SAVING AND STRENGTHENING THE FILIPINO FAMILY
A CBCP Pastoral Statement on the 20th Anniversary of Familiaris Consortio
"Family, become what you are!" Twenty years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote these stirring words in his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, November 22, 1981). How increasingly urgent and contemporary this call is for all of us.
Let us briefly survey the situation of the Filipino today and recall what the Papal document teaches us so that our path to save and strengthen the Filipino family may be illuminated.
The Situation of the Filipino Family
In 1981, the Pope described the global situation with regard to the family: "The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture (FC, 1). The family "is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it" (FC, 3). Twenty years later, the Pope would write about the family in the same vein: " … this fundamental institution is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, January 6, 2001, no. 47).
The words of the Pope would aptly describe the situation of the Filipino Family today.
Admittedly we still place great value on the family (For the situation of the Filipino family, see also The Catechism for Filipino Catholics [CFC], nos. 1006-11). We are justifiably proud of our close family ties. In the family we find strong support and environment for our growth. We continue to value marriage highly. We firmly believe that children are treasures given by the Lord to be loved and nourished. We extend extraordinary care at home to our elderly. Despite many difficulties the Filipino Family remains quite stable.
Providing strong support for family values, our 1987 Philippine Constitution has a marked pro-family and pro-life stance. It declares, "The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution" (Art. 2, Sec. 12). A whole article is devoted to the Family (Article 15), a feature absent in previous Constitutions. It acknowledges that marriage is "an inviolable social institution" that must be protected by the State. It respects the right of couples to found and raise a family according to their religious convictions. It protects the unborn from the moment of conception. It guarantees our right to profess and live our faith freely.
Unfortunately, many social situations are beginning to destroy or deform the family. Today, many Catholics live together without the benefit of a Church marriage, thus depriving themselves of the sacrament of marriage and the sacramental grace they need in order to carry out their responsibilities as Christian couples and parents. Often there is little preparation for marriage, and couples are rushing into marriage without really knowing each other’s values that would firmly preserve their marriage through periods of hardship and pain. Pre-marital pregnancy and elopement are sadly common. Economic factors threaten the unity of marriage. The forced separation of a husband from his wife or of both from their children due to overseas work is causing great suffering in the family. In all cases, the children suffer. In many cases they suffer serious psychological harm. Sometimes, separation results in the break-up of families.
Moreover, the infidelities of some public officials and media personalities cause grave scandal and at the same time lead to a lowering of the esteem for marital fidelity. Eroticism in our society in the form of various levels of pornography is also weakening the marriage bond as well as the sense of the sacredness of the gift of sexuality. Drug trafficking, the use of illegal drugs, and drug related crimes contribute to the destruction of peace and unity in the family and in the community. Finally, so-called modern ideas from supposedly developed countries penetrate our culture through mass media and insidiously deform family values and degrade our traditional esteem for marriage, family, and human life.
Compounding our tragedy today is the fact that our legislators have introduced proposals that, we firmly believe, will ultimately destroy the family as our religious faith understands it. Now in the legislature are bills allowing absolute divorce, removing the constitutional prohibition of abortion, and more aggressively pushing population control through contraception, sterilization and, yes, even abortion. We hear suggestions about same sex unions as the basis for alternative families. In schools are programs of sex education that fail to inculcate the values that would safeguard life and the sacredness of the gift of sex.
The Teachings of Familiaris Consortio
In the light of our situation today we must take guidance from the teachings of the Holy Father (Some of these teachings are also treated in CFC, nos. 1012-27).
"Family, become what you are!" The family must truly become "an intimate community of life and love" (Gaudium et Spes, 48, cited in FC, 17). The family has "the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love," a love that "reflects God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ for the Church his bride" (FC, ibid.).
Following the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family, Familiaris Consortio emphasized four general tasks for the family (FC, ibid.):
a) forming a community of persons;
b) serving life;
c) participating in the development of society;
d) sharing in the life and mission of the Church.
Forming Community, Saying No to Divorce
The first task of the family is "to live in fidelity the reality of communion" (FC, 18) between husband and wife, between parents and their children. Communion is founded on love. Marriage is a covenant of love between husband and wife. By such a covenant, they "are no longer two but one flesh." Thus, from the beginning, marriage is indissoluble. "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).
Husband and wife are "called to grow in communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving." They are called and commanded, "beyond every trial and difficulty", to remain faithful to one another, reflecting the "unconditional faithfulness with which God loves his people" (FC, 20). The power of the grace of marriage is much more than any difficulty husband and wife have to face.
