Over the next year, the Church will celebrate three major events dedicated to marriage and the family. Next month will bring the highly anticipated Extraordinary Synod, followed by next year’s Ordinary Synod, and then finally the World Meeting of Families next October in Philadelphia.
In light of these events, now is the time to read up on marriage and family. If you haven’t already, be sure to download the “Instrumentum Laboris”, the Extraordinary Synod’s working document, which will shape much of the dialogue this month (find it here in plain text, PDF, Kindle, or Nook formats.)
I also recommend any of the five new books below from Our Sunday Visitor and Ignatius Press:
by Pontifical Council for the Family
Our Sunday Visitor, 128 pages, paperback
For Pope Francis, as for his predecessors Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, this is more than just talk. It is a rallying cry. This is the focus of the 2015 World Meeting of Families: Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.
For Catholics everywhere, it is a time to renew our focus on the family, the “domestic church” – what it means, why it’s important, how it fits in with God’s plan for us, and how we can become who God created us to be.
Here is a new, fresh, and insightful way to do just that. In Love is Our Mission, you can easily explore Catholic teaching on marriage, family, sexuality, children, human dignity, and the sanctity of life. It’s a guided tour through scripture and 2000 years of Church teaching in which you are awakened to the relationship God wants to have with you, the family, and ultimately the world. Self-reflection or group discussion questions bring the teachings home in a very real and practical way.
As Pope Francis has said, we must, “keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich…”
by Cardinal Gerhard Müller
Ignatius Press, 90 pages, paperback
“Today, the family is in crisis—it is in crisis worldwide”, Pope Francis has said. “Young people don’t want to get married, they don’t get married, or they live together. Marriage is in crisis, and so the family is in crisis.”
The main problem with the family in the Church today, contends Gerhard Cardinal Müller, is not the small number of civilly remarried divorced Catholics who want to receive Holy Communion. It is the large number of Catholics who live together before marriage, who marry civilly, or who do not even bother with marriage, as if these choices were sound options for Catholic living. Furthering the problem is the widespread failure of married Catholics to understand marriage as a way of Christian discipleship.
In this engaging conversation, Cardinal Müller, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers in the Vatican, addresses the challenges facing marriage and family life today. The loss of faith in many traditionally Christian societies has led to a crisis. In turn, cohabitation, civil marriage, and divorce and civil remarriage, further undermine faith because they harm the family as the “domestic Church” and the place of initial evangelization. Thus, the Church must undertake a robust new evangelization of the family: sharing the fullness of truth about marriage and family in Christ, encouraging families to worship and to pray together, and helping them to witness by their lives the joy of the gospel.
Cardinal Müller stresses mercy and compassion in pastoral ministry with struggling Catholics, but he does so without either contradicting the teaching of Jesus about divorce and remarriage or minimizing the power of grace to transform lives. In this way he proclaims hope for the family rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
edited by Robert Dodaro
Ignatius Press, 275 pages, paperback
In this volume five Cardinals of the Church, and four other scholars, respond to the call issued by Cardinal Walter Kasper for the Church to harmonize “fidelity and mercy in its pastoral practice with civilly remarried, divorced people”.
Beginning with a concise introduction, the first part of the book is dedicated to the primary biblical texts pertaining to divorce and remarriage, and the second part is an examination of the teaching and practice prevalent in the early Church. In neither of these cases, biblical or patristic, do these scholars find support for the kind of “toleration” of civil marriages following divorce advocated by Cardinal Kasper. This book also examines the Eastern Orthodox practice of oikonomia (understood as “mercy” implying “toleration”) in cases of remarriage after divorce and in the context of the vexed question of Eucharistic communion. It traces the centuries long history of Catholic resistance to this convention, revealing serious theological and canonical difficulties inherent in past and current Orthodox Church practice.
Thus, in the second part of the book, the authors argue in favor of retaining the theological and canonical rationale for the intrinsic connection between traditional Catholic doctrine and sacramental discipline concerning marriage and communion.
The various studies in this book lead to the conclusion that the Church’s longstanding fidelity to the truth of marriage constitutes the irrevocable foundation of its merciful and loving response to the individual who is civilly divorced and remarried. The book therefore challenges the premise that traditional Catholic doctrine and contemporary pastoral practice are in contradiction.
The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage and Communion in the Church
by J. J. Pérez-Soba and S. Kampowski
Ignatius Press, 255 pages, paperback
Walter Cardinal Kasper created an international media stir when he proposed allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments after a penitential period. But is this something the Church can even authorize?
As the Church enters into the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family, this book takes up the Kasper Proposal and sorts the helpful from the problematic. Never separating pastoral concerns from doctrinal considerations, the authors engage Cardinal Kasper’s ideas with respect, but also at times with some profound disagreement.
How can we heal the wounds of a broken culture? How do we best support families, given the challenges of modern life? What is truly merciful? If the family is central to both society and the Church, how do we best express the truth of its importance? As the authors delve into the matter, they discuss how the early Church addressed issues of marriage and separation, and review the history of Church practice and discipline on marriage. They also explore how contemporary moral attitudes have shaped modern perceptions of marriage and divorce, and how the Church can offer pastoral guidance in this area.
The good points of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal are discussed, but also the ways in which his proposal falls short in presenting the “Gospel of the Family” as the center of our understanding of married life. Stay informed with this essential guide to one of the most important debates in the Church today.
by Pope Paul VI
Ignatius Press, 110 pages, paperback
The papal encyclical Humanae Vitae“>Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) made headlines worldwide. Many talked about the encyclical when it was issued in 1968, but few actually read it. Why is it perhaps the most controversial document in modern Church history?
Humanae Vitae“>On Human Life combines Humanae Vitae with commentary by popular and respected Catholic authors Mary Eberstadt, James Hitchcock, and Jennifer Fulwiler in order to address this question and to shed light on the document’s enduring wisdom.
Humanae Vitae is Pope Paul VI’s explanation of why the Catholic Church rejects contraception. The pope referred to two aspects, or meanings, of human sexuality-the unitive and the procreative. He also warned of the consequences if contraception became widely practiced-consequences that have since come to pass: greater infidelity in marriage, confusion regarding the nature of human sexuality and its role in society, the objectification of women for sexual pleasure, compulsive government birth control policies, and the reduction of the human body to an instrument of human manipulation. The separation of sexuality from its dual purpose has also resulted in artificial reproduction technologies, including cloning, that threaten the dignity of the human person.
Although greeted by controversy and opposition, Humanae Vitae“>Humanae Vitae has continued to influence Catholic moral teaching. St. John Paul II’s popular “theology of the body” drew deeply on the insights of Paul VI. Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis have upheld the long-standing teaching, and a new generation of Catholics, as well as non-Catholics, is embracing the truths of the encyclical.
What of these books are you most excited about?