That is why the Church cannot allow marriage and family to be reduced to cultural constructs or arbitrary living arrangements. Because if we lose the family, we lose God's plan for our lives and for the world.
Marriage and family are gifts from the Creator that are "written into" the order of his creation and expressed in the bodily differences of men and women and their vocation to a communion of love that is faithful for life and fruitful in creating new life.
Pope Francis affirms this in Laudato Si' and he emphasized it again during his yearlong catechesis on the family.
The human person is God's "masterpiece," created body and soul in his image and likeness, the pope said.
The natural differences between men and women and their "complementarity" stand at the "summit of divine creation," and order the couple to "communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God."
These basic truths of creation are the source for everything that the Church believes, teaches and practices regarding marriage and family.
The Church is called to proclaim these truths to the world in all their fullness and in all their beauty. We are called to do everything that we can to support those couples and families who are trying to live these truths - to be "holy spouses" and "holy families."
The Church is also called to reach out with tenderness to those who are having trouble understanding and living these truths.
But Pope Francis has also urged us in strong words not to sacrifice the truths of creation in a vain effort to "please the people" or to make the Church's teachings sound less demanding.
At the end of the extraordinary synod last year he cautioned against "a destructive tendency … that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots."
This is always a natural temptation when we are faced with human weakness and misunderstanding.
But the pope reminds us that kindness and compassion can never be separated from the truth of God's plan. A person's conscience is sacred. But our conscience is only reliable if it is formed according to the truth that God has written into our hearts and the loving plan he has for our lives.
The words we speak in mercy must always be the truth, or our words are not merciful at all, just sentimental feelings.
Telling people what they want to hear will never do them any good, unless what we are saying is the truth they need to know.
All of us in the Church, in these difficult times, are called to accompany people, to meet them where they are at and to walk with them in charity and tenderness and compassion. But the journey of the Christian life is always a journey of conversion. Our "destination" is not where we want to go, but where God wants to lead us.
A moment for mission
So as we enter these final days of the synod, I find myself turning to our newest saints. Not only the holy spouses St. Louis and St. Zélie Martin. But also our newest American saint, St. Junípero Serra, who blazed the trails of holiness in the New World.
I believe that all of us in the Church need a new missionary confidence and courage for the times we are living in.
In fact, we are living in a time of hope, a new missionary moment - a time when the Church has a great opportunity for the new evangelization of our continents and the world.
Every day, as bishops from around the world gather in this Synod Hall, we are witnessing the reality that the Gospel has been enculturated in "every nation under heaven."
This has been striking for me, this experience of the universal Church: to realize that the Church today is able to truly pray, teach and evangelize in one voice - as one family of God, drawn from every nation, people and language, united in our faith in the Gospel and our communion with the Holy Father in Rome.
With the unity of our doctrine and practice, and the rich diversity of our local traditions of popular piety - the Church has tremendous resources to resist pressures and worldly powers and to proclaim the Gospel to a new generation.
We need to challenge the "orthodoxies" and the "anthropology" of our culture. We need to find creative, positive ways to proclaim God as Creator and to show the beauty of his plan for the human person and the family.
Counting on the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, my prayer in this final week is that all of us in the Church will stay united in our apostolic desire to be missionary disciples. And that we will use this new moment to carry the beauty of God's plan for our lives and his original dream for creation - to the ends of the earth.
This column first published on Angelus/The Tidings Online. It is reposted with permission.