What Should the October Synod Discuss?

…I must say that we are blinking at reality if we do not face up to the fact that since the 1950s, marriage and the family, outside and inside the Church, have been plunged into an ever-growing crisis—to the extent that their nature, and very existence, are threatened by total collapse.

Judging by the media reports on the Extraordinary Synod to be held in Rome this October, the bishops present will be mainly concerned with issues such as the admission to the Eucharist of divorced and remarried persons, the speeding up of annulment processes, and the possible revision of the Church’s teaching on contraception. Implicit in most of the reports is the view that a liberalization or “relaxation” of the Church’s present discipline in these matters could help to ameliorate the pastoral problem or concern that the Synod is called to examine. What could be said about this view?

First, it must be remembered that the Synod is on the Family, not on Marriage. Certainly the health of the family depends on the health of marriage; hence the two questions are intimately connected. Yet, if the topics so highlighted by the media are discussed, then it should be in the light of their relevance to the health of the family itself.

From this latter point of view, divorce, annulments, and contraception certainly have their impact on the quality of family life. But surely it is a negative impact, not a positive one? Hence, proposals to make them more “available” or more “acceptable” would seem to run clear counter to the presumed purpose of the Synod.

What in fact is this purpose? Why has the Synod been convoked? The recent Instrumentum Laboris expresses it in its opening paragraph: “to bring about a new springtime for the family.” While this is suggestive (implying also that the family is going through a winter), it is not too concrete. Let us go directly then to Pope Francis himself, who can certainly tell us what is central in his concerns about the family and, therefore, what he wants the Synod to discuss.

The media might have taken more notice of a letter of his of February 2, 2014, the Feast of the Presentation, addressed directly to Christian families themselves. There, along with requesting prayers for the Synod, he expresses his mind about the role of the family, and the dangers which threaten it today, in a very condensed but beautiful manner.

It is certainly no accident that Francis chose to date this brief letter on February 2. On the contrary, the Pope uses the Gospel of the feast to show how the family can make generations more united, overcome individual self-centeredness, and bring joy to itself and the world. He first dwells on how the presentation of Jesus brings together two old people, Simeon and Anna, and two young people, Mary and Joseph. “It is a beautiful image: two young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations!” And then, “He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self‑absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support … Nevertheless, if there is no love, then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus. …”

This is very positive. It presents an ideal. But it also communicates the underlying concerns of the Pope regarding the family, and the recommendations regarding them that he hopes to receive from the synodal debates. To understand this, it should be enough to ask ourselves a few questions.

Are Christian families today united in themselves, and with others? Do they help their members out of self-absorption? Do they give an example to those around them of generous and dedicated love? There is the ideal of the Christian family; there is the role it is meant to play in the new evangelization of the world. And, yet, it seems that a great majority of Christian families today do not sense the greatness of their ideal, and do not know how to live it, or are not motivated enough to engage in their privileged evangelizing role. If so, then this must surely suggest the main topics that the Synod of this year, and that of 2015, should address.

The Lost Concept of “Family”

My almost 60 years as a priest have been particularly involved in the consideration of marriage and the family from many points of view: theological, moral, juridical, and pastoral. While not pessimistic by nature, I must say that we are blinking at reality if we do not face up to the fact that since the 1950s, marriage and the family, outside and inside the Church, have been plunged into an ever-growing crisis—to the extent that their nature, and very existence, are threatened by total collapse.

If I had to sum up the causes of this crisis in one factor, it would be this: marriage is no longer approached as a family enterprise. It has become basically a “you-and-me” affair. It is essentially a (tentative) commitment of two persons, one to the other; and no longer a total commitment of love, where a sexual love-union is expected to lead to, and be cemented by, the children that this union should naturally give rise to. In this secular view (which has become so widespread in the Church), marriage is basically an à deux arrangement, while a family is a possible annex that can be added later on, if convenient. Children, instead of being the natural fruit of married love, and the glue that holds it together in times of stress, are reduced to the category of minor accessories to the personal happiness of each of two fundamentally separate people, hence dispensable (like the marriage itself), if they no longer serve each individual’s happiness. Under such a view, marriages open-to-divorce, or simple cohabitation, become valid and even preferable options.

What is needed is a more natural, noble, and generous response to the family ideal that should inspire every healthy decision to marry. What we have instead, and it has been growing powerfully over the past 50 years, is a calculated individualistic approach to marriage and the family. Such an approach can only increase solitude and sadness, never overcome them.

