The first social institution we learn about in life is the family. Early on, we don’t even know it is a social institution –a basic building block of society. All we know is that we belong. We hardly know we love the people in this family, so much are our early years self-absorbed. Family members feed us, hold us, put bandages on our skinned knees, teach us the ins and outs of living, and are role models for interaction. Some of our family members may be dangerous to us, by how they treat us, or how they treat others. We can be squashed by family members or encouraged to be our best selves. At its best, the human family – our family -- is shaped by, guided by love.
Love requires risk. Will we, in our families, be faithful going forward into the future? Can we trust the one we love? Will love in us blossom into goodness on behalf of others, no matter the cost?
Love also has consequences. It costs us time and energy. It questions how we are being and becoming. Love is a commitment and a stretch, in imitation of God who is committed to us and has stretched out to us in Jesus.
Family life is threatened in every age, yet in our age, the challenges seem to be intensifying - challenges to relationships, challenges embedded in the economy, migration, the exhaustion of living. For Pope Francis, the call to examine and to renew family life is a high priority. That’s why he called for a Synod of Bishops with two sessions, several years apart. As part of these sessions, people across the world were consulted, couples who had risked marriage with success or failure were given a chance to say what happened to them and why. The Bishops debated the issues of marriage and family life from many perspectives. And Papa Francisco listened, took it all in.
Just last Friday, he gave the church and the public a 256 page documentary arising from the contents of those meetings and processes, and, importantly, the document bears the stamp of his own orientation toward treating fragile people with mercy, tenderness and a loving embrace. For example, in chapter 8 of this document entitled Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis tells the reader “It can no longer be said that all those in any irregular union are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” Some hierarchy and people will have a hard time with this statement, but what Pope Francis wants the Church to be is a community of support rather than a judge. What does not get a positive view in Amoris Laetitia are the notions of same sex marriage and fluid gender identification. How these topics will be handled in the future remains unclear, but the work is unfinished.
One of the people who took the pulse of the second session of the Synod last fall was Deb Rose-Milavec, Executive Director of Futurechurch. She was among the many non-official observers making connections with people from around the world. Deb’s insights are culled from what she experienced in Rome as well as from emerging texts about the Synod. Deb will be at our motherhouse to talk about what she learned about the Synod on Family on Monday, April 25, 7 pm. Her talk is sponsored by Upstate Call to Action and Fresh Wind in Our Sails. Plan to join us.
~ Sister Joan Sobala