We must, therefore, continue to be vigilant against proposals for absolute divorce and persistently teach against marital infidelity (Mark 10:11-12; Matthew 5:27-28). At the same time, we must offer help to troubled marriages and strengthen the commitment of married couples.
Conjugal communion is the basis of communion between parents and children, between sisters and brothers (FC, 21). It is love that animates the interpersonal relationships of the different members of the family. In their reception of the Sacraments and as a gift of the Holy Spirit, the natural communion of love links them with Christ and the people of God (FC, loc. cit). Day by day the members of the family must build up this communion of persons by their "care and love of the little ones, the sick, the aged," by their "sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows" (FC, ibid.). Only through a great spirit of sacrifice, forbearance, pardon and reconciliation can family communion be preserved and perfected (FC, ibid.).
Serving Life, Rejecting Anti-Life Mentality and Policies.
The second task of the family is to serve life. Husband and wife are cooperators in the love of God the Creator. They cooperate in "transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person." This gift of life is not only physical. It is "enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which they hand to their children and through the children to the Church and to the world" (FC, 28). Parents also serve life by educating their children. They have the primary responsibility of educating their children "in the essential values of human life" (FC, 37), such as a correct attitude of freedom, a sense of true justice, and even more importantly a sense of true love, especially of the poor. "The family is the first and fundamental school of social living" (FC, ibid.). It is the task of parents "to give their children a clear and delicate sex education" (FC, ibid.), that brings them "to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms" that guarantee "responsible personal growth in human sexuality" (FC, ibid.).
Even as children are precious gifts of God, we must realize that "responsible parenthood" has to be exercised. Parents "should strive to beget only those children whom they can raise up in a human way. Towards this end they need to plan their families according to the moral norms taught by the Church" (PCP-II, no. 583), faithfully respecting "the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality" (FC, 32).
In the light of perennial Church teaching we, therefore, fundamentally reject the assumptions that underpin the government’s population program. We also object to the lack of practical respect for moral and religious convictions that sometimes accompanies it. We forcefully reject the contraceptive, sterilizing and abortifacient means it uses. We want an assurance that sex education programs for the young will impart values consistent with their faith.
Renewing Society and the Church
The third and fourth tasks of the Christian family are: participation in the development of society and sharing in the life and mission of the Church.
"The very experience of communion and sharing that should characterize the family’s daily life represents its first and fundamental contribution to society" (FC, 43). This authentic communion is a "stimulus for the broader community relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love" (FC, ibid.). As a consequence, we strongly advocate "family politics," by which families politically intervene "so that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family" (FC, 44). By family politics they assume responsibility for transforming society and fulfill "the kingly mission of service in which Christian couples share by virtue of the sacrament of marriage" (FC, 47).
In serving the Church, families share in the Church’s mission. Such service should "follow a community pattern: the spouses together as a couple, the parents and children as a family (FC, 50). The family expresses and realizes its "participation in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly mission of Jesus Christ and of his Church" through the "love between husband and wife and between members of the family" (FC, ibid.). The witnessing of such love by the family demonstrates that the family is both a believing and evangelizing community.
Today in practically all dioceses in the Philippines there are diocesan and parish programs of Family and Life. These help parents fulfill their duties and responsibilities toward their families, toward the Church and toward society. We are also gratified to see Catholic movements like the Parish Renewal Experience (PREX), Christian Family Movement, Human Life International, Marriage Encounter groups, Couples for Christ, Familia, Abay Familia, and many other similar groups do their part to renew and uplift the quality of our society’s political, economic, and moral life. We hope that they will help all couples in an even greater measure to achieve the tasks of Christian families.
Promoting Social Justice, Eradicating Poverty
We strongly urge all Filipinos, especially those already engaged in the family apostolate, to direct their special attention to two concerns. The first is poverty. Poverty is the silent killer of families. It forces many spouses to separate for purposes of work. It makes them vulnerable to pressures that ruin their esteem for life. Destitution makes it difficult and sometimes almost impossible for them to observe the divine law (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1887). Poverty is not God's will. Poverty is an enemy of love and life. In many ways it is contrary to human dignity. We must work to eradicate it. In a country where the great divide between the many poor and the few rich seems unbridgeable, we must all work toward social justice, the justice of the common good, the justice that morally demands equitable distribution of the country’s goods.
We call on government to put into practice what it has declared as a policy, namely, poverty eradication. Special priority must be given to housing, education, and medical care for the poor. We also call upon government leaders to eradicate graft and corruption since this terrible social injustice is nothing else but thievery of the grossest kind, the stealing of incredible amounts of public funds that could have benefited millions of our poor people.
