THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY: GOOD NEWS FOR THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has convoked the Fourth World Meeting of Families on January 22-26, 2003 . For the first time this international meeting will be held in Asia . To our great honor as a people and as a country, the Holy Father has chosen Manila as the host city. We are truly and deeply grateful to the Lord Jesus and his Vicar on earth, the Holy Father.
The choice of Manila is more than an honor. It is a divine call to every Filipino Christian Family to become “Good News for the Third Millennium,” the theme of the Fourth World Meeting of Families.
For this reason we as your Pastors wish to reflect with you on the Christian Family as Good News.
Some Bad News about the Family
At the very outset of our reflection we must sadly realize that the family is not always good news.
For a great number of families, poverty is a very heavy burden, subjecting them to intense pressures, psychological, social, economic and spiritual. Seeking better livelihood abroad, millions of husbands, wives, sons and daughters become separated. Many families are broken. Child labor is a serious social problem. The homelessness of thousands of street children deprives them of parental love and care at the most impressionable stage of their lives. Their education is abandoned and sacrificed.
Materialist and consumerist values are also gaining inroads even among the poor. Mass Media and entertainment are filled with subliminal secularist, sometimes erotic, images and explicitly materialistic messages that inflict heavy damage on Gospel values. In such an environment the Filipino family is learning a new liberal culture that dismisses religious teachings about personal, familial and social values as outmoded and irrelevant.
Sadly, too, many people we look up to or idolize because of their profession, skills, or charisma fail to be living examples of fidelity to Christian life and commitment. Increasingly the phenomenon of single parenthood is occurring, even as the querida system seems to be tolerated rather than condemned.
Moreover, some legislators repeatedly attempt to introduce absolute divorce into our country. They do not seem to realize that in countries where divorce has been allowed the institution and meaning of marriage as sacred has declined, raising many more social and moral problems than ever before. Some groups, too, are strongly advocating legislation to allow abortion in certain situations on the basis of the “right to choose” and “reproductive health.” Yet these are no more than “catch-all” terms that, in the clear language of international conventions on population and development, really include the use of contraceptive, including abortifacient, means and even abortion. Wanting to prevent deaths form illegal abortions, they want to provide “safe” abortions.
Advocates of this position wrongly assert that “a woman has total right over her body.” They ignore the religious and moral reality that God created all of us, men and women, simply as stewards of God, we are to be guided by moral principles.
Indeed, with principles arising from materialism and secularism, a culture of death is gradually setting in, one that would spell the death of Gospel values regarding the dignity and worth of every human person, including the unborn, regarding the very nature of life and death, love and marriage, the family and its relationships with others.
The Christian Family is Good News
Despite the “bad news”, we are firmly convinced that the Christian family is good news. We do not intend to cite the principles of Christian Marriage and Family that we have repeatedly taught in several pastoral letters and statements through the years [see for instance, "Joint Pastoral Letter on Christian Marriage and Family Life", May 1, 1976; "Love is Life", October 7, 1990; "Save the Family and Live", July 13, 1993; "Saving and Strengthening the Filipino Family", November 22, 2001]. Suffice it for us to explain on this occasion how the Christian Family is truly Good News for the Third Millennium.
Seen through the eyes of faith and understood in its full biblical and ecclesial sense, the family is “good news.” It is a sign to the world that God is present among us and loves us. It is a sign that Gods is acting in our midst to give life and to bring about the unity of the human race.
Every family springs from God. But the Christian family is blessed even more because God has made it the “domestic Church” (LG no. 11), the Church in the home, the smallest form of the Church, the Church in miniature. It is not only a sign of the Good News of God’s sacrificing love but also has the mission of announcing the Good News of salvation. It has contributed immeasurably to the development of Philippine society and the spread of the Gospel. Together with the Christian faith of most Filipinos the Christian family can truly be considered as among God’s greatest gifts of God to the Filipino nation.
From the very beginning God instituted marriage as the union between man and woman, by which “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24). By the holy gift of marriage, man and woman express their love for each other and reflect God’s love for them. They are enabled to cooperate with God as Creator of Life in conceiving, birth, and nourishing of new life as they fulfill what God had commanded, “Be fertile and multiply” (Gen 1:28). By divine plan, every child is good news, “the supreme gift of marriage” (Vatican II, GS, no. 50).
