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Pope defends Church’s teaching on marriage

By Sarah Mac Donald - 05 October, 2015

God’s dream for his creation is to see it fulfilled “in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self”.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin

On the eve of the commencement of the Synod on the Family in Rome, Pope Francis reiterated the Church’s teaching on marriage as a union between one man and one women.

In his homily on Sunday at Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope told the prelates assembled for the three week long gathering to discuss marriage and the family that God’s dream for his creation is to see it fulfilled “in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self”.

He also identified some of the ills and challenges undermining marriage and family life, warning that “People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad.”

He said, “Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past.”

The Pontiff noted that it is the most advanced societies which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.

Elsewhere the Pontiff lamented the paradox of “a globalised world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom…”

He warned that the number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.

Loneliness, Pope Francis said, is experienced by countless men and women in our own day.

“I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture”.

Referring to Sunday’s first reading, the Pope commented that in it we hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness and said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18).

These words, the Pope said, show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone and that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life.

Quoting from Mark 10:9 “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder”, the Pontiff said this is an exhortation to believers to “overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan”.

The Church he said is called to carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy.

It is called to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.

It is called to be, “A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.”

He added, “The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, president and vice-president respectively of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, will represent the Irish bishops at the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”.

The Synod is taking place in Rome until Sunday 25 October.

The Synod has been informed by feedback from parishes on family life in Ireland, and from around the world. Please see below answers to five frequently asked questions concerning the role of a Synod in the life of the Catholic Church.

Frequently asked questions

  • What is the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution established by Blessed Pope Paul VI, on 15 September 1965, in response to the desire of the bishops at the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the positive spirit engendered by the experience of the Council.  The word “synod”, derives from two Greek words syn meaning “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”, means a “coming together”.  A Synod is a religious meeting or assembly at which bishops, gathered around and with the Holy Father, have the opportunity to interact with each other and to share wisdom, information and experiences, in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application.  Saint John Paul II referred to the Synod as “a particularly fruitful expression and instrument of the collegiality of bishops” (Speech to the Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, 30 April 1983: L’Osservatore Romano, 1 May 1983).

Bishops representing all regions of the world will meet in Rome from 4 until 25 October for this the fourteenth meeting of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  The theme of the Synod is “The vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and contemporary world”.

  • What is the difference between the Extraordinary Synod of 2014 and the Ordinary Synod of 2015?

“Ordinary” Synods are held at fixed intervals and “Extraordinary” synods are held to address some important matter.  In view of the greater urgency that justify their convocation, the preparation of extraordinary general assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops is shorter.  The participants also are fewer, consisting of the heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, the presidents (only) of episcopal conferences, three members of religious institutes and the cardinals who head dicasteries of the Roman Curia. As of October 2014, there have been three such assemblies, in 1969, 1985 and 2014.

  • Who will attend the 2015 Ordinary Synod in Rome?

More than 360 participants, including 18 married couples from around the world, are expected to attend October’s Synod of Bishops on the family.  In addition to the 166 synod members elected by their national bishops’ conferences, 22 heads of Eastern Catholic churches, 25 heads of Vatican congregations and councils and 10 heads of men’s religious orders, the Pope appointed an additional 45 synod fathers to take part in the October 4-25 gathering.  Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Vice-President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference will represent the Church in Ireland at the Synod.

  • What do the working documents for the Synod contain?

The Instrumentum Laboris, or working document of the Synod, is divided into three parts following the structure of the Relatio Synodi (the final report of last October’s Extraordinary Assembly). It reflects the close link between the Third Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2014, dedicated to “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”, and the upcoming Ordinary General Assembly. The first part, entitled “Listening to the challenges of the family”, relates most directly to last year’s Synod, while the second, “Discernment of the family vocation”, and third, “The mission of the family today”, introduce the theme of the next Synod.

After the Synod in October, the Bishops will present the Pope with their recommendations. Pope Francis will then evaluate their proposals and provide the Church with guidance.

  • What were the themes of previous Ordinary General Assemblies and how are they related to the subsequent publication of an Apostolic Exhortation?

An Apostolic Exhortation is a formal instruction issued by a pope. It is traditionally offered to the Church following a Synod and encourages the faithful to do something helpful for the life of the Church. An example is Saint John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, which affirms the meaning and role of marriage and the family.

1967    Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith

1971    The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World
Pope Paul VI, Justice in the World (Apostolic Exhortation).

1974    Evangelization in the Modern World
Paul VI (1975-12-08), Evangelii nuntiandi (Apostolic exhortation).

1977    Catechesis in Our Time Pope John Paul II Catechesi tradendae (Apostolic exhortation).

1980    The Christian Family
Pope John Paul II, Familiaris consortio (Apostolic exhortation).

1983    Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church
Pope John Paul II Reconciliatio et paenitentia (Apostolic exhortation).

1987    The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World
Pope John Paul II (1988-12-30), Christifideles laici (Apostolic exhortation).

1990    The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day
Pope John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis (Apostolic exhortation).

1994    The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World
Pope John Paul II, Vita consecrata (Apostolic exhortation).

2001    The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World
Pope John Paul II, Pastores gregis (Apostolic exhortation).

2005    The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
PopeBenedict XVI (2007-02-22), Sacramentum caritatis (Apostolic exhortation).

2008    The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini (Apostolic exhortation).

2012    The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith
Pope Francis (24 Nov 2013), Evangelii gaudium (Apostolic exhortation).

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