Ben Smith, October 2014
October is shaping up to be a big month for Catholic families. The first stage of the Synod on the Family will take place from October 5-19, Pope Paul VI will be beatified at the closing Mass of the Synod on Oct 19 and the ‘Pope of the Family’, St John Paul II, will have his first feast day on October 22.
The first stage of Synod on the Family will be the Extraordinary stage in which a select group of 253 people from around the world, both clerical and lay, will be present. The second stage of the Synod, which will be an Ordinary Synod, will take place next year from October 4-25 involving all Bishops from around the world and a host of other delegates. Following on from this, Pope Francis will synthesise the key learnings from the Synod meetings in a document that will be published in early 2016 that will be used as the basis for range of pastoral programs. Bishop Fisher has dealt with the Synod in more detail in his article in this edition of Catholic Outlook.
One of the significant aspects of this year’s Synod is that it will close on October 19 with a beatification mass for Pope Paul VI. Paul VI was Pope from June 1963 to August 1978. Pope Pius VI issued Humane Vitae, an encyclical on marriage and sexuality, in July 1968. In the encyclical he reiterated the traditional teaching of the Church on contraception by emphasising the inseparability of the unitive (loving) and procreative (life giving) dimensions of the sexual act between a husband and wife. He predicted that if these two dimensions were separated, then society would experience: an increase in marital infidelity, a steep moral decline, a loss of respect for women, the abuse of power by governments (eg the Chinese one child policy) and the belief of unlimited dominion over the human body (eg abortion, IVF). All these predictions have been realised in a way that most people would not have expected in 1968. Lastly, he also encouraged scientists to explore how aspects of a woman’s natural cycle could help couples plan their families responsibly. This encouragement helped to give birth to a range of methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) that are in use today.
Eleven years later St John Paul II started a series of 129 audiences from September 1979 to November 1984 focussing on human sexuality in which he developed on the teaching of Humane Vitae. This work is known as the Theology of the Body and used a combination of teaching from scripture, theology and philosophy to explore the inner experience of human sexuality to develop a rich way of viewing the beauty of marriage, sexuality and the human body. St John Paul II also oversaw the last Synod on the Family in 1980. The 1980 Synod was followed by the promulgation of Familiaris Consortio that provided a great resource to guide pastoral programs for marriage and the family. St John Paul’s great teaching on marriage and the family was recognised when Pope Francis referred to him as ‘the Pope of the Family’ at his canonisation earlier this year. His first feast day will be celebrated on October 22.
Most of us with families live a busy life and we are constantly trying to balance our work and family commitments, so we have little time to read all these papal documents. But sometimes we have to stop, revive and survive so we can reflect on the nature of our marriages otherwise we may have a marriage microsleep and end up doing something we regret for the rest of our lives.