It is no doubt by design that, as we open the Synod on the Family this weekend that the readings for the Liturgy are focused on the complementarity of man and woman and the indissolubility of marriage. This makes, certainly, for an interesting backdrop as the bishops assemble with the pope for this fourteenth general synod.

It is also not a coincidence that Jesus welcomes the children who are trying to get to him as he finishes his teaching on the nature of marriage. There must have been young families coming to hear Jesus teach. As he addressed the questions on divorce and remarriage there were children present who just wanted to get near him. We must imagine that the scene was chaotic. Here is Jesus offering another distinct interpretation and teaching to those who are following him while the children were causing a ruckus in their attempt to break free of their parents to run up to him and do as children do.

In the run up to the Synod, and indeed in all discussions on the meaning of marriage and the social issues of divorce, co-habitation and the like, the discussion of children is not frequently mentioned.

We live in a culture that has an interesting relationship with children, though probably not much unlike that of the disciples themselves. Children both in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds of the first century were largely neglected. Children had no rights, were often left to fend for themselves, and were required to do very dangerous work. They were an expendable commodity. High mortality rates along with the ease of procreation left them vulnerable. Strong ant-children sentiments emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield” forced a reevaluation of attitudes. The implementation of child labor laws and the compulsory education forced a societal change.

The scourge of anti-children sentiment is seen again in our society. We see it first in the liberal abortion laws. The attempt to extend the superficiality of adolescence into adult life has created the exalted status of DINKS, leaving many couples delaying or foregoing child rearing all together. Living life solely for the self and not for the inclusion of others or the passing on of heritage and the future of society is selfish and dangerous. Adults seem to forget that they were once children! It seems perfectly natural for people to think of family and family life absent children.

Of great concern is the on-going victimization of children. In the working document for the synod, we read: “[29. (8)] Especially in some countries, a great number of children are born outside marriage, many of whom subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in a blended or reconstituted family. Divorces are increasing, many times taking place solely because of economic reasons. Oftentimes, children are a source of contention between parents and become the real victims of family break-ups. Fathers who are often absent from their families not simply for economic reasons need to assume more clearly their responsibility for children and the family. The dignity of women still needs to be defended and promoted … The sexual exploitation of children is still another scandalous and perverse reality in present-day society. Societies experiencing violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime are witnessing the deterioration of the family, above all in big cities, where, in their peripheral areas, the so-called phenomenon of "street-children" is on the rise. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times to be faced and understood in terms of its onerous consequences to family life.”

These challenging times demand serious conversation. While we hope and pray that the work of the Synod will offer clear teaching on marriage and family, what we are in desperate need of is the conversion of heart that will allow the teaching to take effect.

Father Garry Koch is administrator of St. Benedict Church and School, Holmdel.