The Bishop’s Letter – Marriage, Family and the New Evangelisation

08/10/2014

Catholic Outlook October 2014 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta and Archbishop-elect of Sydney
Married couples joined Bishop Anthony Fisher OP for the Celebrating the Journey Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral on 14 September 2014. This annual Mass is open to all married couples, with special acknowledgement to those couples who have significant wedding anniversaries of 25 years and over this year. Photography: Alphonsus Fok

Catholic Outlook October 2014 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP,
Bishop of Parramatta
and Archbishop-elect of Sydney

Australians know Tina Turner best as singer of the NRL anthem Simply the Best. She’s known internationally for other songs including What’s love got to do with it?, which topped the hit parades and is listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song’s popularity in postmodernity is unsurprising. Lyrics such as “the touch of your hand … it’s only the thrill of boy meeting girl … It’s (just) physical … (Don’t imagine) it means more than that. Oh what’s love got to do with it? What’s love but a second hand emotion?” reflect an age in which sex, love, marriage and family no longer come together as a package and in which emotions and commitments are reduced to chemical reactions in the body.

At a time when many families are fragmenting and the very nature of marriage is questioned, Pope Francis has convoked a special Synod of Bishops on the challenges for the family and the New Evangelisation. The presidents of the bishops conferences from around the world and various lay experts will converge on Rome this month to discuss how the Church might best respond.

The Holy Father told married people that this synod will be “dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, family life, the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church”.

As the Church undertook 50 years ago at the Second Vatican Council to keep doing, it seeks to discern ‘the signs of the times’ and find how best to support people to live their vocations (e.g. GS 4).

Our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Faith in Our Future, is one such attempt and it has family as its first focus area. With all the media chatter about surrogacy, ‘gay marriage’ and the like, family is certainly topical!

The synod’s preparatory document recalls the beautiful truths we have received about marriage from Christ and the Catholic tradition. God confirmed and elevated the institution of the family by uniting Himself to one as Jesus grew up with Mary, Joseph and an extended family.

He famously sanctified marriage by working His first miracle at one in Cana (Jn ch 2). He went on to describe Himself as the Church’s bridegroom (Jn 3:29), an image taken up by St Paul who compared Christ’s relationship to the Church with a marriage and vice versa (Eph ch 5). Jesus compared life in the kingdom of God with such wedding receptions and taught important things about marriage and children.

Since Pope Francis announced the synod there’s been lots of talk in the media about remarriage, communion and ‘same sex marriage’. This raises many issues: what is marriage and family today? What is Holy Communion all about? What is the place of Scripture, magisterium and disciplinary tradition? How do we express ideals for marriage amidst the hard realities of ordinary life? How do we mediate God’s infinite mercy to suffering people? And so on …

No doubt the synod will return to the sources of our faith. It was Jesus Himself who reminded His hearers of God’s plan that when man and woman unite ‘as one flesh’ in marriage this should be ‘for keeps’.

Marriage, as told in vows, marital acts and other acts of love, is a total gift of one to the other, which is fruitful and faithful and, for Christians, sacramental; this makes it as permanent as Christ’s union with the Church. (Mt 19:4-6; Synod Instrumentum Laboris 3-4; Vatican II, GS 48-9).

Following Christ the Church teaches that a genuine marriage between baptised Christians is so permanent a glue that what God has joined no man, not even the Pope, can dissolve. Though validly married Christians must sometimes live apart and even divorce civilly, they are not free to remarry while ever their spouse lives.

This high view of marriage and family – unfashionable and genuinely hard to live as it is – is the result (and, in turn, the premise) of much else that our Catholic tradition offers. (For more on this question see http://nvjournal.net/files/essays-front-page/recent-proposals-a-theological-assessment.pdf)

This year, in my pastoral letter for Corpus Christi, I reflected on some aspects of This Wonderful Sacrament. The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s Real Presence in the Church but also a sign of all that is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic about the Church.

Only those who are at one with God and the Church, however imperfectly, dare approach this great gift: that is why we must all examine ourselves and ask if how we are living contradicts what we are receiving; if so, we should abstain until we have recovered consistency between the two through Confession, reform of life and better preparation (cf 1Cor 11:27).

Our hearts go out to those whose marriages have broken down. We all know and love people in this situation. But we cannot stop proclaiming the beautiful ideals that Christ gave us for marriage and family life. If the Church goes quiet on these things, if it acquiesces to the pressures to ‘get real and get popular’, then who else will offer the world God’s beautiful plan for man and woman and children?

So much more might be said about these topics and no doubt will be said at the synod. A National Day of Prayer and Fasting for the Synod, based on prayer cards available in your parish, will be held on Friday 10 October 2014. Pray also for the Church that she will always be faithful to the teachings of Christ while struggling to care well for those who are hurting.

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