Today is the liturgical memorial of Pope St John Paul II, aptly described by Pope Francis during the canonisation homily last year as “the Pope of the Family.” Several aspects of John Paul’s experience of the family, teaching about the family and defence of the family seem worth a reflection on this special day of gratitude for his life and witness, as Synod-2015 begins its last 72 hours of work.
Środowisko, World Youth Day, and the Theology of the Body
When he was elected the 264th Bishop of Rome on October 16, 1978, Karol Józef Wojtyła brought to the Chair of Peter more direct, personal, pastoral experience of marriage and the family than any pope in a very long time. That experience was also the foundation of his philosophical and theological reflection on human love. The results of that striking interaction of experience and reflection would change the pattern of education-for-chastity and marriage preparation throughout the more alert parts of the world Church.
It all began in March 1949, when Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, the Archbishop of Kraków, sent young Fr Wojtyła to the parish of St Florian’s, just north of the city’s Old Town, to start a second centre of campus ministry in a city replete with students. Out of that assignment came the circle of lay friends that John Paul II would later call his Środowisko, an essentially untranslatable Polish word that connotes “milieu” or “environment.” These friends first met him and each other when he was a young priest and they were undergraduates. And in the cloying, claustrophobic atmosphere and dull greyness of Stalinist Poland, intelligent Catholic young adults found in Fr Wojtyła a man with a remarkable capacity for listening-and-challenging: a priest who created zones of freedom in which they could be themselves and come to a deeper appreciation of their Christian and human possibilities.
Couples formed; marriages were celebrated; children arrived and were baptised; and the circle of Środowisko grew, even as the poorly dressed, pious and friendly young priest they knew became a university professor, an auxiliary bishop, the Archbishop of Kraków, a father of the Second Vatican Council, a cardinal and then the Bishop of Rome. The friendships stayed green, and the people of Środowisko remained among John Paul II’s closest friends for his entire life – and sat behind the assembled heads of state at his funeral Mass.
But there was more to this than a network of longstanding acquaintances. As I said to my son, Stephen, when we attended the golden wedding anniversary celebration of a Środowisko couple in Kraków in 2014, “The people here are the beginning of World Youth Day.” A lot may have changed in the world between the first years of what became Środowisko and the mid-1980s. But John Paul II was convinced – against the counsel of a lot of bishops – that young people could still be challenged to lead lives of heroic virtue, and were indeed looking for just such a challenge.
World Youth Days are now a regular part of the rhythm of global Catholic life. Yet for all the attention they rightly get, these remarkable festivals, which no one but John Paul II imagined possible thirty-some years ago, were not the only by-product of Karol Wojtyla’s pastoral ministry to young couples and young families. Among the other by-products were the book Love and Responsibility and the Wednesday general audience addresses that came to be known as the Theology of the Body – two staples of serious catechesis and marriage preparation work in the vital parts of the Church in the developed world.
For Karol Wojtyła was a genuine intellectual who refined and deepened his experience – including his experience of counseling young souls and young couples – in rigorous thought that brought together the best of classic Catholic thinking with modern methods of philosophical and theological analysis. Ultimately, of course, John Paul II “refined” his experience in prayer. His prayer, however, was not detached from his thought; his prayer deepened and enriched his intellectual work.
Synod-1980 and Familiaris Consortio
This is the background against which to understand the second point for reflection on St John Paul II Day during Synod-2015: the Synod of 1980 and the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, issued by John Paul II in November 1981.
It is no secret that some bishops came to Synod-1980 with a dramatic agenda in mind: the repeal, or at least the de facto burial, of Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, on the morally appropriate ways to regulate fertility. John Paul II, for his part, thought that, while Paul VI’s teaching might have been better heard through a more personalistic presentation of its truths, Pope Paul had been absolutely right in his description of what a “contraceptive mentality” would do: it would congeal the instinct of generosity toward the future that is an absolute moral and cultural requirement for begetting children. And in doing so, it would lead to a further deterioration of marriage and the family.