Pre-marriage Instruction

To me, perhaps the most important issue to be addressed by the Synod is the need for pre-marriage instruction, inspired by sound anthropological (and not just theological) arguments, that draw out the positive, if challenging, nature of the commitment to marriage and the family. I say this because, in my experience, premarital instruction is often seriously deficient in its presentation of the power and appeal of Christian marriage; and this on both the supernatural and human levels.

The supernatural aspect: marriage must be presented as a genuine, God-given vocation to holiness, dwelling equally on the specific graces that, as a sacrament, it continually offers for the joyful and faithful fulfillment of this divine calling and mission. 1

The human aspect: bringing out, in-depth, the marvelously positive anthropological teachings of Vatican II, which present marriage as a covenant of love, highlighting marital consent as a mutual self-gift, and seeing children as both the natural outcome of that love, and the guarantee of its continuance in the future.

Both aspects need to be developed in any proper catechesis. But the second, if presented in all its human power, should come first. Only if fully expounded and personally absorbed can it counter, and gradually overcome, the pervading modern mindset which considers any binding choice to be alienating, and a threat to one’s freedom, and regards marrying and having a family as a fool’s choice, when all one needs is sex—which can be had free, just provided that it is made “safe.”

The personalism of Vatican II, firmly grounded in the Gospel, and with its human logic and appealing challenge, offers the jolting but only true answer to this dead-end individualism. Self-centeredness is the great enemy of happiness and salvation (“whoever seeks his life will lose it”). We all need to be drawn out of isolating self-protectiveness (“it is not good for man to be alone …”). People’s hearts are made for love, not for selfishness. They need to be reminded that selfishness leaves the heart cold, empty, and alone; only love can fill and expand it. Love that is true, love that admires, and wants to respect and give. For true love wants to give, as well as to possess. Without giving one’s self, one cannot experience true love. We all need a self-gift that is for something worthwhile as well as total (if the gift is not total, then it is, at most, a loan). For the vast majority of persons, marriage is meant to be precisely such a gift: freely, totally, and unconditionally made. Those who baulk at such a self-gift will remain progressively more and more trapped in their own isolation and solitude.

Then children can be seen as what they are meant to be—“the supreme gift of marriage” (GS 50), a gift that comes from God, and binds the spouses more strongly together in the noblest aspect of their common enterprise. Children are what make each married couple uniquely rich. Other people may have a better job or house or car; only they can have their children.

Divorce, Nullity

Divorce, ungrounded petitions of nullity, and contraception, have never favored happiness; certainly not that of the children, but not that of the spouses either. These are anthropological, not theological, truths. Divorce is always a collapse of a dream, a failure. It destroys the family. Those who most suffer from it are the children. Hence, anything that might make divorce seem an acceptable option (and not, as it almost always is, a major reneging on freely accepted responsibilities) is anti-family.

Declarations of nullity, if they are truly based on the facts, are a matter of justice to the parties; but, if there are children, they also mark the breakup of a family. If the necessary process for deciding a petition of nullity can be quickened without detriment to truth and justice, I am all in favor. But the anti-family aspect of the matter remains.

As a former judge of the Rota, I do think that matrimonial processes can be simplified and, thus, speeded up—but marginally. To address that question however is not to address the problems facing the family. Besides, if “speeding up” were to be at the cost of truth, we would have done harm to people’s fundamental trust in the Church, as well as to the whole institution of marriage.

A further marginal, but important, observation on this point. For more than 50 years, our tribunals have been treating nullity cases almost exclusively on the grounds of consensual incapacity (c. 1095). I do not believe that the great majority of those marrying today are incapable of giving valid consent. I believe that they are quite capable; but many do not give it—not because of incapacity, but because of exclusion of one of the essential properties of matrimonial consent (the indissolubility of the bond, for instance). That is not incapacity, but simulation (c. 1101).

Contraception

To my mind, the main cause of greatly increased marital breakdowns, and the consequent breakup of families, has been the lost sense of the sacredness of human sexuality, and of how the meaning and dignity of the sexual relationship must be respected both before, and in, marriage. Once contraception within marriage began to be presented as legitimate (in a generalized form from the 1960s on), it was inevitable that we reach the present situation where the one and only rule about sex is that it be “safe.”