God blessed marriage even more when with the coming of the Son of God into the family of Mary and Joseph, marriage became a sacrament of Christ, a sign of his own faithful and steadfast love for the human family, no matter how unfaithful and sinful the human family may be. Fully knowing how marriages can fall into bad times, the Lord Jesus would nevertheless say, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt. 19:6).
Truly, then the Christian family is Good News for husband and wife, for children, and for the whole of society. In the midst of marital infidelities, the Christian family remains in essence a sign of God’s faithful love for us. In the midst of a culture of death, conflict and division, even of hatred, the Christian family is a sanctuary of love and life.
How we scornfully contradict the sacred biblical and ecclesial good news of love and life, marriage and the family by all the bad news that is happening! Divorce, artificial contraception, abortion, broken families, live-in partners, queridas, neg-lected children, and the onset of a materialistic, consumerist, and secu-larist culture are eating away at the biblical and ecclesial core values of the Christian family as God has planned it from the beginning of time.
The Family-in-Mission: Announcing the Good News of Jesus
If the very nature of the Christian family is “good news,” everything about its mission is also Good News. As the domestic Church the family is always a family-in-mission. Like the whole Church the family is sent to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ to every strata of society and to every dimension of life, social, political, economic, and cultural. If, indeed, the Gospel of the Lord is summed up in the commandment of love, then it is the family’s ” mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (FC, no. 17).
The first task of the family is to form itself into a community of love, love between husband and wife, love between parents and children. Marital love must reflect the divine “unconditional steadfastness with which God loves his people” (FC, no. 20). Because its source is God, the marriage bond cannot be morally broken by anyone, as the Scriptures say, despite the many, sometimes extreme, difficulties of married living. This is the fundamental reason that we must reject legislative proposals for absolute divorce. We must assist troubled marriages and strengthen the marital bond, but we have no authority to put it asunder.
The second task of the family is to serve life. Husband and wife cooperate with God in “transmitting by cooperation the divine image from person to person” (FC, no. 28). This is why we reject abortion and the premises of the population control program of government as well as it contraceptive mentality. Yet we must reiterate what we have already taught. Parents “should strive to beget only those children whom they can raise up in a human way. They need to plan their families according to the moral norms taught by the Church” (PCP-II, no. 583).
The other tasks of the family-in-mission are to help renew society and the Church. When parents as the first teachers of their children form in their children the values of Christ, they sow the seed of renewal for the entire society. Respect, justice, dialogue and love (see FC, no. 43) are characteristics of the family centered in Christ. By sharing these Gospel values with the wider society through authentic witnessing, the Christian family renews society from within.
To renew society, families should politically intervene so that “laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family” (FC, no. 44). They should actively participate in promoting social justice, eradicating poverty and renewing our present culture, sometimes described as “damaged” by many negative cultural values that are demonstrated in our rampant graft and corruption, our divisiveness, and pettiness.
Finally, as the fundamental community in the Church, the family has to participate in the task of the renewing the Church itself. Since the Second Plenary Council of the Church in the Philippines in 1991, our vision as Church is to become ” a new way of being Church,” specifically a Church of authentic disciples, a genuine community, a Church of the Poor, a participatory Church, an inculturated Church. We envision a Church that is truly committed to the mission of integral evangelization and would assist in morally renewing the very fabric of our society and the values it lives by.
It is the family that must lead in realizing such a formidable vision of a renewed Church. The vision will require perseverance and, most of all, cooperation with God”s grace. It takes time and painstaking effort. But we have begun.
This is why our National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal, held in 2001, the 10 th anniversary of PCP-II, declared that ” the family is the focal point of evangelization.” This is so not only because the family has to be evangelized but also because it is the key evangelizing community, given its place and role in Church and in society. As the Holy Father has often said, “The history of humanity passes by way of the family.”
Conclusion: The Family on a Mission of Witness
“Family, become what you are!” (FC, no. 17). By these famous words Pope John Paul II expresses the call of god for the family to renew itself, become what it is supposed to be.