At the root of it all, John Paul II taught in Familiaris Consortio, was a false idea of freedom: freedom as willfulness. Such a notion inevitably led to the false idea of the family as an accidental aggregate of people who live together because it’s in their mutual interest to do so. In a thoroughly humanistic rebuttal to this desiccated notion of family life, John Paul II insisted that marriage can never be a mere contract, a utilitarian convenience, because human beings are made “through love” and “for love,” such that love is “the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being”: a vocation that is at the heart of marriage and the family. Understood in those terms – and, for Christians, through the redemptive truth about self-sacrificial love confirmed by the Cross and Resurrection – the duties, obligations, and sacrifices of married life and family life come to be seen, not as restrictive, but as liberating. Marriage and family life become agents of liberation from the prison of selfishness, releasing us into the far more humane experience of self-giving.
Thus the family, for Catholics, is the “domestic Church” – one specific, grace-energised way to live the Christian vocation to love, and to love in communion with others. And the community of the family – familiaris consortio – is one of the primary antidotes that the Catholic Church offers to what Wojtyła had long ago identified as the great threat to the human future: the “pulverisation” of the human person, the reduction of men and women to the playthings of impersonal historical or economic forces; the degradation of the human by the rigid application of a criterion of utility, rather than dignity.
The 1994 Cairo World Conference on Population and Development
The third “moment” in the life and work of John Paul II that bears reflection as the Church marks his feast day during Synod-2015 takes us back over two decades, to the decennial UN conference on population and its relationship to development, held in 1994 in Cairo.
That conference was intended by the population-controllers at the UN Fund for Population Activities and their Clinton Administration allies in Washington as the occasion to ratify abortion on demand as a fundamental human right, to be understood on a par with religious freedom and free speech. The further object of the exercise was to wrap the sexual revolution – in which abortion was understood as an essential component of “liberation” – in the mantle of international agreement and, eventually, international law.
The juggernaut behind this agenda had rolled, largely unimpeded, through several years preparatory conferences, and seemed set to steamroll its way through the culminating Fourth World Conference on Population and Development at Cairo. Then John Paul II stepped in. After sending a letter to the UN Secretary General and every head of state in the world, questioning what was planned for Cairo, the pope led a personal campaign of resistance to the population controllers’ agenda throughout the summer of 1994, in a series of general audience and Angelus addresses that sought to rally world opinion to the defence of women and the unborn, the defence of marriage and the defence of the family as the fundamental unit of society.
I describe the results of this unprecedented papal intervention in global population politics, and the skullduggeries that went on before and during the Cairo Conference, in Witness to Hope; suffice it to say here that the worst of the population controllers’ agenda was defeated and the conference final report stated that “in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.” Abortion on demand was not recognised as a fundamental human right, while the rights and responsibilities of parents toward their teenage children – which the population controllers wanted to abrogate in the name of sexual “liberation” – were reaffirmed. Public moral argument, it seemed, still had a place in the affairs of nations.
Then and Now
It’s not difficult to see parallels in all this to the concerns of Pope Francis and Synod-2015.
Spiritually and intellectually serious young Catholics in late-Stalinist Poland were young people “on the peripheries” of a totalitarian society determined to remake human beings in the image of New Soviet Man. Yet, under the tutelage (“pastoral accompaniment”) of an inspirational priest who was also their friend, those young men and women and their families became the seedbed from which grew the best of contemporary Catholic catechesis on chastity and the most effective of contemporary Catholic marriage-preparation programmes.
In the early 1980s, the number of walking wounded, stumbling across the battlefield of a modern culture cratered by the impact of the sexual revolution and its dissolution of fundamental human relationships and bonds, was accelerating. Familiaris Consortio proposed a “field hospital” for those walking wounded in the Catholic family, and in a distinctive Catholic feminism that declined to turn women and their unique gifts into simulacra of men.
Then there is the danger that Pope Francis has described as the “ideological colonisation” of the world by population controllers and their allies in governmental and international development agencies. John Paul II’s dramatic efforts to change the course of the Cairo World Conference on Population and Development suggest that the Catholic Church has the conceptual resources to resist that imposition of decadence in the name of “development” – if its leaders have the nerve to stand against the Zeitgeist and be shepherds who defend the flock against predators seen and unseen.
All of which suggests that there are striking parallels between the holy man whose feast we celebrate today, and the successor whom he called out of a kind of exile into a more capacious role in his local Church – and ultimately to the leading role in the world Church.
Distinguished Senior Fellow and
William E Simon Chair in Catholic Studies,
Ethics and Public Policy Center
Witnesses From Martyr Churches
The Church of the Modern Martyrs speaks with many voices at Synod-2015, including the voices of bishops from lands where martyrs are offering the supreme sacrifice every day.
