Pastoral Guidance for a Concrete Family Spirituality

Coat of Arms - Archbishop Richard Smith

Most Rev Richard W. Smith
Synod on the Family submission

October 26, 2015

My comments address the proposal for an "adequate pastoral guidance . . . so that a concrete family spirituality can grow in response to questions which arise in everyday life" (Instrumentum Laboris, 51).

To be truly adequate, such pastoral guidance will be thoroughly Christocentric, and thus seek to foster in families: (1) a personal encounter with the Lord; (2) obedience to his Word; and (3) the adoption of an authentic Christian mindset. At the same time it will need to take into account challenges to the Christian life posed by the cultural context. In what follows I offer some reflections on this task from the perspective of Western culture.

(1) The wellspring of authentic Christian life is encounter with Jesus Christ (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 3; Deus Caritas Est, 1). In the supreme instance of this encounter, the Eucharist, the dynamics of the Lord's Real Presence call us to be present to Christ, whenever we encounter him, in a manner that is, itself, real.

Yet precisely here our families are encountering an enormous challenge. Relationships today, even in the family, are increasingly characterized by presence that is not real but virtual, mediated by instruments of social networking. If mutual real presence does not obtain among family members, a real encounter with Christ becomes for them difficult even to imagine, let alone seek. Pastoral guidance aimed at fostering a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ will consider the degree to which formation in authentic human relating occurs in the family.

(2) The Church calls families to welcome the Word of God as the guiding principle of their lives (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 51). Today, the hearing and doing of God's Word is seriously challenged by a culture of noise and babble. The breadth of messaging is astonishing, with a content that is, at times, good, but often ranges from banal to diabolical. The capacity for real discernment diminishes as reason gives way to emotion and argument yields to the "tweet."

Pastoral guidance in this context will be concerned to teach wisdom. Jesus calls truly wise and prudent those who build the households of their lives upon the rock foundation of his Word (cf. Matthew 7. 24-27). The Church must, therefore, encourage families to accept, gratefully and joyfully, the teaching of Sacred Scripture as their only sure moral compass.

(3) Finally, pastoral guidance will echo the call of St. Paul to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to seek under grace to make our own not the mind of the world but that of Christ (cf. Romans, 12.2; Philippians 2.5).

The prevailing societal mindset of Western culture is quite other than that which animates the Gospel. Highly individualistic, it rages against the very concept of limit, manifest in license posing as autonomy and desire masquerading as right.

To help our families not adopt this mindset, the Church's ministry will direct their gaze away from the self and toward the Cross. There the self-offering of the Incarnate Son of God reveals the true meaning of life and love and establishes the pattern of authentic human living.