Elsewhere (avoiding any appeal to theology) I have tried to elucidate the purely natural reasons why contraception is incompatible with, and destructive of, any genuine expression of married love. 2

Natural Family Planning has come to occupy a disproportionate place in premarital instruction. Well-formed Christian couples, with a proper understanding of the greatness of their married mission, will always see it, in the context of  “the proper generosity of responsible parenthood” (cf. CCC 2368), as a privation which sufficient reasons may indeed impose on them; but still remains a privation for them and especially for their existing children. How they need to be reminded of that incisive observation of John Paul II early in his pontificate: “it is certainly less serious (for a couple) to deny their children certain comforts, or material advantages, than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity, and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages, and in all its variety.” 3

NFP, if not adopted for serious reasons, introduces that element of calculation into married life, which in turn makes the fostering of generous ideals among the children more difficult. Generous parents make for generous children; calculating parents, for calculating children. Generous parents rear generous children. Calculating parents, smaller-hearted children. The great decline in vocations to the priesthood, etc., over the past 50 years surely finds part of its explanation right here. 4

Only proper instruction can free our young people preparing for marriage from the pervading anti-family mindset of the world in which they are immersed. The Christian ideal has always appeared as “counter-cultural.” It is no longer just unborn children, but the family itself, the first school of humanity, which is threatened by the culture of death, to which John Paul II so strove to alert us, calling Christians to oppose it with a vigorous culture of life. “Life to humanity,” “Life to the family,” these are the rallying cries that Christian couples (and the world through them) need to be inspired by, and to incarnate in, their married lives.

Little sense of marriage as a God-given call and mission; self-defeating fear of commitment; children seen as “optional extras,” 5 to be rationed or simply avoided; the family regarded as a demanding burden, and not as a fulfilling privilege. All of this is becoming the prevalent outlook of modern western society. And it powerfully affects married Christians, or those preparing for marriage. There are really major issues facing the Synod.

 


 

[1] cf. “Marriage as a Sacrament of Sanctification” (Annales Theologici 9 (1995), 71-87), at http://www.cormacburke.or.ke/node/353

[2] cf. the author’s Covenanted Happiness, Scepter 2011, ch. 8: at the same site: node/995

[3] Homily, Washington, D.C., October 7, 1979.

[4] cf. “Family Planning and Married Fulfillment” International Review, 13 (1989), 189-196 (at the same site: node/347

[5] Or (in apparent contrast but actually in logical complement) the “right” to a child: for a married couple, for a same-sex couple, for a single person.

 

  1. cf. “Marriage as a Sacrament of Sanctification” (Annales Theologici 9 (1995), 71-87), at http://www.cormacburke.or.ke/node/353
  2. cf. the author’s Covenanted Happiness, Scepter 2011, ch. 8: at the same site: node/995
  3. Homily, Washington, D.C., October 7, 1979.
  4. cf. “Family Planning and Married Fulfillment” International Review, 13 (1989), 189-196 (at the same site: node/347
  5. Or (in apparent contrast but actually in logical complement) the “right” to a child: for a married couple, for a same-sex couple, for a single person.
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avatar About Fr. Cormac Burke

Cormac Burke, a former Irish civil lawyer, was ordained a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature in 1955. After 30 years of pastoral work in Africa, the United States, and England, he was appointed a judge of the High Court of the Church, the Roman Rota (1986-1999). On retirement, he returned to Nairobi, Kenya, where he continues to teach and write. His latest book, The Theology of Marriage: Personalism, Doctrine and Canon Law, is being published Fall 2014 by the Catholic University of America Press. His website is: www.cormacburke.or.ke

Comments

  1. avatar Karl says:

    A sad disappointment from Monsignor Burke, but expected.

    • avatar Father McGavin says:

      The crucial thing is to engage a “conversation” that is truthful. I argue this in respect of the Kasper/Burke dichotomy in a contribution in
      chiesa.expresso.repubblica.it
      Reconciling Anomalies: a hermeneutic on divorce and remarriage
      posted on that site on 8 September 2014

    • avatar K. Q. Duane says:

      What?!

  2. Thank you, Fr. Burke, for a well-considered summary of major issues that ought to be dealt with, in the coming synod on family. I appreciate very much your insights, following your many years of experience and prayer, on these issues. Certainly, we both hope that pre-marital catechesis will be addressed in the synod – because the need for radical improvement cannot be overstated. I have a different sense of priority concerning the two major “aspects” or dimensions of catechesis that you distinguish, however. You write:

    “Both aspects [the supernatural/theological, and the natural/anthropological] need to be developed in any proper catechesis. But the second, if presented in all its human power, should come first. Only if fully expounded and personally absorbed can it counter, and gradually overcome, the pervading modern mindset …”

    First, the need for radical improvement in catechesis – adult formation in the faith of the Church – has settled to become my personal first and most urgent matter that ought to be addressed in our parishes and dioceses in America, where I live and try to work. Far too many Catholic adults have had no formal catechesis in their lives beyond what was “required” for Confirmation, typically received in their early teens. The sole source of formation for many Catholic adults is now the weekly ten-minute homily. But many pastors will not preach on matters divisive and “controversial” (adultery, contraception, divorce/remarriage, pornography,…), nor on any theological matters at an adult level. The result is that many Catholic adults have never been presented with the Faith of the Church at an adult level, upon which to build and guard their personal and family lives.

