by Rev. Nicholas L Gregoris
At the conclusion of my interview with the Indian priests, I asked them for 10 recommendations for strengthening the bond between the Family and the Church in contemporary Indian society.
Here are their responses:
(1) A priest echoed one of the recurring themes in the small group discussions, suggesting that there ought to be more positive talk about the intrinsic nature and value of the family as God intended it and not so much an unwarranted attention given to the irregular situations of divorce and remarriage or the topic of homosexuality with its related issues of same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage.
The priests added that the family is the basic building block or cell of every human society and that we all come from families, priests included, so it doesn't make sense for us to focus too much of our attention on societal aberrations.
I would like to add here that bad cases usually make for bad law and that abnormal human behavior (sexual or otherwise) as Freud analyzed it can hardly be considered normal, let alone normative for the entire Church and society.
(2) Indians should seek to exercise responsible parenting and welcome large families as signs of heavenly benediction. A more concerted effort needs to be made on the part of the Church to educate their people about Natural Family Planning and to warn them not to use it according to a contraceptive mentality.
(3) Young people should be encouraged to understand the importance of the nuclear family, from which they very frequently seek to separate for selfish reasons and materialistic pursuits.
Bettering one's socio-economic status shouldn't become an excuse for abandoning one's family. The common good of the family should take precedence over the likes and dislikes of individual members. Indians, especially the poor and the middle class, can ill afford to forget the distinction between "necessities" and "wants." When personal "wants" become more important than personal "necessities," a society's equilibrium is thrown off kilter. We see how this has happened in most of the developed countries of East and West. Families and the Church are among the first victims claimed by an increased materialism and secularization.
(4) Episcopal conferences and individual bishops should arrange for diocesan workshops or study days on marriage and family life.
In this regard, the Church in India would benefit from re-reading St. John Paul's "Familiaris Consortio," a document which both the "Relatio Synodi" of last year's Extraordinary Synod and the "Instrumentum Laboris" of this year's Ordinary Synod cite, in order to make practical applications of its wise and prudent principles in the years to come.
One can only hope that any final document or Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation that may result from the Ordinary Synod will rely more steadily on the profound insights of "Familiaris Consortio," Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae," and Pope John Paul II's "Evangelium Vitae," together with other key documents of the Magisterium that delineate clear Catholic teaching on essential family and life matters.
(5) Education of children and young people about the inestimable value of the family and the beauty and goodness of married life cannot be carried out in a vacuum. Parents, who are the primary educators of their children, need more positive reinforcement from the Church and the society. The government should give as many incentives as possible to promote fidelity in marriage and edify families that are healthy, both physically and psychologically.
(6) Parishes need to aim their catechesis on the family to all it members, encouraging them to pray together as a family (Fr. Peyton's adage: "The family that prays together, stays together") and to attend Mass together every Sunday and holy day of obligation as a witness to other families about the indispensable role that faith is supposed to play in normal family life.
(7) Priests need to be more involved in forming the family in the human and Christian virtues. It is a very good thing for priests to make simple gestures of affection toward the family that demonstrate in a concrete way their appreciation of the family's central place in the life of the parish. For example, priests can learn a lesson or two from Pope Francis who enjoys reaching out to people on their birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Perhaps priests could also begin to acknowledge people on the anniversary of their Baptism, when they first became not only children of God but children of the Church -- sons and daughters in God's own family.
(8) Priests need to be more exemplary models of personal holiness. The fidelity of the priest to his vocation and the fidelity of married couples to their own vocation are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Holier priests make for holier marriages and families, and vice versa.
(9) Dioceses should focus on both the quality and quantity of their priestly and religious vocations. Better recruitment in parishes and more solid formation must first take root in the family setting, which is the ordinary crucible of a young person's character, faith, morality and, in a word, his or her humanity.
(10) Dioceses should simplify certain cumbersome canonical procedures that can serve as obstacles, especially for hard-working poor folk who don't have the knowledge, the time, or the money, to get involved with the diocesan curia, even as their parish priests are often stretched thin as "factotums," busy with administrative responsibilities and sacramental ministry.
As I look over this "wish-list" of the Indian clergy, it strikes me as a rather good "wish-list" for the whole Church.