‘Discerning the Family Vocation’

Synod’s Small Groups Conclude Second Session

VATICAN CITY (Vatican Radio) — At the Synod on the Family on Wednesday (14 October) bishops presented the results of their second round of small group work, dedicated to the second theme of ‘discerning the family vocation.’ The discussions ranged from theological and biblical reflections to practical ways of supporting family life today. This second week of discussions on the vocation of the family is “the beating heart” of the whole three week Synod. That statement from one of the small group presenters explains why discussions have been intense and feelings have been running high in recent days, as Synod participants struggle to find “clear,” “meaningful” and “inviting” language in which to define the Church’s vision of marriage and family life.

All of the 13 groups felt that significant changes must be made to the Synod’s working document if it is to serve as an effective ‘compass’ for families trying to live out their faith in their complex and often difficult daily circumstances. All groups agreed on the need to draw more deeply on Scripture, not just citing chapter and verse, but exploring both Old Testament sources – such as the exquisite love lyrics of the Canticle of Canticles – or the many stories of Jesus interaction with mothers, fathers, spouses and children contained in the New Testament.

Similarly, the bishops underlined the importance of encouraging parents to read the bible, to attend Mass and to pray together with their children in both formal and informal ways. While families are seen as the “seedbed” in which Christian faith and values take root, bishops stressed the importance of Catholic schools as the place where those seeds can grow, deepen and come to fruition.

While it is vital to support and encourage families who are living out their Christian vocation, the bishops also warned against over-simplifying the problems of people unable or unwilling to marry in Church. Economic or cultural pressures weigh heavy on many young people who decide to delay or reject marriage and family life. Domestic violence was also discussed by a number of the groups, with a call for greater sensitivity to women who’ve suffered abuse. “We need to be realistic about marital problems,” one bishop said, “rather than simply encouraging people to stay together.”

Overall, the bishops called for a more positive way of presenting marriage and family life, not as a burden or unrealistic ideal, but rather as a gift of self-giving, reflecting the love of God for his Church. Over the past ten days, there’s been much discussion of the seemingly opposing views of defending the doctrine of marriage or promoting mercy for the majority of people who fail to follow Church teaching in one way or another. “Let’s not be closed into such false contradictions,” one bishop appealed, as he urged pastors and theologians to work together to open up new horizons for all people seeking direction on their journey of faith.