No local Church in the 20th century gave a greater witness to fidelity than the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Since emerging from four and a half decades of a catacomb existence, the UGCC is now a major force in building civil society in a country invaded and vivisected by Russia: a hard-pressed land working doggedly, and against long odds, toward a future of civility, tolerance, justice, and prosperity.
We regret that it has been impossible until now to highlight the contributions of two of the UGCC’s leaders to the Synod, but are confident that the reflections below, which came during the Synod’s first week, will still be of interest to our readers. XR2
His Beatitude, Sviatoslav Shevchuk (b. 1970), is Major-Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč and the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches. From 1946 until 1990, the UGCC was the largest underground religious body in the world, having been declared illegal by the Soviet government after the notorious “L’viv Sobor,” orchestrated by the Soviet secret police (an outrage defended by one of Synod-2015’s “fraternal delegates,” Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church). Major-Archbishop Shevchuk earned a doctorate in theology at Rome’s Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in 1999, and was rector of the seminary in L’viv before serving as Apostolic Administrator of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Santa María del Patrocinio, headquartered in Buenos Aires. He was elected Major-Archbishop of the UGCC in 2011, his election being confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI. He spoke to the Synod general assembly during its first week; excerpts from his intervention follow.
The modern family in Ukraine is marked by difficulties of post-communist society, which undergoes rapid social and cultural emancipation….
Next year the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will mark the 70th anniversary of its forced liquidation by Stalin in the Soviet Union and forced amalgamation to the Russian Orthodox Church [in the “L’viv Sobor”]. From that time, a Via Crucis began for bishops, priests, monks and nuns, and above all the numerous Christian families who were torn from their land and relocated in the wide Siberian wilderness…
During this period of persecution of the Church, families became hearths where faith in God was preserved and where new generations have received the gift of faith, becoming authentic domestic churches. In their houses, underground priests made sure to find hiding places for the Lord’s altar where, during the silence of the night, they celebrated the Eucharist and the other Holy Sacraments….
[After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church faced new challenges in the form of mass migration] families of believers, especially mothers, once again brought our Church to countries where we had more recently become present, particularly in Western Europe. Often these Ukrainian mothers and grandmothers restored Christian and human values in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese families, and others. Many elderly people in these countries passed to eternity, reconciled with God and received the Sacrament of Holy Anointing, thanks to a Ukrainian nurse….
Even in the current time of the war in Ukraine, in the face of another challenge of a real and severe economic crisis, Christian families welcomed [displaced] migrants and [became] the source of an unforeseen power of solidarity… According to UN estimates, in Ukraine there are [more than one] million Internally Displaced Persons, most of whom have been helped by Ukrainian families, the fundamental cell of society…
Today I have to affirm that, in the past, the family defended and preserved the Church. Today the Church has a sacred duty to protect and preserve the family; the family as the faithful, fruitful, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman…. My faithful asked me to appeal to the Synod Fathers to remember that we, the bishops, are not the masters of the revealed truth about the family, but rather its servants. Today, our people expect…us to confirm and emphasise the Church’s teaching on the family, clarified and summarised by Blessed Paul VI and Pope St John Paul II.
Holy and devout families, strengthened in faith, find, on their own, the most creative ways to answer the challenges of modern society and teach us how to show mercy to those who are experiencing difficulties. We can not solve all the problems with which the world is trying the family, but we can preach the Gospel truth about the family and help the next generation, with God’s help to go forth along the path to holiness.
Hlib Lonchyna (b 1954) is Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family in London. Born in Steubenville, Ohio, he was educated at the Pontifical Urban University, where he earned a degree in biblical theology, and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he earned a degree in Eastern Catholic liturgical theology. After pastoral work in the United States and seminary work in Rome, he moved to Ukraine in 1994 and served as spiritual director of the major seminary in L’viv. He took up his present position in London in 2011. He spoke to the Synod on October 9:
“Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God” (Instrumentum Laboris, 37).
The face of God, as His Holiness reminds us, is the face of mercy. This is the face we, the Church, must show the faithful and the unfaithful, people of good will and those who seek not the Lord. Our task is to manifest God’s everlasting mercy (see Psalm 136).
Yet, if mercy is boundless, why does not everyone experience it? Because mercy cannot be encountered unless it is measured against the eternal law, which is truth. “Mercy and truth have met together”, says the psalmist (Psalm 85:10). One must seek the truth in order to experience mercy.
