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Pope Francis Calls Christian Marriage a Vocation, Convenes Extraordinary Synod on the Family

By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Right before he boarded the plane to return to Rome from Rio de Janeiro Francis spoke to the young volunteers who had served at World Youth Day. He called them to follow the Lord and respond to their own vocation. Included in his understanding and explanation of what constitutes a vocation was Christian marriage and family life, alongside of priesthood, consecrated and religious life. He called them to all to be revolutionaries:God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has called an extraordinary Synod of Bishops from around the world to meet next October and consider the Pastoral Challenges facing the Family in this age of Evangelization.

To underscore the significance of this decision, the Code of Canon Law for the Catholic Church explains that such Extraordinary Synods deal with serious matters which need immediate pastoral attention. On the way back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, the Pope mentioned that he was considering such a move. Now, he has acted officially, summoning the Bishops to Rome.

In the official announcement, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. of the Holy See Press office noted, It is right that the Church should move as a community in reflection and prayer, and that she takes common pastoral directions in relation to the most important points - such as the pastoral care of the family - under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops. The convocation of the extraordinary Synod clearly indicates this path.

Right before he boarded the plane to return to Rome from Rio de Janeiro Francis spoke to the young volunteers who had served at World Youth Day. He called them to follow the Lord and respond to their own vocation. Included in his understanding and explanation of what constitutes a vocation was Christian marriage and family life, alongside of priesthood, consecrated and religious life. He called them to all to be revolutionaries:

God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us.

Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion?

In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of "enjoying" the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, "forever", because we do not know what tomorrow will bring.

I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility - that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage to swim against the tide. And also have the courage to be happy.

In a question and answer session with thousands of the young at Assisi on the Feast of St. Francis, October 4, 2013, Pope Francis again called the young men and women to hear the voice of the Lord and follow Jesus Christ. The word vocation comes from the Latin word for voice. He again included Christian marriage and family as a vocation, telling the young gathered outside of St Mary of the Angels, Don't be afraid of taking definitive steps, like that of marriage.

He explained that Christian marriage and family life is a real vocation, just like priesthood and religious life are. Two Christians who marry each other have recognized in their love story the Lord's call, the vocation to form one flesh, one life from the two, male and female. It takes courage to start a family. He said that the contemporary age puts obstacles in the way, privileging individual rights rather than the family.

From antiquity the Christian Family has been called the domestic church in the theology of the Church. This is more than piety. It is meant to become reality by our cooperation with grace. It is more than analogy, it is ontology. Perhaps the most often quoted use of the term is from the Golden Mouth, the Bishop John Chrysostom, writing in Antioch (the city where they were first called Christians) in the fourth century. He called the Christian family the Church in miniature.

However, it was the pontificate of St. John Paul II which reaffirmed this teaching which has always been in the tradition, making it fresh through his regular instructions. In his marvelous apostolic exhortation The Christian Family in the Modern World and his Letter to Families he lays out the fullness of the theological truth contained within this profoundly important insight concerning Christian marriage and family as a vocation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the truth of this teaching in several sections and makes this explicit statement, The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason it can and should be called a domestic church. (#2204)

Within the Catholic and Orthodox Church, Christian Marriage is a Sacrament. In other words, it is a participation in - and sign of - the Life of the Trinity! As the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, we are partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1) Marriage is an ecclesial reality and a path to holiness, a means of this very participation.It is also an eschatological sign of Christ the bridegroomw love for His Bride, the Church.

Do we actually view the vocation to Christian marriage and family life in this way?

Even the most sincere Christians often  live out their Christian life with a certain kind of dualism. They see themselves as living in the world and going to Church, rather then living in the Church and going into the world, to bring it back into the Church.

Family life sometimes gets included in a  concept of the world or perhaps it is seen as a part of a duty in the Lord whichcan even be seen as competing with the perception of Christian ministry and mission by some. This is a sad mistake. Christian marriage and family is ministry and participates in the ecclesial mission.

Please understand, as a Catholic Christian, I love to frequent beautiful Church buildings and to participate in the beauty of liturgical worship. However, the point I am trying to make is a vital one. We actually live in Church. We were baptized into the Lord and we now live in His Body.

The Christian family IS a church, the smallest and most vital cell of the Body of Christ. The extended church community is a family of families. This understanding is more than piety-it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropology and is meant to become reality for those who are baptized into Christ Jesus.

I woke up in Church this morning. Not in a sanctuary with votive candles, but next to my partner in life, holiness and mission, my beloved wife Laurine. The day burst into a flurry of activity with a unique ritual pattern. To the untrained eye, it would look rather hectic. But with the eyes of domestic faith, my wife Laurine and I will see the deeper purpose.