    My concern is, here in the U.S., at least, if we present as the first foundation for marriage and family life “mere” anthropology (granted, a Christian anthropology) of man and of the family – without the deeper supernatural foundation of the Rock – well, to quote a common proverb, we will be placing the cart before the horse. Christian anthropology is no longer “common sense” in the West, as it once was. America once was, and not inaccurately, thought of as a “Christian nation,” with laws and culture founded with the guidance of revealed truth. That was then; this is now.

    To teach first the human and natural goods to be guarded in a healthy marriage and family, in a culture pervasively and deeply confused and misled in these matters, would sound like, I fear, mere opinion. I fear such a message would have no basis, context or foundation within the learner to allow reception with confidence. If received by unformed uncatechized Catholic adults who are immersed in a secularized culture of death, such catechesis would seem to be mere churchy opinion alongside – and competing with – the louder and more pervasive (and superficially more attractive) opinions of the secular world.

    Here in the US, I believe, we need the foundation of Christ first. We are lacking in what is most basic! We need life-long catechesis in first the Faith of the Church, and within and upon that, a sense of Christian anthropology. This present “culture” has abandoned what used to be common sense – and thus it has abandoned reason itself – and thus is groundless, without foundation, offering only sand on which to build and educate.

    May the Lord lead this synod! God knows better than I, of course, how to direct His Church. I pray that they will be open to His light, and will offer themselves totally in service to His will.

    postscript – Looking at your website, and your book “Man and Values – a Personalist Anthropology” (Scepter, 2013), I see that your commitment to an anthropological theme is a long-held one. You wrote:

    “Chapters 1-11 derive from a course in anthropology that the author taught during the 1990s in Rome at the Studium Rotale (the specialized postgraduate school for would-be advocates of the Roman Rota), and subsequently at Strathmore University, Nairobi. It might be described as an experiment in analyzing ‘man’ and his possibilities at a purely human level, without any reference to religion, transcendence, or God. It is left to each one to conclude whether and to what extent an ‘anthropology of values’ leads to a transcendent view of life.”

    Personally, the conclusion of my “experiment” to date is the conviction that the transcendence man seeks and hungers for, is opened and made accessible to us precisely by the historical supernatural intervention of God and His grace, in Christ.

    • avatar Cormac Burke says:

      To accept that contraception or divorce are wrong, simply because the Church teaches it, can certainly show heroic faith. But Catholics who have only that to stand on will scarcely be able to overcome, in themselves or in others, the predominant mindset according to which acceptance of these church-imposed “prejudices” reveals a passive and unthinking mind.
      Only grace will get us to heaven. But if grace works through nature, it will have difficulty building well on a nature that is poorly formed. Today very few people have a natural (i.e. a truly human) understanding of the interconnection between sex, love, marriage, and family. Pre-marital instruction will remain largely ineffective unless it teaches that:
      - sex, as a God-given reality, is good; but only if it is imbued with respect;
      - love, inspired by respect, will give the strength to control the selfish impulses of sex, both before and in marriage;
      - sexual love normally looks forward to a lasting union. “I’ll love you always” is the natural aspiration of genuine love; it is natural therefore to desire a permanent marital bond. To prefer a temporary or breakable bond is a sign of calculating or weak love.
      - human love naturally wants to be fruitful. Children are the most personalized fruit of married love, and its strongest bond. They also signify a choice of a higher ‘standard of life’, measured not in terms of consumer articles, but of the unique value of each human life itself;
      - parenthood, and especially motherhood, is among the highest and most fulfilling of human aspirations.
      Unless people have a positive and proud human understanding of the ideal of a faithful and fruitful marriage, they will always be on the defensive against criticism from others. Giving them that understanding is what I mean by adequate anthropological formation.
      Then they will be in a position to grasp the sacramental gift and graces bestowed by Christian marriage, which will help them keep learning to love God through their love for one another and for their children.
      Apart from that they should also be able more effectively to carry out the task St. Peter set before the first Christians – who too found themselves immersed in a pagan and hostile world: “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 2:15)
      Regarding my book Man and Values, it is professedly anthropological, not theological. It is meant for non-believers (or half-believers) to encourage them to set themselves certain fundamental ‘life-questions’, that in the end only find adequate answers in transcendence.

