Just yesterday I was speaking with Archbishop Gomez who was still in Rome and looking forward to returning home after the Synod on the Family. I thanked him for his intervention of October 10, 2015, which was made on the Synod Floor. In part he said in this intervention that “The Church needs to recover and reflect on ‘family’ images found in the Scriptures and most ancient Tradition, and in the universal Church’s liturgy and popular piety: 1) The human person as the imago Dei; 2) the Church as ‘family of God’; 3) the family as the ‘domestic Church’; and Divine filiation and the Christian life as spiritual childhood.” He goes on to say in this part that “In the face of the widespread crisis of the family, I believe our society needs to hear once more the beautiful truth about the human person and God’s loving plan for creation and history, a plan that is centered in the family.”
His reflection and our recent conversation gives me the occasion here, as the “dust settles” after the Synod is finished, to first of all, read the final document and secondly, to say a word of thanks to all of those involved in all of the various aspects of family life ministry that I have known over the years. Unfortunately, the impression could have been given in some of the coverage of the Synod that virtually nothing had been done for families in these years. We can always, with the help of God and cooperation with His grace and in the community of the Church, which is the “Family of God” seek to improve our outreach to so many.
But, with the words of Archbishop Gomez I think of all of those parish volunteers and ministry who commit themselves to marriage preparation: Pre Cana, Sponsor Couples, Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter and Retrovaille (for hurting marriages) , couples who teach Natural Family Planning and so many others involved in marriage preparation. With all of the publicity regarding the new “procedural norms” for the processing of marriage nullity cases, I think in gratitude for all involved in the canonical process of seeking a declaration of nullity of marriages, so full communion with the Church can again be restored to many couples. Those involved in this ministry are truly heroines and heroes of pastoral care who work behind the scenes and often receive little thanks or acknowledgement. They truly see their mission as a pastoral work which not only seeks to establish the “canonical status” of a prior marriage, but see their ministry as an outreach of the healing power and love of Christ. I thank especially those involved here who have cared for, and reached a hand out to those who are in pain following a separation or divorce: for example, “New Beginnings” “Divorce and Separated Koinonia” and the recent work we have done in some of our Deaneries to offer an outreach and a “hand” to those who have been in the process of separation and divorce. I remember the late Francis Cardinal George, when he asked me to be the liaison to the National Association of Divorced and Separated Catholics, was adamant that this ministry be a bridge to the communion of the Church for those who are separated and divorced.
I think of all of those who also spend hours to extend a hand of healing and love to those who have had an abortion: Groups such as “Rachel’s Vineyard” and “Project Rachel”. The recent misunderstanding in many parts of the world about the Holy Father’s delegating the “faculty” for absolution from abortion and any accompanying canonical challenge which may be there gave us a chance to know that the priests in the United States have had this faculty for many, many years, and to highlight the work, ministry and healing of those in the ministries just mentioned in the prior sentence.
Finally, my years in Dallas-Fort with and now here also give me the chance to acknowledge and thank those whose involvement in family life ministry has taken them to journey with support those who experience “same sex” attraction to live lives of holiness, service to others, and to accompany them in the family of God in their joys and struggles. For example, I think here of “COURAGE” and its related group for families “ENCOURAGE”.
I have been privileged to meet so many people over my 34 years of priestly ministry and my life has been enriched, blessed and shaped by their commitment. Thank you to all of them. I know that there are many others involved in ministry in bringing the light of Faith to our families in these challenging times. If you know someone who is involved in any of these ministries in the life of the Church, or you meet someone who takes it upon themselves to care for families in times of crisis, please say thank you to them and pray for them.
As Archbishop Gomez said in the closing words of his intervention: “Counting on the intercession of the Holy Family we need to illuminate, by our pastoral priorities, how the family is the crucial ‘way’ for the Church and for God’s plan for human society.”