Thinking with the Mind of the Church


The Holy Family with the Little Bird by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, c.1650.

In a few weeks, I will have the privilege of participating in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. The topic of family life is one in which all of us have a great deal of interest and indeed experience!  Many of us know how important this topic is to our own lives and the life of our community.

Much has already been written and people have set many expectations during the consultation process in preparation for this assembly.  But it is important that Catholics and all interested people understand the starting points for the prayer, reflection and discussion that will be part of the Synod process.  Over the next couple of weeks, this blog will introduce readers to some of the fundamental principles that will guide the work of the Synod.

Unlike secular commissions or task forces that are assembled to address a particular problem and whose starting point is the problem itself, the Church’s starting point is always God’s love for his people and the unfolding plan of his salvation.  The Synod will not identify some new truth about the meaning of marriage, the gift of human sexuality, the role of family in society.  All of this has been revealed in the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ and in the truths of our faith.  What will be new is how we live and express these truths in the context of this time and the concrete reality faced in the world today.

One important starting point for understanding the family is Christian anthropology, which is the study of the human person and God’s love for us.  The word “anthropology” comes from the Greek word “anthropos” which means “man” in the generic sense. Central to this study, and thus to the Synod, is the truth that man and woman are made in the image and likeness of God and called to share in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.

“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  We are made in the image and likeness of God because God has taken the goodness of his physical creation and breathed into it an immortal spiritual reality called the soul.  Because of that principle of life, we, like God, are capable of knowing and loving.  We can mirror the knowledge and love that lie at the very core of God’s being; hence, we are called images of God.

“It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  Just as God is three in one and enjoys the marvelous communion of the three divine persons, so too human beings, made male and female, are called to life in community. Man and woman were made for each other so that they would not be alone but would form a communion of mutual love and support.

The locus of this experience of community is the family.  Our Lord came into the world and was raised in a family.  Saint John Paul II reminds us that the family is the first school of love and makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the good of society. “The family, as a community of persons, is thus the first human ‘society’” (Letter to Families, 7).

In essence, the Synod on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family will take up the question of how the family is called to be a sign of the divine communion of the Holy Trinity to the world.  “Established by the sacrament of matrimony, the Christian family as the domestic church is the locus and first agent in the giving of life and love, the transmission of faith and the formation of the human person according to the values of the Gospel” (Synod on the New Evangelization, Proposition 48).  This is the family’s place in the evangelizing mission of the Church.