The first words Jesus uttered when he began his public ministry were, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus is uniting mercy with truth, as did the psalmist. In order to enter the kingdom – the gift of God’s mercy – Jesus calls his disciples, not to self-fulfillment, not to having fun, but to repentance and faith. This entails a change of mentality: from the ways of the world to the ways of the kingdom, from thinking only humanly to having the mindset of Christ (see Philippians 2:5).
Jesus is showing mercy by calling people to conversion. Pope St John Paul II illustrated this in the third Mystery of Light: Jesus’ “proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 21). Mercy means leading a person to the truth. Mercy means challenging people. Mercy means not covering up reality with gift wrap.
The Church should not be afraid to speak the truth about marriage and the family. The “demands of the Kingdom of God” are indeed sublime, out of reach, not attainable by our own means; nevertheless, they make us free when – with the grace of God – we seek to fulfil them.
However, maybe we fear being irrelevant, out of touch, not modern, not merciful. Perhaps this is because we do not trust that the Spirit is guiding us; or the Word is not strong enough; or it will not appeal to our secularised world.
If we want people to believe in marriage, to believe in the family, we ought to help them, first of all, to repent and believe. We should not water down the tough words Jesus pronounced. We should begin with a challenge: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”, and then we shall arrive at mercy: “The kingdom of God is at hand”.
The Greek Catholic Church in Romania also suffered terribly during the communist period, as its bishops remained faithful to their communion with the Chair of Peter and its people lived a drama unimaginable in much of the comfortable West, save among emigré communities who remained in contact with their hard-pressed families and friends. One of the children of that experience, now a physician, spoke to the Synod last week about her parents’ experience, and her thoughts on the sources of cultural confusion in the West today. Her intervention was striking in its candour and was appreciated by many for precisely that. It has been widely circulated in the Catholic blogosphere; we reprint it here for those readers of Letters from the Synod who may not yet have seen it. XR2
Anca Maria Cernea, MD is the president of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Bucharest, and an Auditor of Synod-2015.
Your Holiness, Synod Fathers, Brothers and Sisters…
I am from the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.
My father was a Christian political leader, who was imprisoned by the communists for 17 years. My parents were engaged to marry, but their wedding took place 17 years later.
My mother waited all those years for my father, although she didn’t even know if he was still alive. They were heroically faithful to God and to their engagement.
Their example shows that God’s grace can overcome terrible social circumstances and material poverty.
We, as Catholic doctors, defending life and family, can see this is, first of all, a spiritual battle.
Material poverty and consumerism are not the primary cause of the family crisis. The primary cause of the sexual and cultural revolution is ideological.
Our Lady of Fatima has said that Russia’s errors would spread all over the world. It was first done under a violent form, classical Marxism, by killing tens of millions. Now it’s being done mostly by cultural Marxism. There is continuity from Lenin’s sex revolution, through Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, to the current-day gay rights and gender ideology.
Classical Marxism pretended to redesign society, through violent takeover of property. Now the revolution goes deeper; it pretends to redefine family, sexual identity and human nature. This ideology calls itself progressive. But it is nothing else than the ancient serpent’s offer, for man to take control, to replace God, to arrange salvation here, in this world.
It’s an error of religious nature. It’s Gnosticism.
It’s the task of the shepherds to recognise it, and warn the flock against this danger.
“Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The Church’s mission is to save souls. Evil, in this world, comes from sin. Not from income disparity or “climate change”. The solution is: Evangelisation.
Conversion. Not an ever-increasing government control. Not a world government. These are nowadays the main agents imposing cultural Marxism to our nations, under the form of population control, reproductive health, gay rights, gender education, and so on.
What the world needs nowadays is not limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin. Salvation.
Our Church was suppressed by the Soviet occupation. But none of our 12 bishops betrayed their communion with the Holy Father. Our Church survived thanks to our bishops’ determination and example in resisting prisons and terror.
Our bishops asked the community not to follow the world, not to cooperate with the communists.
Now we need Rome to tell the world: “Repent of your sins and turn to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”.
Not only us, the Catholic laity, but also many Christian Orthodox are anxiously praying for this Synod. Because, as they say, if the Catholic Church gives in to the spirit of this world, it is going to be very difficult for all the other Christians to resist it.
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