Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Vietnam on the Sanctification of the Family

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Marriage and Family in Vietnam Today

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Speaking of the Vietnamese family, one thinks at once of a characteristic of our families which is very close to the teachings of our faith. This family gives pride of place to filial piety, ready therefore to open up to the light of the Gospel, where the commandment: "Honor your father and your mother" follows immediately after the first three commanding God’s worship. This family extols fidelity, which therefore easily recognizes in the sixth and ninth commandments a common voice calling to protect the monogamous and indissoluble bond of husband and wife. This family embraces grandparents, parents and children, living in harmony under one roof, which is the natural environment most favorable to the growth of faith, especially to call God "Father" and to see all as "brothers and sisters." The Vietnamese family lives in solidarity with other families in a spirit of neighborhood in the village, united in prayer both in happiness and sorrow, gradually fashioning the beautiful and concrete image which can stand for Christian brotherhood and sisterhood. That is why the Church, although defined as People of God, Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit, is usually conceived by the Vietnamese as a Family.

3. However, this beautiful image of the Vietnamese family is now threatened with gradual extinction. The most obvious reason is the process of industrialization and urbanization. This development claims to bring prosperity to society, such as the material conveniences of a civilized life, but at the same time it entails various disorders in family life, affecting traditional family customs, dragging some people to egoistic hedonism and, still further, to lead a loose life which as a consequence increases the cases of divorce and decreases the awareness of the dignity of life.

Besides, we watch the phenomenon of massive migration to the cities in search of jobs. The result is that the parents live separated from their children and therefore do not pay attention to their basic education. Numbers of young people have to leave their families and look for work in remote areas, which makes them easy victims of exploitation and other social evils, such as heroin and other drugs, or they fall into conditions degrading human worth; a number of youngsters are forced to live wandering in the streets.

Moreover, the rapid and multiform progression of the means of social communication offers, on the one hand, useful information for human development, on the other hand, however, it introduces unhealthy life styles which harm the very foundation of family ethics, such as "free love," cohabitation without marriage or brutal behavior.

Marriage and Family in the Light of Revelation

4. Facing such conditions, let us Catholics look at marriage and family life in the light of Revelation, where God’s creative and salvific love shines forth.

 

 

Marriage

The human being is the image of a God who is Love (cf 1Jn 4:8). If God’s nature is love and God has created humans in His image (Gen 1:26), then human nature, like God’s, is also love. Only when we love and are loved can we be happy and attain the purpose of life.

And God created us man and woman. Both man and woman are the image of God (Gen 1:27); therefore human nature, by its very essence, is social and images of the unitive love of the Triune God.

From this it follows that true love between humans tends towards this model of communion. Therefore, love in both marriage and family is a love that brings about happiness, because it makes us share in the love of the Divine Persons in a concrete way here on earth.

5. But, in the history of salvation, the marital covenant is the image of the love between God and human persons, that is the sign which manifests the relationship of God with God’s people. This is a relationship of deep and intimate love, described in many pages of the Old Testament as a spousal relationship.

This covenant reaches its zenith in the mystery of the redemptive incarnation. In Jesus, God’s love for humankind is fully disclosed. God loves humankind to the extent of offering Godself in the person of His only Son, Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16). God loves us so much that He takes on our human nature to humiliate himself, to serve and to offer His life for us on the cross.

The sacrament of marriage is the image of God’s love for humankind in general, and for the Church in particular. As Christ has loved the Church, so humans, in marriage, are called to offer and sacrifice themselves, to forget themselves for mutual service.

Family

6. Furthermore, according to God’s plan, marriage is the groundwork of a larger community that is the family. Through marriage the couples become parents, receiving from God the gift of children. When the parents love their children, they become the visible image of God’s love for humankind. When the parents nurture their children, they become a community of personal communion. This intimate communion in a Christian family is the image of the communion of the three Divine Persons: mutual love becoming one, but still respecting the diversity of each person.

From that source, right in the heart of marital and family life, all the interpersonal relationships of husband and wife, parental and filial piety and brotherly love, are interwoven, enabling each person to integrate himself/herself into the human family and into God’s family which is the Church (Familiaris Consortio,15).

Concrete Orientations

7. We know that your families, dear brothers and sisters, have struggled hard in the midst of all kinds of difficulties to safeguard the beauty of the Christian family, in the image of the communion of the three Divine Persons. However, to help the families avoid the lurking dangers of destruction and to enable them to strengthen more and more their bonds and come closer to the ideal state that God expects, they need the supportive effort of each member of the People of God.

Responsibilities

Let us choose marriage and family as the main focus of our pastoral program for 2003.

Concretely, each diocese must have a pastoral office for Marriage and Family. The parishes ought to organize courses on marriage and family, based on the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of the Holy Father John Paul II.

In order that the courses on marriage and family reap good results, a catechetical program on marriage has to be drafted and a resolute team of catechists has to be trained, with the cooperation of lay professionals who have experience in the fields of psychology, sociology, law, management and medicine.

The parish pastoral council ought to have a desk specialized in family affairs, with the collaboration of the associations concerned with the families in the neighborhood, especially with the poor and broken families, and with the migrants, so as to come to their rescue in due time.

Family celebrations, marriage anniversaries, the gatherings of families and so on, will be very useful if they are well prepared in a spirit of prayer and study.

The Families

8. Still, pastoral care of the family will only be successful when the families themselves freely and actively participate in the study programs and are especially committed to the renewal of family life by renewing themselves.

The family is the cradle, the first school, where children grow both in mind and body, where children are taught not only by words but by good example. The parents, therefore, must take care not only to baptize their children, but to see to it that their faith grows in the pious atmosphere of a family imbued with love of God and for one another. They have to guide them in the respect for loving solidarity within the extended family.

To help their children develop every aspect of their lives, the parents ought to pay attention to the literature they read, the films they watch and the friends they meet.

A really good Christian family cannot shut itself in its own private life, but must open up its relationships to embrace neighboring families, so as to respect and love one another, exchange information and skills for mutual help, and together contribute to develop a civilization of love.

Conclusion

9. "The future of humanity passes by way of the family" (FC 86). That is why all who have responsibility and good will must be concerned with the defense and increase of all the values of family life. Although there may be shadows and problems that obscure somewhat the nobility of the values of marriage and family, Christians are constantly called to trust in the power of God and to become messengers proclaiming the Good News regarding the family to the world of today, so that all Christian families may themselves become good news to the third millennium.

As we finish, let us look at the Holy Family of Nazareth as primordial model and mirror for each Christian family. The Holy Family lived humbly in poverty, was tested, persecuted and exiled, but it surmounted all obstacles by its trust in God. The Holy Family still protect and sustain our families. Let us pray to Jesus, Mary and Joseph:

10. Oh Holy Family of Nazareth, model of holy, just and loving life, help our families to become cradles of virtue, in gentleness, service and prayer. Help us to build families, which may be places of comfort in a life full of trials. Help us to enable each member of the family to enrich himself/herself so as to contribute to the development of society and to collaborate in the building up of the Church.

Please come all three of you, O Holy Trinity, to live in our families, in our happiness and sorrow, when we work and when we rest, in times of worry and in times of hope, in times of birth and in times of death, so that while passing through the vicissitudes of this life, we may always glorify God, until the day when we join you in Heaven. Amen.

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