Save the Family and Live
A Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of the Philippines on the Family
To our dear Catholic Families:
The United Nations has declared 1994 as the International Year of the Family. We welcome the event. It provides us with an occasion to focus on the Family, to heighten our awareness of its importance for society and the Church, and to clarify the identity of marriage and the family.
In concept, we may have no hesitation about identifying marriage or the family. It is a stable union between man and woman in view of children. But current practices, particularly among the young, have challenged one or another of those elements. And the United Nations has declared its openness to give recognition to a diversity of forms of “family”.
We can thank God that our people as a whole can still discern the TRUTH about family from deviations. But a growing minority is already challenging this truth by the lifestyles they flaunt.
Let us join the Holy Father in welcoming the year with high hopes. This year will be a year of grace for our families: one year in an ongoing process of renewal for our families. And we start by listening first to what GOD’S REVELATION tells us about the family, and then what NATURE says.
What revelation says
Human love is caught by divine love. That earthly reality of the mutual love between spouses is turned into a sacrament. So that spousal love is now moved by God’s Covenant with His people, of Christ with His Church. In the family there is created a true church in microcosm. Theologically, it is the family that is the basic ecclesial community. It is the Sacrament of the Covenant that has made of the family a true Church. The children are holy because they are children of the covenant. This is the first church for every christian.
It is here where the first steps in faith-life are taken, where all journey together in their pilgrimage. Is it by chance that significant religious affairs touching individuals–such as Baptism, First Communion and Weddings are also celebrated as family events? or that major statues of Saints or of Our Lady and Our Lord, used in parish processions are owned by private families? or that some holy image in a home can create a center of devotion? And this is what revelation says of the christian family: it is the first church of every christian, where he/she should experience what it is to be church.
What nature says
Nature tells us that it must exercise some control over creatures if they are to survive and to propagate. And the lower the level of the creature, the more absolute nature’s control. The young fish, soon after their birth, are left on their own, completely guided by instinct for their survival and nurturance. On a higher scale, young birds must be cared for and protected by their parents until they can fend for themselves. But even with birds, instinct still regulates.
Among humans, instinct merely initiates the relations between offspring and parents. Thereafter, there develops a freedom of choice in the action and reaction between offspring and parents. There are sites that nature has chosen for the different events in the nurturance and maturation of new human life–from womb to breast to family to society. We do not yet fully know the ultimate penalty for disturbing this process. It has been said that God forgives, but Nature never! But the most crucial in the development of a person is the development of his/her affectivity. The behavioral sciences tell us this. One of the primary educative tasks of parents is the development of the affectivity in the child.
It is in the context of their affective formation that we, your Pastors, are to reflect on family-related disorders in our society. Child abuse or spouse abuse–would they not have been facilitated by a training in competitiveness, conquest, aggressiveness, toughness but also dependency? Those wanting in compassion: have they ever been tender or caring in their growing years? Formation in the earlier years can be crucial because once an adult, one can put on the face of compassion while harbouring aggression in the heart. As a rule, in the education of the affective, the family can not be substituted for. But for the proper education of the child in affectivity, he/she will need to see adults who are caring and tender, while yet firm and uncompromising in the values they hold. And where might he/she find such adults if not in the family that nature had given him/her? This is what nature says of his/her family.
As the little church is, so is the larger
It is then in the church of the home where young christians are formed to take their place later as adult christians in the larger church. To take their part in the rites of worship for which they were prepared by the life of worship in the home; to share in the social concerns of the larger church, for which they were prepared by the active concerns of the church in the home; to be involved in works of charity as was the lifestyle in the church of the home.
Furthermore, what the model of the Church of the home is, will have its influence in shaping the larger Church. Was the church of the home an institution? or largely a prophet? or a community where life and love held the primacy? This will tell on the contribution he/she will make towards the shape that e.g. the parish will eventually take. The key to renewal in the Church is the renewal that takes place in the church of the home.
There are two realities upon which the family is based: Love and Life. These two are intimately linked because lovemaking must always be open to the transmission of life. The most persistent attacks of evil today are on these two, because it is there where the image of God is to be found.
A subtle attack on human life is the erosion of esteem for it under the guise of good. Thus to limit your children to two–for what end? To increase the quality of life. It is intriguing how much acceptance that has found. For today that standard of only two children per family has been accepted worldwide, irrespective of conditions of life, in poverty-stricken as well as affluent societies. What is replacing esteem for young human life is the appeal of the good life.
As against this calculation in how much love to expend, we must praise and give public recognition to parents even among the poor who manage to raise a large family responsibly. And we are heartened to see this good news proclaimed by not a few. The mothers are no less fulfilled as mothers.
This is not necessarily to deny material assistance to the poor. But their stance is that of a beggar before Divine Providence. This is the stance of the church of the poor. And here we are affirmed by the witness of many couples. While thinking themselves poor, they actually possess the greatest gift one can have: to be able to love unselfishly.
Another indication that our people love children for their own sake is the readiness of couples to adopt the homeless or abandoned. Yes, even those with straitened incomes. And this despite the children they already have of their own.