      • Fr. Burke,

        Thank you for responding to my post, and seeking to clarify your strong preference for catechesis based primarily upon anthropological rather than theological foundations. If I may include here some examples you gave, that further clarify your position, your wrote:
        “Pre-marital instruction will remain largely ineffective unless it teaches that:
        - sex, as a God-given reality, is good; but only if it is imbued with respect;
        - love, inspired by respect, will give the strength to control the selfish impulses of sex, both before and in marriage;
        - sexual love normally looks forward to a lasting union. “I’ll love you always” is the natural aspiration of genuine love; it is natural therefore to desire a permanent marital bond. To prefer a temporary or breakable bond is a sign of calculating or weak love.
        - human love naturally wants to be fruitful.”

        If I were a modern man raised in secularism and relativism, I might counter these examples with the objection, “Fine. All of these examples seem ‘natural’ to you – but what if they are not ‘natural’ to me or my future wife? You are only citing one of many opinions and choices and preferences. That may work for some, but maybe not for me. Thanks anyway.” For many in this modern and very confused world, what is “natural” might as well be labeled “preferred.” Here and now, even one’s sexual identity as male or female can be considered a mere “preference” – not a “natural” state of being! Many modern men deny even the existence of a “human nature.” They refuse to acknowledge the existence of a “natural moral law.” This is the background that many modern Catholics are raised in – and often such error is not corrected with adequate catechesis.

        The theological foundations of adult catechesis that I would argue for is not what you refer to in your post as “simply because the Church teaches it.” That is not what I mean by a “theological foundation,” nor would such fideism be good adult catechesis. Adult catechesis, to be appropriate for adults, requires integrating the Faith of the Church and presenting it in the light of human reason and personal faith. This means beginning with the fact of human nature as a very good creation of God, who made us in the divine image – and originally, a divine likeness as well. God defines good, God as the origin of human nature makes what is good, good. So, to use your examples quoted above:
        - Therefore, the conjugal sexual relationship of marriage deserves mutual respect for a very important reason: each spouse is a God-created and gifted “I” made for relationship – a conjugal relationship, fruitful in part because of differences endowed to each “I” in the union.
        -Therefore love, expressed with the chastity and holiness worthy of the norm of human love, which is divine charity, will find the strength to overcome any selfish impulses of sex, both before and in marriage. God made us for more than lust! He made us for communion in love!
        - Therefore, sexual love normally looks forward to a lasting union. “I’ll love you always” is the natural aspiration of genuine love – not because is “seems natural to some people”, nor because “the Church says so” – but because marriage is a human portrayal of a crucially important aspect of the divine image in which we are made. The union of God the Holy Trinity is eternal. God is, in His inner Life, in Himself, a Trinitarian communion of eternal Love. For this reason man seeks love, he seeks communion and fellowship – and in a most intimate and complete human expression, such a union is marriage – a holy sacrament. What is truly “natural” in human nature is good because it portrays what is holy. It images God in some way.

        Your final example that I included above: “human love naturally wants to be fruitful,” also begs the theological foundation that makes it “natural.” For many – many – in this modern and darkened age, marital fruitfulness is the last thing wanted. Look at modern family size! Many cultures today are threatened by demographic collapse, because citizens are not even bearing children at a replacement rate, and groups in the society are shrinking. Many modern couples place fruitfulness on a back burner of “goods” they seek, with a minimal final number of children the usual outcome.

        “Be fruitful and multiply” is taken by many as outdated and “anti-ecological”. Many good reasons can be seen for the goodness of large families, from a sociological and economic perspective. But from a theological perspective, again – not just because “the Bible says so” – but because God made us to be fruitful. Why? Because we are made in His image, and God is eternally and perfectly fruitful. The inner Life, again, of God the Holy Trinity in whose image we are made, shows the eternal and perfect fecundity of divine love. The Father and the Son – Himself eternally begotten of the Father – eternally spirate the Holy Spirit in eternal and divine generation. Love – in the eternal perfection of holy divine charity – is eternally and perfectly fruitful! The is the nature of God, the nature of Love, and the nature of Life.

        Love and Life are thus inseparable – and therefore contraception is a violation of the divine image. Thus it is “unnatural”. And so on.

        Please forgive me for going on and on about this, but I do consider it important, and I hope that I have clarified my thought a bit on the issue at hand. Thank you for your years of work on the matter of catechesis – we at least agree on the need for great improvement in this matter, in the Church today!

