After the travails of the first week, we decided to adopt a different approach to Part II of the Instrumentum Laboris and moved through it more briskly than we did through Part I. As our sense of the task has clarified, our modus procedendi has matured, and this is encouraging as we begin work on the long and complex Part III.
I now present the issues from Part II which were central to the group’s discussion:
1) 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.
2) The need to develop for couples and families catechetical programmes that are attuned to different cultures, to revise them periodically and to adapt National Catechetical Directories in the light of these where applicable.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) 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”.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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.
9) 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.
10) 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.
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.