the Lineamenta which is based on the conclusions of the last Synod.

While the first synod placed the emphasis on identifying the key pastoral challenges facing the family, the next synod is charged with the task of developing the Church’s pastoral response to those challenges.

In Bishop Doran’s view, those challenges are emotional, spiritual, cultural and economic.

“How do you deal with the stresses and strains of disappointment, depression, alcoholism, or simply the downside of the daily routine?” he asked.

He also questioned how people can be helped to remain faithful, share faith with their children and avoid destructive individualism, when so much in the culture seems to be going in the opposite direction.

“How do you survive as a family unit in the face of unemployment, the real difficulty of getting suitable housing at a reasonable cost? How do you cope with the pace of life and the poverty of time?, he asked.

According to the Bishop of Elphin, the consequences for many couples is a reluctance to commit to marriage on the one hand and a rapidly growing rate of breakdown and divorce on the other.

In Christian marriage, a man and woman commit to one another that they will be faithful all the days of their life and that they will accept from God the children God may give them and bring them up in accordance with the law of God and of the Church, he stated.

Through their commitment to life-long fidelity, together with the openness to new life and the responsibility of care, husband and wife, male and female, become a visible sign (or Sacrament) of the love of God who is always faithful, who gives life and who cares for the life that he gives. Jesus Christ is not only present in their relationship, but through them, is present to others.

“I think one of the challenges for all of us, as Church, is to help young couple to see that the totality of their love is sacred and that it makes them holy.”

“Another related challenge is to help them to see their love as their particular vocation and mission in the Church. A further challenge is to encourage them in the face of struggle and failure and to support them in growing over time into the fullness of what they are called to be.”

Elsewhere in his address, Bishop Doran reminded his listeners that marriage is not an invention of Christianity or indeed of any religious tradition.

“Reason allows us to see the contribution that faithful marriage offers to society through the stability that it brings to society and to the lives of children.”

Addressing the 46 questions attached to the Lineamenta, Dr Doran said it is unlikely that many people will manage to deal with them all

In his address, he reflected on a number of the questions.

In relation to Question 35: “Is the Christian community in a position to undertake the care of all wounded families so that they can experience the Father’s mercy?” he said this question is not about changing the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, but about how the Church can respond to situations of breakdown. The question also refers to the challenge of changing the social circumstances which contribute to breakdown, he explained.

“Clearly it is not enough just to ‘wave good-bye’ to parishioners who feel that their relationship with the Church is somehow changed by their marital circumstances.”

The Elephant in the Room, according to Bishop Doran, was the fact that as the Irish faithful are preparing for the Synod on the Family next October, they are also faced with a referendum on the meaning of marriage.

“A politician asked me last week, ‘what is so wrong about being nice to people who are equal to us in every respect, but whose sexual orientation is different?’” Bishop Doran said the answer is that there is nothing wrong with being nice to them, “but that is not what the referendum is about”.

He underlined that the reality is that those who wish to change the constitution are not actually looking for marriage equality.

“They are looking for a different kind of relationship which would be called marriage; a relationship which includes some elements of marriage, such as love and commitment, but excludes one of the two essential aspects of marriage which is the openness of their sexual relationship to procreation.”

This, he said, is only possible if we change the meaning of marriage and remove that aspect of openness to procreation.

As a society, he suggested, we have to a greater or lesser extent given up on the idea that sexual intercourse and an openness to procreation are essentially linked.

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