        Thomas Richard

  3. avatar Elenor K. Schoen says:

    (The following information was sent to us in reference to the above article. HPR is providing this information as it relates to the subject of marriage and family life in the above article. -Elenor K. Schoen, HPR Managing Editor)
    From Audrey Smith
    Family Life Centre ACT
    Australia

    Summary:
    Linacre Quarterly Publication on Fertility Awareness published in the August 2014 edition.
    “billingsMentor: Adapting natural family planning to information technology and relieving the user of unnecessary tasks”

    The paper can be downloaded free of charge from the following URL:
    http://www.maneyonline.com/toc/lnq/81/3
    and: http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/2050854914Y.0000000024

    The Linacre Quarterly is the official journal of the Catholic Medical Association in the USA continuously published since 1934. The Linacre Quarterly is the oldest journal in existence dedicated to medical ethics. The Linacre Quarterly provides a forum in which faith and reason can be brought to bear on analyzing and resolving ethical issues in health care, with a particular focus on issues in clinical practice and research.
    This information is relevant to the upcoming Synod on the Family.

    Full Text:
    I am co-author of the paper, “billingsMentor: Adapting natural family planning to information technology and relieving the user of unnecessary tasks”, published in the August 2014 edition of Linacre Quarterly. The paper can be downloaded free of charge from the following URL:
    http://www.maneyonline.com/toc/lnq/81/3
    and: http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/2050854914Y.0000000024

    The Linacre Quarterly is the official journal of the Catholic Medical Association in the USA continuously published since 1934. The Linacre Quarterly is the oldest journal in existence dedicated to medical ethics. The Linacre Quarterly provides a forum in which faith and reason can be brought to bear on analyzing and resolving ethical issues in health care, with a particular focus on issues in clinical practice and research.
    The service on http://www.billingsmentor.org/ is at present in eight languages and we are looking to increase this number at some time in the future.
    “Billings Mentor” assists couples to achieve or avoid pregnancy, or simply for a woman to understand and respect her fertility – this is very appropriate and important for young women.
    As you will read on the website registration is anonymous and there is no charge if clients allow their fertility records for our research.
    The home page for registrations is: http://www.billingsmentor.org/
    Relevant information, in a greater number of languages, regarding the Billings Method and fertility is on: http://www.billingsmethod.org/

    The established use of personal devices (mobiles/smart phones), especially into developing countries, will make NFP a real option for most couples in the world.

    This information is relevant to the upcoming Synod on the Family.

    Yours sincerely and God bless,
    Audrey Smith
    Family Life Centre ACT
    Australia
    audrey.smith@apex.net.au
    http://www.billingsmentor.org/

    http://www.billingsmethod.org/
    http://www.natural-fertility-regulation.org
    http://www.fairlove.org

  4. avatar LAM says:

    Thank you Fr. Burke for your outstanding contribution in regard to recommendations for the Synod on the Family in regard to the concept of the family, pre Cana instruction, contraception and divorce and nullity.

    The relationship between the development of the contraceptive mentality in Catholic couples and the severe plague of divorce upon Catholic youth and spouses is irrefutable. The Catholic family cannot be protected and restored unless the truth is taught about the grave dangers of contraception.

    In 1990 the Philippine Bishops issued an apology and asked for forgiveness of the nation’s Catholics for having failed to encourage their flock to adhere to Humanae Vitae. They wrote: “Afflicted with doubts about alternatives to contraceptive technology, we abandoned you to your confused and lonely consciences with a lame excuse: ‘follow what your conscience tells you.’ How little we realized that it was our consciences that needed to be formed first.”

    Let us pray for our Bishops at the Synod that they can preach the truth about marriage and the family, regardless of the cost, as did St. John the Baptist, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More .

    • avatar Chipi Buenafe says:

      Hi LAM,

      I’m curious about your reference to the 1990 statement by the Philippine bishops. Would you have the link or bibliographic reference of that?

  5. avatar Charlie Balsam says:

    Fr. Burke, I have one of your earlier works on marriage. I think you elucidate its integrity very well. I like your sense that pre-marriage catechesis needs improvement. After nearly 30 years in marriage & family ministry, I have 4 concerns:
    1) If a revised preparation process is devised but is primarily talking AT engaged couples, few will tolerate or access the process; pastoral ministers must be able to form a relationship with couples in order to have any hope of influence, in the short or long term. My friend Fr. David Konderla’s article in HPR several years ago gets at this on the subject of cohabitation.
    2) If a revised preparation process is devised, pastoral ministers must be formed in the sensibilities of the process if it is to have any impact. Many clergy are resistant to spending too much time in marriage preparation settings, which are an opportunity for evangelization, but often are times when the engaged are screened out for not measuring up.
    3) Given the demise of marriage over the last 50 years (really, since the Industrial Revolution), marriage preparation is not enough. St. John Paul knew this, and so exhorted church leaders to follow couples through their life cycle (c.f. Familiaris consortio, nos. 65-70). But this skeleton outline needs substantial fleshing out. The parish in which I labored for 11 years attempted to meet his challenge with improved, expanded infant baptism prep, and adult formation of couples/parents during their children’s catechesis for confession and Eucharist. I believe we did well, but few parishes or bishops for that matter to my knowledge, have ever accepted the Pope’s challenge.
    4) If all the Synod does is try to become more eloquent about our doctrines, it will likely be a sinful waste of our tithes. Our doctrines are prophetic; we do not need new ones. Our people need to be helped to understand them. This requires time, space and method, not just didactic pronouncements and preaching. But most of the last 50 years has seen, not action, but mostly defense of our teachings.

