Vatican City, Oct 6, 2015 / 09:26 am
On Oct. 5, the opening day of the 2015 Synod on the Family, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest -- who is the synod's relator general -- gave an introductory speech to the synod fathers. Drawing from the working document for the synod as well as recent magisterial documents, Cardinal Erdo surveyed the work the assembly is called to do. He examined current challenges to the family and marriage, the vocation of the family, and the family's mission today. The full text of his prepared remarks were published in Italian on the Vatican's website. Please find below CNA's English translation of the entirety of his remarks:
Most eminent and excellent synod fathers,
dear brothers and sisters,
Jesus Christ is our master, our Lord, and the Good Shepherd. When, according to the evangelist Mark, he saw a great crowd, he had compassion on them: "and he began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34). In this regard, Pope Francis has indicated the method and the program which in certain ways we too should follow in our work: "...to see, to have compassion, to teach. We can call them the verbs of the Shepherd … The first and second, to see and to have compassion, are always found together in the attitude of Jesus: in fact his gaze is not the gaze of a sociologist or a photojournalist, for he always gazes with "the eyes of the heart" … From this tenderness is born Jesus' wish to nourish the crowd with the bread of his Word, that is, to teach the Word of God to the people. Jesus sees, Jesus has compassion, Jesus teaches us." (Pope Francis, Angelus, July 19, 2015). This vision corresponds with the three great themes of the instrumentum laboris, the fruit of an intense, collegial path. Without being able to mention in this introductory relation all the important themes which have emerged in the discussion and the document of the last synod, and since then, we try then to follow in particular only the principal themes.
I. Listening to the challenges to the family
I.1 The social-cultural context
In its first part, the instrumentum laboris speaks of a listening which is nothing more than "seeing", an acknowledgement of the challenges currently facing the family. There seem to be in the world, in external circumstances, and in the discussions or in the mentality of peoples, at least two great sorts of problems. The first is traditional, seemingly constant, but which assumes in our globalized world new dimensions and new, unexpected consequences. These are the effects of climate and environmental change, and those of social injustice, of violence, of war, which push millions of persons to leave their homeland and try to survive in other parts of the world. If we look, for example, at the thousands of immigrants and refugees arriving daily in Europe, we see immediately that the vast majority is composed of rather young men, though they arrive, sometimes, with their women and children. Already from this picture it is evident that the migratory movement is disintegrating families, or at least makes it difficult to form them. In many parts of the world, young parents leave their home and their children to seek work abroad.
In not a few parts of the world persons work for a salary so low that it permits them to survive to continue to work, but it does not make it feasible to care for a family. In this context one cannot forget that commercial enterprises, too, have a responsibility in this situation.
It also happens that to ensure the so-called mobility of the "workforce", entire families have to transfer to other cities or regions, ever lacerating the human and social structures of family, friends, and neighbors, school and work mates. So all this great mobility seems to be one of the factors which drive persons to individualistic attitudes and tendencies.
