Family matters being put in spotlight by Pope Francis

This column by Chris Codden was featured in the November 22 issue of the Saint Cloud Visitor

Pope Francis has called for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held from October 5-19, 2014, dedicated to the “Pastoral Challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”

In my work, this is a really big deal.  According to the Code of Canon Law, an “extraordinary general session” of the synod is held to “deal with matters which require a speedy solution.” This will be only the third extraordinary synod since Pope Paul VI reinstituted synods in 1965, designed to advise the pontiff on specific subjects.

In 1980, after the deaths of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, Blessed Pope John Paul II convened the Fifth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, September through October 1980.  The subject was, “The Duties of the Christian Family in Today’s World.”  The idea of a synod on the family was that of Pope Paul VI, but was wholeheartedly embraced by Pope John Paul II.  While this was not an extraordinary general assembly as the one next year will be, it did offer forty-three propositions.  Pope John Paul II took the information from this synod and, on November 22, 1981, gave the church his “Apostolic Exhortation on the Family” or “Familiaris Consortio.”

Familiaris Consortio is a prophetic document that outlines the “precious value of marriage and of the family,” in only a way that Pope John Paul II could. I have read and reread it countless times and feel, with each reading that it could have been written yesterday.  At the beginning of this exhortation, John Paul states:

At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the People of God.

In the document, Pope John Paul II outlines the Church’s vision for marriage and the family, the role of the Christian family and its pastoral care.

The Extraordinary General Assembly that will be convened next year will focus on some similar concerns, with an emphasis on evangelization.  This is just phase one of Pope Francis’ work.  Phase two will be an Ordinary General Assembly scheduled for 2015 which will develop working approaches for the pastoral care of the human person and the family.  Also slated for 2015 is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.  At this point it is unsure if or how that will fit into these synods.

As with other synods, much work is done prior to the convocation.  A preparatory document was released last week that outlines the list of concerns it hopes to address, ranging from cohabitation, same-sex unions, influence of the media on the understanding of marriage and family, legislative measures that devalue marriage, surrogate motherhood and lack of participation at the sacraments, particularly marriage and penance.  The statement includes a series of questions each diocese is invited to reflect and submit answers, particularly on pastoral approaches.

When you consider that we are a global church, input may be varied depending on culture and customs.  Yet, unfortunately, too many of these concerns are universal.  In the midst of this process, there will be some that will try to push their own agenda.  I have already received two requests for input from non-official outside sources, who have taken the questions and skewed them to reflect ideologies not embraced by the church.

The goal of all this vast effort is to bring people to Christ.  The Preparatory Document for the synod cites:  “The teachings of the faith on marriage is to be presented in an articulate and efficacious manner, so that it might reach hearts and transform them in accordance with God’s will, made manifest in Jesus Christ.”  What will flow from this work by so many is a greater understanding of what it means to follow Christ in our God-given vocation.

In his recent encyclical, Lumen fidei, Pope Francis speaks of the family as, “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city…”  May we pray for our bishops as they participate in these coming opportunities that the Holy Spirit guide them as they shepherd and guide families in their care.

Grieving loved ones — transforming pain into peace

This column, written by Chris Codden, was featured in the St. Cloud Visitor’s October 25th issue:


Observing the upcoming Feast of All Saints and All Souls Day are ways we remember the saints who were close to us, but we have other ways, too

Oct. 25, 2013, edition
By Chris Codden

My parents had a lovely family Bible located in a prominent place on a corner table in our living room.

It was the kind of Bible that had the beautiful pictures of the various Bible stories and, in the very front, contained our family’s genealogy.

I remember sitting down occasionally thumbing through this massive book admiring the striking pictures and reading the names of family members I had only met through the stories my aunt and uncles told around the table.

I also remember my mother explaining the meaning of the cross before several names, the names of her sister and brothers who had died in infancy.

When we were married, we received the same kind of Bible as a wedding present. I remember as a young bride, dutifully entering in the front of the Bible those names of our families and imagining what names I would add as our family began.

What I didn’t expect at that time were the names I would enter in with a cross.

Lives of all valued

It may be meant by design or grand plan that Respect Life Month is October just before we commemorate All Saints and All Souls days, Nov. 1 and 2. Those are the days we remember the saints, those named as saints by the church and those who are saints in our hearts who are now enjoying eternal glory with Christ.

Maybe remembering the gift of life for all God’s children, born and unborn, prepares us to celebrate the life of our loved ones who have passed, on All Souls Day.

Maybe it helps us grasp the precious gift that life truly is at all stages of development, from the moment of conception until a natural death.

And maybe it helps us put our lives in perspective as we meet the turmoil of the world around us and the need to stand up for that ultimate gift that we, by nature of our baptism, are called to defend.

As we meet this challenge, for many of us there is a sense of sorrow.

When our son died 33 years ago, my heart grieved his loss, and still does to this day.

We entered Clayton’s name in our family Bible when he was born, and added a cross before his name when he died. My husband and I go to the cemetery on his birthday and the anniversary of his death to remember him, to honor his life.

Yet, we have another child who never celebrated a birthday and does not have a gravestone. Her short life was only 6 to 7 weeks long and we lost her through an ectopic pregnancy.

Heart-rending hole

While we are not sure of the gender, several years after her passing, we decided to name our baby Emma Rose. I had felt such a hole in my heart, not able to grasp her memory, feeling I was not acknowledging this short beautiful life and that I had somehow turned my back on her.

Naming her helped me to grieve her loss, find peace and thank God for his abundant mercy and grace. Her name was added to our Bible with a blessed cross.

I am grateful to the Knights of Columbus for their contribution to Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud for the memorial marker for the unborn. While there are no names listed on the gravestone, when Rich and I go out to the cemetery, we spend time there reflecting, and it has become our memorial for Emma Rose.

Today, as I look through our same family Bible, full of beautiful pictures and the names of our wonderful family, I thank God for all his blessings, including the blessing of our family saints.

Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Reach her at