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Changes in Family Life and the Challenges of Contemporary Culture

By: Solange Ngah
Translated by: Peter Knox

Download the original in French

The principal stimulus for our contribution is the preparatory questionnaire for the next synod of bishops on pastoral care of the family which will be held in Rome from 5 to 19 October 2014. The questionnaire is asking concretely about actual family situations, including the most delicate and controversial.  The questions are judged to be very direct and more open than for an ordinary syond, and they invite debate. “How is natural law on the union between man and union in the light of forming a family contested in theory and in practice?” (2nd theme, question 2) the Vatican asks. Regarding same-sex unions it also wants to know “what pastoral care is it possible to give to people who have chosen to live this kind of union?” and “what kind of pastoral practice to adopt bearing in mind the transmission of the faith” to children adopted in such unions.  And “how to promote a mentality more open to childbearing?” (7th theme, question 6.)

On the matter of family, the Vatican recognises that “the expectations which follow the pastoral choices regarding family care are enormous” evoking in a language that is close to Pope Francis’ “tenderness towards wounded people, on the geographic and existential peripheries.” This is why there is this call to the synod of bishops whose role it is to express “its sound advice on different problems facing the Church.” These questions coming from the Roman pontiff lead one to believe that the institution of the family as it is presented by church
tradition has today been called into question by a new anthropology, which reduces the individual to a stereotype of “free” pleasure and
enjoyment.  In a person “free as the wind,” we recognise the radical influence of the atheistic existentialism of Simone de Beauvoir or
Jean-Paul Sartre, who in their complete allergy to any kind of established authority, spiritual or temporal, had no other credo than
egocentric, individual, ‘free’ pleasure.  And the most obvious arena for this freedom is in sexuality.  Here the paradigm of the family proposed
by the church is rejected, because it integrates values of communion, solidarity, brotherhood, and openness to life, and to the otherness of
others, to the point of seeing them as my mother, father, brother, sister, friend or acquaintance, without whom I cannot fully and freely
be myself.

Now, to attack the notion of the family, you have to falsify the meaning of marriage, since marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of the family.  For Christians this necessarily raises the ethical question of the meaning of sexuality and marriage.  So today one of the most radical challenges to Christians and people of good will is to locate sexuality in its original framework. It is correctly centred on the norm which is the basis of Christian sexual ethics, to wit, the perception of marriage as the only place in which it is possible responsibly to exercise one’s sexuality as willed and blessed by God. In this movement, the family is relevant as a place for self-giving, grace, love, friendship and communion. Consequently “marriage for everyone” which overturns the civil code by suppressing the words “husband” and “wife”, “father” and “mother” in favour of asexual, undifferentiated terms like “parent” has no place for the natural, Christian vision of marriage.  But it remains a challenge to contemporary society.  This is why we have high hopes for the synod of bishops on the pastoral challenges of families in the context of evangelisation.

Solange Ngah is a member of the Diocesan Congregation of the Sisters of Emmanuel Witnesses, Yaoundé, Cameroon. She is a recipient of a scholarship from CTEWC to earn her PHD. Currently, she is studying moral theology at the University African Catholic Central Catholic Institute of Yaoundé-Cameroon. Her dissertation project is on “Charity as the root of Christian virtues for a just society: a good read works and alms of St. Cyprian of Carthage.”