Thursday, January 22, 2015

Familiaris Consortio: Saint John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation On The Role Of The Christian Family In The Modern World

Saint John Paul II during the early years of his pontificate, a protector of life and the family

With the Extraordinary Synod of The Family in October'2014, the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September'2015 and the Synod of the Family in Rome in October'2015, it seemed only fitting that with today's post, I begin to write about a new blog label, the Family.

The family is in urgent need of support and protection from the increasing moral disorder in Canadian society, one that seems to have very little regard for its significance as the "first and vital cell of society." It has been directly attacked with abortion, contraception, pornography/pornovision, sterilization,"same sex marriage," gender ideology, euthanasia, immoral laws and graphic sexual education. It doesn't take much time or effort to discover how they have negatively impacted the family.

There are many examples one could cite that illustrate the negative impacts upon the family. What has always been understood and accepted to be the traditional family unit, has become relative to other family arrangements, that no longer consider a man and a woman as the proper spouses. In 2005 Canada legally recognized "same sex marriages." 

It is not uncommon these days to meet couples who instead of entering into the sacrament of marriage prefer cohabitation, either as a trial period or permanent arrangement.

Marital infidelity, according to a pastor from one of my local Catholic parishes, is quite an ongoing problem.

With today's contraceptive mentality, many enter into the conjugal act with the intention of preventing God's creative action of bringing new life into the world. For some, instead of being joyous about the news of a pregnancy, consider such news a negative development and seek to kill the unborn baby in the womb with an abortion.

Many parents are failing to be the "first educators" of their children. Instead of ensuring that their children receive a proper Christian formation, parents allow the values and influences of the world to determine and dominant their children's development.

The federal government has not done enough over the years to build up Canada's future by providing substantial financial incentives to encourage and support families to have children. Add to this its ushering in of a "Culture of Death" that became identifiable in 1969, with the introduction of "therapeutic abortions" in hospitals, followed by the infamous Dr. Henry Morgantaler's 1988, constitutional challenge that made abortion legal and available on demand. These and many other indicators are a telling sign of deep moral crisis in Canada.

Sadly, many people do not truly understand the role of the Christian family in the modern world nor have they ever had a proper lived experience of what is referred to as the "domestic church," a community of life and love, that educates and leads its members to their full human maturity and serves all along the road of life.

If this is the first time you are reading about the family as the "domestic church," it is in reference to the family as a microcosm of the larger Church, the sacrament of God's love, a communion of faith and life. The future of the world and of the Church passes through the familyAs Saint John Paul II has stated in his 1986 homily in Perth, Australia during his apostolic pilgrimage in Asia, "...As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." (4)  

The question remains, how do we effectively support and protect the family? The first thing to understand about all this, is that it is primarily a spiritual battle, one that requires we root our efforts in prayer and fasting. The most powerful forms of prayer are the Eucharist (Mass) and the Rosary. Frequent Mass attendance, daily if possible and offering up the family with each Mass is an effective approach, coupled with a daily recitation of the Rosary. 

The importance of fasting can not be overstated when fighting the spiritual battle. In addressing the apostles who questioned Jesus as to why they could not cast out the demon, Jesus Himself mentioned the spiritual weapons of prayer and fasting as the most effective weapons against the forces of evil. He stated in particular the necessity of fasting that, "some demons cannot be driven out except in this way." (Mark 9:29) 

Our Lady in Medjugorje has reaffirmed this teaching from Jesus, by giving us Her "little stones," two of which are prayer and fastingOur Lady has stated in one of her messages that fasting can stop wars, "The best fast is on bread and water. Through fasting and prayer one can stop wars, one can suspend the natural laws of nature. Works of charity cannot replace fasting. Everyone except the sick, has to fast." (July 21, 1982) The analogy of the "little stones" is in reference to the battle of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) in which God gave little stones to David to hurl at and defeat Goliath. Our Lady has also given us Her "little stones" in our battle to hurl at our Goliath, Satan. It is Satan who strives to destroy God's plan for the family, society and all of humanity. 

The second thing we can do to effectively support and protect the family is to seek and live the truth about the family, which is proposed in the teachings of the Catholic Church. By doing so, we demonstrate by own example how to cooperate with God's plan for humanity, one that is lived in peace and forms part of a community of faithful believers of the Church and in the World.

So what does the Catholic faith teach about the family? In trying to answer this question, I did some research and I was immediately drawn to the writings of St. John Paul II, whose pontificate has produced a few key documents on the subject matter, one of which is Familiaris Consortio. It was issued on the Solemnity of Christ The King, November 22, 1981, and continues to remain relevant today, even more so with the increased attacks on the family since it was issued.