So the industrialization which began the 19th century, has arrived today to all parts of the world. The typical form of labor becomes one of dependence. The employee, working outside of his family, is payed for what he does outside his family, while the most precious work done inside the family community, such as the education of children and care of the sick and elderly at home, are but rarely recognized and aided by society. As Pope Francis has said: "We experience the shortcomings of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores its elderly. And the elderly are a wealth not to be ignored." (General Audience, March 4, 2015)
I. 2 Anthropological change: fleeing from institutions
In the more wealth regions of the world, there is another elementary phenomenon, not independent of the first, and present now in other parts of the world, that is the so called "anthropological change", which runs the risk of becoming an "anthropological reductionism." (Pope Francis, address to participants in a seminar on his proposal for a "more inclusive economy", July 12, 2014) The person, in seeking his freedom, often tries to be independent of any link, at times even of religion, which constitutes a link with God, or of social links, especially those which relate to the institutional form of life. The life of society, in fact, especially of those called 'developed', risks being 'suffocated' by bureaucratic formalism. A phenomenon which does not follow necessarily only from the complexity of economic and social structures or the complexity of scientific conquest, but which seems also to have another source – a change of attitude. If we do not have the confidence to know objective truth and objective values which are based on reality, then we risk looking for the guidelines of our social comportment on the basis of purely formal criteria, such as majority votes, independent of content, or the formality of proceedings, at various organizations, as the only justification for a choice. This phenomenon can push legislators to multiply juridical norms, and even to control information, for fear that otherwise there will not be a voluntary observance of laws, which can only come from a moral conviction, by a common, objective knowledge of reality. From this picture comes a notable alienation, which explains the instinctive flight of many people from institutional forms. So it seems we can explain the growth in the number of couples cohabiting seemingly stably, but without contracting any kind of marriage, neither religious nor civil. In certain countries the high percentage of this kind of choice shows a correlation with a high percentage of those who do not wish to bury their parents with any ceremony. Where the law allows it, they prefer to bring home their ashes, or to spread them without any formality. It is clear, here, that the fundamental escape from institutions also affects some forms of live which have per se a communitarian and institutional aspect. Marriage and family are not only for isolated individuals; rather, they transmit values, and offer a possibility of development to the human person, which is irreplaceable.
In all the crises of instiutions and of institutional forms for human relations, and not only in the sphere of marriage and the family, though there in a special way, there is manifest the internal tension of the human person and the question of what is the human being. Already, linguistic expression and speech involve an institutional element in communication. Using words with precise content, we come more easily to abstraction and logical reasoning, which relieve the single person of having to create always new ways of communicating. Following customs and institutional forms of society are easier and more secure ways of comporting oneself in many of life's situations. Institutions, in general, seem to be 'checks' which facilitate, and lighten, interpersonal relationships. Even unwritten norms of social comportment have a similar function. One can communicate the ideal of just comportment by giving an example, a story told or represented in a film, but one can also express it in a verbally conceived norm – in a law. Jesus Christ was the greatest of communicators, the living Word of God, who was able to relate the parables and then to say "go and do likewise", but was also able to speak as the Lawgiver.
Current anthropological change touches on the deepest layers of the human being. It comes in among planning the smallest details of a wedding, providing everything – the music, the menu, the tablecloths. You see young engaged couples totally preoccupied with these details, while at the same time neglecting the true significance of marriage.
In this 'magnetic field' of the necessity and the apparent inaccessibility of many institutional forms, is located the issue of the law, as well as those of marriage and the family. Before this current, and truly new situation, it seems providential that this present synodal assembly is dedicated to this theme. Let us then deal with the ambit of this synod, as Pope Francis has indicated: "... to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves" (Instrumentum laboris 3).
I. 3 Institutional instability
In addition to the flight from institutions, there is growing institutional instability which is manifest also in the high rate of divorce. That people are getting married at a later age, and youths' fear in assuming the responsibility of definitive commitments such as marriage and family, are seen in this context. Indeed, if one's sole objective is to feel good in the moment, then neither the past nor the future have any importance; indeed there appears a certain general fear of the future, for one might not feel good anymore then. Thus it seems too perilous to make a definitive choice regarding career and family. It so happens that many do not even feel their own responsibility, either for the present or the future.
I. 4 Individualism and subjectivism
Thus, as Pope Francis reiterated in his discourse at Strasbourg: "Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights – I am tempted to say individualistic; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a 'monad' (μονας), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding 'monads'. The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of rights. As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself."
"I believe, therefore, that it is vital to develop a culture of human rights which wisely links the individual, or better, the personal aspect, to that of the common good, of the 'all of us' made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society." (Pope Francis, Address to the European Parliament, Nov. 25, 2014)
Therefore the current tendency to pass off those things which are simply desires, often selfish ones, as true and proper rights, while denying the basic objective of all law, must be avoided.
"An aspect of great importance for our responsibility is the need to rethink the orientation of world systems through an ecological culture … which includes not only an environmental dimension but also those of society and economics, which allow sustainable development and a culture of creation" (Instrumentum laboris 16). It is in the light of our relationship with the Creator that we find the fullness of our responsibility and vocation.
