The circuli minores have now published their reports on Part 2 of the Instrumentum Laboris, entitled “The Discernment of the Family Vocation.“ What I would like to do again is to pull together the contents of the English, Italian, Spanish and German reports, grouping it by topic and using acronyms of the source group names from their official list (i.e., AA will refer to Circulus Anglicus “A”):
- Need for closer links to Scripture.
AA: “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.”
AD: “In the material on family and God’s salvific plan, the text lacks grounding in the Book of Tobit and the Song of Songs, which is vital to the Scriptural presentation of marriage.”
IA: “There is a need for enriching the text with a greater biblical and patristic inspiration.”
IB: “As in Part I, here too there is a need to report the shortage of references to God’s Word and the almost total lack of reference to the Tradition of the Church.”
HB: “More explicit reference to both the Old and New Testaments (the spousal love of God towards his people) and the rich post-conciliar magisterium on the family are proposed.”
G: “Any impression should be avoided that Holy Scripture be used only as a source of quotes for dogmatic, legal or ethical beliefs. The Law of the New Covenant is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1965 to 1966). The written word must be integrated into the living Word that dwells in the hearts of people in the Holy Spirit. This gives the Scriptures far-reaching spiritual power.”
- Use a positive, new language.
AB: “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.”
AC: “The need to present the indissolubility of marriage as a gift from God rather than a burden and to find a more positive way of speaking about it, so that people can fully appreciate the gift. This relates to the larger question of language, as the Synod looks to shape a language which, in the words of the Instrumentum Laboris, is “symbolic”, “experiential”, “meaningful”, “clear”, “inviting”, “open”, “joyful”, “optimistic” and “hopeful”."
AD: “Some said the text needs to frame the notion of “indissolubility” more positively, rather than treating it as a burden.”
IA: “[There is a] desire to use a language capable of moving men and women of our times to easily understand that the Gospel of the family is the Good News of salvation, addressed to them.”
IB: “It becomes necessary and urgent to be careful about the language used and to judge the actual comprehensibility of what is expressed. The Christian truth is the Person of Christ who chose to be born, grow, live in a family and, to this day does no stop communicating his message, but he could not settle for it just being well formulated: it must be able to truly “water the earth” (Isaiah 55:10).”
- Provide “best practices.”
AA: “The final document would benefit from a consideration of “best practices,” which would show families how to more fully and faithfully live out their vocation. At the heart of such “best practices” is the receiving of the Word of God in the family. [... “B]est practices” should also address proper catechesis and prayer and worship, including prayer within each family.”
AC: “The need to develop resources in the vital area of family prayer, understood in both formal and less formal ways, both liturgically and devotionally. These resources would again have to be culturally sensitive. [...]
One thing which the Synod might consider producing is a list of practical initiatives or strategies to support families and to help those that are in trouble. This would be something concrete and would be in keeping with the essentially practical character of this second Synod on marriage and the family.”
AD: “Some in our group spoke about the need for the text to list devotions that both enhance and express family life and spirituality. The rosary was central to the discussion; so was the importance of parents reading Scripture to children, and siblings reading Scripture together. Bishops stressed the value of families attending Sunday Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations together, and were surprised the text didn’t focus on this in greater detail. Some suggested that various practices of popular piety be listed as concrete expressions of family devotions.”
- Present marriage in the context of the history of salvation.
AB: “The reflection should illustrate how the Divine Pedagogy for marriage and the family has accompanied the entire history of salvation and continues right until our day. [... The Genesis] account of the creation of marriage presents [...] 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. It was considered inappropriate for a Rabbi to speak with a woman yet Jesus dared to speak to a woman, who was a Samaritan – an “excommunicated” and a renowned sinner – something even more scandalous. To a woman who was brought before him prior to her being stoned for the fact that she had committed adultery, he said: “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He dirtied his hands through work, but not with stones to throw at others.”
AC: “The need to see more clearly how the Church through the ages has come to a deeper understanding and surer presentation of the teaching on marriage and the family which has its roots in Christ himself. The teaching has been constant, but the articulation of it and the practice based upon that articulation have not been.”
IC: “The fact of the Incarnation of the Word in a human family, in fact in the family of Nazareth, is the stone that stirs the history of the world with its novelty. We must immerse ourselves in the mystery of Jesus’ birth, of Mary’s yes to the angel’s annunciation made that Word germinate in her womb, of the assent of Joseph who does his part by naming Jesus and taking Mary with him, of the recognition by the Magi and the plotting of Herod, of the participation of Jesus in the story of his exiled, persecuted and fugitive people, of his anticipation by Zechariah and the joy of John the Baptist, of the transmission of blessing from generation to generation, of the welcoming of Israel through its shepherds, through Simeon and Anna, of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple that fulfills the promise, of the losing and finding of Jesus who wants “be in his Father’s house” (Lk 2:49). And, then, we must be there during the endless thirty years where Jesus has digested the prayer and religious tradition of his people to learn the faith of the fathers and to let that faith rise to a telling of the mystery of the Kingdom. [...] This, more than the “sacred” family, is the family made “holy and sanctified” by the incarnation of him who is the Son of the Father, the son of Mary and Joseph.”
