A SYNOD RESPONSE, FROM AD NEWS 4 OF 2022:
The synod report promulgated by the Archbishop a short while ago gives the Church valuable insight into the most pressing needs of today. The synod’s role was not to find out which teachings need to be modernised and changed through majority vote, but to discover areas of growth, both as Church and as individuals. In the area of marriage and family (chapter 10, page 11) many constructive points were raised and I would like to give a few pointers on the different topics.
It is perceived by many that a family is, in the eyes of the Church, a heterosexual couple with children. While there is no doubt that this is indeed the model of a family, it is being challenged in society today as not the only model. Different and diverse models of family are now acceptable and the Church needs to move forward in the acceptance of such models. It is rightly argued that, at both parish and Archdiocesan level, recognition and acceptance of all types of families is welcomed, but the teachings of the Church has not moved forward towards this recognition.
The heterosexual couple with children is indeed the model of the family. Families are cemented together either by biological ties (parenthood, blood-relations) or by the ties created by the Sacrament of Matrimony. Family is more than just people living together or getting along and liking each other. Families need constancy and lifelong commitment, which the marriage vows should represent. It is important that we as Church need to value and safeguard this sacred space of the family as the ideal for every Christian to follow. We all need to work constantly on strengthening the bonds of family love in our own lives. Jesus himself “set forth a demanding ideal, yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals” (AL 38). We should, therefore, not compromise our high standard when it comes to the ideal family and feel pressurised to recognise and accept any and every form of human relationship as equal to marriage and family.
Lowering the ideal so that everyone feels included does not help genuine growth, conversion, and change for the better. Loving is hard, commitment is hard, sacrifices are hard, and most of the time we do not get it right. In every situation, we as Church need to embrace and welcome everybody, but we also have “the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them” (AL 297). As a Church we need to acknowledge that we might have not done that well and many times might have left people alone in their difficulties and struggles.
Family life, in whatever form it takes, is seen as the bedrock of society, and the breakdown of family life is a sad occurrence, happening all too often in society today. Questions are raised around marriage preparation given by the Church, which is seen by many as inadequate. There is a call for marriage preparation to be more thorough, more developed and more expansive.
The sad reality of failing marriages and the breakdown of family life is not only caused by a lack of marriage preparation. Many other factors have a strong influence on this. Wounds received in one’s own family and during one’s own upbringing have the habit of surfacing later in life and influencing our own decisions and actions. The obsession of society with individualism, the reduction of love to a mere emotion, the fear of commitment, and many other societal factors influence the way we conduct our married and family life. It is crystal clear that a quick chat in Father’s office before the wedding will not adequately prepare couples for the challenges of marriage. I am grateful for the suggestion of a more thorough marriage preparation programme. The popes have called for this for the last 30 years without much changing on the ground. A few months ago the Vatican promulgated a lengthy document dealing with a more thorough “journey of preparation” that will hopefully be implemented gradually in our Archdiocese too.
Fr Dominic Helmboldt
Marriage & Family Co-ordinator in the Archdiocese of Cape Town