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Chapter IV: The Family and Vocation of the Person in Christ
The Family, the Person and Society
31. The family is acknowledged in the People of God to be an invaluable asset, the natural setting in which life grows and develops and a school of humanity, love and hope for society. The family continues to be the privileged place in which Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the person. In addition to commonly affirming these basic facts, the great majority of respondents agree that the family has the potential of being this privileged place, despite their indicating, and often explicitly recounting, the worrisome difference between the forms of the family in today’s world and Church’s teaching in this regard. Real-life situations, stories and multiple trials demonstrate that the family is experiencing very difficult times, requiring the Church’s compassion and understanding in offering guidance to families “as they are” and, from this point of departure, proclaim the Gospel of the Family in response to their specific needs.
32. The responses acknowledge that, as in centuries past, the family has played a significant role in society as the first place where the person is formed in society and for society. Since the family is the natural place for personal development, it is the foundation of society and the State. In summary, the family is defined as the “primordial human society.” From the very first years of a person’s existence, the family is the place for the transmission and learning of values, such as brotherhood, loyalty, love for the truth and work, and respect and solidarity between generations, not to mention the art of communication and a sense of joy in living. The family is the privileged place to live out and promote the dignity and rights of man and woman. The family, founded on marriage, is the place for the integral formation of a country’s future citizens.
33. One of the great challenges of the family today consists in attempts at its privatization, running the risk of forgetting that the family is “the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another” (EG, 66). What needs to be clearly delineated is the idea of the family as a resource in society, that is to say, a source of the essential virtues for a life in community. In a family, a person learns a sense of the common good and experiences the goodness of living together. Without the family, a person is unable to emerge from his individualism, since it is the only place to learn the power of love to sustain life, and “without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy which the mere presence of others can give” (LF, 51).
34. The synod will have to reflect on how to promote in today’s world a ministry which encourages the participation of the family in society. Families are not only the subject of protection by the State, but must regain their role as active agents in society. In this regard, the following challenges emerge: the relationship between the family and the workplace; the relationship between the family and education; the relationship between the family and health; the family’s ability to bring generations together so as not to neglect the young and the elderly; the situation of the rights of the family institution and its specific relationships; and the promotion of just laws, such as those that ensure the defense of human life from its conception and those which promote the social goodness of an authentic marriage between a man and a woman.
In the Image of Trinitarian Life
35. A number of responses focuses on the image of the Trinity reflected in the family. The experience of the mutual love between the spouses is an assistance in understanding the life of the Trinity as love. Through a communion lived in the family, children can glimpse an image of the Trinity. Recently, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his catechesis on the sacraments, recalled that “when a man and woman celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony God as it were ‘is mirrored’ in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God is communion too: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of Matrimony: God makes of the two spouses one single life” (General Audience, 2 April 2014).
The Holy Family of Nazareth and Learning to Love
36. A recurring subject in almost all the responses is the importance of the Holy Family of Nazareth as the model and example for the Christian family. The mystery of the Word of God’s becoming incarnate within a family reveals how it is the privileged place for God’s revelation to humanity. In fact, the family is acknowledged to be the ordinary and everyday place to encounter Christ. The Christian people look to the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model in relationships and love, as a point of reference for every family and as a comfort in time of trial. The Church invokes the Holy Family of Nazareth, entrusting all families, in their moments of joy, hope and sorrow, to the care of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
37. The responses highlight the importance of love in the family, referring to it as “an efficacious sign of the existence of God's Love” and calling the family itself “the sanctuary of life and love.” The initial experience of love and human relationships takes place within the family. Every child needs to live in the warmth and protective care of loving parents in a home where peace abides. Children must be able to see that Jesus is always with them and that they are never alone. Because of an obvious weakening in family ties, particularly in some parts of the world, children experience loneliness. Even when children need correction, it should be done so as to ensure that they grow in a familial atmosphere of love and that parents might realize their vocation to be God's collaborators in the development of the human family.
38. Considerable emphasis is placed on the formative value of love in the family for not only children but all its members. As such, the family is a “school of love,” a “school of communion,” and a “gymnasium for relationships,” that is, the privileged place to learn to build meaningful relationships which help a person develop a capacity for giving one’s self. Some of the responses suggest that a relation might exists between the knowledge of the mystery and vocation of the human person and the acknowledgment and acceptance of each’s unique gifts and abilities within the family. In this sense, the family can be considered as the “basic school of humanity,” and thus regarded as irreplaceable.
The Differences, Reciprocity and Manner of Living as a Family
39. The role of parents as primary educators in the faith is considered vital and essential. Emphasis is often placed on their witness of fidelity, particularly on the beauty of their individuality and at times, simply on the importance of their distinctive roles as father and mother. At other times, the responses stress the positive character of the spouses’ freedom, equality and reciprocity. Still other responses, especially from Europe, stress the equal importance of both parents in the upbringing of their children and domestic responsibilities.
