“Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family … been more urgent and necessary.”
These words mark the beginning of the Preparatory Document for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held in October at the Vatican. The document contains a series of questions for bishops to use when they consult the priests and laypeople of their dioceses. The first set of questions considers “the diffusion of the teachings on the family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium.” Topics include the knowledge and acceptance of the Church’s teachings; the difficulties and cultural factors hindering the reception and practice of these teachings; and opportunities for formation and catechesis.
The synod is a call from Pope Francis to consider the family and what the Church teaches about its meaning and beauty. By responding to this call, and seeking to understand and embrace the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life, we will grow in God’s grace and our families will become closer in holiness and joy. In the coming months, what can we laypersons do while our bishops ponder these questions with the Holy Father? I offer four practical suggestions for Catholics to become ever-stronger witnesses to the Gospel in relation to the family.
First, let us make the Word of God in Scripture a daily reference in our lives. This could be as simple as praying and reflecting on the Mass readings of the day or taking a few minutes daily to read and meditate upon a particular Scripture passage. Catholic men need to be courageous leaders in this regard, especially with all the temptations to distraction that can enter the home and our lives. When we know and savor Sacred Scripture, we discover how interwoven marriage and the family are within the Lord’s plan of salvation from the account of creation itself, to the words of the prophets, to the mystery of Christ and his Church as the Bridegroom and Bride.
Second, let us make the Catechism of the Catholic Church a trusted resource. How wonderful it would be if every Catholic man owned a copy of the Catechism and shared it with his family, for it is an essential resource for learning the Church’s teaching. Of particular interest related to marriage and family are the sections “Male and Female He Created Them” (nos. 369-373), “The Sacrament of Matrimony” (1601-1666), “The Fourth Commandment” (2197-2257), and “The Love of Husband and Wife” (2360-2379). The teaching here is concise and understandable, with references to Scripture and other Church documents. Let’s challenge ourselves and set aside the time to read and reflect upon the Church’s wisdom. How are we living and handing on this teaching within our families and beyond?
Third, let us pray and fast for strong marriages and families, for healing of those that are struggling, and for Pope Francis and our bishops as they prepare for the synod. We know the challenges are significant, but we also know the freedom that Christ’s truth and mercy brings. Consider taking up the bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty” (see usccb.org/pray).
Fourth, let us resolve to be champions for marriage and the family, leading with mercy and unafraid to witness to the beauty of the Church’s teachings. What areas of God’s plan for marriage and the family need work in my life? Do I see my marriage as a vocation and mission? As a Catholic man and a Knight, what resolution can I make to take the next step when it comes to witnessing to the Gospel on the family in my own marriage and family; in my parish, community and workplace; and in the public square?
Remember, “Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family … been more urgent and necessary.” Let us not remain on the sidelines. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance as you seek to live out the faith within the context of your family.
ANDREW W. LICHTENWALNER is executive director of the Office of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a member of Sacred Heart Council 2577 in Bowie, Md.