Families the source of ‘essential virtues’

Published recently in The Catholic Weekly.

I had a scan through the Instrumentum Laboris, which is the working paper that the bishops will use when they meet for the synod on the family in October.

It is a huge document with a lot to take in and not all of it is relevant to Australian families and parishes of course, but a few things stood out for me in my initial reading.

The first thing that struck me was the simple advice in the introduction from Pope Francis that we look with hope to the future and act in a way “which preserves and fosters love within the family, namely, by saying ‘Can I?’, ‘May I?’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’”.

There is an ‘accent on mercy’ set by Pope Francis as well, which impacts “even in matters relating to marriage and the family, in that, far removed from every kind of moralism, it confirms the Christian outlook on life and opens new possibilities for the future, no matter what the personal limitations or the sins committed”.

There is a lot of space given to the problems of poverty, wars, violence and abuse, single teenage motherhood, and the pressures of work, among many others, but what will probably garner most media attention is what it says about issues of sexual morality.

Some same-sex marriage advocates have already expressed disappointment in this document. I think that comments from Pope Francis and also in this working paper show willingness in the Church to engage with and co-operate pastorally with people in same-sex relationships, but the paper displays uncertainty about how to do this.

The paper says that “one of the greatest challenges to the family today is attempts at its privatisation, running the risk of forgetting that the family is the fundamental cell of society”.

“What needs to be clearly delineated is the idea of the family as a resource in society…a source of the essential virtues for a life in community.” It goes on to say that families “must regain their role as active agents in society” impacting the worlds of work, education, health, and laws.

I was encouraged by the tone the document takes to families in irregular situations such as single parent families, families where children are being raised by grandparents, families with divorced and remarried parents, and disparity of cult (where one spouse is not a Catholic): “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’.

The paper makes some comments about the internet and social media which are overwhelmingly negative. There is obviously a great fear among Church leaders that increasing dependence on online communication leads to the breakdown of communication and relationships between family members:

“In the end, the means of communication and access to the Internet replace real family relationships with virtual ones. This situation runs the risk of leading not only to the disunity and breakdown of the family but also the possibility that the virtual world will replace the real one.”

Now I love my Internet and I’m increasingly using social media, but I have to admit that both exert quite a pull on me each day and it can be tempting at times to find more joy in my online interactions than my real-life ones.

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