"Big Four" Highlights


Your Summary and Summons

The Synod on the Family can serve as a school for fatherhood

By Jason Godin
Associate Editor, Fathers for Good

The Instrumentum Laboris – the working document prepared by the Synod of Bishops for its upcoming meeting in October 2014 – has collected input and insights from Catholic leaders and laypeople around the world in order to develop topics for study and discussion at the Synod on the Family starting in Rome on October 5. The document’s structure speaks with a simple language about how the Church needs to communicate the Gospel of the Family, to offer new solutions for new challenges and to promote an openness to life within culture and the family. Both as a summary and a summons, it has meaning for men as husbands and fathers, and we should consider the following issues.

Communicating the Gospel of the Family

The first part of Instrumentum recounts the consistent teaching of the Church on marriage, the family and natural law. It restates key lessons learned from the pens of popes since the Second Vatican Council – Paul VI in Humanae Vitae; St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio; Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate; and, most recently, Francis in Lumen Fidei. It acknowledges the need to know these teachings more fully, if only for the first time.

Important insight can also be gained from the admission in the Instrumentum that “the knowledge, communication and reception of the Church’s teaching on the family takes place in a variety of ways, depending on family life, the fabric of the Church and socio-cultural factors” (8). Although many men want to grow in faith, too often a sort of casual confusion reigns when it comes to communicating traditional Church teachings on marriage and the family. The Instrumentum proposes that such obstacles can be overcome with clearer calls made about “the need of establishing real, practical formation programs through which the truths of the faith on the family might be presented, primarily to appreciate their profound human and existential value” (14).

Offering New Programming for New Challenges

For many people, faith is often “caught not taught” – mainly through shared experiences. The second part of the Instrumentum addresses how marriage preparation programs, led by older married couples, has increasingly accomplished this task in innovative ways over the years. But it also admits that many new couples before getting married have come to see such programs “more as an obligation than a freely undertaken opportunity for growth” (54).

The structure of the Instrumentum itself, it seems to me, suggests some ways that men in particular can begin to change that perception, starting by simply seeing marriage and fatherhood as a vibrant vocation. They can pray the rosary with their families, welcome religious artwork and icons into their homes, read the Bible regularly with their children and celebrate sacramental anniversaries. Such engaging witness emerges as even more critical as marriages and families confront not just miscommunication, break-ups and breakdowns, violence, abuse, poverty and illnesses, but also suffering caused by cohabitation, divorce, separation, unwed teenage motherhood and the shifting legal sands of same-sex unions (64-120).

Promoting Openness to Life

The third part of the Instrumentum concerns promoting openness to life, undeniably one of the longest-standing and deepest divides to bridge between the Church and modern society. In Humanae Vitae (1968), for example, Paul VI admitted “not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching” due to an “intensive, clamorous outcry … made more intense by today’s means of communication” (18). Indeed, four decades later, too many have calculated compliance with Church teachings on contraception and abortion as forfeiting their freedoms.

Admittedly men aren’t perfect when they say “I do” or when they hear that they’re a dad for the first time. But that fact shouldn’t prevent them from seeing human life as a cause for celebration rather than a source for a social case study. If the Instrumentum accomplishes anything for men, it underlines that upbringing matters, and success is measured partly by men standing in solidarity beside their wife and with their children.

When bishops from around the world assemble with the Holy Father at the Vatican in the weeks ahead, the Instrumentum Laboris will assist them as they seek to solve crises confronting the domestic church. Let it do the same for you. See the document as a summary of situations facing marriages and families in your communities, a summons for you to preserve your spousal love and persevere in fatherly virtues, and an aid to all fathers in aligning faithful hearts with working hands.

ENGAGE AND INTERACT: What one thing can you do today to improve the life of your family?