We do not subscribe to the view that couples raise many children to serve as income supplementors. And that once their economic situation improves, these couples will automatically opt for smaller families. Watching children about their chore in a playful mood, e.g. fetching water for the family, we can say that they do not feel they are merely being used by their parents. And fathers give testimonial to their love for children by the attention they themselves give to the children when in public with their wives, and in the care of family resources needed for the proper upbringing of children.
We invite you first to reflect on conjugal love. The mutual love of husband and wife is both an institution and a mandate from the Creator for the increase of His family on earth. Marital love is sacred in its origin and destination.
Then reflect too on the quality of love that a woman gives to family. The womb qualifies a woman’s quality to love. Although many women work merely to supplement family income, in urban areas at least, there is a trend for work–or career–to exert such an appeal as to begin to alienate women from their womb. We belive that many of our women are still oriented towards motherhood. But there is a drive–a sterilization drive–that will eventually wear away the esteem and appeal of maternity. This drive is being pushed even in the rural areas. How will this affect the quality of love of the women of our future families?
A renewed church
PCP II invites us to renewal in our Church. It is calling us to join in that springtime in the universal Church that the 3rd Millennium will usher. This is the intuition and prayer of the Holy Father. Joyfully, we make that our own.
On what will the hope for renewal rest? On the growing awareness by the family of its nature: by God’s design to be the Church in microcosm, that like the Church, itself Evangelizer. And so, the Holy Father points, evangelizing the family is at the heart of evangelization. “Evangelization, in fact, necessarily passes through the family.” The family itself proclaims the gospel. And what in the gospel does it specifically proclaim? It proclaims the very core of the entire gospel: that GOD IS LOVE.
We can more readily accept his prediction that “as we look on the now imminent 3rd Millennium, the evangelization of families in the Dioceses will intensify”. This is what we now see happening.
Now God will no longer be thought of as only found in “sacred places, such as the chapels and churches. He will now also be found closer to all persons meaningfully in the churches of the homes, in the families, and in the daily realities of their lives. And wherever, too, they extend themselves–their workplaces, markets etc. There will no longer be purely secular realities. All earthly realities will have a religious meaning, and offer opportunities for experiencing of the sovereignty of God’s love.
To find God in all things–His presence and His workings. To experience His covenant with His people in the day-to-day life. That is the gospel which the Church of the home is called upon to proclaim. It is the entirety of the Church in the entirety of Life that is being opened to the invasion of the Holy Spirit. Yes, let us proclaim the family this coming year, and thereafter!
A cause for alarm
We wish to register our strong and unqualified objection to actions of the government and its instrumentalities which (despite any contrary intentions) work towards the destruction of the Filipino family.
The blatant promotion of direct contraception and direct sterilization which separate the two aspects of the conjugal act–the expression of love and openness to the transmission of life–is contrary to the will of God. Already the evils spawned by these practices have been abundantly demonstrated by the experience of many nations where contraception has met with common acceptance. The acceptance of abortion, the breakdown of families, the encouragement of pre-marital sex, the increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases are only some of the evil consequences.
We especially object to the promotion of contraception as an abrasive act of insensitivity to the sentiments of the majority Church whose ethical principles prohibit such practices. This manifestation of insensitivity comes at a time when the President of the Republic is asking us to unite and work together for our countrymen’s welfare.
This insensitivity is compounded with injustice when the promotion of contraception is accompanied by undue pressure on health care workers to do acts which their conscience tells them are wrong.
We ask our people–pastors, religious and lay people alike — to stand up in a united way for the teachings of the Church on contraception, sterilization and abortion, and to refuse to promote contraception and sterilization and abortion should they be ordered to do so by their superiors. There are times when we must bear witness to Christ and dare to say, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). The government itself has said that it will not order health workers to perform acts violative of their consciences and that those who refuse to perform such actions will not in any way be punished. We ask Catholic health workers to report to us, the bishops, violations of this standing government policy.
Structuring the apostolate
“Evangelizing the family is what we have at heart”, confesses the Holy Father. And he insists on the central position that should be given the family apostolate in planning the activities of Dioceses and Episcopal Conferences. And he adds, “No plan for organized pastoral work, at any level, must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral care of the family”. And again, “the family should therefore, be at the center of the concerns of every diocesan community, of every parish and apostolate organization”.
But importantly there must be the integration of all family-related activities into the one vision and orientation of the Diocese. “In the Dioceses then, it would be important to establish some efficient coordinating agencies.. under the active and supportive intervention of the Bishops..”.
We applaud the many associations that are promoting family and child welfare.
The international year of the family
“The primary task then is to form the family so as to enable it to be .. evangelizer”, aspires the Holy Father. For our families to grow into the churches that God wants them to be. To awaken them to the gifts they have been endowed with–of prophet: to proclaim the gospel of love–of servant: to witness to service of neighbor–of priest: to sanctify their world through the sacrament of their covenant–to establish the sovereignty of love over all that they touch. This year will be a year of grace for God’s people in the Philippines. And this hope will rest on you, our families.
Let us on this occasion, entrust our inspirations and activities to the Holy Family for their blessing and guidance.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+CARMELO D.F. MORELOS, D.D.
Bishop of Butuan
July 13, 1993