We call upon business leaders to place the interests of the poor above the natural desire to earn the greatest profit. We urge everyone who has the means, to help set up livelihood and employment opportunities especially in these difficult times.
Our final destiny is determined by what we do to the poor. Christ said, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me…. Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25: 40, 45).
Renewing the Culture of the Family
The other grave concern today is the purification and moral renewal of the family itself. The family is "the origin of many cultural distortions that lie at the root of our problems as a people" (National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal, January 2001). Parental behavior, good or bad, is passed on as an example to children. Sadly, the degradation of moral values through crime and vice is what is most visible to children as they observe adults, watch movies and television, or listen to Senate investigations of alleged crimes. Moreover, a materialistic and secularist global culture is impacting the Filipino family quite severely.
In the Filipino family, then, we see distorted values. For instance, while we appreciate the closeness of family members, we need to correct the "closed family" mentality, which makes of the family an idol to which the common good is often sacrificed. This idol becomes the cause of graft and corruption, and drives some officials to think more of enriching their families rather than of promoting the good of all. In contrast, the family should be the first school of integrity and justice, of peace and love.
Making the Family a School of Holiness
On October 21, 2001 the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, beatified the spouses Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, the first time in the history of the Church that husband and wife were beatified together in the same ceremony. Blessed Luigi died in 1951 and Blessed Maria followed in 1965. They had four children. The three living children, two priests and one lay woman, were at the beatification of their parents, who "lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich and spiritual life" (Pope John Paul II, Homily at the Mass of Beatification). How truly wonderful are the ways of God! The beatification event reveals the capacity for mutual sanctification in marriage.
The life together of Blessed Luigi and Maria as spouses and parents illustrates the necessity and importance of the Church’s teachings. The sacrament of marriage is a holy sacrament lived out in the realities of conjugal and family life. Marriage is a call for mutual sanctification. The grace of the sacrament nourishes and supports marriage and helps spouses to transform their lives into a "spiritual sacrifice" (see FC, 56). The Eucharistic sacrifice in which husband and wife must participate regularly represents Christ's covenant love with the Church, sealed with his blood on the Cross. In the Eucharist, husband and wife receive nourishment, strength, and support, for in the Eucharistic sacrifice "Christian spouses encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows" (FC, 57). In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they receive pardon and forgiveness for their failures as spouses (FC, 58), as well as the grace of renewal.
Family prayer offered together with their children strengthens the communion of love in the family and obtains graces necessary for that communion to grow. This is why we must encourage in the family, praying with the Word of God, devotional prayer, especially the family Rosary. Prayer, led by husband and wife, has to be part and parcel of family life. Anniversaries are special moments for prayer, moments for thanksgiving and petition (FC, 59).
In the Philippines, it is very tragic that many fathers do not provide an example, much less leadership, for their children in this fundamental area of prayer. Prayer is not a luxury. It is necessary and indispensable. Even Christ prayed. Fathers must likewise pray with and for their families. Through the family's prayer, God makes the family a sanctified and sanctifying family.
The Family, the Focal Point of Evangelization
In the light of our observations, the Filipino family has to open up to the great concerns of the community, the country, and the Church. "The future of humanity passes by way of the family" (FC, 86). For the family is the first and vital cell of society. It is also the domestic Church, the Church in the home, a community of love and life.
"Family, become what you are!" For this to take place, the Filipino family has to become the focus of evangelization as the 2001 National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal enjoined. Today the family needs deep renewal so that it can be a more effective agent of evangelization. We must make every effort to ensure that the family is where the Gospel is first heard and witnessed to by the members. The family has to become a true school of evangelization, where every member first learns to participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church. It should also be a school of holiness. The whole family would then become a witness of the Gospel to other families and to the wider society.
For our part, we your Bishops recommit ourselves to saving and strengthening the Filipino family. Personally or through our pastoral programs we shall assist and encourage families struggling in situations of great difficulty and striving to cope with the burdens of life. In every diocese in the Philippines, we will strive to make the family the focus of evangelization. We will use the resources the Lord has entrusted to us in order to achieve all that we have urged you to do, all that that Pope asks us to achieve.
It is in putting into practice and applying to our present situation the teachings of Familiaris Consortio that we most fittingly celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this great document on the Family.
May the Holy Family at Nazareth, the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, bless us all and obtain for all Filipino families the great blessings of becoming the home and seedbed of holiness, peace, unity, and progress in our land. May the Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary, the Queen of the Family, whose children we are, protect the Filipino family and bring it ever closer to her own Son, Jesus, the Savior of every family.
For the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines:
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
President, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
02 December 2001