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Monday 30 June 2014

Christian Unity in light of the Vatican's new working document on the pastoral challenges facing the family

SOLEMNITY OF ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL                           STM 2014-06-29

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

In the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomaios II with vivid and moving memories of their recent meetings during their common pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Francis had this to say, yesterday, about the journey to Christian unity: “That prophetic gesture [the pilgrimage made together] gave decisive impulse to a journey which, thank God, has never ceased. I consider it a special gift from the Lord that we were able to venerate the holy places together and to pray at each other’s side at the place of Christ’s burial, where we can actually touch the foundation of our hope.”

The joy of that meeting was then renewed when they concluded, in a way, their joint pilgrimage at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, the rock on which Jesus has built his Church, then joining in prayer, together with the Presidents of Israel and Palestine, for the gift of peace in the Holy Land.

Speaking of Christian Unity the Holy Father continued:
“We know very well that this unity is a gift of God, a gift that even now the Most High grants us the grace to attain whenever, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we choose to look at one another with the eyes of faith and to see ourselves as we truly are in God’s plan, according to the designs of his eternal will, and not what we have become as a result of the historical consequences of our sins. If all of us can learn, prompted by the Spirit, to look at one another in God, our path will be even straighter and our cooperation all the more easy in the many areas of daily life which already happily unite us.

“This way of ‘looking at one another in God’ is nourished by faith, hope and love; it gives rise to an authentic theological reflection which is truly scientia Dei (the science of God), a participation in that vision which God has of himself and of us.”

The Joint International Commission is working to explore the way to fuller unity by 2025 (the 1700th anniversary of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea from which we have the Nicene Creed which we will profess in a few moments). Pope Francis discussed the work of reflection upon the will of God:

“It is a reflection which can only bring us closer to one another on the path of unity, despite our differing starting points. I hope and I pray, then, that the work of the Joint International Commission can be a sign of this profound understanding, this theology “on its knees”.

In this way, the Commission’s reflections on the concepts of primacy and synodality, communion in the universal Church and the ministry of the Bishop of Rome will not be an academic exercise or a mere debate about irreconcilable positions. All of us need, with courage and confidence, to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to let ourselves be caught up in Christ’s loving gaze upon the Church, his Bride, in our journey of spiritual ecumenism.
It is a journey upheld by the martyrdom of so many of our brothers and sisters who, by their witness to Jesus Christ the Lord, have brought about an ecumenism of blood.”

This work toward unity is being done in light of the upcoming Synod on the Family which seeks the unity in Christ of the human family which is so much under attack today in our Western secular world of individualism. We see the dubious claims to individual rights over against the teaching of the Church and the good of the nuclear family of mother, father and children which has sustained humanity since before the dawn of history.

To quote from the preparatory document, an Instrumentum Laboris or working document published this week under the title: THE PASTORAL CHALLENGES

“Through procreation, man and woman collaborate with God in accepting and transmitting life: ‘By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents co-operate in a unique way in the Creator's work.’ (CCC, 372). Their responsibility also involves the stewardship of creation and the propagation of the human family. In biblical tradition, the beauty of human love as mirroring divine love is developed mainly in the Song of Songs and the prophets.”

The document goes on to summarize the teaching of the Church regarding family life in the Second Vatican Council, in Humanae Vitae the encyclical on human life by Pope Paul VI. Pope Benedict’s in Encyclical Deus Caritas Est took up the topic of the truth of the love between man and woman as fully understood only in light of the love of Christ Crucified.
Benedict emphasized that “marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love.” Expanding this in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict goes on to emphasize the importance of love as the principle of life in society as a whole, the place where a person learns to experience the common good.
The Instrumentum Laboris offers and insightful if disturbing critique of modern secular influences. The following comment is made about responses to the question of Christain family formation:
". . . a vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations. The responses are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices, because it is conditioned by uncertainty and transiency, a veritable “liquid society” and one with a “throw away” mentality and one seeking “immediate gratification”; and, finally, values reinforced by the so-called “culture of waste” and a “culture of the moment,” as frequently noted by Pope Francis."

Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Lumen Fidei, treating the connection between the family and faith, writes: “Encountering Christ, letting themselves (young people) be caught up in and guided by [the love of Christ], enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness.” (LF, 53).
With St. Peter we respond with thanksgiving to the source of all faithfulness:

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

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