The group asked that the final document be entitled: “The Final Relatio of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World presented to His Holiness Pope Francis.”
The group stressed that the family is not just the object of evangelization but an active subject, agent, and source of evangelization. The family carries out the work of evangelization within the family cell itself, through the self-giving love of the spouses, through the education to unselfish affectivity of children, and being a transforming leaven in society. The actual living out of family communion is a form of missionary proclamation. The mission and witness of evangelization finds its roots in the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.
The group stressed the role of families in associations, family movements, small Christian communities, and in the parish.
Within this internal family communion the group wished to add a new paragraph on “Marriage, an Expression of the Goodness of the Gift of Sexuality”. In sexual loving the married couples experiences God’s tenderness. The Church’s teaching on sexuality – including the meaning of chastity – must stress the beauty, joy, and richness of human sexuality and the place of sexual love in a committed, exclusive, and permanent relationship. The rich Christian vision of sexuality is in many places being undermined by a narrower and impoverished understanding.
The group stressed the importance of marriage preparation not just in the period before the marriage ceremony. It was suggested that the traditional distinctions remote, proximate, and immediate be recovered in reflection on all forms of vocation.
Families themselves are the first heralds of the Gospel. In the family spouses exercise the common priesthood of all believers. The formation in faith of children from the youngest age is remote preparation for mature adult discipleship.
Youth ministry, parish and school catechesis, retreats, and small Christian communities should focus on young adults and reflect on how God is calling them whether within marriage, single life, priesthood, or consecrated life. Such a long-term catechesis would stress marriage as an itinerary of faith.
The immediate preparation of the couple for the celebration of marriage should include catechesis on marriage as sacrament and a vocation, on prayer, and on an invitation to those who have been lax in their faith to return. In some areas it was noted that most couples who present themselves for marriage preparation may have been living together for long periods. In other areas traditions and cultures include longer, structural preparation with the active involvement of both families.
The group affirmed the essential role of priests, as apostles to the family, in preparing couples for the sacrament of marriage and in continuing to accompany couples and families to live out their vocations. The group proposed a new paragraph on the formation of priests for this ministry.
The group looked in detail at the challenge of the pastoral accompaniment of families in difficult marital situations. Pastoral accompaniment today must always be marked by the Divine Pedagogy and mercy. Care should be taken to identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth. Attention should be given, for example, to find those aspects of relationships established by civil marriage, traditional marriage, and with obvious differences co-habitation, which might then lead to growth towards a full celebration of sacramental marriage with the completion it brings.
On the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried, the group looked at what an appropriate pastoral accompaniment of such couples should be. Such accompaniment must examine the situation of their marital condition, and also explore what it means to say that they are not excluded from the life of the Church.
The group proposed a pathway of discernment or ‘reverential listening’, attentive to the story of those who seek understanding and support. The first purpose of this attentive accompaniment would be to foster deeper discipleship with Christ based on the enduring bond of baptism, rather than addressing the question of admission to the sacraments of penance and Holy Communion.
This process of reverential listening would require an agreed framework with some clear elements. These elements might include:
attending to the story of the first marriage, to its possible invalidity, seeing either if there is any reason for deeper investigation in the external forum, or if there are reasons for further examination in the internal forum, with recourse to a delegate of the bishop where one is established for this purpose attending to the wounds caused by the divorce, in the individuals, in their children, families and communities, including the community of the Church and the ways in which the responsibilities of the first marriage are being honored; attending to an account of the second marriage, its stability, fruitfulness and the responsibilities which flow from it; a focus on spiritual formation and spiritual growth, with an exploration of the impact of these events on the relationship with Christ; on the sense of repentance expressed for hurt and sin; on the current relationship with Christ, and with the parish community; on the continuing formation of conscience and the development of a more mature judgement of conscience on the present situation.
On the theme of spiritual communion, the group noted it is possible that persons, whose objective state of life – an irregular union – puts them in contradiction with the full meaning of the Eucharist, may not be subjectively culpable of any continuing state of sin. They may thereby rightly have a loving desire for Eucharistic union with Christ. While their objective state may prevent them from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, they may properly develop the practice of Spiritual Communion, and thereby become more open to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and union in the Church.
On the subject of the admission of divorced and remarried to the sacraments, the group would request that the Holy Father, taking into account the rich material which has emerged during this synodal process, consider establishing during the Jubilee Year of Mercy a Special Commission to study in depth the ways in which the disciplines of the Church which flow from the indissolubility of marriage apply to the situation of people in irregular unions, including situations arising from the practice of polygamy.
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