Bishops seek ways to strengthen family life

Pope Francis sent a letter to the bishops’ conferences of the world last year asking them to consult “immediately” and “as widely as possible” about issues such as contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce and other topics touching on family life. 

The synod of Bishops is meeting right now in Rome to discuss family life in our contemporary society.

The theme for this meeting is “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The synod members, which includes 15 married couples, will try to find ways to improve the pastoral application of church teachings, ways to explain it and ways to help Catholics live it. The synod will last until Oct. 15.

Excitement and anticipation for this synod have been high, partly because of a 39-question survey the Vatican sent to the world’s bishops last year. The intention was to provide substantial consultation at the local level. Since there was no special formula for the consultation, some lay Catholics wondered whether this synod would really address the problems of family life today. 

This synod is not expected to make any proposals. It will discuss the lived experiences of families today. The report of the discussions will be sent to dioceses around the world in preparation for another synod next year. Any changes to church practices on marriage and family life will come next year. 

Many studies have been done on the family. They can be a great help to us in evaluating our own family life and in pointing out the areas in which we need to develop and grow as a family. According to a study of more than 500 family counselors, the following are the top traits of successful families: Communicating and listening; affirming and supporting family members; respecting one another; developing a sense of trust; sharing time and responsibility; knowing right from wrong; having rituals and traditions; sharing a religious core; and respecting privacy.

It is obvious from hearing such a list that the one ingredient that has to go into any family is work. Good, strong families do not just happen on their own. It takes a great deal of work to build, nurture and help your family to grow in love, freedom, respect and kindness. Let’s face it; nothing is guaranteed. We cannot control how children are going to turn out. However, that does not mean we should not put our whole heart and soul into our family life.

An essential ingredient of any successful family has to be an awareness of what is going on in the family. Awareness means paying attention to other family members, listening to their stories, taking an interest in what is important to them. If we are always busy with our own activities, we are probably missing much of what is going on with your other family members.

Family life is not just the responsibility of the parents. As children grow and become more aware of the needs of their family, they too should learn to take part in helping in whatever small or large ways they are capable. It is within the family that we learn the meaning of responsibility and respect.

It takes hard work to build, nurture and help our families to grow. Yet, this is our calling. We are called to holiness precisely as a family. It is often in our compromises in family life that our holiness develops. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the blessed children of God. Let us live that way! 

Maybe we can start by answering this question: When was the last time you told a family member, either in a letter, e-mail or in conversation, that you loved him or her?