A brief overview of challenging, and at times "innovative" reports
VATICAN CITY — On Wednesday synod organizers released the summaries of the four English language “circoli minori” (small groups) of the Ordinary Synod on the Family currently underway in the Vatican.
The 5 major language groups represented at the Synod —English, French, German, Italian and Spanish —presented the results of their discussions at the morning General Congregation, i.e. a gathering of all of the participating bishops in the Synod Hall.
The small groups have considered the second part of the synod’s working document (Instrumentum laboris), which is entitled: “Discernment of the Family Vocation.” It includes subjects such as the indissolubility of marriage, “conjugal union and fruitfulness,” “the family at prayer,” and “the young and the fear of marrying.”
Here below we present summaries and excerpts from the English language summaries. We have noted some of the principle issues and concerns raised by each group, and urge you to take time to read these recommendations in full, as many of them offer real insight into the synod fathers’ concern for families on every continent.
Report of English Group “A”
Moderator: Card. PELL George
Relator: S.E. Mons. KURTZ Joseph Edward
English Group A reflected on the “gift and vocation” of the family, and “on prayer and discernment as means to foster it.”
Group A, which last week had noted the absence of any scriptural references in the first part of the Instrumentum laboris, again expressed their desire that a final document make wider use of Scripture.
Seen through the lens of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the text would benefit from a more abundant use of Sacred Scripture, notably Luke Chapters 1 and 2, as well as examples from the Old Testament. So many Old Testament couples, such as those from the Book of Tobit, responded beautifully to the vocation to marriage and family life.
Group A also proposed “best practices” for families as a way of helping them live out their vocation to holiness in the Church. Acknowledging that “great strides” have been made “in which study and reflection on Sacred Scripture has been integrated into the lives of families,” attention should yet be paid to “proper catechesis and prayer and worship, including prayer within each family… [with explicit encouragement towards] the use of para-liturgical prayers and rituals within the setting of the family.”
Group A’s third concern was that a clear articulation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family be presented at the conclusion of the Synod.
Report – English Small Group “B”
Moderator: Card. NICHOLS Vincent Gerard
Relator: S.E. Mons. MARTIN Diarmuid
The Group focused on the divine pedagogy [the way God teaches us] and suggested that the theme be central to paragraph 37 of the Synod’s working document:
We propose that the paragraph begin with Genesis, which already provides a definition of marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman, so total and intimate that because of it a man must leave his father and mother in order to be united with his wife. This account of the creation of marriage presents also the three basic characteristics of marriage, as it was in the beginning – monogamy, permanence, and equality of the sexes. […] But the Divine pedagogy of salvation history concerning marriage and the family reached its climax with the Son of God’s entry in human history, as Jesus Christ was born into a human family.
The group then set out to apply such a pedagogy into their search for a language “accessible” to the men and women today:
We propose alongside the term “indissolubility” to use a language which is less legal, and which shows better the mystery of God’s love speaking of marriage as a grace, a blessing, and a lifelong covenant of love. We recalled the testimony of couples who live a fully Christian marriage as a lifelong covenant of love, its permanence unto death being a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people. Indeed we can say that God recognizes the image of Himself in the faithfulness of his spouses and confirms with his blessing this fruit of his grace. The deepest meaning of the indissolubility of marriage, is then, the affirmation and protection of these beautiful and positive qualities that sustain marriage and family life, most especially in times of turbulence and conflict. The Church, therefore, looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus especially to his faithful love in the darkness of the cross.
Lastly, they focused the relationship between mercy and justice:
In many societies today there is a sense of self-sufficiency, whereby people feel that they have no need of mercy and no awareness of their own sinfulness. At times this is due to an inadequate catechesis on sin, not recognizing sin as a wounding of our relationship with God and with each other, a wound which can be healed only through the saving power of God’s mercy. On the other hand there can be a tendency for us to put human limits on God’s mercy. The group felt a strong need for a deeper reflection on the relationship between mercy and justice, particularly as it is presented in Misericordiae Vultus.
Report – English Small Group “C”
Moderator: S.E. Mons. MARTIN Eamon
Relator: S.E. Mons. COLERIDGE Mark Benedict
English Group C listed ten points that were central to the group’s discussion, including:
• The need to speak a heartfelt word of appreciation and encouragement to couples who, by God’s grace, are living their Christian marriage as a genuine vocation, since this is a unique service to the Church and the world. • The need to develop resources in the vital area of family prayer. • The need to explore further the possibility of couples who are civilly married or cohabiting beginning a journey towards sacramental marriage and being encouraged and accompanied on that journey. • In speaking of the joy of marriage and family life, there is a need to speak also of the life of sacrifice and even the suffering which this involves and so to set joy within its proper context of the Paschal Mystery. • The need for a more nuanced understanding of why young people these days decide not to marry or to delay marriage, often for a long time.
The group noted that on many of the ten points presented “there was consensus, on others there was wide if not universal agreement, and on a few there was significant disagreement.”
Moderator: Card. COLLINS Thomas Christopher
Relator: S.E. Mons. CHAPUT, O.F.M. Cap. Charles Joseph
On the family and divine pedagogy, members of Small Group D thought the text’s reflections on the reading of Scripture should be strengthened. They also pointed out that the working document for the Synod on the family “nowhere defines marriage,” calling this “a serious defect” which “causes ambiguity throughout the text.” Most bishops agreed that the document should add the definition of marriage from Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 48 as a correction.
The issue of language also came up in Group D. They raised the following concerns:
Some said the text needs to frame the notion of “indissolubility” more positively, rather than treating it as a burden. Others saw a danger in referring to Catholic teaching as simply an “ideal” to be pursued and honored but not practical for the living of daily life. They described this as an approach that implies that only the “pure” can live the Gospel, but not ordinary people. Some stressed that we should always speak of virtues, not just values. They are not the same thing. […]
Small Group D also noted the confusion caused by translation or misleading language contained in the Instrumentum laboris:
…Several bishops focused on the notion of “seeds of the Word” or “seeds of the Logos” in the world around us. In the tradition of the Church, this reflection – which dates back to Justin Martyr — has always focused on cultural issues rather than on people’s personal lives. The text tends to treat irregular relationships as somehow also containing “seeds of the Word.” Some bishops felt this was inappropriate and misleading.
The group also discussed a wide range of other topics, representative of the many countries and cultures present in their circle, including:
- “Arranged Marriages,” and how they are understood or misunderstood among cultures.
- “Family Witness,” and how many opportunities present themselves in the life of a family.
- “Family Prayer”” including devotional prayer, Holy Mass and family sharing of scripture.
- “The Role of Women in the Church,” and what defines “appropriate leadership roles”. Pastoral sensitivities to women in difficult marriages were also discussed.
- “Why Young People Are Afraid to Marry,” and how fear of failure plays into it. Parish youth ministries were mentioned as practical arenas that can be helpful.
Small Group D concluded by remarking on the great diversity and many different perspectives represented: 29 persons, 21 of them bishops, coming from 20 countries.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.