When bishops throughout the world gather at the Vatican Oct. 5-19 for a synod convoked by Pope Francis, they will address a theme that hits close to home the family. In the meeting’s preparatory document, bishops are asked to respond to questions about family life, marriage, passing on the faith, and adherence to Church teaching. Laypeople have also been invited to offer input on these topics, providing a wonderful opportunity for Knights and their families to ponder questions that affect their lives and faith in today’s world.
The theme of the meeting is “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” At first you may wonder why the family is being considered in connection to evangelization. After all, families face enough challenges today without worrying about having to spread the faith far and wide. But the synod is approaching the concept in terms of the new evangelization, which is not solely a job for professed missionaries preaching in foreign lands. Laypersons are called to share the Gospel closer to home, in places where the Church is no longer vibrant or plays little part in the lives of those who are baptized. In this context, the family emerges as a central agent in evangelization, for it is here that children first learn of God, are brought to the sacraments, and are taught the values and virtues of the Catholic faith. Families are also at the center of their parishes, their communities and the larger culture as they live out their faith as public witnesses called to “give a reason for (their) hope” in Christ (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
A family living out the Catholic faith with peace, patience and joy, even amid earthly struggles, can be a powerful witness to the beauty and necessity of God’s grace. Such a family, by simple example, can bring Christ to those who are searching for meaning and seeking happiness in a world that offers many pleasures that fail to satisfy.
Of course, this is not the first time a major Vatican gathering has discussed the family. Blessed John Paul II convened a synod of bishops on “The Role of the Christian Family” in 1980. The following year, he published Familiaris Consortio, an apostolic exhortation that has become known as the “magna carta” for the pastoral care of marriage and families.
The task of renewing and strengthening marriage and family life remains of utmost concern to the Church today. The upcoming synod’s preparatory document states, “The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning the family, the vital building block of society and the ecclesial community.”
It is all too evident how popular culture, changes in public policy, and the media undermine the integrity and definition of marriage. Materialism, consumerism, separation and divorce threaten even faithful Catholic families. In the preparatory document, the bishops ask how the Church can respond pastorally to the challenges families face and the needs they express. How can families support one another in dealing with these challenges and living out the faith?
In addition to these questions, the synod document addresses issues such as how people understand the concept of marriage based on the natural law; the quality of marriage preparation in dioceses and the extent of continuing pastoral care for married couples; the effects of cohabitation and same-sex “marriage” on society; and how a couple’s faith corresponds to their openness to life and the spiritual upbringing of their children.
You can access the preparatory document on the Vatican website (vatican.va). Take some time to read and discuss it with your spouse, bringing your children into the conversation when appropriate. Even if you don’t have definite answers, the questions will help you focus on important issues regarding the Catholic faith and family life. The Church we pass on to the next generation will depend greatly on how well we address these challenges today, for as John Paul II wrote, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 75).
BRIAN CAULFIELD is editor of Fathers for Good.