In October, the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on “Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World” will wrap up a trilogy of major Vatican-sponsored meetings in a period of 13 months focused on the family.
In 2014, Pope Francis convoked an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” and this month the Pope visited the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, organized around the theme “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.
Ahead of the upcoming synod, which will take place in Rome Oct. 4-25, Denver Catholic asked Father Luis Granados, a priest of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and assistant professor at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, to talk to us about all this attention to the family.
Father Granados, a native of Spain who has three brothers who are also priests with the Disciples, has a doctorate from the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. He presented at the World Meeting of Families on “Radical Surrender: Living Our Vocation According to God’s Will.”
Q: Why is so much importance being placed on the family?
Father Granados: The vocation of the family belongs to the heart of the message of the Gospel. Christ transformed the human love between the spouses into a “great sacrament,” the permanent reminder of his radical surrender to the Church. Through their faithfulness and fruitfulness, Catholic spouses are icons of Christ’s love.
The family is the “human space of our encounter with God, the place where faith is passed on; and the transmission of the faith is the goal of the evangelization. The consequence is clear: the Church is in trouble if she is not family-focused.
As Mary Eberstadt has shown in her book “How the West Really Lost God,” the decline of the faith is deeply related to the undermining of the family.
Q: There has been a lot of media attention to addressing divorced and remarried Catholics, and homosexual unions. Apart from these high profile issues, what are the major challenges facing the majority of families that are important for the bishops to address?
Father Granados: The two topics you mentioned are important, but the real problems of the majority of families are others.
The major challenges facing the majority of families happen right before and after their wedding.
First of all, couples need support in their first years of marriage, when the virtues and vices of the family life are forged, and when the majority of divorces and separations happen. It is urgent a family ministry with priests and couples that accompany and support the couples, remind them the beauty of their vocation, and invite them to pray together, to forgive each other, to address the problems of their relationship, to be open to life.
Second, couples need support before their wedding. One of the most important issues is the preparation for marriage. A couple willing to get married in the Church receive a very superficial and short preparation for the most important promise of their lives. If the wedding is the beginning of something so important, we need a longer, richer and deeper preparation. Of course, this would affect also the formation of the future priests in the seminaries.
Q: Each Catholic family is called to give an authentic Christian witness to the world. What would you say are the fundamental characteristics of an authentically Christian family?
Father Granados: Joy/Gratitude: One of the fruits of the Spirit is permanent and serene joy. A Christian family is called to be a place of joy. In the family, in the unconditional love of our parents we learn the unconditional love of God. (Nobody can “fire” us from our family.) This “lesson” is called to fill us with deep gratitude and joy. This joy remains also when we experience the struggles and sufferings of life.
Prayer, source of joy and gratitude: The authentically Christian family is a family which prays together. Without our connection with God, our love cannot remain faithful and strong.
Missionary zeal: This joy of a prayerful family needs to be communicated. The missionary potential of the Christian family is huge: There is a sleeping giant in our Catholic households.
Forgiveness: The “family fully alive” is a family made by sinners forgiven by the Lord and by each other. There is no such a thing as a “perfect Christian family.” There is a pilgrim family, walking, working, forgiving each other, frequently going to confession.
Q: The mainstream media tends to emphasize the political nature of these synodal meetings, but any meeting of the Church is spiritual in nature. What can we do as lay Catholics to support our synod fathers spiritually during the course of their meeting on the family?
Father Granados: I would invite everyone to be devoted to prayer and to offer small sacrifices for the fruits of the synod. We can offer up the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us (and the big ones).
Families could insist in their daily family prayer with the special intention of the Synod: Lord, give wisdom and courage to the bishops and to our Holy Father. The fruits of prayer are for real.