If you want to read the document for yourself - click here. This is the preparatory document prepared for October's upcoming extraordinary synod of bishops on family. The document has basically come out of the responses to that massive long survey sent to all bishop conferences back in November. The way the synod works, is that this document has been prepared to give the bishops something to work from and refine. This is simply the starting point of the discussion that will happen. Never-the-less, it gives us some insight into the thinking of the Church at this point and an indication of the direction of the bishops.
Our two universal vocations are the call to holiness and the call to mission (Redemptoris Missio 90, Pope St John Paul II). These are linked, when we encounter Jesus we grow closer to the Father in holiness through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and this makes us want to go out and share this joy. This document focuses on family in the context of evangelisation. How do we evangelise them, and how do we equip families to evangelise the wiser culture?
Pope Francis seems to be showing himself as orthodox as any recent Pope, though perhaps more politically liberal than Benedict XVI. Pope Francis is much more hands on yet is happy to let things run its course. He doesn't want to get bogged down in specific issues to the detriment of the big picture. He wouldn't engage in discussion about women priests, he just said it was not open to discussion (Evangelii Gaudium 104). Again, he said the synod's main concern is not reception of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. The crisis of the family is much bigger. (see here)
We need to be careful of the danger of having people go through the Sacraments (Marriage, Baptism, Communion, Confirmation) without being evangelised. We need to proclaim the good news explicitly to people throughout our interaction - in witness, homilies, courses, spiritual direction. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ to the nations.
A lot of the document deals with education. How can we make marriage preparation more fruitful? We don't want it so intense as to be a burden. Not only that, but often a couple has set a date and gives the Church little notice to prepare them for marriage. Witness of married couples is probably to be used more in these programmes. The need to talk about communication within marriage, Natural Family Planning and living the Christian life (prayer and sacraments) is also discussed. Knowing the limitations to any marriage prep course (mainly time constraints), it advises more thorough teaching on the beauty (the way of beauty is important in catechesis) of married love to young people. An example of this in practice, is that our second weekend of the Ascent (www.theascentuk.co.uk) is all about the Theology of the Body and we aim to be completely faithful to the Church on all matters.
Other useful thing to be developed are the involvement of parents in the sacramental preparation for their children. Parents are the primary teachers of the Faith, and they should not be denied this honour but we need to enable them to do this through prayer groups, cell groups, courses and sound preaching. It might be wise to invite parents to attend Christian instruction at the same time as their children.
I suspect a unified guide will be given to dealing with the situation where a child's parents ask for the child to receive the sacraments, but where the parents are in an irregular situation (e.g. gay marriage, cohabiting, etc.). The document leans toward being welcoming and opening the discussion with the parents - the child should not suffer for this reason.
Other sticky situations have been mentioned such as in African cultures where the practice of multiple wives is common, what is the polygamist man to do when he converts to Catholicism (especially if multiple wives bore children)?
The synod will probably want to make the process of annulments clearer. Making it distinct from 'Catholic divorce' and valuing the dignity of divorcees remaining continent (staying single) while separated from their spouse. The possible reasons for an annulment might be made more widely known (through seminary formation, perhaps) and the role of the priest following the breakdown of a marriage might be clarified. More dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox understanding of marriage to see if this can bear fruit - the key differences between marriage as I understand it are that in Orthodoxy the priest is more essential than in Catholicism, the marriage of widows is less encouraged and there is the possibility of second or third marriages. Pope Francis referred the later-most of these differences as an oikonoma - a prudent allowance to the divorced. However, the rite of second marriage is much more penitential (for instance, the couple do not receive the Eucharist in the rite as they would in a first marriage), not held as a true sacrament and usually follows a period of abstinence from the Eucharist after the divorce. (See here)
Finally, an aside, but the document notes that the impact of Church document is not so great (Francis aid the same thing in Evangelii Gaudium 25). So the Church really must consider how to communicate. Certainly, her primary means is the Sacred Liturgy. The reverent celebration points to what/who we believe in. Our actions too are important in how we show the love of God - 1 John 4:20 reminds us that we can't love God if we hate a brother, we need to god out in service to those in need. Secondary features are the Sunday homily, documents of the church, catechisis, blogs, books, magazines and so on which present a more explicit proclamation of the Gospel.
Good stuff. Well, that gave me something to do for a bit.