In addition to these individualistic and anti-institutional tendencies, one can observe the phenomenon of confounding or rendering uncertain the continues of such fundamental institutions as marriage and the family. This also contributes to the growth of individualism, which ultimately results in both cause and effect.
I. 5 Biological and cultural aspects
With the development of the natural sciences, new possibilities have appeared regarding the biological relationship between persons and cultures. Consumer society has separated sexuality and procreation. This too is one of the causes of the falling birth rate. It stems at time from poverty, and in other cases from the difficulty of having to assume responsibility.
While in developing countries the exploitation of women and the violence done to their bodies and the tiring tasks imposed on them, even during pregnancy, are oftentimes compounded by abortion and forced sterilization, not to mention the extreme negative consequences of practices connected with procreation (for example, a womb 'for rent' or the marketing of embryonic gametes). In advanced countries, the desire for a child at any cost "has not resulted in happier and stronger family relationships." (Instrumentum laboris 30) All things considered the so-called bio-technological revolution has introduced new possibilities for the manipulation of the generative act "... making it independent of the sexual relationship between man and woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples." (Instrumentum laboris 34)
Immaturity and affective fragility are of great relevance here. First of all it is forgotten that these are the effects of a true lack of effective and affective education among families, in that parents do not have time for their children, or are divorced and the children are not able to see the example of adults, and are confronted only with the comportment of their peers. So the affective maturity remains held back and is not given permission to develop. Of prime importance in this context is pornography and the commercialization of the body, helped by a distorted use of the internet. Do not forget, however, that this more of a consequence than a cause of the current situation. Thus the crisis of couples destabilizes the family and weakens family links between generations. (cf Instrumentum laboris 33)
"Finally, there are theories according to which personal identity and emotional intimacy ought to be radically detached from the biological difference between male and female. At the same time, however, some want to recognize the stable character of a couple's relationship apart from sexual difference, and place it on the same level as the marital relationship, which is intrinsically connected to the roles of a father and a mother and determined on the biological basis of child-bearing. The resulting confusion relegates the special bond between biological difference, reproduction and human identity to an individualistic choice. 'The removal of difference [...] creates a problem, not a solution.'" (Instrumentum laboris 8)
II. The discernment of the family vocation
II. 1 Family and the divine pedagogy
The gaze of Jesus is that of mercy, of the mercy which is based on truth. Jesus' teaching on marriage and family are from creation (cf Mt 19:3). The life of the human being and of humanity is part of a great project: that of God the creator. As in all aspects of life, we find our wholeness and our felicity if we can insert ourselves freely and consciously into this great project full of wisdom and love. If we seek the truth about marriage and family, according to the best of our natural capacities, and if we listen to the teachings of Jesus Christ, then we grasp it in all its fullness and all its holiness. So resplendent are marriage and family in their beauty, that Saint Paul said this is a great mystery which manifests the love of Christ for the Church (cf Eph 5:32). This beauty is not simply the meaning of something that attracts without interest, it does not have merely an aesthetic value, but is found to be a true and profound, objective interest in human existence, a true way to felicity, which in turn makes of sacramental marriage a means of sanctification and a font of grace.
"The truth [as the Council teaches] is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. […] Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear" (Gaudium et spes 22). So we must understand, using a Christocentric key, also the rich and varied natural characteristics of marriage (cf Instrumentum laboris 40).
II. 2 Jesus and the family: the gift and task of indissolubility
"Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman, though saying to the Pharisees that 'for your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so' (Mt 19: 8). The indissolubility of marriage ('what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder' Mt 19:6), is to be understood not as a 'yoke' imposed on persons but as a 'gift' to a husband and wife united in marriage. Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana and he announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation that restores the original divine plan (Mt 19:3). At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and with the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11). By looking at the sinner with love, Jesus leads the person to repentance and conversion ('Go and sin no more'), which is the basis for forgiveness." (Instrumentum laboris 41)