By Archbishop Michael Jackels
Thanks to those who participated in the consultation on the report: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World. There were over 400 responses, offering comments, constructive criticism, and creative ideas.
All the responses were collated and sent to the Vatican Synod Office. The Vatican will consider the submissions from around the world to prepare the working document for the synod this coming October. Again, the purpose of the synod is to help people know, understand, embrace, and live the Gospel of the Family.
The submissions will also be studied by the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Dubuque in order to help direct our local ministry in support of marriage and family.
The Church as apostolic
Consultation is a form of collaboration of all the faithful to continue the mission of Jesus in the ministry of the Church. Opinions are asked and offered, and some are accepted while some are declined, all within the context of an understanding of our faith in the Church as apostolic.
When we make the Profession of Faith, we affirm among other things that we believe in a Church that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Our Church is apostolic on at least three different levels.
Apostolic – the message
First of all, the Church is apostolic in the sense that we know about who Jesus is, what he taught, what he did, and what he asks of his followers because of what the apostles witnessed, remembered, and passed on to the next generation of believers (some of it in written form).
One example is the teaching of Jesus referred to as the Gospel of the Family: One man and one woman freely give themselves to each other in a permanent and exclusive partnership, in order to be helpmates for each other, and to be open to conceiving and bringing up children.
Jesus’ teaching departed from the Law of Moses, which allowed for divorce and remarriage. With his teaching, Jesus restored the original plan of the Creator for marriage, a bond that no human authority can break.
But Jesus also allowed that there could be exceptions to the unbreakable bond of marriage (see Matthew 5:31, 19:9). One example is when something essential to marriage, such as the intention to remain permanently with the other, was missing at the time of the wedding. As a consequence, the couple was never bound by the bond of marriage in the first place.
Apostolic – the function
Secondly, the Church is apostolic in the sense that the same functions carried out by the apostles are still carried out in every day and age by bishops; that is why they are called successors to the apostles.
One function of apostles and bishops is to safeguard the integrity of the teaching of Jesus and his Catholic Church. And so from the time of the apostles, bishops have opposed attempts to depart from the teaching of Jesus on marriage (that this teaching is challenged is not something new, nor are today’s challenges even the worst).
Another function of apostles is to be pastors, and so to be pastoral. This is the creative balance to the conservative function of bishops. While remaining true to the teaching of Jesus, the Church’s pastoral ministers think creatively about how to help people practice their Catholic Faith in the context of everyday life, and ultimately to get to heaven.
These functions of a bishop and other pastoral ministers can make some people frustrated, angry, or sad.
Some people feel this way because bishops will not change a teaching or practice that they experience as burdensome or hurtful, and others because they perceive that bishops are proposing a change. In response, we need to try harder to explain better what Jesus is asking of his followers.
And some people feel frustrated, angry, or sad because a bishop or priest didn’t show them the love and mercy of Jesus. In response we need to say sorry, ask pardon, and try to grow the heart of a good shepherd.
Pastoral outreach has a certain look and feel to it: loving others, respecting their dignity, and being welcoming, compassionate, accepting and non-judgmental. But it should be noted that these dispositions don’t require the pastoral worker to agree with others, or approve of choices at odds with the teaching of Jesus and his Catholic Church.
Apostolic – the mission
Thirdly, the Church is apostolic in the sense of mission. The word apostle comes from the Greek, referring to people sent out to communicate a message. All the faithful are sent out to share the message of Jesus, such as the Gospel of the Family.
We do this with sensitivity to the language we use. We do this with pastoral care, patiently accompanying people as they gradually grow in fully living the faith. And we do this because we believe that the message of the Gospel of the Family is true, beautiful, and important for the dignity of the person and the true development of the world.
With regard to the message on marriage and family, consultation has identified areas of pastoral care that call for a special focus, for example:
- Training for all people engaged in pastoral ministry
- Effective catechesis on marriage, family, and sexuality, especially for youth
- Promote respect for human life and dignity, from womb to tomb
- Improve marriage preparation resources, including natural family planning
- Provide newly-married couples with mentors, small group support
- Provide programs for marriage enrichment (and baby-sitting!)
- Address issues related to the marriage tribunal, such as time and expense
The synod of bishops on the family will be significant to direct the Church’s pastoral care of married couples, families, and others. It was nice to be asked to participate in the process. We are also asked, given the importance of marriage and family, to remember this meeting in our prayers, that it will bear spiritual fruit for all.