40. Again referring to differences, some responses mention the richness of the inter-generational relationships experienced in the family, where decisive events take place, e.g., birth and death, successes and misfortunes, achievements and disappointments, etc. Through these and other occurrences, the family becomes the place where children grow, through the various stages of their life, to respect life and form their personality.
41. The responses insist on the importance of parents’ sharing and explicitly professing their faith, beginning with their manner of life as a couple, in their relationship between themselves and that with their children, and also, in sharing their knowledge and awareness of Christ, who — the responses continually stress — must be at the center of the family. In a pluralistic society, parents can offer their children, in this manner, a basic orientation for their lives, which can sustain them even in the years after childhood. For this reason, the responses voice a need for families to create time and opportunities for family-togetherness and open, honest communication in a continual dialogue with one another.
42. All respondents stress the importance of prayer in the family as the domestic Church (cf. LG, 11), where a true and proper “familial culture of prayer” is nourished. In fact, a genuine knowledge of Jesus Christ is fostered through personal prayer and, particularly, family prayer, according to the specific forms of prayer and ritual practices in the home, which are considered an effective way to teach the faith to children. Great emphasis is also placed on reading Scripture in common and other forms of prayer, such as the blessing before and after meals and the family recitation of the rosary. In this regard, however, the domestic Church of the family can never be a substitute for the parish community nor underestimate the importance of the participation as a family in the parish’s sacramental life, the Sunday Eucharist and the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. Most responses also speak of the need of living the Sacrament of Reconciliation and practicing Marian devotions.
The Family and the Integral Development
43. The responses also emphasize the fundamental character of the family in the process of a person’s integral development. The family is essential in the maturation of those cognitive and affective processes which are crucial to personal development. In addition to being a vital environment in personal formation, the family is also the place to experience the awareness of being not only a Child of God but also called to a vocation of love. Still other places contribute to personal growth, such as living in community, the workplace, civic and ecclesial life. Nevertheless, the fundamental elements acquired in a human family allow access to other levels of living in and building society.
44. The family faces many daily difficulties and trials, as many responses indicate. Being a Christian family does not automatically guarantee the absence of trials, even excessively burdensome ones. But through such trials the family itself can be strengthened, and, with the support of pastoral care, led to recognize its fundamental vocation in God's plan. The family is already a reality, “given” and secured by Christ, and, on the whole, to be “built up” each day with patience, understanding and love.
Guidance in the Renewed Desire to Marry and Form a Family and the Related Crises
45. The responses point out the significant fact that even in the face of very difficult situations, many people, especially the young, see a value in a stable, enduring relationship and express a real desire to marry and form a family. This creates the possibility for a married couple to realize a love that is faithful and indissoluble and one that offers a peaceful atmosphere conducive to human and spiritual growth. This “desire to marry and form a family” is a true sign of the times which should be seen as an opportunity for pastoral ministry.
46. The Church needs to provide care for families living in critical and stressful situations, ensuring that the family be attended in its entirety. The quality of the relationships within the family must be of utmost concern for the Church. Initial support originates in a parish, which is the “family of families”. It is the principal centre of a renewed pastoral care which receives and guides people and is animated by sentiments of mercy and tenderness. In this regard, parish organizations have a significant role in sustaining the family.
47. Some particularly urgent cases, where family relationships are threatened through domestic violence, require supportive action that leads to healing wounds and uprooting their causes. In families where abuse, violence and neglect prevail, neither growth nor a perception of one’s inherent value is possible.
48. Finally, the responses mention the significance of the close collaboration of families / homes and the parish in the mission of evangelization, as well as the need for the active involvement of the family in parish life through support and solidarity on behalf of other families. In this regard, invaluable assistance comes from the community made up of families. Membership in movements and associations can also be a particularly significant source of support.
49. The responses very often stress the need for a family ministry which provides systematic and ongoing formation on the value of marriage as a vocation and the rediscovery of parenting (fatherhood and motherhood) as a gift. The Church’s activity on behalf of the couple should not be limited to preparation for marriage, which — it should be noted — requires reevaluation. Evidently, a more consistent and structured formation ought to be biblical, theological and spiritual as well as human and existential. Catechesis requires a true exchange between generations, actively involving parents in the process of the Christian initiation of their children. In this regard, some responses gave particular attention to liturgical feasts, such as Christmas and particularly the Feast of the Holy Family, as invaluable occasions to show the importance of the family and take into consideration the human context in which Jesus grew up and where he learned to speak, love, pray and work. Some responses recommend preserving the special character of Sunday as the Lord’s Day — even civilly where possible — and encouraging families to meet on this day, not only individually as a family but collectively with other families.
(to be continued)
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