Over all the years of raising five children, and now trying to help raise six grandchildren, we have come to comprehend the mystery hidden behind the routine, and the simple beauty of the vocation of Christian marriage and family. We have experienced the suffering built into the vocation and, by offering it to Jesus Crucified, have reaped its fruit and tried to learn its wisdom.

There is almost a liturgical sameness to the pattern that emerges after so many years- by practice, developed spiritual purpose, and just plain ordinary human repetition. But it can all become transformative when lived in Jesus Christ. It is where the "rubber hits the road" for most Christians. It is where the universal call to holiness is lived out. Here, in all of its humanness and ordinariness is found the path to sanctity for those called into it. 

I have lived the vocation of Marriage in Christ for thirty seven years. And, I know that it is just that - a vocation - a call to follow the Lord in a specific way and, in so doing, to grow in holiness, participate in the very life of God and in the continuing mission of Jesus Christ as He walks it out through His Body, the Church, of which the domestic Church of the Christian family is a cell.

In the real nitty gritty stuff of everyday life, embraced in love, true progress in the spiritual life can find its raw material. The question becomes whether we who are called to live Christian marriage and family as a vocation respond to grace and develop the eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of the daily stuff of Christian Marriage and Family life.

The Greek word translated emptied in the letter to the Philippian Christians is kenosis. St. Paul wrote of our call to enter into the self emptying of Jesus, Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself.(Phil. 2:5)

The Greek word refers to the voluntary pouring out-like water-of oneself in an act of sacrificial love. This emptying is the proper response of the love of a Christian for the One who first loved us. It is at the heart of the vocation of Christian marriage and family life. There is a kind of domestic kenosis, a domestic emptying out which comes in the ordinary stuff of daily life in a Christian family. There is also a domestic ascesis, a way of living an ascetical life, when we embrace the real struggles involved in living Christian marriage and family as a vocation.

As Christian spouses, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, we need to have our eyes opened like the disciples on the Road, the way, to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13ff) This vocation of married love and family life is more than a covenant (though it is that), more than an ordinance (though it is that) - it is an invitation to sacrificial love-to holiness. Christian Marriage is a Sacrament, a participation in the very life of God through which and for which we are given grace, the very Life of God.

When the right choices are made in this life of domestic kenosis, we can truly cooperate with the Lord's invitation to follow Him. By exercising our human freedom properly, infused with grace, we learn to choose to give ourselves away in love to the other, our spouse. Together, we learn the way of loving our children in Christ and building an ecclesial experience in the stuff of everyday family life. We are gradually transformed into a living icon of Jesus Christ and participate in His Kenosis.

This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation for more than three months can attest. But make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one. The true challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment.

Two trees grow in the garden of domestic life. The one that appeared in the garden called Eden and the one on Golgotha's hill. They both invite the exercise of our human freedom. The one in Eden where the first Eve said, "No, I will not serve" tempts us to choose the rancid fruit of this tree of self centeredness whenever we seek to hide from the call and refuse to love by emptying ourselves kenotically

Then, there is the tree on Calvary where the second Eve,(as the fathers of the Church called Mary, the Mother of Jesus) stood with the beloved disciple John, beheld her crucified Son and her Lord who was Love Incarnate, and again proclaimed her Fiat, her yes. In doing so she models the response of all Christians for all time and in every vocation.

However, as it was with the Mother of the Lord, (both when the angel Gabriel came and made that extraordinary announcement, and again on that mountain when she beheld her Son and Savior), the choice is ours. It is made made daily, even hourly. With those choices, presented to us from the moment we open our eyes every morning to the time we close them at night, we can proceed on the way of the Cross through death and into the eternal now of Resurrected life in Jesus Christ.

In his letter to the Ephesians, particularly in its fifth chapter, St. Paul gives us the Magnus Opus of Christian Marriage. The profundity of its insights cannot be overstated. It is no surprise that this letter is increasingly controversial in this narcissistic age. However, it is not just theologians who need to explain the depth of its meaning and message. This task will require the stalwart and prophetic witness of Christian married couples who are genuinely converted and living out this vision of Christian marriage and family.

Marriage in Christ is a Mystery, meant to be lived, a model, meant to be imitated, and a mission, that needs to find its fullness. That will require a conversion, a new way of thinking, assisted by a new catechesis. Nothing less will suffice as we face the decline of a western culture which has forgotten God and, as a result is losing its soul.

Pope Francis proclaims with clarity that Christian marriage is a vocation. When it is chosen as a path to holiness and vehicle for mission, the Church will have a great resource for her work of the New Evangelization. The domestic church will become a frontline participant in the missionary work of the Third Christian Millennium. What the Catholic Church teaches about Christian marriage is a liberating message for this age, as it is for every age, precisely because it presents the mystery of eternity made manifest in the here and now.

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