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"No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed"

Bishop Michael Smith welcomed the publication of the letter by Pope Francis on marriage and family life, published on 8 April 2016.

“It is a lengthy document and it requires careful reading to ensure that the depth of the Holy Father’s message is not overlooked” Bishop Smith said.

“The Pope has a particular gift when it comes to explaining the Church’s long-standing teaching in a language that it more easily accessible to people” the Bishop notes. “The Pope draws on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council as well as his predecessors Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI.   He reaffirms that the stability of marriage and the witness of married couples is essential for the good of the society and the Church.  Helping people to “reach the fullness of God’s plan for them”, he says, is a task entrusted to the Church in every age and circumstances.”

Click here for the full text of the Holy Father’s document.

The following notes are taken from a Vatican summary of the document:

“Amoris Laetitia” seeks to affirm not the “ideal family” but the very rich and complex reality of family life. Its pages provide an openhearted look, profoundly positive, which is nourished not with abstractions or ideal projections, but with pastoral attention to reality. The text is a close reading of family life, with spiritual insights and practical wisdom useful for every couple or persons who want to build a family. Above all, it is the result of attention to what people have lived over many years.

The Pope begins his reflections with the Scriptures in the first chapter. The Bible “is full of families, births, love stories and family crises”. This helps us to meditate on how the family is not an abstract ideal but rather like a practical “trade”, which is carried out with tenderness, but which has also been confronted with sin from the beginning.

The second chapter draws on the final Reports of the two Synods. Families face many challenges, from migration to the denial of differences between the sexes; from the culture of the provisional to the anti-birth mentality and the impact of biotechnology in the field of procreation; from the lack of housing and work to pornography and abuse of minors; from inattention to persons with disabilities, to lack of respect for the elderly; from the legal dismantling of the family, to violence against women.

The theme of love’s fruitfulness and procreation is also addressed, citing the teaching of “Humanae Vitae” and Saint John Paul II.  The Holy Father speaks in a profoundly spiritual manner about welcoming new life, about the waiting period of pregnancy, about the love of a mother and a father. He speaks of the expanded fruitfulness of adoption, of welcoming the contribution of families to promote a “culture of encounter”, and of family life in a broad sense which includes aunts and uncles, cousins, relatives of relatives, friends.

The Pope then deals with the preparation of the engaged for marriage; with the accompaniment of couples in the first years of married life, including the issue of responsible parenthood; and also with certain complex situations and crises, knowing that “each crisis has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the ear of the heart”.

In reading chapter 8, one must remember that “the Church’s task is often like that of a field hospital”. Here the Holy Father grapples with the findings of the Synods on controversial issues. He reaffirms what Christian marriage is and adds that “some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realise it in at least a partial and analogous way”. The Church therefore “does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage”.

As far as “irregular” situations are concerned, the Pope states: “There is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive to how people experience distress because of their condition’”. And he continues: “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy”. And further: “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment”.

In this line, gathering the observations of many Synod Fathers, the Pope states that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal.  Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church.  This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children”.

The overall sense of this chapter and of the spirit that Pope Francis wishes to impart is summed up in the closing words: “I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.”

In the final paragraph the Pope affirms: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love.  All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.”

Click here for the full text of the summary notes prepared by the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops.

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