    When the clergy sexual abuse scandal finally sunk in, the bishops took action regarding seminary recruiting, screening and formation. Crisis acknowledged, resources expended. Does not the scandal of Catholic marriage dissolution – the OTHER vocation in service to Communion – deserve its own renewal? I dare say the future of both conjugal and celibate vocations are at stake, perhaps even the very Church.

    • Mr. Balsam, I appreciate your comments – maybe especially this: “Our doctrines are prophetic; we do not need new ones. Our people need to be helped to understand them. This requires time, space and method, not just didactic pronouncements and preaching.” I would add that this crucial need – for adult catechesis and formation – calls forth something of our ecclesial leaders: an authentic desire to help the people “understand,” and grow in the Faith. We need of them an opening of the doors and calendars to teachers and formators – we need them to provide time, space, priority and resources to make it actually happen.

      • avatar Cormac Burke says:

        Mr. Richard. Referring back to your comments of Aug 31: I do not have and have never expressed a ‟strong preference for catechesis based primarily upon anthropological rather than theological foundations”. My view is that catechesis must be based on both, but is more effective if the anthropological foundation is presented first (or, if you wish, fully integrated into the theological). For the rest, my own theological analysis would very much coincide with the one you express so well. I simply find it more logical to put the horse (the anthropological analysis) first; then it can more easily and effectively carry forward the cart – fully loaded with the Christian treasure of theological analysis. If we disagree about which come first, so be it.

      • avatar Charlie Balsam says:

        Mr. Richard, I believe we’ve corresponded before. Regardless, in consort with your comment, I offer the sometimes spoken 7 last words of the Church (parish): We’ve never done it that way before. To shift evangelization and catechetical focus primarily on adults/couples/parents rather than children might require nothing short of a revolution. Yes I know people are busy. Are they busy about the Gospel, for which they were baptized and missioned? A judgmental question. But many of our parishioners spend more hours on screens and gadgets than they do in spiritual formation in our parishes. The father of lies has more access to Hollywood and mass culture than does the Gospel, and yet our chief pastors wring their hands about falling mass attendance, celibate vocations, and the relative illiteracy of our congregants re marriage, fertility, respect for life, discipleship, economic justice, capital punishment, and the like. I’ll conclude with a comment attributed to Stephen Covey: Every organization is perfectly aligned to get the results it is getting. So it seems to me, adult learning method and courageous ministry structure change with the appropriate anthropological and theological foundations might bring different results. What have we got to lose?

  6. Fr. Burke – In response to your post of 9/4/2014 – you wrote: “I do not have and have never expressed a ‟strong preference for catechesis based primarily upon anthropological rather than theological foundations”. My view is that catechesis must be based on both, but is more effective if the anthropological foundation is presented first ….”

    I must apologize for using the word “primarily,” which can mean either “first in time” or “first in importance”! I meant to say only that you preferred the anthropological first in time. My dictionary defines “primary” as:
    1) first in order of time or development : primitive
    2) of first rank, importance, or value ….

    My own preference would be to present (in an understandable and reasonable way) the theological first in time, thereby (I would hope) reinforcing the currently sometimes non-existent sense of what is “natural” for human beings, which would then (I would hope) more easily hear the anthropological arguments. (On a humorous note, I’m glad you and I are not trying together to connect a horse and a cart!)

    I did not mean to imply that you would not later present the theological reasonings. But I regret using that word “primary”, which is ambiguous and possibly mislead others besides you.

  7. Mr. Balsam – in response to your comment of 9/4/2014 – you wrote: “So it seems to me, adult learning method and courageous ministry structure change with the appropriate anthropological and theological foundations might bring different results. What have we got to lose?”

    Apparently, many pastors have something important to lose. I would really, really like to hear what that is. That which could be gained, on the other hand, seems very beautiful indeed!