Familiaris Consortio was a thoroughly written document on the subject matter of the familyand invited readers, in particular the laity, to a new level of awareness and understanding on the Christian family and its role in the modern world. Maintaining a continuity with the magisterium of the Catholic Church, with many references to his predecessor Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae and citing from the Second Vatican Council document, Gaudium et spes, one gains a real sense of the historical context with which the Church has addressed the importance of the family in society.

Familiaris Consortio offered help not only to those who were already aware of the value of marriage and the family and sought to live it faithfully, but also for those who were as Saint John Paul II had put it, "... uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives. (1) The Church in issuing this document sought to support, illuminate and assist everyone who wondered about the destiny of marriage and the family.

Familaris Consortio is fifty eight pages printed and demands of the reader, a focussed and dedicated effort to get through what will no doubt be new reading material for many. The reading is not a complex or difficult by any means. For those new to reading on the family, this apostolic exhortation serves as an ideal introduction to the Church's teaching on the subject matter. Familaris Consortio is outlined as follows:
  1. Introduction
  2. Part One - Brights Spots And Shadows For The Family Today
  3. Part Two - The Plan Of God For Marriage And The Family
  4. Part Three - The Role Of The Christian Family
  5. Part Four - Pastoral Care Of The Family: Stages, Structures, Agents And Situations
Due to the volume of information contained in this document, I decided to focus on Part Three - The Role Of The Christian Family, under the subheading of Serving Life. Under the Serving Life section are two subsections: The Transmission of Life and Education. The remainder of this post focusses on these two subsections.

The Transmission of Life

Right from the beginning, Saint John Paul II emphasized how both man and woman are called to cooperate with God in the transmission of life under the subheading, Cooperators in the Love of God the Creator. With man and woman formed in the image and likeness of God, they both are brought to God's perfection in the sharing in His love through the free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life. In that cooperation, God has blessed both man and woman to be "fruitful and multiple, and fill the earth and subdue it." (28) He emphasized that the fundamental task of the family is to serve life.

In continuity with the Church's teaching on marriage and the transmission of human life, Saint John Paul II included the reaffirmation made by the synod fathers from the 1980 synod in which they declared:
This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the Successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et spes, 50) and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae vitae, particularly that love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life. (29)
Under the subheading the Church's Stand for LifeSaint John Paul II noted the urgency with which the promotion of the true good of men and women must be made, in light of the social and cultural context of that time. It is something that has become even more urgent today with the many societal problems that have accelerated since this document's issue in 1981.

Having Identified the core problem of the absence of God in people's hearts, Saint John Paul II elaborated on how such a reality was evident in the attitudes of many people. What resulted then, which has increased considerably in today's society, was an anti-life attitude. It was illustrated by the skepticism with which people debated whether is was justifiable to bring new life into a cruel world. Add to this the consumer mentality which only sought to acquire an increasing amount of material goods. Others also embraced a contraceptive mentality, which was a complete refusal to cooperate in the transmission of life.

At that time, like today, partly fuelling of the anti-life mentality were the panic based notions by environmentalists who claimed that further population increases were a dangerous demographic reality that would result in reduced quality of life. To this, Saint John Paul II again reaffirmed Church teaching when he declared:
But the Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God's goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendor of that "Yes," that "Amen," who is Christ Himself.(84) To the "No" which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living "Yes," thus defending the human person and the world from all who plot against and harm life. (30)
Saint John Paul II also made it clear that the Church condemns and considers to be a grave offence against human dignity, all the activities of governments or public authorities which in any way negatively affect the freedom couples' decision about children. Included is any violence by such authorities with respect to contraception, sterilization and abortion. 

At the subheading, Integral Vision of the Human Person and of His or Her Vocation, Saint John Paul II further emphasized the importance of a couple's cooperation in transmission of life when he explained why it is morally wrong to consider contraception. Quoting Pope Paul VI who affirmed the two meanings of the conjugal act, both the unitive and procreative, he noted how his predecessor made it clear that every act should be considered intrinsically immoral that in any way renders procreation impossible.

