3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?
The Catholic Church continues to affirm the family as being the significant purpose of marriage, though the partnership is also given prominence by parish priests, who realise that there may not be children for years, if at all. The importance of the marriage being between two Catholics seems to be of less concern, as parish priests are pragmatic, and realise they are lucky to have the couple in their church at all. The fact that any subsequent children will be baptised is usually assumed — otherwise why would the couple bother to marry in the church, when they could do so in their reception hotel, or on a foreign beach instead.
Demographic shifts have seen an increase in investment in resources addressing mixed marriages, especially with respect to pastoral concerns. This is evidenced by the Bishops’ Conference and the recommendations to consult and involve and have a continuing dialogue with those affected.
Since the sacramental status of baptism of other Christian denominations was legally validated in 1970, there has been considerable progress in Christian ecumenism and such marriages can point to Christian unity. However, by highlighting the issue of children, it’s evident that inter-religious marriages have been far more problematic: whilst such marriages can be seen as opportunities for growth, there remain many challenges to faith, especially in the wider community context. Nevertheless, recent pastoral initiatives, especially those that seek affirmation of the other denomination, have fostered new theological reflections that may point a way to something analogous to ecumenism. Time will tell how all these pastoral and theological developments in inter-religious marriages will affect Canon Law, which appears to be increasingly left behind.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke of matrimony as “a Gospel in itself, a good news for the world of today, especially the de-Christianized world.” This shows how much of an anachronism he was.
Evangelisation will cause resentment amongst those who want to learn, to think and to develop spiritually. Evangelisation will take the church back into the dangerous waters of arrogance and control. Pope Benedict hinted at how little he understands, when he said, “the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today’s church. And we do not have simple solutions.” He also said that “even if it is not possible to receive absolution in confession, [divorced-remarried Catholics] can nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide.”
Anyone who has made any form of spiritual progress, as many former Catholic priests and laity have, will see the sad prospect that these words offer for the continuation of the Catholic Church. Go to Austria, the Netherlands or Scandanavia and see how Catholic priests there spiritually inspire the members of their church, despite the arrogance and opposition from Rome.