God is also calling the family to embark on a mission of witness.
If the family becomes a school of prayer and holiness, a community of faithful disciples, a nursery of integrity, justice and peace, and a sanctuary of love and life, there is no doubt that the family will create ripples of divine goodness in the neighborhood and in the wider society. It would effectively and credibly witness to the saving and transforming Good News of Jesus.
We enjoin all Catholic educational institutions and all diocesan pastoral programs on family and life to assiduously fulfill their tasks of helping educate and form families toward the objectives set up by the Church and which we have indicated in this pastoral statement.
The nature of love and marriage between man and woman, the divine gift of children and the mission of the family as the domestic Church — all these have been handed down to us from Scriptures through the Church. This is what we teach. This is what we pray for. May our Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, the Queen of the Family, intercede powerfully before the Lord that every family become what it is — and be Good News for the Third Millennium.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO, OMI, DD
2 December 2002
HOPE IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS
Beloved People of God: As we your bishops gathered at Tagaytay for our annual Spiritual Retreat and our 85th Plenary Assembly, a destructive typhoon raged for several days. We were reminded of Peter and the other disciples on a boat being swamped by the waves. There were terrified and in panic. Aroused from sleep by the disciples, Jesus said to them: Why is your faith so little? Have courage! And he stilled the storm.
In a very true sense we are going through a terrible storm. In our country, a great number of our people continue to suffer dehumanizing poverty. Criminality, senseless violence, irresponsible politics and other serious ills are fast becoming the staple of our daily lives. Many have a sense of despair or hopelessness. To the various crises in society, we must now, with great sorrow and shame, add problems in the Church. We confess that cases of grave sexual misconduct by clerics and religious in the Philippines have rocked the bark of Peter. Sexual misconduct on the part of shepherds of the flock betrays the holy Priesthood that Christ has shared. The people of God are faced with the mystery of the Church, at once holy and yet sinful in its members. Have courage, Jesus says to all of us. With courage as a gift from God, we your Pastors humbly ask for forgiveness for the grave sins committed by some leaders against members of the flock. The whole Gospel that we proclaim is an indictment of such unpriestly behavior. Yet saying thins, let us all realize that the great majority of the clergy and religious are faithful to their priestly and religious commitments and sincerely strive with the help of God’s grace to be holy and zealous. We realize that forgiveness and apologies must flow into a commitment to be purified and renewed. That is what we resolve to do. We your bishops are now in the process of drafting thorough wide consultation with experts from among the lay people, religious men and women, a protocol that addresses the various types of sexual abuse and misconduct. It will provide steps for profound renewal.
Even as Jesus convicts us for our lack of faith, we likewise make our way to him and plaintively ask, Lord, what shall we do? The words of Micah the Prophet ring loud and strong, “You know what the Lord God expects of you: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
With everyone who despairs of ever changing society, with victims and offenders of sexual abuse in the Church, we find hope in the midst of a storm through the words of Micah.
We see hope in acting justly. Justice required that all of us, clergy and religious, your spiritual leaders look after the good of the flock without any regard for profit, pleasure, or power, because that is the call of God to us. We see hope in loving tenderly. Love requires all spiritual leaders to offer the sacrifice of their talents, in fact their very lives, for the people given by God to their care. For this was the manner of Christ’s own love. It demands a love that neither exploits others nor takes advantage of any member of the flock, but respects and uplifts all members as God’s own beloved children. We see hope in walking humbly. We walk humbly when we ask for forgiveness from God and from the victims of our sins. We walk humbly when, divesting ourselves of power and authority, go to those from whom we have separated ourselves through self-interest, arrogance, or abuse of power, and reconcile with them heart to heart. For why should not religious leaders be one with their flock, when they themselves are ambassadors of reconciliation?
The hope of a better Philippines, of a holy Church, that God gives as a gift comes through a life that is renewed, a life that acts justly, loves tenderly, and walks humbly with God. Such a life is itself the grace of God.
This is the message we wish to proclaim to you as we journey through a series of storms whose waves threaten to swamp both Church and society. Have faith! Have courage, says Jesus. In him we have hope that does not disappoint.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO, OMI, DD