- Speak also about need for sacrifice and conversion.
AC: “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.”
IA: “Make the primacy of grace, the recognition of sin and the need to encourage ways of conversion more explicit, recalling that the Gospel truth about the family is incarnate in the life of a couple through the working of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of divine love that elevates the human love of a couple to the reality of the Sacrament.”
IC: “The path of the cross is therefore also at the heart of the Word of Jesus on marriage and the family, in the sense that these goods, while great and sacred, are to be configured in the mystery of the New Covenant, which brings the ancient one to completion, of which marital love is the privileged image.”
- Marriage and family life as a vocation.
AA: “In Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s revelation, the family uncovers its calling within the universal call to holiness. For the disciple of Jesus, every vocation calls the person and the community in two distinct and complementary dimensions. We are called to communion and we are called for mission. We see this in the call of the 12 Apostles. They are called to be friends of Jesus and sent out to preach. The same is true of those disciples who are called to family life.”
IB: “A renewed alliance is to be recommended between the different forms of vocation to love: marriage, the priesthood, consecrated life. A fruitful exchange of gifts is accomplished in the communion of vocations, that enlivens and enriches the ecclesial community. We live in a time that calls for the ability to “stay close,” to accompany, to accept, to forgive. Family and consecrated life can learn to accompany and support each other, helping each other in their respective difficulties, also experiencing new forms of communion and sharing.”
- Use clear language.
AA: “Though every effort should be made to provide for streamlined, attractive language, a primary concern was the clarity of well-grounded explanations of Church teaching on marriage and the family.”
IB: “The words “nature” and “natural”, of great importance in Christian philosophical and theological tradition, conceived from a perspective of creation, appear repeatedly in the text. Here it is suggested that it ought not be overlooked that such terminology, in cultural circles with which we dialogue, is not unambiguous and is difficult to understand for normal people; their use is therefore not easy at the pastoral level.”
- Emphasize the Word of God in the life of the family.
AB: “[F]ocus on the centrality of the Word of God in the theology of marriage, in the pastoral care of the family, and in family piety. The Christian community welcomes the Word of God especially when proclaimed at the Sunday Liturgy. Thus a goal for every couple and family would be to worship together faithfully at Mass every Sunday. Married couples and families also encounter the Word of God in the array of devotions and celebrations that are part of our Catholic heritage. Such piety includes approaching together the sacrament of reconciliation, common prayer and reading of the Scriptures, and other encounters with God’s word in catechesis and prayer.”
AC: “There is a need to draw more deeply and richly from the Scripture, not just in citing biblical texts but in presenting the Bible as a matrix for Christian married and family life. As at Vatican II, the Bible would be a prime resource for the shaping of a new language to speak of marriage and the family; and the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini could serve as a resource for practical suggestions.”
- The relationship between mercy and justice.
AB: “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. [...] God never gives up on his mercy. It is mercy which reveals God’s true face. God’s mercy reaches out to all of us, especially to those who suffer, those who are weak, and those who fail. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel… My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hs 11:8-9) As Pope Francis stresses in Misericordiae Vultus, God’s anger lasts for a moment, but his mercy lasts forever.”
G: “We have extensively discussed the terms that are often presented as opposed: mercy and truth, grace and justice and their theological relationships among each other. In God they are not opposed: Because God is love, in God justice and mercy coincide. The mercy of God is the fundamental truth of revelation, which does not stand in opposition to other revealed truths. Rather, it opens to us the deepest reason, since it tells us why God has emptied himself in his Son and why Jesus Christ is persistently present for our salvation in his Church through his Word and Sacraments. The mercy of God reveals to us the reason and the purpose of the entire work of salvation. The righteousness of God is his mercy with which he makes us righteous. [...]
As meant by Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent, the application of the basic principles of prudence and wisdom is due to every particular, often complex, situation. It is not about exceptions, where God’s Word is not to be valid, but it is a question of the fair and equitable application of the Word of Jesus - for example, the Word about the indissolubility of marriage - in intelligence and wisdom. Thomas Aquinas has made the necessity of a concretizing application clear when he says: “Intelligence is not only about the considerations of reason, but also its application to action, which is the purpose of practical reason (STh II-II-47,3: “ad prudentiam pertinet non solum consideratio rationis, sed etiam applicatio ad opus, quae est finis practicae rationis”).”
- Natural marriage.
AD: “Some bishops felt that we need to better understand the relationship between the newness of the Christian sacrament of matrimony and the natural structure of marriage built into God’s plan from the start.”
G: “Finally, we have struggled with the concept of natural marriage. In the history of mankind, natural marriage is always also culturally marked. The term natural marriage could imply that there is a natural way of life of people without cultural conditioning. We therefore propose the formulation: “Creation-based marriage”.”
- Need for nuanced analysis of obstacles to marriage among young people.
