Family Life: Pastoral Challenges and Responses

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James H. Kroeger, M.M.
“Year of Eucharist and Family” Reflections


Fr. James H. KroegerIn The Joy of Love Pope Francis states that the Church does well “to focus on concrete realities,” since ‘the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history’” (31). What are some key challenges families face today? “The weakening of faith and religious practice in some societies has an effect on families” (43).“Migration is another sign of the times to be faced and understood in terms of its negative effects on family life” (46).

We need genuine sensitivity to “families of persons with special needs, where the unexpected challenge of dealing with a disability can upset a family’s equilibrium, desires and expectations…. Families who lovingly accept the difficult trial of a child with special needs are greatly to be admired” (47). The Church must reach out to “families living in dire poverty and great limitations” (49).

Renewed Approaches for Family Ministry. Difficulties are present; yet, Francis remains hopeful: “I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in authentic love, fulfill their calling, and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way” (57).

Pastoral initiatives should avoid proposing “a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.” This “excessive idealization … has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite” (36).

For Francis, it is not enough to stress “doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues”; the Church must encourage “openness to grace” and “present marriage as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment.” The Pope asserts: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37).

A renewed family ministry needs to reflect “the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal, yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery” (38).

Vocation of the Family. In the brief third chapter of The Joy of Love Pope Francis focuses on some essential elements of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family; he discusses such themes as indissolubility, the sacramental nature of marriage, the transmission of life, and the education of children.

For Francis, “our teaching on marriage and the family cannot fail to be inspired and transformed by the message of love and tenderness; otherwise, it becomes nothing more than the defense of a dry and lifeless doctrine. The mystery of the Christian family can be fully understood only in the light of the Father’s infinite love revealed in Christ” (59). Notice the pastoral, compassionate, and merciful tone of Pope Francis’ teaching!

Christian marriage manifests Christ’s love for the Church. That love is made “present in the communion of the spouses” (73). For Francis, “Sexual union, lovingly sanctified by the sacrament, is in turn a path of growth in the life of grace for the couple…. The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent”; it leads them to “share their lives completely” (74).

“Imperfect Situations” Demand Compassion. Pope Francis realizes that the ideals of Christian marriage are not achieved by all; thus, he asks that Catholics manifest “understanding, comfort and acceptance” (49).“Seeing things with the eyes of Christ inspires the Church’s pastoral care for the faithful who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried” (78).

Francis asserts a helpful pastoral approach: “while clearly stating the Church’s teaching, pastors are to avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations” (79). Pastorally, mercy and compassion are essential.

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