CANFIELD – From both a human and a divine perspective, the family has much to offer both Church and society, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., told a gathering at St. Michael Parish here.
Speaking at the first of two “Another Two Nights on the Family” presentations Feb. 13, Bishop Murry addressed 50 people, noting that the family, despite difficulties, has a unique role in day-to-day human life as well as in evangelization of the world.
The crowd included grandparents, parents, one baby in arms and a toddler running around carrying his juice bottle and making frequent trips to the snack table for cookies.
Bishop Murry frequently cited the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” and “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” as well as Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love” (“Amoris Laetitia”).
Pope Francis wrote the exhortation in response to the 2014-15 Synod of Bishops on the Family, which gathered bishops from all around the world in Rome.
Dave Schmidt, director of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life, Marriage, and Family Ministry, which co-sponsored the evening with the Youngstown Council of Catholic Nurses and the Medical Association of the Diocese of Youngstown, introduced Bishop Murry, who was one of nine U.S. bishops who attended the synod.
Quoting from the Catechism, Bishop Murry noted that the family “is the basic unit of society,” which fosters the growth of each person and holds society together. The family is where human life is conceived and nurtured and parents are ‘the first teachers of the faith.”
Theologically, “the family finds its full meaning in the Christian family,” he continued. “God himself is the author of marriage.”
In fact, Bishop Murry explained, the Catechism describes the family as an “ecclesial community,” which Vatican II referred to as “the Domestic Church.” The family, as “a communion of persons,” actually reflects the Trinity.
The bishop noted that, while such documents as the Catechism or Compendium employ somewhat “ethereal language,” Pope Francis speaks with his characteristic directness and down-to-earth style about both the virtues of the family and the problems it faces.
“He has a unique ability to talk about real issues and how our lives are affected,” Bishop Murry added.
For example, Pope Francis explained that the family struggles against such forces as technology, which can reduce the family from being a communion of persons to “individuals who happen be living in the same house.”
One might see a family eating dinner in a restaurant but the children, rather than interacting with one another, are on their cell phones texting. Sometimes they are texting those seated at the table with them, Bishop Murry said, drawing sympathetic laughter from the audience.
“They are not part of the experience” of the family’s being together when they isolate themselves in that way, Bishop Murry said.
He spoke of visiting Africa and hearing African bishops express concern about what they see as the rise of American technology. Intending no disrespect, one bishop said: “I wish you Americans would keep your technology to yourselves.”
Other pressures on family life that Pope Francis cited include secularization, poverty, unemployment, the effects of war and forced migration, substance abuse,
artificial contraception and abortion, and the prevalence of wounded and broken families.
To address those concerns, the bishop continued, Pope Francis called for the Church to strive to improve marriage preparation but also to work on “accompanying couples” through the stages of marriage, offering assistance.
Pope Francis also called on Church minsters to “avoid judgment” when working with struggling families who may fall short of all that the Church calls families to be.
In response to a question, Bishop Murry explained that a few cardinals have expressed concern over the pope’s proposal, under limited circumstances, to have a pastor allow a couple in an irregular marriage to receive Communion if there is no possibility at the present time for them to regularize their marriage.
Bishop Murry said that the concern was exaggerated because the pope called for use of that option only in rare situations, after extensive counseling, and with the determination that the couple understands the problematic nature of their union and are willing to address it when the opportunities arises.
Replying to another question, the bishop acknowledged concern over how many young people no longer practice their faith, but expressed hope that they could be reached.
There are good programs available, Bishop Murry said, but he emphasized that establishing a conversation with young people is most important. “It’s not programs. It’s people.”
Pope Francis also encourages Catholics to “protect your family,” which he describes as a great “treasure,” and to uphold the sanctity of human life at all stages.
The pope also sees potential for the family to evangelize the world but worries that families not centered on the Eucharist will have difficulty getting that message across, Bishop Murry said.
In response to Pope Francis’ statement that the family ideally can help young people know that they are not alone, Bishop Murry said he suspects that the intensity with which young people embrace social media might be rooted in a fear of being alone.
Bishop Murry encouraged those present to read “The Joy of Love.” “I’ll be the first to admit that it’s long,” he noted, but “the effort would be well worth it.”