Life-Giving in every Social Role
In true family-friendly fashion of course, I cannot but comment on the newly issued bishops’ pastoral letter on marriage and family life. As a columnist I do so independently and not as a member of either the working group of the SACBC Marriage and Family Desk or of the MARFAM Board of which I am the chairman.
We all in the local Church should welcome this response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) which gives us some guidelines for the future and an insight into the bishops’ thinking.
Personally I find that making reference to chapters in the document that I think are rather unlikely to be read is not very helpful. I do particularly welcome the sentiments behind the quoted comment from Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love. “It is my hope that in reading this (whole) text all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for ‘families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity’ (JL7).”
Sounds good, but there is more to it than that. It is widely recognised that there are very many problems in families and with family life in the Church and society.
A number of them are discussed at length in Amoris Laetitia. In this document Pope Francis’ approach is of merciful accompaniment and careful discernment in problem situations such as receiving communion by divorced and remarried Catholics.
In some countries this issue is being widely debated. Our bishops quote from the document without any comments. “The Synod Fathers stated that although the Church realises that any breach of the marriage bond is against the will of God she is also conscious of the frailty of many of her children (291).”
In noting the way forward for our region, the bishops state that attention needs to be given to the needs of marriage preparation, accompaniment of newly-weds and situations of cohabitation where there is no intention of marrying. They referred to parenting skills, traditional marriages, polygamy and “difficult situations in which a number of the faithful live”.
In the pastoral letter the bishops did not make reference to the other big issues that were hotly debated at the Synods, namely contraception and same-sex unions.
Likely these are not seen as such big issues locally but should be seen to be part of “the difficult situations” to which attention should be given. Both contraception and sexual orientation are dealt with in the wider context of human sexuality where abortion also finds its place.
We in South Africa have just marked 20 years since the legalisation of abortion and apart from a Mass at the cathedral in Cape Town I have not heard of much attention being given to this.
There is clearly much to be done, as Pope Francis writes, in loving and cherishing family life but let me add loving and cherishing “life”. For me and my late husband Chris the concept of “life-giving” used by the late Fr Chuck Gallagher was a key to our vision for family ministry and has always remained of value for me. We are called to be life-giving as couples, parents, widows, divorced, same-sex, or singles who still belong to a family.
The SACBC recognises that family teams should be put in place at diocesan level and ideally also at parish level. Such teams, of mentor couples, as well as singles, widowed and divorced people and older youth, can promote a general (life-giving) family focus in a parish. They can offer resources for families of all types and ages for promoting a spirituality of the family as the little church of the home. But it is no good putting structures in place without offering content.
MARFAM is one of the organisations focusing on this. The annual family year planner, daily family faith focus reflections, magazine articles and various other materials for family prayer and faith sharing for liturgical seasons or around family issues are also available. A weekly e-newsletter comments on current affairs. Visit www.marfam.org.za for more information.