Posted on: 2016-12-15
Source: Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Badejo

The Global Forum on Marriage – GFM 2016 – on December 9-10, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo

Religious leaders: How can the Church Support Marriage?

Mother Teresa said: “If you want to change the world go back and love your family”.

First, we know that the Church has no option but to support marriage between a man and a woman, husband and wife, for it relates to the very foundations of her existence and that of humanity. Marriage is the only sacrament with which Saint Paul illustrated the relationship between Christ and his Church. (Eph. 5: 21-30). That alone can be a good indication of the importance of marriage to the Church.  Pope Francis has declared that the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and of the Church, so, support for the family is a necessity. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family (Familiaris Consortio) taught that the family must remain a means of sanctification for couples.  He wrote “The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families. It takes up again and makes specific the sanctifying grace of Baptism. By virtue of the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ, of which the spouses are made part in a new way by marriage, conjugal love is purified and made holy”. (Familiaris Consortio 56).  The Church cannot lose sight of this teaching and must help couples to understand and live it because she is essentially established by Jesus Christ to be the sacrament of salvation. (Heb 13:4)

The Church will support marriage by remaining at the service of the married couples as they face the complexities of modern life, constantly reading and responding to the “signs of the times”. She must provide clear teachings in the light of scripture to equip married couples as they confront the numerous challenges of contemporary living: Here is how Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia, former President of the former Pontifical Council for the Family and Pontifical Academy for Life, Grand Chancellor of the St. John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family enumerated those challenges in his speech to the new Academic Year of that Institute  on the 35th anniversary of its foundation:

“In the present circumstances, the conjugal and family bonds are put to the test in many ways. The affirmation of a culture that exalts narcissistic individualism, a conception of freedom disengaged from responsibility for the other, the growth of indifference to the common good, the imposition of ideologies that attack the family project directly as well as the growth of the poverty that threatens the future of so many families are all the more reasons for the crisis of the contemporary family. Then there are the open questions of the development of new technologies, which render possible practices which at times are in conflict with the true dignity of human life”.  (A new Pontifical Dicastery has since been established by Pope Francis with competency for laity, family and life, to replace the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. It is headed by the former Bishop of Dallas, Kevin Cardinal J Farr ell).

The Church must be creative and unrelenting in promoting marriage and family as resources for the entire world especially future generations. This can be effectively done by the joyful witness of married couples themselves. The triennial World Meeting of Families conducted by the Pontifical Council remains an important event to give married people all over the world much - needed spiritual, cultural and doctrinal reinvigoration for that purpose and the Church will do well to replicate such meetings at Continental, National and diocesan levels. The Global Forum for Marriage and the World Congress of Families must be supported to perform similar valuable roles.

Ongoing Reflections

I think that the doctrinal demands of faith on marriage must continue to be ventilated by participatory reflections at the highest levels of the Church hierarchy in order that the voice of the Church may remain relevant and provide responses to ongoing discourse in the world. Such a function was performed by the recent Synods of the Universal Church on the Family in 2014 and 2015. And by earlier synods. The democratic processes leading to the synods can be an authentic process of participation of the faithful in the decision making organ of the Church.  The eventual Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation issued by Pope Francis Amoris Laetitia n Love in the Family has generated passionate interest and affirms that the objective of the exercise is to allow for “an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family”.AM No 2.

The clear voice of the Church on the responsibilities of the family is indispensable. For example, Amoris Laetitia defines children as living stones of the family who are not the property of the family but great responsibilities entrusted to married people by God for a higher purpose. It is the duty of the Church to ensure that such perspectives as these are constantly and clearly represented to our contemporary cultures which revels in the addiction of owning everything and therefore disposing of everything as is pleasing and expedient.

Reinvigorating the sense of Marriage

The Church will support marriage by regenerating the interest of young people in marriage be it in the doctrinal, practical, pastoral and testimonial sense. It is necessary to find means of making the characteristics of commitment, exclusivity and stability in marriage attractive to even the generations of the future. The Church must insist on the call to holiness among young people long before marriage. By authentic teaching, modelling and mentoring through her agents of evangelization the Church must teach and communicate the goods of marriages. She must call young people to live a chaste life as a necessary investment for a happy, fulfilled and holy married family life.  Through authentic studies, research and data youth must be sufficiently informed about the dangers of loose living and the beauty of responsible choices. Giving youth a new sense of mission for a better world and a better future will be an authentic way of supporting marriage. Young people have a keen sense of solidarity and will generously respond to the needs of the Church and faith if they can be made to feel like allies rather than the subjects of authentic values and ideals.  The Church must present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment, not just as a means of sanctification and salvation.  For example, while promoters of the culture of death promote contraceptive culture as means to freedom, researchers may have shown that young people who do not engage in premarital sex, contraception and abortion have higher success in lifelong commitment and contentment in marriage than those who live otherwise. Exposing the facts and details about the chemical and psychological reasons for such conclusions can help young people to make better choices in life. The Church is well positioned to offer such a service. Depending on different cultural backgrounds the Church can achieve great objectives by acknowledging and developing stories of the heroic life and contributions of married people who live authentic Christian lives. This can encourage married people to persevere in their vocation and encourage youth to embrace the same vocation.

Easing difficult ecclesiastical processes

In recognition of changing realities it can constantly review complex laws and regulations to help existing marriages without prejudice to sacramental discipline. For example, Pope Francis during the Year of Mercy, last September announced new procedures to make marriage annulments easier. While this does not affect the doctrine of no divorce in Marriage it showed the Church as a compassionate mother and addresses delays impeding those who  would like to find respite when stuck up with invalid marriages.

The ongoing formation of pastors and pastoral agents who accompany and mentor marriages is a critical need. Related to this is the restoration of the community dimension to marriage. Those who have defined marriage as a private personal engagement deny married couples of the help and support of these agents and also of the society, wider family or clan. The social dimension helps to save marriages in moments of crisis more than current diffused personalistic conceptions, which cannot sustain marriages in moments of crisis which often comes in many marriages.

Freeing Marriage of Cultural and Contemporary Encumbrances

Culture can often be the shrine that protects Christianity and nurtures it when such a culture enhances human life dignity and creation. But there are cultural practices all over the world which the Church needs to engage more with in the light of the Gospel in order to strengthen Christian marriage. Some examples abound in Africa which constitute burdens to persons who would like to enter into marriage

Some of these are High Bride prices, Widowhood rites, Inheritance rites, arranged marriages, polygamy, childlessness and a type of cohabitation which excludes sacramental marriage.  In summary, the Church must make an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children and, in general, to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?  The Church must continuously find new language and new metaphors with which to do catechesis and decrease the distance of many from the ideals and practice of the Christian truth of marriage and the family. She must define and demonstrate marriage as a desirable good both for married people and for those who aspire to the marital state in the future for the benefit of humanity. According to Archbishop Paglia, her own indissoluble bond with and closeness to her children in moments of human weakness is the most transparent sign of God’s faithful and merciful love.

We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to the capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage. Al. 40.