AC: “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 Instrumentum Laboris presents fear as the dominant motive. But it is also true that young people at times do not see the point of marriage or regard it as a purely personal or private matter which makes a public ceremony irrelevant to them. They are also affected in many ways by a culture of options which baulks at closing doors, and they prefer to test a relationship before making any final commitment. Powerful economic factors can also have their effect. We need to beware of a too simplistic reading of a complex phenomenon.”
HA: “When speaking about youth and marriage, it is done from the perspective of fear, which is not enough, it is an anthropological question: they live day by day, “forever” does not fit their way of thinking, they do not ask themselves that, it is another way of looking at life. Perhaps we could speak of informality: a piece of paper does not make marriage and perhaps we have surrounded it with so many formalities that it does not fit the minds of young people, who often identify formality with hypocrisy.”
- Definition of marriage.
AD: “The Instrumentum Laboris nowhere defines marriage. This is a serious defect. It causes ambiguity throughout the text. Most bishops agreed that the document should add the definition of marriage from Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 48.”
HA: “There is a need for a definition of the family, either from Gaudium et Spes #52 or other documents such as Familiaris Consortio.”
- Emphasis on graduality.
HA: “We must emphasize graduality and processuality to welcome the process through which God communicates the grace of the Alliance, which educates in a way where every person is taken into account, progressively, in community, that corrects, accompanies and forgives. Being the pedagogy of God, processuality is also contained in Tradition (St. Agustine’s De cathequizandis rudibus) and it is also indicated by Aparecida (280, 281). [...] Following the thesis of the “semina Verbi,” it can not be ignored that there are many positive values in other types of families.”
G: “Another aspect of our discussion was the [...] gradual introduction of people to the sacrament of marriage, ranging from non-binding relations, via unmarried couples living together and those who are only civilly married up to ecclesially-valid, sacramental marriage. To accompany these people pastorally at the various stages, is a great pastoral task, but also a great joy. [...]
The Church’s teaching on marriage has historically developed and deepened. Initially it was the humanization of marriage that has been condensed in the conviction of monogamy. In the light of the Christian faith, the personal dignity of the spouses has been recognized and the deeper divine likeness of man perceived in the relationship of husband and wife. In a further step, the ecclesial nature of marriage has been deepened and it became understood as a domestic church. Finally, the church became explicitly aware of the sacramentality of marriage. This historical path of deepening can today be seen also in the lives of many people. They are initially affected by the human dimension of marriage, they let themselves be convinced by the Christian view of marriage in the environment of the Church and therefore find a way to celebrate sacramental marriage. Just like the historical development of the Church’s teaching has taken time, so too must ecclesial ministry give the people of today time for maturing on their way towards sacramental marriage and not act according to the principle of “all or nothing”. Here we need to unfold the idea of a “step by step process” (FC 9) in the present, for which John Paul II has already laid a foundation in Familiaris Consortio [...] (FC 65). The Church stands inevitably in tension between the necessary clarity of the doctrine of marriage and the family on the one hand and the concrete pastoral task on the other hand, also to support and convince those people who only partially coincide in their life with the principles of the Church. With them it is important to take steps on the way to a fullness of life in marriage and family, as the Gospel of the family proclaims.”
- The danger of idealizing marriage.
AD: “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.”
IA: “Among these risks is worth mentioning the confusion of the Christian proposal with an abstract ideal.”
- Reinforce close, dynamic relationship among family, Church and God.
AB: “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.”
- The need for mercy.
AB: “All of us need God’s mercy. 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.”
- Find balance between local and universal.
AC: “A great richness and challenge of our discussions continues to be the different modulations of marriage and the family in the various cultures represented in the group. There are certainly points of convergence, arising from our shared sense of God’s plan which is inscribed in creation and which comes to its fullness in Christ crucified and risen, as proclaimed by the Church. But the different ways in which that mystery takes flesh in different parts of the world make it challenging to balance the local and the universal. That remains an overarching task of this Synod.”
- Opposition to seeing traces of good in irregular relationships.
AD: “The text tends to treat irregular relationships as somehow also containing “seeds of the Word.” Some bishops felt this was inappropriate and misleading.”
- Realism about valid conditions for separation.
AD: “Bishops said the text should present the canonical reasons for separation of spouses and reasons for seeking an annulment. We need to be realistic about marital problems rather than simply encouraging people to stay together. Again, violence against women was a key part of the discussion.”
- Marriage and family spirituality.
HA: “Married spirituality is born of the presence of God in the midst of spouses.”
- [Differences of opinion reported.]
AC: “One thing which the Synod might consider producing is a list of practical initiatives or strategies to support families and to help those that are in trouble. This would be something concrete and would be in keeping with the essentially practical character of this second Synod on marriage and the family. On many of these points there was consensus, on others there was wide if not universal agreement, and on a few there was significant disagreement.”
AD: “One person felt the text’s grasp of Scripture could be improved by embracing newer scholarship. The person worried that many of us were reading Scripture in too fundamentalist a manner, and other ways of interpreting Scripture might be more fruitful. Others disagreed and thought that the understanding of Scripture in the text was adequate.”