    • avatar Charlie Balsam says:

      Good question. Any significant organizational change – even when warranted, is difficult. This “revolution” (I use the word in Chesterton’s sense of renewal if I read him right in Orthodoxy) does not have to happen overnight, but rather incrementally. Still needs a plan. An example, and forgive my tooting my own horn.
      At the parish I worked in from 1995-2007, taking Familiaris consortio nos. 65-70 to heart, I wrote a 4 session, 8 hr total contact time program for infant baptism preparation. I piloted it first, and then implemented it. (Liguori published it 2001-2013).The pastor stood behind it, and if any couple really balked at attending, we worked with them if they would at least attend the first session. Two other parishes used it. In 2006, we totaled 922 evaluations from all three parishes, and only 15 said it was too long. Why the impact? I suspect because it spoke to the lived context of couples lives (young child/ren, marriage, their future, etc.), gave them tools for discussing their life together, gave them the Christian vision of baptism, discipleship, marriage, the domestic church, and the like – all in time and space that made their learning (or re-learning) possible. Most pastoral leaders say its too long. Meanwhile, typical baptism classes bore and underwhelm young adult parents, and reinforce their notion that the church has nothing to offer them. The lack of courage to offer something substantial I believe colludes with the “evangelization” they are getting from mass culture. This is why I believe the Synod has to lead to action.

  8. avatar Sheryl says:

    Msgr Burke discusses declarations of nullity that are just, but, he says, they are still anti-family. How true, but he does not say what to do about them.

    As we have done more research, we have learned that older moral theologians like Fr. Dominic Pruemmer called for the convalidation of an invalid marriage; he never advised issuing a declaration of nullity so the parties could marry again.

    Msgr. Burke also says that canon 1095 is the most often used ground, but he thinks people today are capable of consent. What they are doing, he says, is withholding an essential element, namely, indissolubility, from their consent. Therefore, they are simulating.

    Those two points he makes make me sad.

    The only remedy is the one that St. Thomas Aquinas taught: Marriage is about salvation: to break a vow is a mortal sin.

    But hardly anyone since Vatican II will go there. Until they do, there is no real solution to the breakup of the family. Love is not enough. If it were, the bushels that have been taught the last 50 years would have brought people into the Church not made them comfortable in leaving and doing whatever makes them happy, believing that nothing really bad will happen that some pills or therapy won’t take care of.

    Once condemned, however, pills and therapy are useless.

  9. avatar Rich Beyers says:

    We know that marriage involves the active and full participation of three parties: God, spouses (one flesh) and the church. God defined the marriage covenant; spouses vowed to honor the covenant till death (without knowing what the future holds) and the church was instructed to teach on the integrity of the covenant and, when necessary, compassionately confront a sinning spouse with the truth.

    When a marriage collapses, thus destroying a family, we must review the reasons behind it. In order to both encourage reconciliation and help prevent other families from the same destructive behaviors that lead to divorce, we must evaluate the actions of all three parties.

    God is not to blame. We know that God keeps His covenants.

    Each spouse must accept a portion of the responsibility. While one spouse may not have wanted the divorce, the sins of both in some way contributed to the divorce. I am no exception.

    The church must also be evaluated. Did the church warn of the attacks on marriage and encourage each couple to make growing spiritually a priority? When sin was exposed, did the church boldly yet compassionately speak the truth? When a declaration of nullity was requested, was the process handled with integrity? Did the tribunal give the marriage the favor of the law? More specifically, did the church actually demonstrate a belief in the indissolubility of marriage or rather, in the name of mercy, offer divorcees an escape clause by way of a declaration of nullity?

    While much has been said about the failures of one or both spouses, I claim that the church is also failing in a profound manner. In my personal experience, what the church has said and done conforms more to the desires expressed by the secular world than those of scripture.

    To that point I offer the contrasting responses between Jesus disciples’ and modern priests and tribunals. I suggest that my experience with the church has not been an anomaly but rather more closely reflects today’s norm.

    When Jesus clarified the indissolubility of marriage, it was radical. We know the disciples understood its implications because they responded with surprise. In contrast, without reviewing testimony of any sort, numerous priests, sisters and tribunal advocates ensured an affirmative decision. When I told them that I would follow scripture and honor my vows, each responded with surprise and, in some cases, disdain.

    When I called the tribunal to find out what a declaration of nullity even was, the judicial vicar mistook me for a potential petitioner and assured me that they “like to affirm petitions.” Sadder still, when I first met with him to review testimony he immediately told me I was an angry, bitter and judgmental man. When I asked how he came to that conclusion, he admitted that he had not read testimony but could confidently make that claim purely on my expressed intent to defend the validity of our marriage.

  10. avatar Charles Sendegeya says:

    Fr Cormac has pointed us in the right direction.
    However, it appears to me that pre-marital instruction is icing on the cake (cake being at least a few years prior to learn, appreciate and struggle to live what the Church teaches). Pre-marital instruction needs to go atop a foundation else it turns to be mere window-dressing.

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