By Fr Matthew Ragbir, Spiritual Director, AFLC
“Nowadays who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children, …to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?” (Amoris Laetitia AL 52).
This serious question which Pope Francis raises also applies to the pastoral care of the family in general. The challenges facing marriages and families are numerous, and the labourers are few. Hence the formation of couples and families for marriage and the family ministry is vital.
The worldwide consultation for the Synod on the Family revealed that often our ministry does not reach people where they are. Pope Francis noted that “most people in difficult or critical situations do not seek pastoral assistance, since they do not find it sympathetic, realistic or concerned for individual cases” (AL 234).
It is also lamentable that marriage and family ministry formation is minimal for both clergy and laity. The Holy Father has therefore called for “a more adequate formation… of priests, deacons, men and women religious, catechists and other pastoral workers” (AL 232).
This becomes evident when we grasp the content of such a formation programme, including the sacrament of marriage, sexual and affective formation, marriage preparation, virtue formation, natural family planning, and learning to accompany families, to name a few areas.
The pastoral conversion the Holy Father calls for is novel and will require much work. He calls for a Church capable of listening, accompanying, discerning, and integrating (AL Ch 8). It is a path that requires much time and energy to walk with families. It requires much trust in God’s grace and an awareness that God has not asked something of us that is beyond us (1 Jn 5:2–4).
The Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC) has begun formation initiatives to help all those involved in the pastoral care of the family and therefore to help lay the foundations for a pastoral conversion in our own Archdiocese. Over the last few months, we have facilitated conversations around family life units and marriage preparation.
Most recently, a weekend retreat “Marriage, Me or We’ was hosted at the seminary. It brought together 23 married couples representing nine parishes, including representatives from Retrouvaille, Teams of Our Lady, Catholic Engaged Encounter, and BOMA. The weekend presented a thorough introduction to the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.
There were many honest reflections and discussions using mainly the Theology of the Body and Amoris Laetitia through multimedia presentations. For all participants it was a profound experience which helped to lay a better foundation for their marriages and for their ministry. The seminarians were also invited to join in the sessions.
Over the next few months the AFLC will continue to offer opportunities for formation of persons involved in the pastoral care of the family. Most notably will be our ‘Let’s think family with the Church’ project which will use Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and will employ both face-to-face and online methods so as to reach as many persons as possible.
The Holy Father says that “the Church will have to initiate everyone …into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (Evangelii Gaudium 169). For we need “to help each family …discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters.”
“…Enabling families to take up their role as active agents of the family apostolate” calls for “an effort at evangelisation and catechesis inside the family” (AL 200).