Saint John Paul II elaborated further when he stated that when couples have recourse to contraception, they separate the two meanings of the conjugal act and become "...arbiters of the divine plan and they manipulate and degrade human sexuality and with it themselves and their married partner by altering its value of total self giving." (32) The use of contraception does not permit for a time of total reciprocal self giving by husband and wife. He noted that this leads to, "not only a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon in personal totality." (32)

When couples have recourse to periods of infertility, then couples respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality. In so doing, Saint John Paul II noted that they act as "ministers of God's plan and they benefit from their sexuality according to the original dynamism of total self giving, without manipulation or alteration." (32) 

Further on, Saint John Paul II spoke about the "absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it." (33) For married couples, understanding that family life also requires chaste living, that the dignity of the human being must not be diminished or ignored by impure thoughts, which when they occur reduces the other to a means of self gratification. As Saint John Paul II noted, chastity does not reject human sexuality, but rather represents a spiritual path for defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness. It is only through chaste living that human sexuality can be fully realized.

One of the most relevant subsections that couples and families can learn from today, are the various paragraphs under the subheading, The Moral Progress of Married People. Saint John Paul II noted that it is essential to have the correct understanding of the moral order, its values and norms, especially in light of difficulties that arise in recognizing, accepting and living these norms. Today, we have many examples of such difficulties as noted in the aforementioned "elements of the moral disorder," to which we could easily add: an embolden gay agenda and its propaganda, the indoctrination of sexual immorality in the education system, restrictions on the freedom of conscience, a lack of respect for morality and religious beliefs, anti-life policies, secularism, consumerism and moral relativism.

What is fundamental about the moral order is that it reveals and sets forth the plan of God the Creator. It is for this reason that it in no way can be considered harmful to man or something impersonal. On the contrary, as Saint John Paul II noted, the moral order, " responding to the deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself at the service of that person's full humanity with the delicate and binding love whereby God Himself inspires, sustains and guides every creature towards its happiness." (34) Married people are called to live God's wise and loving plan in a responsible manner and unceasingly progress in their moral lives.


One of the most essential roles of Christian families in the world is that of married couples as the first educators of their children. The task of education is one that is, as Saint John Paul II noted, rooted in the primary vocation of married couples. In fulfilling their role, married couples help their children to effectively live their lives. They do this in part by creating an atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that, "...a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children..." (36) As a result, the family becomes the first school of social virtues which every society needs. Saint John Paul II emphasized the important role of married couples when he stated: 
The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others. (36)
Not to be forgotten or overlooked is that essential component, the most basic element of the educational role of parents, that is parental love. It finds its fulfillment in the task of education as it "...completes and perfects its service to life..." (36)

Under the subheading, Educating in the Essential Values of Human Life, Saint John Paul II noted how important it is for all families to educate their children in the essential values of human life. He stated that, "Children must grow up with a correct attitude of freedom with regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere life style and being fully convinced that man is more precious for what he is than for what he has." (37)

Also spotlighted was the necessity for children to be enriched with a sense of true justice amongst a society filled with division, tension, individualism and selfishness. What this translates into is for children to be instilled with the sense of respect for personal dignity for each individual and a sense of true love, understood to be a sincere and disinterested service to others, especially the poorest and those most in need. In this way, the family fulfills it roles as a first and fundamental school of social living, a community of love.

The role of parents as educators has a direct connection with both civil and ecclesial communities. With respect to Christian communities, parents must be involved in a level of cooperation with various educational groups and pastors. At the same time, Christian communities must give special attention to both parents and the children with the aim of forming a perfect educating community.

Particularly important and spotlighted by Saint John Paul II was the point made regarding the guarantee for the right of parents to choose an education in conformity with their religious faith. This entails the State and the Church provide families with all the possible aid to enable them to perform their educational role properly. The correct thinking for both parents and schools with respect to the education of children is: 
...those in society who are in charge of schools must never forget that the parents have been appointed by God Himself as the first and principal educators of their children and that their right is completely inalienable. But corresponding to their right, parents have a serious duty to commit themselves totally to a cordial and active relationship with the teachers and the school authorities. (40)
Fruitful married love expresses itself in many ways. One of which is the proper Christian education and formation of children. This is such an important aspect of the family's role in the modern world. It is a role whose value has become ever more important and necessary in today's secular and consumeristic world. It is one that can only begin by putting God first in every aspect of family life, allowing God to guide and protect the family.  

I hope that today's post has strengthened your resolve to support and 
protect the family, and encouraged you to read Familiaris Consortio. All conscientious Catholics need to become more involved with the many issues that are negatively impacting the family. The future of Canadian society and the world is dependent upon it.  

May God bless you and your family.   

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to share your thoughts. Please keep in mind that any disrespectful and improper comments will not be posted.