Ahead of this October’s Synod on the Family, the Bishops of England and Wales have published a questionnaire about marriage and the family, in line with the recommendations issued at the end of last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the same subject. If you reside in England or Wales, I would very much encourage you to complete it, and if you live elsewhere, you might like to find out whether your local bishops’ conference is doing something similar.
Finally, in case you are interested, I would also like to share my own responses to this questionnaire, which I found to be a good opportunity for stopping and reflecting (although not in one go, obviously - I wrote these lines while taking a break from a basketball game with my sons, later while having a couple of minutes to myself before a supper and finally while waiting for a flight - continuity, sadly, is the stuff of fairytales :).
What are your joys and hopes of marriage and family life today?
To me the greatest source of joy with regard both to the family and marriage is the warmth and tenderness that can be experienced there. The family is where all its members can be free to express themselves unreservedly, to share their joys and sorrows, to develop their love for others and to know that their welcome by all in the family is unconditional. It is a place where difficulties can be overcome without judgment and where successes can be shared without envy. Above all though, marriage and the family are an openness to participating in the life of the Trinity: in mutual self-giving, in loving and being loved, that invite Jesus’ presence among those gathered together in His name.What are your struggles and fears of marriage and family life today?
The struggles and challenges that each member of a family faces individually are also a challenge for the family as a whole. Self-centeredness, isolation, indifference, consumerism, a lack of concern for the poor and a tendency to see what distinguishes at the expense of what unites are all prominent dangers. What makes them worse is if they are faced individually and without the benefit of the family or the relationship between spouses. And what makes them even more serious is if a family closes itself, instead of sharing its warmth and tenderness with those around it, if it only looks inside, instead of recognising the presence of God in all around them. These are the greatest dangers and fears I see today.How can we better understand marriage as a vocation?
By first understanding and responding to the vocation that follows from baptism and that consists in participation in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and royal nature. Only then can the membership in the mystical body of Christ that the Eucharist gives life to and the access to the Holy Spirit that follows from confirmation be understood and lived. And only on the basis of a conscious experience of these sacraments can an understanding of the sacramentality and vocational nature of marriage be understood and its choice, instead of the choice of other vocations, be discerned and made in alignment with the will of God. Both the putting into practice of the Gospel and a life-long learning of the faith are indispensable here.How does your marriage enrich you?
This is a question akin to asking about the benefits derived from oxygen. Getting married is an existential transformation that is followed by a new, joint being where the spouses are one. It is a monologue becoming dialogue, an individual participating in communion and a one that is not alone. It is a complementarity that is not self-sufficient or self-fulfilling but oriented towards God and neighbours instead.How does your family life enrich those around you?
This question would better be addressed to those around my family, while for us it is more of an examination of conscience. I hope those around us feel welcomed by us as they are and feel that we understand and don’t judge them. If we keep Jesus’ words and He makes His home with us, I hope we are able to share Him with those whom we meet.In what way, through the abiding presence of God, is your family “salt of the earth and light to the world,” and a place of and for handing on our faith?
By placing the Gospel at the heart of our family’s life: as a guiding light and explicit interpretative key for the events in our family and the world at large, as the motivation for our actions, as a mirror in which to identify our failings and as the inspiration for starting again and again with putting it into practice.Do you have any other comments?
I would like to express my wholehearted agreement with and support for Pope Francis’ words at the close of last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, where he emphasised the need for the Church to be open to all, not ashamed of the wounds of our fallen brothers and sisters, and be “[t]he Church that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the repentant and not only the righteous or those who think they are perfect!”