By Mario and Paola Martinez
As Catholics, we have a treasure of immeasurable value. The Church cares for our family and all the families of the world. Like a good mother, the Church wants the best for all of her children and is always seeing how to best care for them. Eight months after starting his pontificate, Pope Francis convened a meeting (synod) to discuss the current challenges of the world’s families. The first synod was in October of 2014, and the second was in October of 2015 in Vatican City. These synods were attended by cardinals, bishops, 13 couples, and some delegates from other Christian denominations from around the world.
One of the fruits born of these two synods was the Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (“On Love in the Family”) published in March 2016, after much reflection and prayer. The document contains the results of the two synods and seeks to share with the Church the mission to which the Domestic Churches of the world are called at this moment in history. The document emphasizes that the good of the family is decisive for the future of the world and of the Church. St. Pope John Paul II often proclaimed, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world.”
In Chapter 2 of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis shares with the Church the experiences and challenges of families in the world today. He shares about what we are seeing and what the current landscape holds. Some of the main challenges highlighted by Pope Francis were individualism, relativism, the lack of compassion, the “throwaway culture,” and the rupture of marriages on a global scale. There are several others that he mentions, but these are some of the most damaging ones.
Individualism, Pope Francis says, is damaging the way we relate to others. We fear losing ourselves if we give too much of ourselves. However, since we were created by God to be in relationship with Him and with others, we can only find our purpose and true happiness in the sincere gifting of ourselves to others. Relativism is another ill of our day. It contends that there is no absolute truth because everyone has their own truth. It has given rise to ideologies that devalue the vocation of marriage and family life according to God’s design.
The lack of compassion within the family and in society is another obstacle for family life today. We are often not willing to suffer with the other, to accompany each other in the joys and sorrows of life. The “throwaway culture,” Pope Francis shares, is also hurting families across the globe. People are seen as being as disposable as objects, to be used for personal pleasure. St. Pope John Paul II often said that the opposite of loving someone, is to use them. Last but not least, the rupture of marriages across the globe because of marital crises and mishandling of conflict has fragmented many families. Fewer and fewer people want to get married, Pope Francis says, because they have seen couples close to them split up, and they’ve seen all the heartbreak that comes as a result.
We are certainly living in difficult times, when many forces seek to destroy or distort God’s plan for marriage and family life. However, despite how bleak the future may seem, there is hope in Jesus Christ, as the Gospel of John reminds us, “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17). Pope Francis also joyfully tells the world in Amoris Laetitia, “I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way.”(AL, 51) Filled with hope, he tells all the families of the world, “let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together.” (AL, 325)
Mario and Paola Martinez are co-directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of San Bernardino.